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From the homework written by my student:

With his prodigious English skills, he can get a decent job in a foreign company in Shanghai.

I found the first part of the sentence problematic, there may be two reason. First, prodigious is about something really unusual or great, speaking and writing good or perfect English does not count as being truly great. Second, the structure of the sentence makes it sounds a neutral narration. It will be more acceptable to say: his English skills are prodigious, this helps him get a wonderful job in a foreign company.

Is that correct?

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  • Agree with your first reason. But I don't see a problem with the sentence structure.
    – asterix314
    Oct 27, 2013 at 11:23
  • I find nothing in the least remarkable or awkward about the sentence.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 27, 2013 at 12:21
  • It may be a lie, but it's a perfectly correct lie.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 18, 2016 at 12:48
  • I think it's the first problem; that knowing English well just isn't unusual enough to be prodigious. For example, I don't find anything wrong with the following sentences: "He has prodigious language skills; he already speaks eleven languages fluently, and he's learning Hungarian just for fun." or "With his prodigious language skills, he would have no problem getting a job as a translator." Mar 18, 2016 at 12:58

1 Answer 1

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You seem to have two problems with the given sentence, so I'll try to address them separately:

  1. Can prodigious be used to describe someone's language skills? Well, look at this definition of the word, along with a usage example (from Merriam-Webster.com):

    pro·di·gious

    : amazing or wonderful : very impressive

    : very big

    • "a prodigious supply of canned food kept in the basement for emergencies"

    Going by this definition, as well as the one you brought yourself, there's no actual requirement for something to be earth-shatteringly amazing to be considered "prodigious". It only has to be exceptional or impressive in context. There's nothing amazing about a supply of canned food, it's just a large amount. That seems to match the student's usage, since the reward specified (finding a job at a foreign company) seems to be unusual or impressive to match the skill.

  2. You say the sentence structure is "neutral", but I don't understand what you mean. The only thing that can be considered "neutral" is the use of "decent", which might seem to understate the value of the job. You can replace it with a more positive adjective ("he can get a good/high-paying/lucrative/excellent job") without changing the structure.

    If anything, his sentence structure sounds more natural and less stilted to me.

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  • In the example of the canned food, prodigious simply means "big". But when used on a person, one does expect the person to be extremely talented at something, the way Mozart and Gauss are.
    – asterix314
    Oct 27, 2013 at 11:44
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    @asterix314 Not really. In fact Avner has nailed this answer.
    – MetaEd
    Oct 27, 2013 at 12:43
  • Yes, stilted, that is what I mean by "neutral". I think he writes like he is a disinterested spectator, with no dedication and passion, which are needed if you want to use “prodigious” in this sense; because this is a little bit hyperbole after all.
    – benlogos
    Oct 27, 2013 at 14:26
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    Actually, I was using "stilted" to describe your phrasing, which seemed less fluent than the original. If you want more passion. change the adjective used, not the structure. Oct 27, 2013 at 14:47

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