Using synonymous language

Wednesday 8 February 2012

by Ken Paterson

For better or worse, we often seem to repeat what the person we’re talking to has just said:

- The traffic is awful today.

- I know. Terrible, isn’t it?

When we were researching ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (follow the links ‘Titles’ and ‘Language Practice’ on the DELTA website for details), we noticed three types of ‘synonymous language’:

1. single word adjectives, as in the example above, sometimes with a tag question;

2. phrases with a similar meaning:

- He’s got some interesting things to say, but he just keeps talking!

- You’re right. He never stops.

3. the adding of a dependent clause:

- She can be quite rude with people, Joanne.

- Unless she wants something, yes.

 

The third of these is the least common, and can sound a bit stagey. Our editor, Tanya Whatling, pointed out that this device is quite often used on detective shows:

- He’s a hygiene freak, apparently. Always wears gloves, even at home.

- Which may be why there are no prints.

 

We explore these three devices in the book, and offer students some practice exercises.

It can be quite an interesting ten-minute activity for students to give the devices a go in class. Students prepare a few everyday opening lines and then try them out in pairs. But note that partners need to be given plenty of time to compose their synonymous response when they do this the first time!

Next time …. ‘heads’:

- That book on the desk, is it yours?

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