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I vaguely recall the receptionist saying something about towels being available at the poolside.

I vaguely recall the receptionist saying that towels are available at the poolside.

Which one is more common or suitable? Personally the latter is more familiar with me, but in the textbook the former is written. Could you let me know the differences?

  • first one is OK, second is not grammatical - 'towels are' never 'towels is'. Both would be improved by using 'at the poolside' or 'by the pool' – Tetsujin Jan 20 '15 at 18:52
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    @Tetsujin, I have a hunch he didn't intentionally write a wrong plural. I edit the question so that what he asks become a bit clearer. – M.A.R. Jan 20 '15 at 18:55
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There's not a big difference. Both sentences mean that the memory is vague. Both parts of your sentence can indicate vagueness in slightly different ways. Here are all four combinations:

  1. I recall the receptionist saying that towels are available at the poolside.

This means that you remember the receptionist saying that towels are available at the poolside. You believe that this memory is reliable and accurate.

  1. I vaguely recall the receptionist saying that towels are available at the poolside.

This means that your memory of the circumstances is limited. Maybe you don't remember where or when the receptionist spoke. Maybe you don't remember what else the receptionist talked about. Maybe you're not even sure if the receptionist really said anything about towels.

  1. I recall the receptionist saying something about towels being available at the poolside.

This means that you definitely remember the receptionist saying something about towels, but you don't remember what. Maybe the towels are only available at a certain time. Maybe they cost money to use. Maybe you have to make a phone call first.

  1. I vaguely recall the receptionist saying something about towels being available at the poolside.

This is more vague than #2 or #3. You don't remember the circumstances or the details of what the receptionist said. There's a greater possibility that the memory is completely wrong.

In practice, #2, #3, and #4 are very similar. #4 sounds the most vague, which is probably why your textbook uses it. All of these sentences sound normal to me.

Side note: American English speakers use "remember" more than "recall", but both words are common.

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The book you have cites #1 as the better choice because the sentence-in-question begins "I vaguely recall...".

Of the two formulations, saying something about towels being available expresses vagueness better; the clause saying that towels are available resembles a declaration.

It's a fine shade of meaning, but in #1, the speaker's memory is presented as hazier.

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  1. I vaguely recall the receptionist saying something about towels being available at the poolside.

  2. I vaguely recall the receptionist saying that towels are available at the poolside.

Verbs can often take different complements. For example:

  • I know.
  • I know the elephant.
  • I know that the elephant likes donuts.

Here we see the verb KNOW with different types of complement (or complementation). In the first example above, KNOW doesn't have a complement. In the second example, KNOW takes a direct object. It takes the noun phrase the elephant as a complement. In the third example KNOW takes a clause as a complement. The clause is:

  • the elephant likes donuts.

In the Original Poster's sentence (2), the verb SAY is taking a clause as a complement. It is marked by the word that. The word that is optional. The clause is:

  • (that) towels are available at the poolside.

In the sentence (1), SAY takes the complement something. The phrase about towels being available at the poolside is describing something. The preposition about is often used to show the topic of an idea, thought or worry:

  • I have worries about the trains.
  • Our conversation was about Bob.
  • I thought about my elephant.

In the first example, the train is the topic of my worrying. In the second example, Bob was the topic of our conversation. In the last example, my elephant was the topic of my thoughts.

The reason that the Original Poster's sentences are different, is that they take different types of complement.

Hope this is helpful!

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