My little linguistic discovery

I think I’ve mentioned here on my blog that I find great pleasure in discovering things about the English language. Now that I’ve started the CORPUS LINGUISTICS: METHOD, ANALYSIS, INTERPRETATION Moodle course, I like to play with corpora, and particularly with my SketchEngine, even more than I did before.

My passion is often fuelled by what happens in class. Today, for example, we played with the word hesitate and my students came up with hesitatingly. I added another adverb they could derive from hesitate hesitantly. I thought hesitatingly and hesitantly were very similar in meaning but I couldn’t say what the difference was because the translations are roughly the same. So I checked with the British National Corpus and started searching. I found that hesitatingly is much less frequent than hesitantly, but I was particularly curious to see what one can *do* hesitantly and hesitatingly.

I found hesitantly in the company of the following verbs: said, began, asked, spoke, murmured, suggested, whispered, queried, agreed, entered, continued, walked … hesitantly.

Hesitatingly appeared with the following verbs: said, described, peered, explains, told a story, accepted … hesitatingly. 

What struck me immediately was that as a general rule, both adverbs appear before or after verbs in the simple past narrative (these are often found in stories and descriptions of past events, such as personal anecdotes). In other words, and in laymen’s terms, neither of the adverbs is seen around will, would or have +past participle, for example.

It may seem quite insignificant and pointless, but I still consider it my own little linguistic discovery and I hope to make more in the future. 🙂



About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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3 Responses to My little linguistic discovery

  1. M. Makino says:

    I always forget to write mine down, but consider them (before I forget them) to be more evidence for the futility of trying to teach everything explicitly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    Do you ever use Google n-grams Hana? I just looked up your two words on there, and got this: So maybe it’s also a question of when you grew up? I think I’d mostly use hesitantly, and I’m not sure I’ve used ‘hesitatingly’. These posts are fascinating 🙂
    Thanks for making me think, as always,

    Liked by 1 person

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