1. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    How it feels when...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ohmyrichard, Dec 22, 2009.

    Hi, everyone.
    I have just received a letter from my American friend, who told me in her letter that a series of unfortunate things happened to her family recently. I plan to say to her in my reply letter "I know how it feels when we lose our loved one." to comfort her, but I am not sure of the structure of "how it feels when...". I know I can instead say "I know it is hard to lose our loved ones.", whose structure I am sure of;however, I like the former better, as really I know how it feels to lose our loved one, for I lost my mother and father 11 years ago and 2 years ago respectively. Losing those we love so much makes us feel desperate and depressed.
    I don't like the expression of "My heart goes out to you" either, for, in my possibly incorrect opinion, this expression is something diplomatic and seems like cold comfort.
    I always want to be accurate in expression. So, please help me to get where I want to be.
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO the third of your options rings most naturally: "I know how it feels to lose ..." but I would end it " ... a loved one." I believe this example is most compassionate, grammatical and also conveys a real sense of having lived the experience you are alluding to.

    Your first option ("I know how it feels when ...") feels a little awkward grammatically, but it probably acceptable when used colloquially. The situation you describe however probably merits a little formality. And I agree that your second option ("I know it is hard ...") seems a little disengaged and therefore less compassionate than you might wish to be.

    I'll leave it to others to better explain the grammar behind these sentiments however. Kind regards.
     
  3. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Nothing at all wrong with "I know how it feels when ..." Your sentiment is perfectly clear, and I'm sure she will appreciate it. I don't think you need to "overthink" it at all.

    Jonathan Safron Foer's EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED is a wonderful depiction of misshapen efforts to communicate with sincerity (in unfamiliar languages) about serious matters and the efforts (sometimes very misguided, and often with interesting, even very funny results) about two writers trying very hard to be "accurate," which you might enjoy reading sometime.
     
  4. Ali Shonak
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    Ali Shonak New Member

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    Hi Richard;
    I'm not sure that I can add more to what those before me had to say, but I have some thoughts on the subject. I think as writers we have become too cliché conscious; we struggle too hard to coin new phrases that, too often, become artificial or even nebulous to those who are going through the grieving process. Above all, I think your friend would like you to speak to her as you normally would, even if you say nothing more basic than, “Dear friend, how I wish I could give you more comfort than these words of condolences can possibly convey.”

    Then, you may or not refer to your own losses, perhaps to add strength to your assurances? Personally--I would not. Instead, if you knew the deceased, you might say something positive about him/her, even make a reference to some promise that the scriptures or some other book might offer. On one occasion I used a bit of poetry--no, none of mine, for I'm too modest (chuckle).

    Finally: I would not ponder, but simply write from the heart, even if thousands of people before you have used those identical words. It is impossible to conjure up new meaningful words of condolences, for they have been uttered a billion times before our own time. My best to you,
    Ali








     
  5. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would suggest that "I know how it feels to lose a loved one" might be more appropriate unless (A) the dearly departed was also YOUR loved one (In which case you might say, "... our loved one."); and/or (B) your friend has lost more than one loved one. (In which case "... loved ones." would be appropriate.) However, you can be sure your friend will not care how you say it, just knowing that you care and are there for them is sufficient.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that would be clearer and better grammar, richard...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  7. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thank you all for answering my question. I have to make it clear: Really my American friend lost two loved ones in a quick succession not long ago; I am not talking carelessly. To be precise, I have no idea whether they can still be called her loved ones, as it was her former father-in-law and her former son-in-law that died. Ever since her divorce many years ago, she and her former father-in-law had(Should I use "have" instead? Her former father-in-law died last month.) had a good relationship and frequently visited each other and in her own words, "We are good friends." She felt very bad to lose him and she attended his funeral. In another thread, when her daughter heard the new of her former son-in-law's death in a road accident, her daughter was plunged into a bad mood; and my friend sympathized with her daughter a lot. However, her newly-wed son-in-law found it very hard to understand why his wife was so saddended by the death of someone who now had nothing to do with her.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you can't be sure they actually were 'loved ones' then use 'those close to us'... instead of 'a loved one' in the sentence i gave you above...

    and no, you should not have used 'have' there, since he's no longer around...
     
