5
  1. I learned much of my English vocabulary watching Hollywood movies.
  2. I learned much of my English vocabulary from watching Hollywood movies.
  3. I learned much of my English vocabulary by watching Hollywood movies.

Are these correct and if so, do they mean the same thing?

4
  • 2
    Or through, when, while,... Jan 27 at 16:54
  • 1
    Why might you think this an example of ellipsis? Looking over these examples that analysis doesn't make sense to me given how a far simpler explanation exists.
    – tchrist
    Jan 27 at 17:06
  • so all are correct?
    – Mr. X
    Jan 27 at 17:06
  • 3
    Yes, they are all idiomatic. Jan 27 at 19:04

3 Answers 3

7

Here are the correct explanations. They are not equivalent, contrary to some other 'answers'.

  1. I learned much of my English vocabulary [while] watching Hollywood movies.
    • "watching Hollywood movies" modifies "I" and conveys the learning circumstances.
  2. I learned much of my English vocabulary from watching Hollywood movies.
    • "watching Hollywood movies" is the source of the learning.
  3. I learned much of my English vocabulary by watching Hollywood movies.
    • "watching Hollywood movies" is the means of the learning.

They are semantically different, even though similar in what they convey. They respectively answer:

  1. When did you learn your English vocabulary?
  2. Where did you learn your English vocabulary from?
  3. How did you learn your English vocabulary?
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  • 2
    Wow, easy with the scare quotes! And I would stand by my claim of equivalency, especially since I'd say the three suggested questions could each be answered reasonably by any of the three sentences. Jan 28 at 20:09
  • 1
    I'm a native speaker and I'm really not sure why you're analyzing the first sentence as a time thing. I wouldn't put "while" there; I might put "by" if anything. And it doesn't answer the question "When", because the answer should be a time, like say, "2011" or "when I was in high school" or "while working as a nurse". I think it doesn't work for "watching ..." because that's a recurring thing, not a specific time.
    – wjandrea
    Jan 29 at 3:20
  • 1
    I think I found the mistake: "watching Hollywood movies" doesn't modify "I" (as in "while I was"), it modifies "learned", just like the others. Here's an example without a subject to demonstrate: "Learning English vocabulary watching Hollywood movies is what a lot of foreigners do." I think that's comparable to, say, "cutting down trees using a chainsaw". You wouldn't say "I cut down trees *while using a chainsaw."
    – wjandrea
    Jan 29 at 3:33
  • @wjandrea: I hope you don't mind me being frank. Many native speakers are not that familiar with the grammatical function participial phrases. While they seem to modify the verb phrase, they actually modify the noun phrase. There are many independent pieces of evidence for this: (1) The conjugation of the participle agrees with the declension of the noun phrase; in English this is limited to the number (singular/plural), but in other languages this includes case and gender. [cont]
    – user21820
    Jan 29 at 5:35
  • [cont] (2) Negation clearly elucidates it; in "The people watching movies everyday learned a lot of English, but the people not watching movies everyday were healthier.", "not watching movies everyday" modifies "the people" (it is "the people who did not watch movies everyday" that were healthier). [cont]
    – user21820
    Jan 29 at 5:38
5

Yes, these are all idiomatic and equivalent. But note, not all of these work in other contexts.

  • I learned all my English from Fred. —right
  • I learned all my English by Fred. —wrong
  • I learned all my English Fred. —wrong

For these, we changed from a verb to a noun, so only "from" works.

Or:

  • I made this bowl by carving it out of wood. —right
  • I made this bowl from carving it out of wood. —wrong

Here we go back to a verb, but I changed the first phrase from "learn" to "make," and it means something different and so takes different helpers.

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  • 2
    And yet I learned much of my English vocabulary Monday afternoons at Fred’s woodworking class needs no preposition.:)
    – tchrist
    Jan 27 at 21:19
  • How about "at"?
    – WS2
    Jan 27 at 21:59
  • 2
    @tchrist - I bet you encountered plenty of old saws... Jan 28 at 0:08
-2

None of those are really idiomatic, because "much" is used for non-countable nouns, and, unlike grammar, vocabulary is countable (words).

Idiomatic phrases would be:

  • I learned most of my vocabulary from Hollywood movies.
  • I learned a lot of my vocabulary from Hollywood movies.
  • I learned some of my vocabulary from Hollywood movies.
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  • 1
    By that argument wheat would be countable because it is made up of grains. I believe much of is quite correct and idiomatic in this context, though it is a little more formal than "a lot of"
    – Peter
    Jan 28 at 5:57
  • Much of my mother's vocabulary was derived from her career in the navy. Jan 28 at 12:44
  • I'm not sure that vocabulary really is as countable as you suggest. Are "hot", "hotter", "hottest", "hotly" different words in one's vocabulary? If not, how should we count it when somebody who previously knew only "hot" then learns "hotter"? If yes, suppose a person learns the word "weak" and also knows these patterns for changing adjectives into comparatives, superlatives and adverbs, so that they would be able to form "weaker", "weakest" and "weakly" when needed ─ but the person hasn't yet seen or formed those yet ─ how should we count them?
    – kaya3
    Jan 28 at 13:20
  • 1
    I would say that “vocabulary” is usually used either as a singular (“I have a big vocabulary”) or noncount (“OK, class, let’s learn some vocabulary”). The only way I can imagine it as count is when discussing the “word-hoards” specific to several people, groups, etc: “They have differing vocabularies.” Jan 28 at 14:30
  • 1
    It's important to distinguish between grammatical properties and real-word properties. Vocabulary consists of words, and "word" is a count noun, but the word vocabulary is singular. Words that refer to a set can take "much" to describe their contents: "Much of my inventory", "Much of my staff", etc. Jan 28 at 22:04

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