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I put on some music. My wife starts singing along. I look at her, then abruptly turns the music back off.

My question is about the part in bold. Is it grammatical and correct with the information I have given you?

Would then abruptly turns the music off again be more natural?

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  • As it stands, it's not clear who is turning the music off. If it's you, you need 'turn' rather than 'turns'. – legatrix Dec 9 '20 at 17:36
  • With 'turn' for 'turns', I think both variants are fine. The slight awkwardness comes from the use of 'abruptly'---in my opinion, one usually calls the actions of others 'abrupt', because there is a slight connotation of unexpectedness. In this case I might prefer 'promptly' or 'swiftly'. – legatrix Dec 9 '20 at 17:38
  • I put on some music. My wife starts singing along. I look at her, then abruptly turn the music off. You could simply turn it off, no need to use the word 'back'. Also 'again' would suggest you priorly did that once or more already. And it should be 'turn' not 'turns'. – Dhanishtha Ghosh Dec 9 '20 at 17:38
  • @DhanishthaGhosh you are correct that neither 'back' nor 'again' are required, strictly speaking. However, they are both perfectly natural. I do not agree with your logical argument against the use of 'again', because the 'again' refers to the state of the music being off rather than the action of turning off. – legatrix Dec 9 '20 at 17:40
  • @legatrix I am sorry, but I did not understand how are you referring to it as a state. I mean how can the music be off? I certainly did not catch you with that. I will recommend if we talk in the chat room. Because they may go as a long conversation, and I do not wish to crowd it in here. – Dhanishtha Ghosh Dec 9 '20 at 17:43
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With 'turn' for 'turns', I think both variants are fine. (Others prefer back or neither; see comments.)

The slight awkwardness comes from the use of 'abruptly'---in my opinion, one usually calls the actions of others 'abrupt', because there is a slight connotation of unexpectedness. In this case I might prefer 'promptly' or 'swiftly'.

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It's just a matter of "idiomacy", not "grammar / syntax" as such. But as this chart shows, there's a marked preference for turning something back on, as opposed to turning it off again (rather than turning it back off and on again)...

enter image description here

Note that I only multiplied the hits for the off versions by 10 so they'd all fit on the same graph. We're only interested in the relative preference for the back / again versions - it's irrelevant that both off versions are less common than both on versions.

Syntactically, it's perfectly okay to speak of turning something back off (so long as it had previously1 been turned off on at least one occasion). We're just much more likely to speak of turning it off again.


1 Note that native speakers wouldn't usually include either again or back unless the referent had been explicitly "turned off" before. In OP's context, that doesn't seem to be the case (presumably, the speaker only turned the music off on a single occasion within the current "frame of reference").

But sometimes in such contexts we can use back or again to imply "reverting" (to some previous state), as opposed to repeating something that was done before.

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  • I thought "idiomaticity" was a more commonly understood/recognized word than "idiomacy". – Eddie Kal Dec 9 '20 at 18:17
  • I haven't looked into that one (yet, as I write! :) I suppose they're both more common than, say, "idiomaticness" - but whichever version I write, I'm likely to put it in scare quotes at least the first time I use it. – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '20 at 18:33
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    ...Yup! It certainly looks like you're right! But if I look at just 1910-1950 it's a whole nother story! – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '20 at 18:36

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