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Between "Indicate" and "reveal", which is better in this statement?

  1. Whether it's curled up in the fetal position, flat on the stomach or stretched out across the bed, the way people sleep reveals their personality, a British sleep expert said.
  2. Whether it's curled up in the fetal position, flat on the stomach or stretched out across the bed, the way people sleep indicates their personality, a British sleep expert said.
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    See the entries for "indicate" and "reveal" in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms, a great resource for this and many similar questions.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jun 30 '17 at 5:44
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    In English, the comma is not placed in a random position between elements of a sentence. The comma is very small, but very important. In comma spacing,this is wrong. In comma spacing , this is wrong. In comma spacing ,this is wrong. In comma spacing, this is right! Jun 30 '17 at 5:55
  • Thank you for pointing out this mistake, I will remember it.
    – ghudt yi
    Jun 30 '17 at 6:56
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As often happens in English, you can get some insight into the shades of meaning of each word by looking at their etymologies.

Reveal comes from Latin roots meaning "to pull back a veil". It suggests that the thing revealed was hidden behind something, perhaps deliberately, perhaps not. A "revealing dress" is a dress that exposes a lot of skin. Here's a book titled The Great Pyramid Reveals Its Secrets. Another book: What the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know: A CPA Reveals the Tricks of the Trade.* If the aspects of personality that you can deduce from a person's sleeping position are of a kind that most people prefer to keep secret, then reveal is probably the better choice.

Indicate comes from the same Latin root as index, as in "index finger". It means to point to something, to establish a fact or conclusion in a plain way. The needle on a speedometer indicates the car's speed. An economic indicator is a statistic that provides information about some aspect of a nation's economy. A chemical indicator indicates some attribute of a solution, like its pH, by the color it turns to when exposed to the solution. As these examples suggest, "indicate" would give the sentence an objective, precise, scientific sound. If a person's sleeping position "points to" the personality traits you're describing much like the way a speedometer's reading "points to" the car's speed, then indicate is probably the better choice.

The better choice depends on what you want to emphasize—the way you'd like the reader to think of the relation between sleeping position and personality.

See also the entries for "reveal" and "indicate" in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms. There you'll find more synonyms and more subtle distinctions and connotations spelled out—or perhaps I should say, revealed, if I want to make it sound like those synonyms have long been hidden from public view but now are finally available for anyone to see.


IRS = Internal Revenue Service, the part of the United States government that collects federal taxes. CPA = Certified Public Accountant. So, the book is about ways to avoid paying taxes, which most people don't know about.

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  • My bad, I didn't reread the question when making that comment. However, it looks like a quote, so I'd assume this was homework, in which case there would be a correct answer. As far as the question taken without that fact goes, though, your answer is definitely superior. Jun 30 '17 at 6:26
  • @Lijero Ah, indeed if it's homework there's probably some presumption that only one answer is correct. If so, that presumption needs to be debunked. ;)
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jun 30 '17 at 6:30
  • I modified my answer to emphasize your perspective more, and I'll keep that in mind when answering similar questions in the future. I've been a bit concerned about making things readable for the context of ELL, and your answer blows all of that out of the water, so, how do you determine what level you're speaking at? Considering your rep, you're probably doing that right. Jun 30 '17 at 6:40
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    @Lijero Rep isn't a reliable indicator of quality. ;) I didn't have any info about the OP's level of fluency, so I just took a wild guess. I could have been wrong. This is why it's good to have multiple answers, with different approaches! Mostly I wanted to help the OP understand the "feel" of the words, beyond what a definition says—and to let the OP know that etymologies are a gold mine for quickly picking up the feel of a word, though learning from typical or well-known usages is best.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jun 30 '17 at 15:08
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To reveal means "to make known", especially something hidden or secret. However, someone's personality is probably not a secret, and how someone sleeps does not reveal for sure their personality.

Indicates makes more sense in this context because it does not imply secrecy. It also means that the way someone sleeps suggests (not for sure) something about their personality, instead of determining it.

I answered as if that was a quote and there is a correct answer, this being a question relating to some homework exercise, by reasoning out which one would make more sense, without the context of the study or the rest of the article to figure out the intended connotation. However, if you're asking for the purposes of your own writing, Ben is absolutely correct! Neither one is objectively correct, and you should pick one depending upon what you want to tell the reader.

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