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  1. #1
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    Feb 2006
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    Default Word order and subtle changes of meaning.

    I gave one of my students the task of finding as many ways of connecting two sentences together in reverse chronological order. For example, given the sentences:

    Mary eats ice-cream. Mary is sick.

    his task was to write sentences like "Mary was sick after eating too much ice-cream" or "Mary was sick as a result of eating too much ice-cream".

    One of the sentences he came up with was this:

    Before being sick, Mary ate a lot of ice-cream.

    To my mind, though, this construction makes it sound as if Mary knew she was going to be sick, but ate a lot of ice-cream all the same. But this connotation doesn't seem so strong if the clauses are reversed:

    Mary ate a lot of ice-cream before being sick.

    That seems a lot more neutral, in that it could mean that Mary ate ice-cream knowing she was about to be sick, but doesn't necessarily mean that.

    I tried constructing sentences like this:

    Pete finished the letter before making the phone-call.
    Before making the phone-call, Pete finished the letter.

    and couldn't see any real difference there at all.

    Is this a figment of my imagination? Or is there some definite rule at work here?

  2. #2
    Anglika is offline No Longer With Us
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    Default Re: Word order and subtle changes of meaning.

    It is a nice point, but I think it is in the mind.

    Before going out, he put on his coat.
    Before buying the book, she checked she had enough money.

    It seems to me stylistic rather than a grammatical problem.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Word order and subtle changes of meaning.

    Oh, it's clearly not the grammar -- if it was the grammar, it would be easy.

    But, you know, some sort of rule would be better than, "Yeah, well, it's just instinct."

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