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Context:


Jenny and Jack got married in 1956.

On October 22nd, 1959 Jack got sick and doctor prescribed some pills for him. Later that night Jack took those pills, chewing thoroughly before swallowing them. Jenny saw that and was very much surprised, because she herself had always only swallowed medicine, without any chewing.

Some time in the year of 2003 they are reflecting on their marriage life together. Jenny is recalling her surprise that happened on October 22nd, 1959:


And here I am puzzled over how to express Jenny's sentence correctly.

  1. You are the first person that I saw chewing medicine!

-- This one may mean that it was Jenny who was chewing medicine.

  1. You are the first person that I saw as chewing medicine!

-- This one may also mean that it was Jenny chewing medicine. And it may also mean that it only looked like Jack was chewing medicine.

  1. You are the first medicine-chewing person that I saw!

-- This one may mean that Jack was chewing medicine every day.

  1. You are the first person that I saw that was chewing medicine!

-- Perhaps, this one is okay, but it's kind of clumsy to me.

So what would be the idiomatic way of expressing this thought in English?

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  • 1
    A native speaker would use #1 (and not #2-4, which all sound odd). Nobody would misinterpret the meaning as Jenny doing the chewing. May 4, 2021 at 6:35
  • 2
    I would say "You were the first person I had ever seen who chewed their tablets." (I think of medicine in this context as implying a liquid.) May 4, 2021 at 8:38
  • 2
    What @KateBunting said. Idiomatically, native speakers would usually favour something like #1, with the addition of an intensifier You were the first person [that] I ever saw chewing medicine! (actually, probably with plain infinitive chew rather than the continuous participle, which serves no real purpose here). May 4, 2021 at 15:46

1 Answer 1

1

As @Chemomechanics said, #2-#4 sound odd. I also agree with @Kate Bunting that medicine can be implied as liquid, so changing it to "medicine tablet" is better. Adding intensifier and using plain infinitive as @FumbleFingers suggested is good too.

Thus, my suggestion for improving #1:

1a. You were the first person I ever saw who chewed his medicine tablet!

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  • Thank you. Allow me one question here: What if Jenny were not talking about her husband, but about someone else who is already dead by the moment of talking, would then be better to change "chews" to "chewed" ("He was the first person I ever saw who chewed his medicine tablet!")?
    – brilliant
    Jun 28, 2021 at 9:08
  • @brilliant I made a grammar mistake; should have been "chewed". But if the sentence is delivered orally to the husband who is present, then it should be in present tense: "You are the first person I ever saw who chews his medicine tablet!" "You were" and "He was" imply that the person has died. Jun 28, 2021 at 9:16
  • So, I need to switch from "you were" to "you are" in my examples, right?
    – brilliant
    Jun 28, 2021 at 9:22
  • @brilliant I believe so, yes. After that, the choice of "who chews" or "who chewed" depends on what you want to emphasize. If the husband still do that now, you use "who chews", but if you only want to concentrate on the past (leaving the present behavior unspecified), you use "who chewed". If the utterance context is a eulogy (delivered in a memorial by the surviving Jenny) then "You were ..... who chewed..." is the one to use. Jun 28, 2021 at 9:24
  • I see. Thank you.
    – brilliant
    Jun 28, 2021 at 9:29

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