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I would love to hear in which way curious means either "interested" or "interesting/peculiar". I never know whether I am curious or curious. This related question adds some other words into the mix, nevertheless it doesn't provide any other answer than "yes it is possible". I am just interested in how sentence structure influences the understanding of curious for native speakers. For the sake of clarity I will talk about definition A (curious=inquisitive) and definition B (curious=peculiar).

Definition A: I am/You are curious = I am/You are inquisitive/interested.

Definition B: I am/You are curious = I am/You are peculiar/interesting/odd.

I am quite a bit irritated by the ambiguity of it, when no context is given. This is mainly due to the fact that in German, as opposed to English, the word "kurios" is only used for "peculiar". (We have other words for curious in the sense of "inquisitive"; "neugierig~new-greedy"). It is thus innate to me to use "curious" as in "peculiar". Should I pay no heed to this or is it wiser to use "peculiar" instead? And to expand upon this; is "curious" (def. B) rather positively connoted compared to "peculiar"?

The problem is that it seems definition A is much more commonly used in english (likely due to a lack of a synonym fitting to 100% in it's place[?]). This seems to be the case espacially if copula constructions are used.

I found these examples for the use of curious on Merriam-Webster, all of which use definition A in copula constructions, e.g:

The cat was naturally curious about its new surroundings.
They were curious to find out who won the game.
We're curious about why you never called us.
I'm curious to know more about her.

While all examples in which "curious" was used as an adjective were true to the second definition:

She found a curious old clock in the attic.
The birds were engaged in some curious behavior.
Their music is a curious blend of disco and rock.
By a curious coincidence, they bought a house the same day their old one burned down.

Nevertheless using "curious" as an adjective/modifier in coherence with definition A seems rather usual and I would never doubt it is. Neither would TFD which gives these examples for definition A:

"curious investigators; a trapdoor that made me curious."

However, the only example which I found for the use of definition b in a copula construction was with the pronoun "it", which itself signifies that "inquisitive" is not what was meant:

"It was curious that she didn't tell anyone." (OLD)

Would a native speaker never say "You are curious" in order to express that someone is peculiar/interesting? Or should one, as a rule of thumb, just try to avoid copula constructions if using this meaning? I.e. "Curious you!"; would this be interpreted in the desired way if lacking context?

I become even more uncertain if it comes to nominalisation. Since the German language is my mother tounge I am inclined to use curiosity(/GER:Kuriosität) only to describe that which is of interest and curiousness only as the active attitude of being inquisitive/interested. Is this correct? M-W and TFD agree with me on the use of "curiousness" but both use def. A and B for "curiosity". How do you normally differentiate?

"J.R.", seems to have a view on this too as he wrote in his answer to this related but different question:

Lastly, it's worth pointing out that this doesn't sound natural at all:

"We are all here to discuss our curiosities about learning English."

I think you mean to say something like one of these:

We are all here to discuss how we are curious about learning English.
We are all here to discuss our curiosity with the English language.

But what about this?

"We are all here to discuss our curiousness about learning English."

Furthermore I think the etimology of curious is interesting since this site etymonline links it to the Latin "cura" for "care". Does that mean the two definitions are linked by this logic: "if you are curious you will create curious curiosities that other people will be curious about?". Respectively: "If you are carefull you will create curiosities that others care about?". Anyone who knows more/can affirm?

Anyhow, excuse my curiousness or curiosity. I know it isn't the most intriguing question yet I am curious and it is rather curious to me. Thanks!

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Using "curious" in the sense of "odd" or "strange" is more British than American. It does still crop up here and there, but is somewhat archaic, formal -- or, in fiction, intended to convey a British and/or old-fashioned kind of person. E.g., 'How curious!' Dorothy said, peering at the bright purple tree.

So absent context, "The curious boy" will be ambiguous. No getting around it. You have to tell whether it's about the boy investigating something ("The curious boy pressed deeper into the forest") or about a boy being odd in some way ("The curious boy walked down the sidewalk, and we all stared at him"). Or if it means both!

