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Synonymous responses

17 December 2019

Spoken grammar: lexico-grammatical features of conversation highlighted in corpus research.


Synonymous responses


As I mentioned in my entry on terminology, titled ‘noun phrase prefaces’ (15 November 2019), there’s a tendency, often at the beginning of conversations, for people to rephrase what they’ve just heard. Why? Probably because it’s an easy way to keep the conversation going, and helps to establish rapport between the speakers. Frequent types of ‘synonymous response’ include single adjectives, sometimes with an intensifier or tag, and short ‘rephrasings’:


A: Terrible news about the library closing.

B: Awful, isn’t it? I come here all the time.


A: That was a useful presentation, wasn’t it?

B: Absolutely. Really helpful.


A: We’d better hurry, then, if we want to get there on time.

B:  You’re right. We can’t hang about.


A: The problem is, she worries all the time.

B: I know. She’s always got something on her mind.


An interesting, but less common feature – mentioned on page 171 of the Cambridge Grammar of English – is to make a link to what you’ve just heard in another way, by adding a dependent clause:


A: I don’t mind working on Sunday.

B: As long as they pay us extra.

A: Of course.


A: I'm going for a run.

B: Even though it's pouring?


When I wrote about this a few years ago, an editor pointed out that it reminded her of the scripts in second-rate detective shows:


(arriving at the crime scene)

- It looks like a straightforward accident.

- Unless … unless he was pushed!


To find out about teaching spoken grammar, visit my online course, Spoken Grammar: A Guide for English Language Teachers.