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Thread: bad at or with

  1. #1
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    Default bad at or with

    I've read a sentence somewhere: She is bad with touching blood. Which sentence means she can't stand blood. Would this sentence be correct in the following way: She is bad at touching blood. Is there a rule abou when we can use be bad at doing sg. or be bad with doing sg. ?
    Thanks in advance:
    Baraka

  2. #2
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    Default Re: bad at or with

    Quote Originally Posted by baraka
    I've read a sentence somewhere: She is bad with touching blood. Which sentence means she can't stand blood. Would this sentence be correct in the following way: She is bad at touching blood. Is there a rule abou when we can use be bad at doing sg. or be bad with doing sg. ?
    Thanks in advance:
    Baraka
    This isn't really the intended meaning of that collocation, Baraka.

    1) She is bad with children.

    This means that she doesn't handle, control or treat children very well.

    2) He is bad at {doing something}.

    This means that the person is not very skilled at doing something, for example, "I'm bad at table tennis/skiing/tennis."

    3) She doesn't like/hates {doing something}.

    This is the structure you want to mean the same as, "she can't stand blood".

    She doesn't like touching blood.
    [stronger] She hates touching blood.
    [even stronger] She can't stand touching blood.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: bad at or with

    The above sentence was in an authentic listening comprehension text in which an American girl was talking about her career plans. She is not going to be a doctor because she is bad with touching blood.

    If it doesn't sound right should I avoid using it in this context?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: bad at or with

    Quote Originally Posted by baraka
    If it doesn't sound right should I avoid using it in this context?
    Baraka, it's just her idiolect. As DBP points out, "She's bad with touching blood" means, She can't deal with touching blood. The phrase 'touching blood' is as a gerund phrase. (A gerund is an -ing word that functions as a subject or an object, but never as a verb. A gerund has verbal properties, though, so it can take an object. In our example, 'blood' is the object of 'touching'.)

    Structurally, "bad at" and "bad with" are different. [1] "bad at" takes a gerund phrase, and [2] "bad with" takes a plain, old noun phrase.

    [1] bad at doing something <gerund phrase>
    EXAMPLES
    I'm bad at playing tennis.
    I'm bad at tennis.

    Note, 'playing tennis' is a gerund phrase, but the gerund is often omitted, giving, 'I'm bad at tennis.'

    [2]bad with someone or something <noun phrase>
    EXAMPLES
    I'm bad with children.
    I'm bad with numbers.

    Note, 'bad with' doesn't normally take a gerund phrase, but if the speaker views "bad with" as a synonym for "bad at", then you'll find, e.g., "I'm bad with touching blood."

    In short, it's a case of idiolect. The speaker treats "bad at" and "bad with" as synonyms. To her, they are the same, and that's why she uses "bad with" <gerund phrase>. It's not the norm, but it is a meaningful utterance. If it weren't meaningful, DBP and I wouldn't have been able to explain it to you.

    All the best,

  5. #5
    AlainK Guest

    Default Re: bad at or with

    As a teacher of English as a foreign language, I simplify the problem for my pupils :

    - with and at are both prepositions
    - prepositions are usually followed by a noun, when we need to have something different, i.e. a verb, we give it a form that enables it to function as a noun. In English, the gerund, in French we tend to prefer the infinitive :

    J'aime skier = I like skiing
    J'aime les frites = I like chips

    So here I would tell them it's just a different meaning like in "to look at/ to look after"...

    Maybe that's not standard grammar, but that helps insofar as it works in other contexts such as the use of a verb as a subject :

    Enseigner est épuisant (inf=vb noun + vb + present participle used as an adj.)
    Teaching is exhausting (gerund=vb noun + vb + present participle used as an adj.)

    Edited a few minutes later :

    And I've found this in the "FAQ" thread of this forum :

    A gerund is a verb putting on different clothes.
    It's not posing. Instead, it's a pose.
    Last edited by AlainK; 28-Sep-2005 at 16:22.

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