  9. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thank you very much, maia. So, the past perfect tense used in the sentence "Ever since her divorce many years ago, she and her former father-in-law had had a good relationship and frequently visited each other..." is appropriate, right? My hesitancy was caused by the grammar rule that the past perfect is used in reference to something which happened also in the past but after the action or state mentioned in the part of the sentence where the past perfect is used. It is obvious that this grammar rule does not apply here, for "the lady and her former father-in-law's still maintaining a good relationship" came after "her divorce many years ago". Or is it that my understanding of the past perfect is incomplete and incorrect?
     
  10. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks for answering my question and recommending Everything Is Illuminated. I have surfed the Internet and gotten the impression that it is an interesting book. I will buy it and read it during my winter break. By the way, the winter break in China begins much later than that in Western countries. It begins about ten days before the Chinese New Year, which is about one month after Christmas, and lasts about three weeks.
    Thanks again.
    Richard
     
  11. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    You mean that the only difference between "I know how it feels when we lose a loved one." and "I know how it feels to lose a loved one." lies in the degree of formality, right? Would you please give me some further explanation of this nuance issue and tell me how to differentiate such sentences? Although I have learned English for over twenty years, I am still unable to tell the subtle differences between many English synonyms and between expressions which are only different in style. Oftentimes I use them in wrong situations without knowing it. When I communicate with native speakers online, some of them tell me that I talk a little bit too formally and their impression of my English worries me a lot. Back to the question under discussion, what is there in "I know how it feels when we lose a loved one" that makes the expression a colloquialism and what in "I know how it feels to lose a loved one" makes it sound formal?
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
  12. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Richard, I'll have to defer to the others (probably maia) on the absolute grammaticality of these options, but reading above it would seem that both are equally acceptable in a grammatical sense. What I was saying is that, for me, I find the phrase "I know how it feels when you lose ..." less elegant than "I know how it feels to lose ..."

    This is because the use of "you" in the first example both refers directly to the person you are addressing and also, IMO, more generally in the sense that it covers the second example. What I mean is that this use of "you" seems to carry a sense of collective inclusion, inferring a sense of "we" (more than just you and the person you are addressing) - like the French pronoun "on" if you are at all familiar with that language. You may think this is a good thing and carries your desired implication however.

    I find that "I know how it feels to lose ..." is the more formal option and also entirely suitable for this situation. In honesty, both can be used without trouble and interchangeably. I find the only real difference in slight shades of formality and implication as above.
     
  13. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Richard, it's your use of "we" that is somewhat awkward. I think what Gannon meant by "formal" is that the latter phrasing (to lose a loved one) is used most often by natives and sounds more natural to us. Your meaning is clear either way, but the former (when we lose) isn't how we would normally put it.

    It's hard for me to pin down the issue here, but after giving it some thought, here's my take on it. . .

    In your sentence, I assume that "we" refers to humanity in general. "I know how it feels when we (human beings) lose a loved one" can be interpreted as "I know how it feels when human beings lose a loved one." Doesn't that sound a bit awkward to you?

    On the other hand, I could say, "We are a complicated species," and that would sound natural. Why? Because it wouldn't sound odd to say, "Human beings are a complicated species."

    The key point to keep in mind: what do you mean by "we?"

    If I say, "We should go out for lunch," what I mean by "we" is "you and I." And if I write it, "You and I should go out for lunch," that would sound fine--and so, by extension, the "we" is fine.

    I hope that makes sense.;)
     
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  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...if the double 'had' bothers you, change one to a different verb... such as 'had maintained' or 'had enjoyed' or such...

    don't agonize so much over this or that rule's details, as stated by this or that grammarian, richard... just go by what makes best sense and reads well...
     
  15. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    If it you truley know how if feels to loose someone, then place that there. That is best, I think. However; in this letter, what matters so much is not the wording, but that you show that you care for your friend.

    I hope things go better for them.
    Writewizard
     
  16. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thank you all for replying to my question and giving me great advice.
    Richard
     

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