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I have this question about the phrase "within expectations":

  1. He returned home late, which was expected.
  2. He returned home late, which was within expectations.

Is "within expectations" used correctly in sentence 2, if sentence 2 is meant to be equal to sentence 1? Or is "within expectation" is some sort of business/financial term used frequently in articles like in Wall Street Journal?

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    Technically? Yes... but I feel that "within expectations" is not used in such a mundane usage as "he came home late". It's often used in scientific/technical statements: "Utilization more broadly remains benign and within expectations," – Catija Jul 18 '15 at 3:14
  • It's not a term specific to something like that, it just sounds very formal... For sentence 2, I'd expect you were a spy or police officer or something talking about someone under surveillance. It sounds very disconnected from the subject. If you're talking about your spouse or brother or son, the first option would be more natural, even replacing "was" with "I" or "I'd". – Catija Jul 18 '15 at 4:00
  • why make it more complex when you have a neat and clean sentence #1? – Maulik V Jul 18 '15 at 5:16
  • "within expectation" implies that the expectations place some kind of a limit on what is a reasonable time to return. It's not just a guess or a prognostication, but an implied requirement: "we expect you to be inside the house no later than midnight". But if being "late" is within the limit, what would not be within that limit? So "within" really messes up the meaning; I wouldn't use it in this context. – Brian Hitchcock Jul 18 '15 at 9:27
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    The phrase within expectations is typically used in contexts where a projection is made based on statistical probabilities and trend analysis. To say that your girlfriend's disappointment when you forgot her birthday was "within expectations" would be a very unusual usage, for example. But to say that company X's third-quarter earnings were "within expectations" would be normal. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 18 '15 at 16:42
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Both sentences are technically correct, although #2 is too formal and verbose for as simple a situation as arriving home late. An even more natural phrasing might be:

He returned home late, as expected.

With regards to the phrase "within expectations", your intuition of it being a business-like phrase is correct. You might see a WSJ article use it like this:

Google's 3rd-quarter profits fell squarely within the Street's expectations.

If I were writing the article, however, I might replace "expectations" with "projections", which to me sounds more natural.

@ultrasawblade's answer is spot on too:

To me this conjures up a situation where a manager is evaluating an employee and cannot think of anything spectacularly good (or bad) that the employee did for the company.

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Within expectations, when outside of a technical context, has a connotation that the person fulfilling the expectations did not make any effort to go "above and beyond", but simply did what was required of him/her and no more.

To me this conjures up a situation where a manager is evaluating an employee and cannot think of anything spectacularly good (or bad) that the employee did for the company.

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  • So, sentence 2 and "he backed out of the deal, which was within expectations" are probably poor usages of "within expectations"? – meatie Jul 20 '15 at 18:17
  • Most likely unless other context suggests the connotation is intended by the speaker/writer. – LawrenceC Jul 21 '15 at 16:37

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