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    #1

    Red face laugh at or laugh about

    Hi folks,

    I read that 'laugh at' is used if the person, situation or the thing that the laughter is directed at is present.
    I know that ' to be present' means to be at hand or locally near by,and
    that the other meaning is 'exist' or 'current' like 'the present President of the
    United States'. In which sense is the word 'present' used here: Does it mean
    that the object of laughter has to be near by the person laughing or just exist
    at the same time. That is why I am confused when I say e. g. 'Everybody is
    laughing at John's speech impediment'. Let's suppose that the scene of the
    speech impediment is not near by but it exists at the same time of the laughter, what would you say, 'laugh at' or 'laugh about'?
    I know that if the speech impediment occurred near by everybody hearing it,
    'laugh at' would be used.
    Is it possible that 'laugh at' is always used in reference to people or groups of people and not 'laugh about'

    Another example: Let us suppose that a friend of mine has just had a slip of his tongue,
    would you say ' Sorry for laughing at your slip of the tongue, Tom, but it sounded so funny'.
    or would it be correct to say 'Sorry for laughing about your slip of the tongue,Tom, but it sounded so funny'.


    Thank you in advance and greetings from Bavaria

    Joern
    Last edited by Joern Matthias; 26-Nov-2013 at 15:02.

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    #2

    Re: laugh at or laugh about

    I am neither a teacher nor a native speaker of English, so I hope my theory is correct:
    The word "present" here should be an adverbial of place. Meaning you laugh at a thing/person you are just experiencing and is funny.
    When you are laughing about something, you are thinking about it, or remembering it or talking about it happening somewhere/sometime else.
    This is how I perceive it.
    Also a different word would have to be used in the sentence for it to have the meaning you provided as the second option.

  1. 5jj's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: laugh at or laugh about

    Quote Originally Posted by Joern Matthias View Post
    I know that ' to be present' means to be at hand or locally near by,and that the other meaning is 'exist' or 'current' like 'the present President of the United States'. In which sense is the word 'present' used here: Does it mean that the object of laughter has to be near by the person laughing or just exist at the same time.
    I must confess that I have never thought about this before.

    The word 'present' in the second sense is not relevant; we do not use the word in that sense immediately after BE. 'The president is present' can mean only that he is here.

    In the unkind situation of everybody laughing at John's speech impediment, we are talking about what people do when they hear John speak. He may be 'present' at the time of the laughter when only his voice can be heard. We can laugh at jokes we read that were written years ago - the jokes themselves are present on the printed page. Note that we can laugh at something funny or we can mock something when we laugh at it. Context will normally make the intended meaning clear.

    When the object of the laughter is not present in any way at all, then I don't think we can naturally laugh at it.
    Last edited by emsr2d2; 26-Nov-2013 at 20:38.

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    #4

    Re: laugh at or laugh about

    Quote Originally Posted by Joern Matthias View Post
    Another example: Let us suppose that a friend of mine has just had a slip of his tongue,
    would you say ' Sorry for laughing at your slip of the tongue, Tom, but it sounded so funny'.
    or would it be correct to say 'Sorry for laughing about your slip of the tongue,Tom, but it sounded so funny'.
    I would use laughing at there.

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