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What is the difference between remain and be left? Which sentence below is correct or normal?

An ace of spades remained.

An ace of spades was left.

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Both are fine, in this sentence. –  Peter Shor Sep 25 '11 at 11:43
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In most card games you're only using one deck, so it would be The ace of spades, not An ace. –  FumbleFingers Sep 25 '11 at 12:47
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"The remains of the day" --> "What was left of the day" ... sometimes you may have to change a bit to switch from one of these to the other. –  GEdgar Sep 25 '11 at 13:15
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Note that you can also say "All I have left is an ace of spades." –  Robusto Sep 25 '11 at 13:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

An ace of spades remained.

This places the emphasis on the fact that an ace of spades is still there after some other cards were removed.

An ace of spades was left.

This places the emphasis on the sequence of actions that led to other cards being removed, but not the ace of spades.

More context is necessary to choose the best answer, but both are grammatically correct.

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Thanks for your useful answer! Do you mean remain is more neutral word than be left? The context is "you can not remove a king because only an ace will remain(or be left) if you remove the king. Having only aces is forbidden.". I think both the fact(ace will remain or be left) and the sequence of actions(if you remove the king) are important. Which word shoud I use in the context? –  js_ Sep 27 '11 at 4:04
    
I would say "You may not remove a king because only an ace would remain"; or possibly "You may not remove a king because that would leave only an ace". –  Karl Knechtel Sep 27 '11 at 8:12

There is no difference between the two, to call a spade a spade!

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+1 Awesome answer for a (1) first-time and (2) non-native speaker! –  JeffSahol Sep 25 '11 at 12:14
    
+1 for the humour. :-) –  Noldorin Sep 25 '11 at 14:04

If the subject is a person, the difference is one of volition:

If you say:

I remained on the desert island.

then it was probably your choice; you wanted to stay there.

If you say:

I was left on the desert island.

then maybe the ship left without realizing you weren't aboard, or maybe you were marooned there by your mutinous crew. But either way, it probably wasn't your decision.

If the subject is the ace of spaces, then there really isn't any difference.

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It's probably true that we shouldn't bring volition into the equation with playing cards. This particular endgame could have come about by one or more players deliberately causing the ace to still be unplayed, but if you wanted to convey that you'd probably phrase things differently. But assuming aces are "significant" cards in the context of the game, I think I'd rather use remained in most contexts. To me it better implies that the ace endured/survived unplayed right up to the end rather than was passed over (as unimportant) until last. –  FumbleFingers Sep 25 '11 at 12:59
    
When I hear "I was left..." it sounds very much like it was not my choice at all. A better example sentence to compare the two might be: "There were two people left on the island." vs. "Two people remained on the island." –  JeffSahol Sep 25 '11 at 21:50
    
@JeffSahol Thanks for your comment. Why "There were two people left on the island." vs. "Two people remained on the island." is better example sentence? Is it essentially the same as Peter Shor's example? –  js_ Sep 27 '11 at 4:08
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When you say "I was left on the desert island", it can be a case of my own volition, but not very likely. It's not just the desert island, either--something about the first person "I was left" makes it sound more accusatory, and so less likely to be my own volition. I might pose that as a question, because I am not sure why myself. –  JeffSahol Sep 27 '11 at 10:32

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