Instead of “half of an apple is eaten” or “an apple is half eaten,” can I say, “half of an apple is half eaten”?

  • No, it is unclear what the sentence means. In a context like "half of an apple eaten is half that no-one else can eat" the emphatic use is clearer. Jul 2 '21 at 11:01
  • @Weather Vane Do you mean it is ambiguous?
    – user7429
    Jul 2 '21 at 11:03
  • Possibly, but it just doesn't say anything meaningful. Jul 2 '21 at 11:04
  • 3
    The only way I can imagine it being used is in a (imo bad) math word problem for teaching fractions.
    – eps
    Jul 2 '21 at 20:12

No. The three sentences all mean different things.

Half of an apple is eaten means there was one half of an apple, and all of that one-half is eaten. Picture someone cutting an apple into two halves; one half has been put aside and is not being discussed. The other half is what we are talking about, and it is entirely eaten.

An apple is half eaten means there was one whole apple, and half of that whole is eaten. Picture someone starting with a whole apple and biting into it—they have only eaten half so far.

Half of an apple is half eaten goes back to the first situation: There was one-half of an apple, and half of that half is eaten, meaning one-quarter of the original whole apple.

Additionally, none of the sentences really sound right to my ear. If you are describing a scene There is a half-eaten apple sounds better; if you are describing the apple specifically, Half of the apple has been eaten.

  • 6
    Something being "half-eaten" mostly just means it's been partially eaten, to some degree, not that exactly half of it has been eaten.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jul 2 '21 at 20:32
  • The other possible distinction between the first two cases is that - there's part of an apple that most people don't eat, the core with all the seeds. Some animals, such as dogs, are less picky and will gladly eat the entire thing. When I hear "An apple is half eaten", I think of an apple that a human has eaten most of the normally-eaten part, but leaving all of the core uneaten. "Half of an apple is eaten" seems to imply that all of that half-apple (including the half-core) was eaten, more likely by an animal (e.g. a dog) that doesn't mind eating the core. Jul 2 '21 at 20:44
  • @NotThatGuy That is correct. Half-eaten half an apple is one portion of an apple that has been fairly precisely cut in half, that portion having been partially eaten.
    – Kaz
    Jul 3 '21 at 1:06
  • 1
    When you say "none of the sentences really sound right," I'd clarify that they're not ungrammatical, they just sound stilted and unnatural because of the content. "An apple is half eaten" sounds strange because why would we care that much about a random apple? If describing a scene you'd "demote" the sentence to an adjective, as in "there's a half-eaten apple on the ground." Or if the apple really is that important, its existence has probably already been established, which calls for the definite article: The apple is half eaten. That sounds much better to me. Jul 3 '21 at 20:34
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    Since you brought up "half-eaten" in your post, I feel strongly that it would be good to clarify this point: verb phrases generally don't get a hyphen when used as verbs in a sentence, including "perfect" verbs using the past participle: the apple is half eaten or the building was hastily constructed. However, when using the participle as an adjective, if you want to bring along an adverb, it generally needs a hyphen: there's a half-eaten apple or the hastily-constructed building collapsed. No one cares in informal situations, but in formal writing it matters. Jul 3 '21 at 20:51

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