10

Imagine yourself in a road where the driver is your friend and your are sitting in assistant seat. You feel a bit tired and are catching some Z's. Suddenly a car accident happens and you notice it, but because of a shocking blow you become unconscious. When you come to, someone is going to find out what happened because your friend is unconscious yet. Which one of the following self-made sentences sounds more idiomatic and natural in this sense? If no one is natural, please let me know what would a native speaker would say in this situation:

  • I was catching some Z’s that the accident happened abruptly.

  • I was having a cat nap that the accident happened abruptly.

  • 7
    Can I be so bold as to ask what brought this question on? – Mr Lister Jan 3 '17 at 12:17
  • 6
    Just replace "that" with "when" and you're all set. But I'd recommend deleting "abruptly" as well, since it's hard to imagine a slow-happening accident in a moving vehicle. – Carl Witthoft Jan 3 '17 at 19:31
  • 2
    @Carl Slow accidents do occur, but a sleeping passenger wouldn't know the difference, I imagine! – Kyle Strand Jan 3 '17 at 21:02
  • 8
    "assistant seat" This is called the passenger seat, at least in American English. – jpmc26 Jan 3 '17 at 22:56
  • 2
    Also, "your are sitting" may simply be a typo rather than a grammatical misunderstanding, but it should be "you are sitting in the passenger seat". "...is unconscious yet" is technically correct but archaic; the idiomatic phrase would be "is still unconscious." "Self-made" is understandable in context but not quite correct--it usually refers to something that made itself (e.g. a "self-made man"). "No one" usually refers to people, not objects, so your final sentence could more idiomatically start "If neither is natural..." – Kyle Strand Jan 3 '17 at 23:22
14

Abruptly is redundant in both sentences since "accidents" are usually abrupt.

What you are trying to say is

I was taking a nap when the accident happened.
I was asleep when the accident happened

So either "catching some z's" or "having a cat nap" could be used since both are equivalent phrases to "taking a nap". The choice is stylistic.

http://www.dpaki.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Carcolepsy-The-Science-Behind-Why-People-Instantly-Pass-Out-In-The-Car.jpg
(source: dailymail.co.uk)

carcolepsy                                                         nap(ping) cat
  • Do the infinitives "to be asleep" and "to take a nap" mean the same @Peter? – A-friend Jan 3 '17 at 12:40
  • 2
    @A-friend: No; a nap additionally implies that it's a short period. You normally wouldn't use the word "nap" when you're asleep in the middle of the night. – MSalters Jan 3 '17 at 13:49
  • 1
    @MSalters: I would also say that it implies sleeping at a time other than usual nighttime sleeping. Would you agree? – Jack Aidley Jan 3 '17 at 15:24
  • 1
    @A-friend "You are asleep" during the time you are "taking a nap". A "nap" implies a short sleep during the daytime and a "cat nap" implies a "very short sleep" similar to "nodding off for a few winks" s a cat might do on a sunny window sill. – Peter Jan 3 '17 at 18:04
  • 1
    @JackAidley: Things can get a bit confused when you're jet-lagged (or on either pole ;)). But yes, "nap" generally refers to all but the main sleep episode. – MSalters Jan 4 '17 at 8:26
29
  • I had dozed off when we crashed.
    .......................... when the car accident happened.

You should use the past perfect tense because your falling asleep happened before the car accident.

doze off phrasal verb
If you doze off, you fall into a light sleep, especially during the daytime. [V P] ⇒ I closed my eyes for a minute and must have dozed off.

  • 7
    +1 for "dozed off" – that's the exact expression that popped into my mind as well. It's hard to explain why, but I'd probably save "catching some Z's" for when I was napping in my own bed, and "taking a cat nap" for a short nap on a living room sofa. – J.R. Jan 3 '17 at 9:23
  • 6
    @superluminary I don't know if "dozing off" implies foolishness, but it does imply unplanned sleep. In the wrong situations, dozing off could be foolish (e.g. at work), but dozing off in the passenger seat of a car is pretty normal. However, one does not typically decide to doze off. – Harrison Paine Jan 3 '17 at 14:59
  • 3
    @superluminary - Maybe it's regional, as you surmise. I can assure you, doze has no "connotations of foolishness" where I am (in the U.S.), just connotations of a light sleep, often in a chair instead of a bed. – J.R. Jan 3 '17 at 16:20
  • 5
    @superluminary I disagree that "doze" has anny conotation of foolishness in UK usage. "Dozy" is more likely to be interpreted as "bumbling and incompetent" rather than "prone to dozing" but "doze" has no such connotations. – David Richerby Jan 3 '17 at 16:27
  • 7
    @J.R. As a British speaker, I think that "doze" means exactly what you think it means. – David Richerby Jan 3 '17 at 16:27
15

