Could you please help me understand the following sentence:

The family declined time alone.

It doesn't make sense to me. Thank you.

  • Would you include more context please? Where did you come across this sentence? – ColleenV parted ways Nov 30 '14 at 23:21

This sentence is a little complex, but if we split it up it makes more sense.

The first part of the sentence is "The family declined". To decline something means to politely refuse an offer. For instance, if I am afraid of heights I might decline a free airplane ticket, because I do not want to fly.

The family has declined "time alone". This phrase is used to mean privacy and isolation, especially when under emotional stress. For instance, after a death in the family I might cancel a party, and explain that I need some "time alone".

So the family was offered "time alone", by someone who thought they might need privacy. The family declined that offer, and welcomed the person's company or attention.

  • 1
    Unless of course the family were reciting tempus solum, temporis solius, tempori soli ... :) – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 30 '14 at 21:20

Subject: "The family"

Verb: "declined"

Object: "time alone"

The relevant sense of "decline" is to refuse an opportunity or offer (sense 14 in the OED). It comes from older senses meaning "to turn or bend away from", like a slope bending downward from the horizontal. Some of these senses still exist in English, which might have caused you some confusion. The relevant sense is a synonym of "refuse", with the added connotation that the refusal is gentle or polite.

"Time alone" means time spent away from other people.

So, the family must have had an opportunity to spend some time alone, and they chose not to exercise this opportunity.

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