1. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Idiom Guide

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Poziga, Aug 25, 2014.

    Not long ago, I've decided to write exclusively in English (mainly because everything I write in my language becomes sentimental). After that, I began thinking about my English being inadequate, mostly about phrases, wrong/right word choice etc. Consequently, I began thinking that maybe it would be good if there was a thread on this forum where (English non-native) writers could post phrases, sentences of their work, where some specific words were troubling them. If members and, mostly, admins agree that this thread could be useful, then it could become pinned, for easier access. Of course it is also possible that this thread will fall into oblivion, but it's worth a try. :D

    There are some rules though. Since we are writers, it's also our job to do a research. So please post your problems only if you couldn't find a a solution on the internet.
    In my opinion, the easiest way to look up the meaning of words are various monolingual dictionaries (I personally like Oxford dictionary, for beginners Longman dictionary of contemporary English might be better) where you can see the definitions of words. Then, if you are still not sure if the word is the right one for your context, you can check in a corpus how the word has been previously used (I like British National Corpus).
    I hope I was understandable and I'm looking forward to our cooperation. :)

    My first question is rather simple: can a cough be strained, as in: "A strained cough came from the master bedroom. Melvin's mother was sick again."

    Thank you. :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
  2. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I think this is a great idea and not only for English phrases but as a place where people could ask for help with any language, so long as they can't find the answers elsewhere.

    I use google translate a lot for translating to Italian but I do have an italian friend who checks and corrects those translations simply because a lot of on-line translators will translate literally and could actually give you an incorrect phrase.

    It also helps when you are looking for phrases from different parts of a country too, not everyone in England speaks the same kind of English!

    And, yes. You can have a strained cough! (you can also have a dry cough, a hacking cough and a rasping cough)
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2014
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  3. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great, I'm happy to see that you like the idea, I agree with you about the multiple languages, sometimes it's hard to find a translation and members could help each other out here. :) thanks for the cough clarification. :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2014
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  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Given that, as an interpreter, the bête noire of which you speak is only too familiar to me, I shall sticky this thread and see if it gets some use. ;) I would suggest giving the thread a title more descriptive of its intent, though. I can change the thread title for you at any time. ;)
     
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  5. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haha yeah, I agree, the name kinda sucks, but I have huge problems when it comes to names and titles... You should see how many days did I struggle with a story title for 2nd annual science fiction contest..
    I'll give it some thought, but if anyone else think of something, feel free to change the name. :)
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think this thread was a good idea. :)

    If I'm not sure whether something is idiomatic or not, I google the hell out of it to see if natives use it in the way I've planned. Doesn't always work, but it has helped tremendously a few times if I've been unsure of a preposition or an article in some context. Over the years you kind of build enough confidence to use the language flexibly and even boldly.
     
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  7. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    I also have problems with prepositions. In German language it's a disaster in this early stage of learning with them, but in English only a few prepositions are hard to differentiate; from and of, are two of them.

    Boldly, yes. I notice this every day I write in English. I use a certain word, but am not sure if it's the right one. I look up the definition in the dictionary and it matches the way I used it. But sometimes I'm still not sure, especially if my sentence is some kind of a phrase.

    Like this one: "The mask avoided the boy's ears." In my language it's normal, but in English I'm not sure if "avoid" is the right word. To me it sounds good. :)
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm.... I cannot say it is wrong, no, but it does sound a little strange. Avoid implies intent. Intent implies consciousness. The sentence sounds like the mask is a being with awareness.
     
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  9. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, you perfectly described what was bugging me... It sounds a bit weird. Not wrong, weird...
    Another word was "evade", but I think avoid is better.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Evade actually implies even more intent and agency than avoid. Evade immediately calls into being an opposing force/thing that will soon be mentioned. It would be my idiomatic tendency to find a structure where the mask is not made the actor of such an active verb.

    The mask left his ears exposed.... The mask exposed his ears.... Something like that.
     
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  11. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, sometimes it helps asking another person for opinion. I was so focused on my sentence that I couldn't think outside the box. Thank you. :)
     
  12. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    You could use avoid in that sentence if you were to write:

    The mask was placed in such a way as to avoid the boy's ears.


    Avoid, to me is a word that's used with some kind of movement, in this case, the movement of the mask when putting it on. If you are talking about it already in situ, then yes, avoid would be the wrong kind of word.
     
