If I am sending an email with the subject line:

Look at how spot on the Economist was with the Real Estate Bubble

In the body of the email, I quote 2 paragraphs from the article and write a comment like so:

---- Begin Email Body

This article was written in 2005.

Key passages:

NEVER before have real house prices risen so fast, for so long, in so
many countries. Property markets have been frothing from America,
Britain and Australia to France, Spain and China. Rising property
prices helped to prop up the world economy after the stockmarket
bubble burst in 2000. What if the housing boom now turns to bust?

According to estimates by The Economist, the total value of
residential property in developed economies rose by more than $30
trillion over the past five years, to over $70 trillion, an increase
equivalent to 100% of those countries' combined GDPs. Not only does
this dwarf any previous house-price boom, it is larger than the global
stockmarket bubble in the late 1990s (an increase over five years of
80% of GDP) or America's stockmarket bubble in the late 1920s (55% of
GDP). In other words, it looks like the biggest bubble in history.


Wow......talk about prescient.

---- End Email Body

Is my use of 'prescient' here correct or incorrect? Why or why not? I would love an explanation about the structure of the language and how it applies in this case.


You can use either "prescient" or "prescience". "Prescient" describes the writer of the passage; "prescience" describes the content of the passage: different word => different focus.

The only change I'd suggest is your last sentence:

Wow! Talk about {prescient / prescience [CHOOSE ONE]}!

There are two exclamations here. There's nothing wrong with using two exclamation marks (one for each, not, e.g., "Wow, talk about {prescient/prescience}!!"). It's an informal email.

  • Right...I was referring to the writer ('The Economist') as being prescient. – marcamillion May 26 '13 at 1:21
  • @marcamillion: The Economist is a magazine, not a writer. The article was written by a person or a group of persons, probably one or two of the editors, and then approved by the editorial board. If you want to be more specific, then you can say "Wow! Talk about a prescient article!" Because there's no named author, it might be better to say "Wow! Talk about prescience!" – user21497 May 26 '13 at 1:44

No, not unless you change the sentence to something like: Talk about a prescient economist! In the sentence as it stands, you should use prescience, since prescience is a noun. Question:

What do you have? Answer: prescience. Example:

He demonstrated an uncanny prescience regarding market trends in the near future. (Here, the word prescience answers the question, "What does he have?" Answer: "He has prescience."

A noun is a part of speech that functions as a person, place, or thing. Only a noun--whether a person, a place, or a thing--can "have" the following: a thing, as in "I have a dime"; a person, as in "I have Sally on my side; a place, as in "I have Miami in mind for my next vacation." Again, nouns denote persons--e.g., men; places--e.g., cities; and things--e.g., marbles.

Prescient is an adjective. Question:

What do you call a person who has foresight regarding future market trends? Answer: prescient. Example:

My, he is quite prescient regarding market trends!

An adjective is a part of speech that describes a noun. Examples: a green chair; a heavy person; rainy Seattle; a light supper; an intelligent woman; a dry desert. Adjectives are called modifiers of nouns, because they modify the person, place, or thing in some way.

Sally, for example, is no longer "just" Sally (a proper noun, hence the capital "S"), but "happy Sally." Miami is no longer "just" Miami (another proper noun, hence the capital "M"), but "humid Miami." A penny is no longer just a penny, but a "shiny penny."

I hope my answer proves helpful.

  • Right....so what I was trying to say is that The Economist was quite prescient - given that they wrote an article in 2005 that reflected exactly what happened 3 years later. – marcamillion May 26 '13 at 1:02
  • Yes. What he HAD: prescience. A word that describes him: prescient. – rhetorician May 26 '13 at 1:21
  • 1
    And just why can't you use an adjective here? Consider: "Talk about stupid." – Peter Shor May 26 '13 at 1:32
  • 1
    @PeterShor: "Talk about stupid" is idiomatic and understandable to most English speakers. Additionally, the nonverbal components of the locution are key to understanding it. The word "wow" indicates how it is to be read. Elide the wow, and it would need an exclamation point. "Talk about stupid" could even be a command: "Talk about stupid," with the emphasis on "talk" and not "stupid." I stand by my (perhaps) simplistic explanation "about the structure of the language and how it applies in this case," as the OP requested. Is the use of "prescient" OK in an informal email? Sure, why not. – rhetorician May 26 '13 at 2:19
  • Gosh, "Talk about stupid [Stupid]" could even be a command for the command-er to give the command-ee more information about the person the command-er refers to as "stupid" (or Stupid). In other words, "Tell me more about the person I call Stupid!" – rhetorician May 26 '13 at 23:20

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