ENGLISCH/766: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (126) It did him proud (SB)


126. Informal expressions used by native speakers

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

Listening to the "Sports Roundup" program from the BBC worldservice that you can download on your computer ( I hear expressions like "it cost him dear" or "it did him proud" used frequently by journalists which in my opinion shouldn't be used in good English. I don't think these expressions are correct and I would very much appreciate your comment.

With all good wishes
Yours sincerely

Gregor Tremli (from Bern, Switzerland)


Dear Mr Tremli

Both expressions mentioned in your letter may seem to be ungrammatical but are quite acceptable in colloquial English. The forms have become fixed almost like idioms, so that even careful speakers of English use them in informal speech. Here are some examples:

"We went to see our grandmother this week. She prepared a wonderful coffee-table with delicious cakes, biscuits and a marvelous apple-pie. It was a great welcome. She really did us proud!"

Their grandmother made a big effort to please her grandchildren. She did them proud.

Stewart is a good rugby-player but he is sometimes rather moody. So Stewarts moodiness "cost him dear". He was not selected for the team.

These expressions are fixed, so you can't put in other adjectives than "proud" and "dear". You couldn't possibly say: "It did him ashamed" or "it cost him cheap"! These expressions are ungrammatical, and neither exist in spoken nor in written English.

Nevertheless, avoid using them yourself unless you feel that your English is really very good. Because they are colloquial and because they contain grammar that - at first hearing - sounds nonstandard, you need to use them in exactly the right register and with exactly the right degree of formality. Their use by native speakers in informal language is quite acceptable.

Best wishes

Mrs Gobbledygook

14. Februar 2008