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  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I would not use the sentence "The mask avoided the boy's ears". I frowned immediately upon reading it and honestly haven't a clue what you could've meant. I only got the meaning thanks to reading Wreybie's rewriting of it.
     
  14. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haha, that bad, huh? :oops:
    I'll make it better, probably with Wreybies' example.

    Thank you all. :)
     
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  15. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can write 'a strained cough' but it is not so pretty to read - beware jumbling too many words in the painting of scene - in this instance the power of the word is lost and only appears clumsy, or amateur.

    Better to use 'strained' as a verb which gives you the visual impact of an individual straining, hmm.

    As for headgear...it missed or avoided the ears. I tend to evade only questions or the enemy.

    I enjoy working with esl students, always pleased to contribute my enormous wisdom in this area.
     
  16. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    you can write most kinds of coughs, strained, strangled, hacking, rough, small. It depends on a) what you are trying to get across to the reader and b) how the reader will interpret it.

    You could write strained, or you could write "he coughed the kind of cough that left him feeling like half the phlegm was still attached to the inside of his chest and his eyes were bulging."

    We all describe things differently no matter what language we use, writing is all about painting pictures with words.

    For me, strained would be as above. Hacking would be like a cough associated with an illness, like whooping cough. A rough cough would be like a smokers cough, strangled would be a cough to clear your airway, as if you were choking on a drink, piece of food or even someone's bad joke and a small cough would make me think of someone trying to politely shush a bunch of people so that they could get everyone's attention.
     
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  17. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I'm righter.
     
  18. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Thought you might be, somehow.
     
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  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    All right, native speakers, riddle me this as the grammar part of my brain can't figure it out. This excerpt is from Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, a piece of dialogue.

    I thought I wouldn't put the article there because of the presence of 'some' but then it is used with the second 'sort of'. Is there some grammatical explanation to this? Is there some idiomatic thing going on there that I just can't recognize?
     
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  20. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ooooh, this is a good question, I was also asking myself this question many times. Eager to see the explanation. :)
     
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    What I would say is going on here is just evidence of the pliable redundancy that is often evident in English. In both of the examples represented in this quote, the article can either be present or omitted and I wouldn't bat an eye. The presence of the article sounds a bit more formal, but its absence in no way sounds incorrect, nor is it technically incorrect either.

    Some sort of gift.
    Some sort of a gift.
    Some sort of paralysis.
    Some sort of a paralysis.

    The article in this case makes no change in specificity of the item, so it's kindov'a lazy article here. It can dip out. :)

    There are some other examples where this kind of pliability is present and words can be omitted with no material change to the sentence or breach of syntax.

    I know that that is the answer.
    I know that is the answer.

    They mean the same thing. The first that is the subordinating that and the second is the demonstrative pronoun. In the second version with only one that, it is the subordinating that that has been omitted. It's not really needed, though some sticklers may insist on its use.
     
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  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks, @Wreybies! Do you know which one is more common, to omit or to keep it? 'Cause so far I've gotten the impression it's often omitted. I explained it to myself it's due to some, that it'd make the article redundant, but is there really such logic going on?
     
  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In casual speech omission would pretty much be the rule, yes.

    Some is not the culprit here because it immediately modifies sort and there is the wall created by the preposition of that keeps some out of the game as regards the article. I can see where you were going with that logic, though, because if you take some out of the game completely you feel compelled to then use the article outside the clause boundary.

    Some sort of (a) gift?
    A sort of gift?

    In the second example the article cannot be omitted, but again its outside the clause boundary and is modifying sort, not gift. And even in that second example you could still say a sort of a gift with no issues, though I have to admit that to an American ear it sounds rather Frasier Crane-ish.
     
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  24. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    This thread is an awesome idea both for native and non-native speakers - especially since idioms vary so widely. I'm a native American English speaker but writing an Australian, New Zealander, or British character still requires research (Honestly, even other parts of the U.S. I have to be dialect and accent conscious - I'm from Colorado and live in D.C. but I have characters from Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles).

    Which brings up something else for those who aren't native speakers - English idioms (like any other language I assume) change drastically by region. Australians say all sorts of things that make no sense to me without research.
     
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  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks, this cleared up the issue a lot. I knew you need an article before sort (or kind), but the article -- or its absence -- in between them has baffled me.

    Even in the novel I mentioned it seems to be omitted a lot (although it's by a British author and the story takes place in the early 1900s).
     

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