Post by Peter Moylan Post by Don P Post by email@example.com
1) I was surprised to watch him clean the room.
Is that sentence grammatical? Is it idiomatic?
I think 'to see' would work, but 'to watch' doesn't.
1. The sentence is grammatical (by negative proof: it breaks no
rule) and unidiomatic (by positive proof (statistical rarity.))
2. The thesaurus was invented precisely to help us find the right
word in cases like this. My old Penguin Roget offers about 50 verbs
cognate with "watch."
A thesaurus is useless for what navi wants. It gives us words that
might, in the right circumstances, be acceptable substitutes. What it
does not do is tell us what those circumstances are. For that we have to
rely on our experience with the language.
Most of the time a thesaurus is telling us what we already knew, but
couldn't bring to the forefront of our minds. It's a memory jogger,
useful for someone fluent in the language, but of only limited help to a
Well, that's how it's supposed to work. In a really insightless article in
The Atlantic some years ago (it was a summer two-month issue, and the
article was New Yorker length), Simon Winchester brought horror stories
of schoolchildren using words in essays that they had plucked straight
from a thesaurus entry without looking up their meanings.
It read as though Winchester had never read even Roget's Preface to the
original edition, and didn't have the slightest idea of what his purpose
was in compiling the book. And that was why I've never read anything else
Winchester has published -- especially on language, especially the tomes
on the OED.