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Some questions about English

hirashin

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Dear native English speakers,
I have some questions about English. Would someone help me?
Question : In each pair, does (b) have the same meaning as (a)?
1 (a) I wish I could speak English more fluently.
(b) I wish I spoke English more fluently.
2 (a) I am good at math/maths.
(b) I am good in math/maths.
3 (a) He rarely comes here.
(b) He hardly comes here.
4 (a) To me, biology is more interesting than physics.
(b) To me, physics is less interesting than biology.
5 (a) His attitude is far from polite.
(b) His attitude is anything but polite.

Thanks in advance.
Hirashin
 

hirashin

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Thanks for the help, NickChan.
 

MRubingh

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Hello Hirasin san. (Are you the same Hirasin as on the yahoo
japaneseisnihongo forum?)

I'm not a native English speaker (I'm from the Netherlands originally),
but I have a long experience with English. (The Netherlands is almost
bilingual anyway.)

All your pairs have the same meaning, the only difference in some of the
pairs (namely, 1, 3, 4, 5) is a difference in faint nuances ... but these
nuance differences are really very faint.

> 1 (a) I wish I could speak English more fluently.
> (b) I wish I spoke English more fluently.

Exact same meaning. To me, (a) sounds more like everyday speech, while
(b) may have just a slight "bookish" taste to it, because of the use of
the subjunctive verb "spoke" (it is past tense in form, but grammatically
it is subjunctive).

> 2 (a) I am good at math/maths.
> (b) I am good in math/maths.

I think the normal usage is to use "at" in expressions like this,
i.e. normally one says "I am good or bad AT something". But whether you
use "in" or "at" here isn't really a big point, and the "in" is not out
of place, and wouldn't be perceived as a very strange thing.

> 3 (a) He rarely comes here.
> (b) He hardly comes here.

In my perception (but I'd have to look up the words to be sure), "hardly"
seems the more unusual word, which I think you'd normally use only when
"rarely" doesn't fit. "Hardly" is often seen when expressing some regret
or disappointment (or even anger) at the fact that the thing is not done
often or completely. (Native speakers please correct me.) So in "He hardly
comes here" (more often heard as "He hardly EVER comes here") there seems
to be a taste of regret or disappointment at the fact that "he" doesn't
come more often. The sentence "He rarely comes here" sounds more neutral.

> 4 (a) To me, biology is more interesting than physics.
> (b) To me, physics is less interesting than biology.

Exactly same meaning. That is, as "mathematical statements", their meaning
is absolutely identical.

The only thing is that (a) describes the thing from a "positive" viewpoint
(i.e. stressing the positive), while (b) describes it from a "negative"
viewpoint (i.e. stressing the negative). In discussions with friends,
it wouldn't matter which you use, but in texts that aim to sell someting
(such as application letters), you'd want to use the formulation which
stresses the positive viewpoint.

> 5 (a) His attitude is far from polite.
> (b) His attitude is anything but polite.

This is only my very personal view, but I have a sort of life-long struggle
with the expression "anything but" (which also occurs in German and in
Dutch). It seems to me an overly flowery and complicated expression.
Myself, I'd always prefer the "far from", because it seems clearer.
You hear the expression "anything but" very often. But maybe less often
in texts where precision is important (such as techical documentation).

---
With best regards,

Menno ( メンノー )
 

Stuntie

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All fine sentences.

It often comes down to very subtle diferences.

1(a) is in the present tense suggesting you are learning English and want to speak it better. For example if you didn't understand a new point of grammar.
1(b) is in the past tense and suggests you have learnt English, but not as well as you hoped. For example if you heard a sentance and knew you had learnt it but hadn't remebered it.

5(b) We get told all the time we should use 'however' instead of 'but' as 'but' is seen as a very blunt and harsh word to use (that brutal 'bu' sound). So even in sentences such as this, where you would not be able to use 'however', that sense of the harshness of the word 'but' still remains. Making it the harsher of the two sentences.

I stress though that these are very subtle differences that you could use for emphasis than any problem with the sentence itself.

For number 2 I would go with 'at' for the subject, 'in' for the class.
2(a) good at [the subject of]
2(b) good in [the class studying]

Also Math is the US term, Maths is the UK term.
Nornally people don't mind (although Math sounds wrong to my UK ears). However, for technical translations it can be important to use the correct technical terms for that country. I once had to 'translate' a US Math school text to a UK Maths text. It was highly ammusing to see how much the different countries insist on very specific technical terms.
 
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