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  1. In a word, you are wrong!

  2. In a sentence, you are wrong!

Which is more natural?

I feel "in a word" is more common than "in a sentence", but "you are wrong!" consists of three words rather than "a word"; so it seems "in a sentence" is more correct.

Am I right?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In a word is an idiom. It means, roughly, "As a short, pithy, description, I will say...". Idioms are not expected to be literal, especially since most of them are metaphors.

In a sentence, however, is just an ordinary prepositional phrase, is not an idiom, and has no special or metaphorical meaning, and thus must be interpreted literally. So it has no particular reason to appear in this sentence, since You are wrong! -- like practically every other utterance -- is already, and obviously, in a sentence. In a sentence, what else is new?

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1  
Yes - one is reminded of the recurring 'Police Squad' scenes where Frank Drebin eventually bows to the inevitable and goes to ask shoe-shine Johnny what the word on the street is. For the usual fee, Drebin is usually told motive, means, method, where to apprehend the criminal, how to play it ... by Johnny (the World's other consulting detective?) –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 4 '13 at 19:41

In a word, neither!

But really, I've never seen the latter used. The former is used sometimes, but it seems for your purposes "In short, you are wrong!" is a good substitution.

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So you mean there should follow only one word after "in a word", right? –  rob Aug 15 '13 at 15:22

Yes, neither are used by native speakers of English, as far as I know. Plus, we would soften the statement by saying, "Actually, I think perhaps you are wrong." or "The truth is, I'm afraid you are wrong."

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