This ambiguity will also be used when someone wants to make puns. "What a curious creature you are!" may mean "you are always wanting to investigate" or it may mean "odd." I recall there being some of this double-meaning in Alice in Wonderland.

"He's very curious" will generally be understood to mean someone has the quality of curiosity, not oddness, in modern American English, but if you want to reduce ambiguity, you use "about" to clarify. "He's very curious about everything!" "She's very curious about ancient Egypt." "The neighbors very curious about our business, and I want better curtains in our house!"

In modern American, "curious" people or animals (the curious cat, the curious child) will be "inquisitive" with an ambiguous side-order of "odd"; the more stereotypically inquisitive the animal (or person: the curious neighbor), the more likely the assumption will swing to "inquisitive." But "curious" inanimate objects will always be "odd." And "a curiosity" is an odd thing.

(You wouldn't use "Curious you!" because either way, applying adjectives to pronouns rarely works well. "Red you!" "Angry him!" "Stinky her!" "Inquisitive me!" -- you can get away with it sometimes, in a slangy fashion, but you tend to need a noun, like "Curious George," the monkey who is curious about everything! (The Curious George books are a series of children's books which strongly normalizes "curious" as an adjective meaning "inquisitive.")

So if you want to avoid ambiguity, use "odd" or "peculiar" or "weird" or "fascinating" in American English, to mean those things. And only use "curious" for things like "He's very curious" (inquisitive) or "I'm curious about this sentence here" (I want to understand this sentence better, I am interested in this sentence).

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M-W and TFD agree with me on the use of "curiousness" but both use def. A and B for "curiosity". How do you normally differentiate?

Usually definition B's "curiosity" is a countable noun, meaning "curious item":

The antique shop was full of curiosities: a tiny television for a mouse, a chair with five legs, etc.

Definition A's "curiosity" is an uncountable noun, mean "a person's (or animal's) sense of curiosity":

I admire Jane's curiosity, but she won't find anything interesting here.

(Note that we could be talking about a curious object or idea that Jane has, but normally I would assume that the curiosity-of-a-person, (like "Jane's curiosity") means "that person's desire to investigate.")

On the other hand, "curiousness" means the same a definition A's "curiosity". We would never talk about "a shop full of ~curiousnesses~". The -ness ending usually makes a noun abstract and uncountable.

Would a native speaker never say "You are curious" in order to express that someone is peculiar/interesting?

If I said, "He is very curious," or "He is a very curious person," it would be ambiguous what I meant without context or tone of voice. Either meaning is perfectly possible, until I add context. (This could be used in a pun, for example, if a teacher mentioned that one of his pupils was a "curious student" -- it's not clear whether the teacher means that the student is an active learner or a strange person.)

Generally, I'd suspect (but still not be sure) that "he is curious" means "he is odd," unless we're talking about a small child or a student (i.e., cases where a person's attitude toward learning itself is likely to be under discussion).

However, "he is curious about [some topic]" clears means he has a desire to learn.

But what about this?

"We are all here to discuss our curiousness about learning English."

This is grammatically sound, but it doesn't really make sense. You're here to discuss the English language, not your curiousness. That might be something like:

"I'm very curious about English!"

"Me too! When did you first develop your curiousness about English?"

"Well, I became curious when I was ten years old..."

Of course, it's obvious that's not what you're doing, and the real meaning would be clear, but it's not the correct way to phrase it.

  • "(Note that we could be talking about a curious object or idea that Jane has, but normally I would assume that the curiosity-of-a-person, (like "Jane's curiosity") means "that person's desire to investigate.")" this is salvageable. thanks. – AverageGatsby Jan 27 '15 at 18:27
  • To the sentence at the end; well i copy pasted out of another post concerned with the use of curiosity in a sentence. I just added the possibility of curiouness. – AverageGatsby Jan 27 '15 at 18:28
  • I am aware of the def. of curiositiES. The German word "Kuriosität" has the same meaning and only that (the other meaning is archaic/obsolete in German use). – AverageGatsby Jan 27 '15 at 18:30
  • So, are you suggesting that i got it the other way around? That copula constructions suggest peculiarity to the reader/listener? (He is curious) – AverageGatsby Jan 27 '15 at 18:49

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