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First, let us agree that a woman is either pregnant or she is not I suppose a third state of uncertainty is possible, but that is more of a mental as opposed to a physical state.

Is the phrasing "20 weeks pregnant" legitimate English? It is used quite frequently, but a reading without context would seem to lead one to believe that it means there are degrees of being pregnant that can be measured in weeks. I googled it and came up with many examples of this phrasing being used in mainstream media and websites.

I understand the general intent of this phrasing, but is it correct English? Should it be promoted and used in publications that care about correct use of the English language? There are alternatives that are more clear, such as "she completed the 20th week of her pregnancy" or "You are in week 21 of your pregnancy."

If it is accepted language (regardless of being "correct"), what does it mean?

Does it mean a woman has completed her 20th week of pregnancy?

Or does it mean that she is currently in her 20th week, or in other words, she is currently on a gestational day somewhere from 141–147?

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It means that the woman has been pregnant for 20 weeks - it is never exact, but usually within a few days. Why, what did you do? –  Sam May 24 '13 at 21:56
    
I am not sure this even counts a slang? –  Sam May 24 '13 at 22:15
    
It's totally acceptable usage, even moreso than your examples. –  Mitch May 24 '13 at 22:45
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The Q is fine alright, except that I see it as both GR and too-localized. There is the obstetrics definition "Gestational age is the common term used during pregnancy to describe how far along the pregnancy is. It is measured in weeks, from the first day of the woman's last menstrual cycle to the current date. A normal pregnancy can range from 38 to 42 weeks." (nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002367.htm) -- ... –  Kris May 25 '13 at 5:39
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This question starts with an untrue statement. Pregnancy is a binary state. Tracking the development of the fetus in weeks is an entirely different matter. If I am married for 1 year, I am not saying in any way that I am less married than I will be after 20 years married. Pregnant is Pregnant, Married is Married. –  Oldcat Mar 10 at 21:25

4 Answers 4

First, let us agree that a woman is either pregnant or she is not.

Why would we agree to such a preposterous restriction? There are degrees of pregnancy: someone who is 8 months along is much more pregnant than someone who just missed her first period. Partly, this is biology, and partly, it is a basic facet of language: biology because (as anyone who has suffered a miscarriage can tell you) pregnancy is never a sure thing — modern medicine be damned, you can't be sure of the outcome until you're holding a bawling infant; and basic language because life is never black-and-white. Even a term as absolute sounding as "unique" can have graduations, because we don't measure things on a single scale.

Back to the subject at hand, measuring pregnancy in weeks is a standard practice among obstetricians. It means exactly what it sounds like it means: a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant became pregnant 20 weeks ago, more or less. (It's never quite exact, plus they measure from the beginning of your last period, when you manifestly weren't pregnant yet... but anyway.) It is also perfectly correct English, whatever that means.

As for your proposed alternatives ("she completed the 20th week of her pregnancy" etc.), I don't think they're any clearer, and they come across as (a) needlessly wordy, and (b) not terribly natural-sounding.

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'Pregnant' may be used loosely as a gradable adjective, but the referencing is to a binary situation. As with 'unique'. And there are many authorities who mention the absolute usages; just stressing the looser usages is disingenuous. –  Edwin Ashworth May 25 '13 at 7:18
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+1. The OP himself puts it most succinctly: "a reading without context would seem to lead one to believe that it means there are degrees of being pregnant that can be measured in weeks". That's a bingo! The phrase suggests that it means there are degrees of being pregnant that can be measured in weeks, because it does mean there are degrees of being pregnant that can be measured in weeks, and that in turn is because there are degrees of being pregnant that can be measured in weeks. Just like "ten red cars" suggests that it's about ten red cars, this phrase, too, suggests its own meaning. –  RegDwigнt May 25 '13 at 12:47
    
"You can't be a little bit pregnant" is a common US saying (at least in business) to say that you need to commit to some policy/activity –  mgb May 26 '13 at 4:20
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Can you tell me why you state that someone who is 8 months along is much more pregnant than someone early in a pregnancy? I've always understood the word to mean simply that a woman is carrying a developing human. –  Pat James May 28 '13 at 3:03
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@Marthaa thanks for clarifying. You have an interesting perspective on this question. I'm still not able to reconcile your definition of the word pregnant with the generally accepted binary definition. Prior to suffering a miscarriage a woman is pregnant, and is just as pregnant as a woman who is at week 40. I agree there are varying probabilities of a live birth that increase as time goes by during a pregnancy, but don't see how that makes the state of being pregnant more or less true at different times. –  Pat James May 28 '13 at 14:16

It means that she (the lady in question) has been pregnant for 20 weeks. It also may mean that she has been keeping it a secret as it is traditional to notify people of officially being pregnant at 12 weeks...

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Your answer may be correct, but no need to be facetious about it :) –  Sam May 24 '13 at 22:17
    
Who said anything about a secret? Someone might say something like, "I didn't have my second [OB/GYN] appointment until I was 20 weeks pregnant." Nothing there implies secrecy. –  J.R. May 25 '13 at 22:04

It means a woman has had a baby inside her for 20 weeks.

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a reading without context would seem to lead one to believe that it means there are degrees of being pregnant that can be measured in weeks.

I think that exactly how it's treated. 9-ish months or 36-ish weeks is full term. It's just a more precise way of slicing the pie than by months.

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