I was reading an apology letter of Shirley Hornestein and found it very interesting:

For as long as I can remember, I have been lying. From the simple white lies, to the “if-I-say-this-I’ll-get-what-I-want” lies, and the this-could-have-serious-consequences lies, I’ve told them (probably even to you). . . . For the first time in my life I sought out professional counseling and have spent the last five months learning to work through my insecurities, processing my past and am trying to understand why I have such an addictive relationship with lying.

But there are few points on my mind. Please help me to understand:

  • Is it sort out or sought out?

  • Regarding this-could-have-serious-consequences lies, is this the right structure for a sentence?

  • "Sought out" is correct - she was seeking professional counseling. As for the phrase "this-could-have-serious-consequences lies", that's just a more colorful way of referring to the types of lies (untruths) that could get her in trouble. Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 21:55

3 Answers 3


Both are correct English, but they mean different things.

Sought is the past participle of seek, it means to search. So, if someone "sought help" then they were looking for help:

After many years of substance abuse, she finally sought professional help

Sort is a different verb altogether. "Sorting things out" means figuring something out or putting things in order:

I will sort out this mess later

As for "this-could-have-serious-consequences lies" no, it is not correct as such. Over hyphenation seems to be an affliction that is rapidly taking at least some parts of the English speaking word. It is, in my humble opinion, both cumbersome and ugly and should be avoided. A more elegant way of saying the same thing would be:

Lies that could have serious consequences.

  • 1
    On the other hand, the 'over-hyphenated' adjective can be used effectively as a rhetorical device in spoken English when timing and intonation can help separate it from other parts of the sentence.
    – vidget
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 21:46
  • @vidget, fair enough, I just don't like it in writing. Hyphens are not as obvious when pronounced out loud.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 21:52
  • Agreed. Maybe only appropriate on mommy blogs.
    – vidget
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 21:56
  • 1
    In this case the multi-hyphenated strings are purposefully "OTT" and are intended to create a desired effect. I think they do a good job of doing so in this sort of context. It's not so much as case of the writer belonging to the "hyphens-are-good-so-I'll-use-more" school as aiming at setting up encapsulated scenarios that are each visually and mentally identifiable as such by dint of the hyphens. Perhaps :-). Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 22:21
  • @RussellMcMahon you are more generous than I. :)
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 22:22

I appreciate this has already been answered, but consider:

She needed to sort out her life so she sought out professional help.

  • This is a comment more than an answer. You have the power to comment! Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 9:24

This is the problem English have with 'misplaced' R in general, e.g. "sawr" for saw, "brought" for bought, "vodkar" for vodka. They have an issue with wanting to end 'open sounding' words with an R. Or indeed incorrect pronunciation, e.g. "sekitry" for secretary. Listen to newscasters on TV, they have the same problem. Oh and there is always the sat for sitting, e.g. "I was sat there" when it should be "I was sitting there". The list goes on.

  • These are some interesting observations on pronunciation, but they don't appear to actually answer the question. Perhaps you meant to post them as a comment instead? Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 0:51
  • 2
    This is not a "problem", just a feature of some dialects, which is well-understood and -documented. The first half of this answer can really be summed up in four simple words, "Linking and intrusive R". The second half is completely unrelated to anything here.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 11:34

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