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I am learning English and trying to teach my son to speak English in daily life. We live in China. My son likes to play with tap water and observe the water running out. I always wanted to tell him “Turn the flow down a little.” Would this language be natural or comprehensible to a native English speaker?

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I would agree that turn the flow down a little is perfectly comprehensible, however, while I would not go so far as to say it is unnatural, it is not quite idiomatic either. It has a certain precision to it that one might expect from a scientist or engineer or just one who likes to speak precisely. (Ironically, the use of the word flow also has shades of meaning one might associate with certain alternative or counter culture lifestyles - hippies, surfers, new ageists, artists, etc).

Typically in this kind of informal context I would expect someone to say simply turn down the water a little or even, if one were right there and it is clear what one is referring to, turn that down a little. In both cases you could replace water/that/it with faucet/ spigot/ tap. As is true with many idioms - the grammar of this is somewhat wanting; water as a thing in itself is not something you turn down. You may turn the faucet handle or spigot (at least this is the traditional way of adjusting the faucet, though modern faucets may require more of a shifting or lever action then a twisting action) but this is not really what you are after - you just want the flow of water to be reduced!

It is interesting that your expression eliminates but implies the water while the idiom eliminates but implies the flow.

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  • Would you please expand the dialog? Such as Son: Why did you ask me to turn it down ? Dad: Because we need to conserve water. – Benny Jul 13 '18 at 14:47
  • Would you please expand the dialog? There is a general dialog between my son and me, but in Chinese. Would you please correct them if they are not idiomatic? Thanks a lot! Son: Why did you ask me to turn it down ? Dad: Because we need to conserve water. Son: But how can I wash my hands clean? Dad: Even if the water flow is thin, you still can wash your hands clean. – Benny Jul 13 '18 at 14:57
  • The only real objection I have here is with the adjective thin. It would sound more correct to say "even with the flow of water reduced you can still wash your hands clean" or more idiomatically, "even with the water turned down (to low), you can still get your hands clean". I have sons myself though and I am sure you will have to demonstrate this for him! – Frank G Jul 24 '18 at 15:37

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