1

I'm asking because I kind of feel there is something wrong here but in spite of racking my brains over it and rewriting the sentence several times I haven't been able to find the source of the problem. Please tell me what is wrong with the grammar of the following sentences:

I am curious if when you took the decision to solicit a report entitled ‘Time as a Chimpanzee’ from me you actually expected to receive it.

I am curious if when you took the decision to solicit a report entitled 'Time as a Chimpanzee' from me you actually expected to be able to receive it.

I am curious if when you took the decision to solicit from me a report entitled 'Time as a Chimpanzee', you thought you would actually receive it.

3

There are a couple errors that are the same across all the sentences; I'll address those first, and then answer your question about the 3 different sentences.

Firstly, we make decisions, we don't take them. So instead of took the decision, your sentence should read made the decision. Additionally, you are missing a comma after if and after from me. So, the corrected version of each sentence (all of which are now perfectly grammatical):

I am curious if, when you made the decision to solicit a report entitled ‘Time as a Chimpanzee’ from me, you actually expected to receive it.

This is the most simple of the three sentences, and the most likely to actually be said. The speaker wonders if, at the time the report was asked for, the person asking for the report had a reasonable expectation of receiving the report. Very simple.

I am curious if, when you made the decision to solicit a report entitled 'Time as a Chimpanzee' from me, you actually expected to be able to receive it.

This has a slightly different meaning from the first, and probably doesn't mean what you want to say. Instead of asking if the person requesting the report expected the report to be written and handed to them, it's asking if they thought they themselves would be capable of receiving it. The implication is that they knew that something was going to happen to them that would make it impossible for them to receive the report (regardless of whether or not it was actually written, something stopped them from receiving the finished product). It's unlikely for someone to have foreknowledge of an event that will prevent them from accepting a report from somebody, so I doubt this would be said very often.

I am curious if, when you made the decision to solicit from me a report entitled 'Time as a Chimpanzee', you thought you would actually receive it.

This has the same meaning as the first sentence, with a few changes in implication. "Solicit from me a report" sounds very old-fashioned, people aren't likely to speak that way. "Solicit a report from me" is much more common. Additionally, "you thought you would actually receive it" is more rude and challenging than "you actually expected to receive it", at least in my view. With any of these sentences you're edging into dangerous territory because what you're saying is inherently a bit rude. But to me, this sentence feels even more rude than the first.

  • +1, but note that take instead of make is not an error. Google ngrams for took the decision,made the decision in British English and in American English (and similar ngrams for take a decision,make a decision) show that take is a common alternative in BE. – James Waldby - jwpat7 May 31 '13 at 16:02
  • @jwpat7 As an American I can't say that this isn't true, but it definitely sounds wrong to my ear. I also wonder if the ngram might have been influenced by instances like "He took the decision too lightly, I think." But if you're saying this is common in BrE, I shall have to take your word for it! – WendiKidd May 31 '13 at 18:30
  • Sounds odd to me too, but definitely not wrong. Along the same lines, here in the US "take a meeting" is business-speak that sounds odd but is common. I account for the usage by the notion that in both cases, take emphasizes that responsibility lies with the speaker, which puffs them up. – James Waldby - jwpat7 May 31 '13 at 18:41
  • 1
    I think all three versions convey slightly different things, but what sticks out to me is I just don't like the construction "I am curious if [some postulate is true]". Maybe I'm just being fussy, but I'd much prefer "I am curious as to whether [it's true]". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jan 27 '14 at 0:08
  • I have heard "take a decision" used in bureaucratic contexts to refer to momentous decisions. – David42 Aug 26 '16 at 14:53
1

Grammatically, there isn't anything wrong in those sentences; they have different meanings.

Expect has a meaning that is different from the meaning of think. When you say "I expect her to write the report." you are saying something more than "I think she will write the report." With the first you mean you are demanding her to write the report; with the latter, you are saying what you believe to happen, or your opinion.

I would rather rewrite the sentence as follows:

I am curious whether you actually expected to receive from me a report entitled Time as a Chimpanzee from me, when you took the decision to solicit it from me.

If taking the decision was followed by the action of actually soliciting the report, I would also consider writing the following sentence:

I am curious whether you actually expected to receive from me a report entitled Time as a Chimpanzee from me, when you solicited it from me.

The two sentences have a slightly different meaning, thought.

  • "Expect" can have the meaning you mention, when the sentence is phrased like "I expect her to write the report." When you say "Did you actually expect to receive it?" however, that sounds more like expect is being used as the person's prediction of the future; in this case it does mean "This is what I thought would happen". On the other hand if someone said "I expected that report on my desk 20 minutes ago!" the implication is both meanings; "I told you to give me that report, and I thought you would have done it!" – WendiKidd May 31 '13 at 18:33

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.