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One day, his son_________ a serious stomachache.

A. encountered
B. developed
C. led
D. appreciated

The multiple-choice question makes me confused. Encounter means experiencing something, especially something unpleasant. Develop means suffering from a illness or a problem. It seems that both A and B work here.

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  • 1
    What leads you to think encounter might work? What leads you to doubt it? Where did you encounter the phrase? What research have you done on your own? What did it uncover? Oct 15, 2023 at 3:54
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    As your dictionary tells you, the main meaning of encounter is meet. You encounter a problem in the sense 'come face to face with it'. Develop in this context means start to suffer from an illness. Oct 15, 2023 at 8:24
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    Choice B is clearly the correct choice, but also not really idiomatic. I don't think a simple substitution will make it more idiomatic either. The use of "developed" suggests a serious, chronic condition in my opinion. A more idiomatic rewrite might read something like "One day, his son started suffering from serious stomachaches." Oct 15, 2023 at 13:59
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    @TobySpeight I disagree, "stomachache" looks normal to me and doesn't trip Chrome's spellcheck. Ngram shows it's been the clear leader since the 1980s. Oct 16, 2023 at 22:43
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    I don't know why you link to an English-Chinese dictionary, and then apparently translate the result back to English! You should really learn to use a proper English dictionary if you're serious about learning English and want to find out the precise meaning and usage of words - with a monolingual English dictionary you wouldn't need to ask this question.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 16, 2023 at 23:21

2 Answers 2

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This is a question of collocation, and not answerable by logic. You can "encounter difficulties" (the words "encounter" and "difficulty") do collocate. But not "encounter a disease" - unless you mean "discover a disease" (Scientists first encountered AIDS among young men in San Fransico).

So only "develop" is likely to fill the gap.

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James K's answer is correct that it is not so simple as saying that "encounter" means "meet", since difficulties can be encountered but not met. Nevertheless, it is also not so completely ad-hoc as to require brute-force memorization of every possible collocation.

I think one gloss that works for almost all cases is that "P encounter X" indicates that X shows up to P at a point in time. This explains all the usual cases as well as the one in your question and the one in James' post:

  • P encountered a setback.
  • P encountered a word he had never seen before.
  • (WRONG) P encountered a stomachache. [Diseases are not viewed as point events.]
  • Scientists first encountered AIDS in LA.

As Charles suggested in a comment, the correct answer is "developed", but it is not commonly used because native speakers usually use "develop" for a disease with a prolonged ill condition, and a stomachache is usually a minor issue. Hence native speakers are more likely to say "One day, his son had a serious stomachache.".

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    I think that difficulties can be met - though usually we meet them with some opposition (or perhaps with dismay). Oct 16, 2023 at 8:05
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    @TobySpeight: That's a different lexical unit altogether (i.e. "meet X with Y"), and so not relevant to the point made in my post. But your comment is certainly useful for non-native speakers.
    – user21820
    Oct 16, 2023 at 13:26

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