[The following is one of dozens of cases I come across on a daily basis]

By accident, I have recently noticed that the phrasal verb go through (as in experience) -- which I've been using so far in my IELTS writing essays -- is associated with a connotation of negativeness (suffering, unpleasantness, etc). Flipping through dictionary pages I'm finding out they do not agree with one another over the level of negativity. Some have dismissed the negativity component very lightly, while others have fundamentally/thoroughly attached it to that concept. Others, though, have used parentheses. (Making a good decision in such case takes on added importance when I have, for instance, used go through in my essay, and after questioning its correctness I have ended up paging through dictionaries.)

To clarify, here's where I'm finding myself locked in:

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary [11th]: go through: 2.EXPERIENCE; UNDERGO.

The American Heritage Dictionary (5th):2. go through: To experience; Undergo

The online ones:

Collins English Dictionary: 4. (preposition) to suffer [end of story?!]

oxford dictionaries: Undergo (a difficult period or experience)

the free dictionary: 2. To experience

McMillan dictionary: 3. [TRANSITIVE] go through something: to experience something difficult or unpleasant

I cannot reasonably take the most comprehensive meaning (maybe the Amr. Hert. Dict & Oxf. Dict.s, in the case on hand) all the time, under the assumption that the others have left something out, because a lengthy definition isn't necessarily the best one. Using only one perfect dictionary? There is no such dictionary out there, or else the need to set up brilliant communities like this would have never made itself felt. Come here and ask? I guess this has to be the best answer, but the need is too frequent and it takes me a long time. Googling? Yes, that works in some cases. But It's not reliable enough, I think, since you can't tell if the writer was a native speaker. Plus the fact that not each and every composition/collocation of words exists there, whereas the Googled term IS actually true (I say this out of a couple of such experiences).


Q 1. What should I do (if anything at all!)?

Q 2. What does go through really mean? In other words, should I use it only when something unpleasant/bad/difficult is involved?

Q 3. Are the editors of the community erasing thanks?

  • 1
    We don’t say tens of cases in English; we say dozens.
    – tchrist
    Jul 26, 2014 at 1:48
  • May be better on meta ?
    – Kris
    Jul 26, 2014 at 6:37
  • @Erikkowal ; Thanks for extensive edit. I dared, albeit not to comply with two of them or three. Thank you once again.
    – Itsme
    Jul 26, 2014 at 7:20
  • 2
    Dictionaries do not define well. They miss so much: all the aspects of the word, all the contexts it could appear in, all the nuances, all the connotations, the social appropriateness.
    – Mitch
    Jul 26, 2014 at 22:45
  • 1
    For neutral (or even positive) examples: go through puberty/menopause/changes/a reorganisation/a transformation/therapy/treatment/a procedure/recovery.
    – Neil W
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:24

1 Answer 1


Whenever two dictionaries disagree about anything, I think you should consider both.

Words often have different connotations, depending on the experiences and perspective of the person reading / hearing the words.

When you see two dictionaries that disagree about the definition or connotation of a word, that is an indication to you that the word may have different connotations to different people.

At some point, you might intend to say one thing, and have the person receiving the message come away with something else altogether.

In the case of this particular phrase, "go through" or "get through" I think it can be used with varying degrees of negative connotation, but it is sometimes used in a positive or neutral connotation by the people I interact with daily as a native American English speaker in the northeast United States.

A neutral example would be, "I'm just going to go through the answers one more time before I turn in my test." Or, "Once you go through the tunnel, take the next left."

  • 1
    Unless I say, "I'm just going to go through the answers one more time before I turn in my test." Or, "Once you go through the tunnel, take the next left."
    – Jim
    Jul 26, 2014 at 3:11
  • 2
    Are you sure you're not exaggerating the extent of the negative connotations? I can think of a variety of other neutral examples: "A caterpillar goes through many physiological changes in the process of turning into the adult butterfly". "We went through [= consumed, used up] a whole case of wine last night". "The fax went through on the first attempt". "Let's go through the script of the play and analyse the action from Ophelia's point of view".
    – Erik Kowal
    Jul 26, 2014 at 6:13
  • 2
    I would suggest that the example "go through the tunnel" is not relevant here- although the words are the same the meaning is entirely different, meaning "to proceed through" - when navigating a tunnel the only way is "through"... That is not the same as experiencing something with some degree of negative connotation. In my opinion the degress of negativity associated with "go through" is set by the context, not the actual verb.
    – Marv Mills
    Jul 26, 2014 at 6:16
  • 1
    @Lumberjack ; Right. But As for "going through the answers" it seems to be mentioned independently of the current sense, in some dictionaries, and is said to mean "revise/review/examine". I think they are right, since it doesn't bear on "experiencing something".
    – Itsme
    Jul 26, 2014 at 6:17
  • 1
    The advice about considering both definitions to be correct for some people, and mentioning the sender and receiver of the message, are spot on. -- I would put it this way: As the sender of a message (e.g. writer of a text), make sure to only use a word if it's appropriate according to all dictionaries. As the receiver (e.g. reader), be prepared that the intended meaning might be one that fits only one of the dictionaries.
    – user86291
    Jul 26, 2014 at 18:52

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