Under this kind of condition, I'd be likely to adopt a quite formal tone, rather than less formal phrases such as "dozed off", so I'd think something like:

I'm sorry, I was asleep at the time of the accident. I don't know what happened.

Mind you, I'd expect a certain lack of coherence from someone who had just regained conciousness after an accident so perhaps a less coherent response is appropriate.

  • 1
    What about "I was nodding off at the time of the accident. I don't know what happened." Jack? – A-friend Jan 3 '17 at 13:22
  • 1
    @A-friend That sentence is fine, but "nodding off" means falling asleep, so the meaning has changed. – David Richerby Jan 3 '17 at 16:06
  • 5
    In my mind, this is less about a difference in formality than a difference in meaning. Phrases like "dozed off" and "had nodded off" imply a brief and light sleep, whereas "was asleep" seems to connote a more prolonged and deeper slumber at the time of the accident. I'd have no problem using dozed off in an accident report if I was convinced I had nodded off just before the accident happened. – J.R. Jan 3 '17 at 16:25
  • 1
    @J.R. I don't think there's a practical difference. The passenger in question was unconscious enough that they are not aware of the events that caused the accident. So while there might be more precise statements about the passenger's state, simplifying to, "I was asleep," is perfectly reasonable. The only reason I could see to be more precise is if the passenger is aware of some details but not many because they were going back and forth between consciousness. – jpmc26 Jan 3 '17 at 23:00
  • 1
    @A-friend To expand a bit on David Richerby's comment, "nodding off" and "dozing off" both imply that the speaker was not yet entirely asleep (but was not entirely conscious either) at the time of the accident, whereas "having a cat nap," "catching some Z's", "dozing" (not "dozing off"), and "asleep" all imply that the speaker was already entirely unconscious when the accident occurred. (They are not entirely synonymous, though, since, as J.R. mentions, they have various connotations of how "light" or "heavy" the sleep was, and as this answer points out, some are more formal than others.) – Kyle Strand Jan 3 '17 at 23:26
14
  • I was catching some Z’s that the accident happened abruptly.

  • I was having a cat nap that the accident happened abruptly.

The second half of both of these doesn't work. "That" isn't suitable where you've put it – I think your getting confused with the construction "I was so [adjective] that [event]", meaning "[Event] happened because I was very [adjective]." So you might say "I was so tired that the accident happened abruptly" but, still, that doesn't really make sense because you being tired didn't cause the accident or cause it to be abrupt.

What you really mean is that you were asleep and the accident happened abruptly. I guess the point is that you didn't have time to wake up and figure out what was going on until the accident had already happened. But car crashes are (almost) always abrupt, so that part's redundant. Instead, you can just say something like

  • I was catching some Z's/having a cat nap when the accident happened.

Now to address the question of whether it's idiomatic. I'd say that "catching some Z's" isn't idiomatic, especially when spoken to a police officer. I can just about imagine the most laid-back jazz musician saying something like that, but it would sound weird for me to say it. "Having a cat nap" is fine; I might not say it myself but that's just personal style. It's maybe more detail than is necessary, since the only relevant information is that you were asleep when the accident happened and it doesn't really matter how long you intended to sleep for. So I'd probably just say one of

  • I was asleep when it happened.
  • I was napping when it happened.
  • 3
    "Catching some Z's" sounds like the sort of slang that may have been much more popular half a century ago (which probably explains your association with jazz), but I don't actually know the history of the phrase. I do suspect OP probably picked it up from a book or a movie. – Kyle Strand Jan 3 '17 at 17:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.