May 16, 2006

English Language Irritation

Whilst attending a lecture on writing a thesis, I was told to watch–out for grammar mistakes and sentences that don't mean what you want them to. The example given was
I was sorry to hear that your wife had died from your daughter
Meaning His wife died from something the daughter had e.g. a virus or something
I was sorry to hear from your daughter that your wife had died
Meaning Why didn't you tell me? I had to hear it from your daughter
The solution given is that you meant to say: –
I was sorry to hear that your wife had died. Your daughter told me.
Everyone understands this. But the sentence means that you aren't sorry that his wife died only that you've heard that she has. Suggesting that you were earwigging a private conversation that you shouldn't have been listening to. But then if you just say: –
I'm sorry that your wife died. Your daughter told me.
It sound so impersonal and mean and if I was to hear this I would be expecting a BUT get on with your work, it isn't an excuse…
So what is the correct English? Something that everyone understands the meaning of even though it means something else or the correct meaning that sounds rude and impolite?
Or it there a better way of saying this?

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Roger

    Option 3. is fine. I don't think many bereaved blokes would even notice that the speaker was only sad to hear about it.
    Language is supposed to serve us, not the other way round. The day we start using it only to convey pure information, we become robots.

    16 May 2006, 15:19

  2. Roger

    Having said that, thesis writing IS about conveying information. So I would have to say that talking about a personal thing like death in a lecture about thesis writing was perhaps just a bit inappropriate.

    16 May 2006, 15:22

  3. Why not the other way around:
    Your daughter told me your wife died. I'm sorry.

    Although I'd probably say something else in the second part.

    16 May 2006, 17:33


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