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The New York Times’ article titled “Overcoming a Lifetime of Stage Fright” in its Sunday Review page describes how a female pianist who has suffered stage fright in her lifetime felt when she played piano in public at an international airport: It goes:

It had been 40 years since my last recital, but the first time I played the piano at Mineta San Jose International Airport, my body responded right on cue. My hands turned wet with sweat, my heart pounded, my feet gave a soft little drum roll on the floor.

I was there because, at age 59, I was determined to overcome a lifetime of stage fright. I had quit playing the piano when I was 19 because of my anxiety. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/31/opinion/sunday/overcoming-a-lifetime-of-stage-fright.

OED defines “determine” as a verb meaning (2) firmly decide, as well as “determined” as an adjective meaning “having firmness of purpose, resolute.”

Are the meanings of “I was determined to do sth” and “I determined to do sth” same and interchangeable? If No, what’s the difference of meanings / nuances between them?

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    "I determined to do something" is a sentence about you making a decision. "I was determined to do something" is a sentence about your resolve. Of course your resolve stems from a previous decision and thus the two are very closely related, but they emphasize different aspects. – Jim May 30 '15 at 22:27
  • Note that "stage fright" is not generally considered "countable", and hence does not call for an article to introduce it. – Hot Licks May 31 '15 at 3:16
  • Yoichi .. as HL says, you need to remove the "a". – Fattie May 31 '15 at 3:21
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    @JoeBlow- also note that in OP’s question the two are not interchangeable- substituting “I determined” makes the sentence mean that he made the decision at age 59 while “I was determined” simply establishes a state of mind but leaves the exact time of the decision unspecified. – Jim May 31 '15 at 5:12
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    It's like "I started chasing the dog" vs "I was chasing the dog". – Max Williams Oct 30 '17 at 13:12
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The two phrases have similar meanings, but different connotations. When you say "I determined to X", you are speaking about an action: a choice is being made, a path is selected, an option is picked. When you say "I was determined to X", you are speaking about a mental state: a focus, a purpose.

"I was there because, at age 59, I determined to overcome stage fright" speaks, therefore, of a decision that was made at a particular point in time (prior to the speaker being 'there'). At the moment of speaking, the speaker may not be 59 anymore; they could be 60, or 89. But the decision to overcome stage fright was made at age 59.

"I was there because, at age 59, I was determined to overcome stage fright" speaks instead of a purpose for being 'there'. The decision to overcome stage fright was made some time before, but now they are 59 and they are there as a direct result of their decision and their focus on achieving the goal.

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They mean roughly the same thing.

I determined to... has a rather archaic, formal feel.

That's the main difference. In normal spoken language almost everyone would say "I was determined to fix the damned car!"

If you were, let's say, giving a speech, it would be a touch more pretentious to say something like "And then, I determined to find a cure for cancer..."

Note too that in English (I don't know about other languages) there is a subtle distinction on the nature of consciousness where you can either comment on yourself as an external observor, or just comment. "I am really getting sleepy." "I am sleepy."

"I was determined to..." happens to be more common (let's say, less formal, less "grandiose") than "I determined to...". Whereas in contrast "I decided..." is much more common than "I was decided to..." (which would sound rather grandiose, as if in a political speech).


Note that in a comment, Jim explains the "literal" difference between the two. As I say in a further comment, that's not really so relevant. I'm reminded of the duality between "I shall return" and "I will return" (or indeed "I'll get back to you"). You often get "head of a pin" arguments about what the two phrase "I shall" and "I will" "mean" respectively. The simple fact on the ground in language usage is, "I shall" is a little more, let us say, "speech-like", "grandiose" and "I will" is more commonplace, everyday.

I believe Yoichi is asking the question in the sense of, let us say, how a master translator would move such phrases between languages.

In dealing with such spectacularly subtle issues, you have to be very much aware of the feel of things like - let's say - "headline" language, "business-ese", and very much, for example, the different rhythms of spoken and written speech.

Here, we have a great example of a situation where there are two "formulas" for saying something, and the distinction between the two is that one is more "grandiose", more "speech-like".

{BTW note that are some other typical formulaic usages for "I determined..." unrelated to the example you give. So, in a rater court-like setting you might hear a scientist say "After blah blah, I determined that the airbag has deployed" or "The panel has determined that..."}

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  • However, no American speaker would ever say "a stage fright" in this context. – keshlam May 31 '15 at 5:25

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