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His English has got rusty after years of disuse.

Are there any other ways to express this?

Here's what I came up with. Not sure if it sounds natural to you.

He has experienced a decline in his English skills after years of disuse.

Please feel free to provide your own options.

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  • 1
    I'd probably say 'I'm out of practice with X'. – Void Mar 21 at 13:19
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    For me got rusty sounds more natural than experienced a decline which is in a higher register. Both are correct of course. – mdewey Mar 21 at 13:25
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    To rephrase it, he has forgotten much of his English. – Ronald Sole Mar 21 at 13:28
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    @Underwood: I think it's a matter of personal preference. I would personally use 'with'. – Void Mar 21 at 13:34
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    I don't disagree with others who find "get" there at least slightly "off". Even though I'm not American, I'd be happier with His English has gotten rusty over the years (but for preference I'd probably go with His English has become rusty over the years). The main thing to remember is few if any native speakers would endorse His English has rusted over the years. And He gets rusty with English isn't really "English" at all. – FumbleFingers Mar 21 at 15:02
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As in the comments,

His English has become [or "got", or "gotten" in American] rusty.

or

He's out of practice at [or "with"] English.

If you want something more active,

His English has gathered dust.

or even (if you want to be more poetic but perhaps be harder to understand)

His English has gathered moss.

I personally use "rotted" in a similar way, although I'm not sure this is very common (it's probably because I'm a programmer and we idiomatically talk about "bit rot"):

My knowledge of English has rotted over the years.

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  • rotted [buzzer], sorry – Lambie Mar 21 at 16:20
  • @Lambie I think "rotted" is an understandable metaphor, even if it might not be common. – nick012000 Mar 22 at 1:49
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    As a translator and interpreter, I can guarantee you that rotting and gathered moss do not work. knowledge does not rot. knowledge diminishes, knowledge fades away, knowledge dissipates, knowledge does a number of things, rotting is not one of them. objects or people can rot or gather moss. And six upvotes are unjustified. – Lambie Mar 22 at 13:36
  • I did specifically note that I wasn't sure "rotted" was common (though in fact it is pretty common in my circles) and that "gathered moss" might make you harder to understand. – Patrick Stevens Mar 22 at 13:39
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I would probably just stick to "gotten rusty" in most contexts:

His English has gotten rusty. (American)

His English has got rusty. (British)

The (slightly more formal) alternatives that sound the most natural to me would be:

His English has deteriorated from years of disuse.

His English has worsened from years of disuse. (perhaps)

Unlike "gotten rusty", both pretty much require "from years of disuse". An extended period of disuse is already strongly implied when you use "gotten rusty". This doesn't quite apply to the others, even though that's generally the way one's language skills worsen.

The above are similar to your example of "He has experienced a decline in his English skills after years of disuse", but just rephrased to be less verbose. Native speakers rarely, if ever, speak like that. Also, "declined" doesn't sound quite right to me here, although I wouldn't say it's wrong either.

"Deteriorated" makes it fairly clear it's now pretty bad (probably the closest to "gotten rusty"), while "worsened" only means it's some amount worse than before, which doesn't really tell you that much. "Significantly worsened" would closer to "deteriorated", although the latter sounds much more natural.

I opted for "from" instead of "after", as that more explicitly says years of disuse is what caused it to worsen. Although most people probably wouldn't look twice if you use "after".


In an essay or academic writing, the "has experienced a decline" construct can be more appropriate. Although I would probably opt for "ability" rather than "skills", since "skills" is plural, which doesn't typically go with "decline". Also, "English skills" seems a bit informal.

He has experienced a decline in his English-speaking ability due to years of disuse.

OR:

He has experienced a decline in his ability to speak English due to years of disuse.

"From" or "after" could probably also work here, but "due to" sounds a bit better with the more formal writing and when it's not right next to "decline".

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  • Yes, absolutely, and in BrE: has got rusty is correct. You might want to add that to your answer. – Lambie Mar 22 at 13:37
  • @NotThatGuy thank you for your answer. I really appreciate it. Please allow me to briefly explain the logic behind my example of "He has experienced a decline in his English skills after years of disuse". The hypothetical context I pictured it to be used in was a psycho-linguistics essay on how immigrants' native languages deteriorate from years of disuse. I am sorry that I forgot to point it out in my OP. And I've also found a couple of examples on Google using a similar construction. Does that sorta justify the sentence? The link is down below. – Underwood Mar 25 at 13:30
  • [link] (google.com/…) – Underwood Mar 25 at 13:31
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    @Underwood Something like that could work. I addressed that in an edit. – NotThatGuy Mar 25 at 15:04
  • @NotThatGuy once again, thank you for your detailed answer! – Underwood Mar 25 at 15:28

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