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Searching for it in google yields just 9 miserable results. So, I am puzzled - is it bad English, or is the opposite true - too good to be widely used?

EDIT

The complete sentence is:

However, having our children attend a good school is also very important to us, so I have been using the School Report Cards by Fraser Institute as a guiding tool in my search for a good public school (unfortunately, we are unable to sustain the tuition fee for a private school).

English is not my native language, so Google is my primary guide to what is widely used and what is not.

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2  
It would help, Mark, if you could provide the entire sentence and the context in which it occurs. –  Barrie England Feb 27 '12 at 19:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It would depend on the context, but it sounds rather awkward to me. I'm guessing that you would probably want "afford the tuition"

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Sustain means (among other things) bear the weight of an object both literally and figuratively, therefore the sentence is correct. It is a formal usage of sustain here, that's why you don't see it widely used.

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But would you actually use it in a letter? –  mark Feb 27 '12 at 20:24
    
It can be used in a formal letter. –  Irene Feb 27 '12 at 20:30
    
@Irene:...but, formally or informally, it would probably not be understood easily with the intention of 'bear the weight of' (metaphorical for 'afford'). 'Sustain' usually means 'to keep going'. –  Mitch Feb 27 '12 at 21:57
    
I think a native speaker would be very unlikely to choose this phrasing, though there's nothing wrong with it. We generally use "sustain" to refer to a process or sequence, not a thing. So "sustain the tuition payments" would be the closest phrasing a native speaker would likely use. "Afford the tuition" is the most natural phrasing, as Kevin said. –  David Schwartz Feb 28 '12 at 10:51

Let's say some tragedy befalls a student at a community college, and the student is unable to complete her studies for the semester. Perhaps some bureaucrats in the bursar's office are debating whether or not they should waive or forgive the tuition fees, in light of the extenuating circumstances. Someone at the table might say, "I vote to sustain the tuition fee." This speaker might be cold-hearted, but there would be nothing wrong with his syntax or grammar.

In short, I can envision a scenario where this statement might be perfectly correct. Still, it's not hard to imagine why there are only 9 Google results - it's simply not likely to be a common utterance or written sentence.

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Depending on context it would either be:

Afford the tuition

or

Keep the tuition affordable

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