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  1. #1
    TheParser is online now Key Member
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    Default Is "really" an expletive?

    I know that "there" in "There are 50 states" is called an expletive.

    On Google books, I have just read a passage from On Sentence-Rhythm and Word Order by August Western, published in 1908.

    Dr. Western labels "really" a "mere expletive" in these sentences:

    "If he really loves you --, because unreal love is not love at all."

    "My temperament demands that ... I should show her what I really feel."

    Does anyone have an idea as to why Dr. Warren may have labeled that adverb a "mere expletive"?


    THANK YOU
    Last edited by TheParser; 20-May-2012 at 21:09.

  2. #2
    Esgaleth's Avatar
    Esgaleth is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    Hello TheParser,

    Thanks for opening a new 'really' thread
    Hope, this will get me subscribed not to miss the discussion

    Looking forward to learning more about this wonderful word! Really! (wasn't meant to be expletive )
    Thanks

  3. #3
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    I don't get his point either- it sounds like a private bugbear being dressed up in a dubious grammatical explanation. He may dislike the usage, but I cannot see it as an expletive- it's an adverb modifying the verb for me.

  4. #4
    William Jones is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    I believe that the issue Dr. Western has with 'really' in the two sentences you've given are as follows:

    In sentence 1, 'really' has lost its denotation and is, essentially, a meaningless intensifier. I believe that Western was attempting to allude to this in his choice of sentence: love is a word which, to my best ability to figure it, does not to Western's opinion bear modification of that type. Because 'unreal' love cannot exist, it is pointless (and therefore expletive) to describe someone as 'really' loving someone else.

    Just as in sentence 1, sentence 2 uses 'really' to modify a word which arguably does not accept modification of that type. The argument that 'really' has no grammatical function (that is, does not produce actual modification) would go something like this: Western, "Is it possible to have unreal feelings? Feelings that defy the bounds of reality?" The Universe of English Speakers, "Well, not per se." Western, "Ah ha! Then implying that you need to show your real feelings, implies that until this point you have been displaying feelings which were somehow unreal, and that's not possible."

    Now, I'm not saying that I'm right or that I'm sane. All I'm pointing out is my interpretation of what is probably meant. It is also worth noting that this passage from a well respected English grammar has this to say about expletives: "This use is common in informal speech, especially in direct discourse [as sentence 1]. Usually such an adverb can be dropped from the sentence without affecting it in any way whatever; and, because it has no real function in emphasizing, clarifying, or modifying the thought expressed, it should be employed with caution."

    I look forward to discussing this further.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to nerd out a bit.

    J. Jones

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    It is possible to display unreal feelings, so the other person may legitimately doubt whether they're genuine or not. You can delete the word, but that doesn't mean it cannot be there performing a purpose IMO.

  6. #6
    TheParser is online now Key Member
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    Thank you so much, Mr. Jones, for "nerding out" on my favorite word. I have read that "really" is really difficult to parse in a sentence, and that everyone has different views as to what it modifies. Sometime back, I wrote a note to the Oxford Dictionary (at that time, they would kindly answer questions from ordinary people regarding grammar. I think that they have stopped this service -- perhaps being overwhelmed by questions). In any case, the very kind lady who took the time to answer me said what most people say: "really" is an adverb. Therefore, it modifies a verb, adverb, or adjective. But many authorities say that often it modifies the whole sentence. For example, an expert gave this sentence: Mr. and Mrs. Jones have really bought that house they were thinking about. In other words, that sentence means "In accordance with evidence from reality, they have bought the house." (Expert's name is Carita Paradis. You can find her scholarly article on the Web: "Between epistemic modality and degree: the case of really.") Obviously, "really" cannot modify "bought." Either you buy something or don't buy it. How can you "really" buy something? Nevertheless, I think that in secondary school, teachers would just tell their students that "really" modifies the verb and let it go at that.

    It was really exciting reading your post. I learned a lot. Welcome to the "really" fan club. Now I am going to print out all the great comments from all the people who have contributed to this thread. They will go into my "really" file.

    Many thanks again to Esgaleth, Tdol, and William. Really!

  7. #7
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    That's a really good point.

  8. #8
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    That's a really good point.
    Really?

  9. #9
    William Jones is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    While I agree in essence with the premise that one can display unreal feelings, we're operating under a different definition of 'real' than what, I feel, the sentence and Western are. If we define 'really' as meaning 'actual or true,' then it is possible to have unreal or untrue (falsified) feelings; if we define unreal as 'occurring or existing in reality,' then the idea of really as a modifier of the items in the sentences breaks down. So it really depends on the individual's definition of what 'really' really means.
    Last edited by William Jones; 22-May-2012 at 23:28. Reason: Can't type, really.

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Is "really" an expletive?

    Quote Originally Posted by William Jones View Post
    So it really depends on the individual's definition of what 'really' really means.
    Yup

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