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Source: Tortoise pursues man in ‘slowest chase ever’

Once Rose was coaxed a safe distance away, the tortoise turned and beat a hasty retreat back to the female. Well, it wandered back as quickly as it could. Presumably, the female was still waiting in the bushes.

I'm not sure how to understand that part, specifically the expression was coaxed away.

  • It’s not an expression. Did you look up coax? – Tyler James Young Mar 19 '15 at 20:12
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    There’s an elided “to” that might be causing trouble. It’s sort of saying “was coaxed [to] a safe distance”. – Tyler James Young Mar 19 '15 at 20:22
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    Rose was persuaded [to move to a different position that was] a safe distance away. I think the general sense of the [implicit] words there should be obvious (possibly after using a dictionary if necessary to establish that coax = persuade). – FumbleFingers Mar 19 '15 at 21:07
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    This is a common pattern with verbs like beckon, summon, coax, invite, order, motion. They take a direct object and a verb-complement: The driver was motioned off to the side. She was coaxed a safe distance away. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 19 '15 at 21:22
  • The question seems on-topic. As Tyler notes, there is ellipsis at work here. More challenging, I suspect, coax away could look like a phrasal verb, and definitions of away are numerous enough that I think many an ELL might carry some trouble through some dictionary consultations and appropriately ask for a simple reformulation here. – Jim Reynolds Mar 20 '15 at 18:13
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In "coaxed a safe distance away", the phrase "a safe distance away" refers to where Rose went as a result of being coaxed.

English verbs of motion

The pattern that you see in the phrase "coax away" is very common in English verbs that describe motion, especially of Germanic origin. Many languages, like the Romance languages, don't have this pattern (and it doesn't work with many English verbs that come from Latin).

The pattern is: a verb of motion typically indicates the manner of motion but not the path or direction. The path or direction is indicated by a special word following the verb. Many words that work as direction words, though not all, can serve as prepositions in other contexts. Here are some more examples:

Rose ran away. (Rose ran to some place away from where she started.)

Rose walked inside. (Rose walked from outside some enclosure to a point inside the enclosure.)

Rose fled upstairs. (Rose fled from the ground floor and went up the stairs.)

Rose flew north.

Rose turned around.

Rose came home.

Rose wandered back.

Rose jumped ahead.

This works passively, too:

Rose was led away. (Someone led Rose to a place away from where she started.)

Rose was coaxed inside. (Someone gently persuaded Rose to enter some enclosure.)

Rose was driven upstairs. (Someone or something forced Rose to go up the stairs against her will.)

These direction words can form the nucleus of more-complicated phrases. For example:

Rose was coaxed ten feet outside the front door of the bank. (Rose was inside the bank, and then someone coaxed her to come outside the front door of the bank, and continue moving until she was ten feet away from the door.)

And of course, the same constructions work metaphorically:

Rose was coaxed out of her lunch money. (Rose was coaxed to give her lunch money to someone else.)

It usually doesn’t work with verbs from Latin

This pattern of "coaxed away" often doesn't work with verbs of motion that come from Latin:*

Rose entered inside. (This means that Rose entered (something) while she was already inside (some enclosure), not that the act of entering put Rose inside.)

Rose exited downstairs. (This means that Rose exited the building when she was downstairs, not that the act of exiting moved her downstairs. But "moved downstairs" does follow the Germanic pattern.)

"Hey, Rose, ascend inside! Ascend up the ladder!" yelled Johnny from the treehouse. (That doesn't sound like English. The native English verb is climb: "climb inside" or "climb up". With ascend, you use a direct object: "ascend the ladder".)

Notice that these last three verbs denote the path or direction of motion, not its manner.

If you're curious to learn more about this, look up "satellite-framing".


It's not a rule, of course. "Turn" is from Latin (actually Greek via Latin), and partly follows this pattern. "Turn" sort of denotes a path, and sort of denotes a manner of motion.

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To coax means to successfully entice to move, the immediate image that comes to mind as an example is trying to get a scared dog or cat that doesn't know you to come to you by saying "come here" in a friendly way.

Rose was coaxed a safe distance away means Rose was successfully enticed to move a safe distance away.

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