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I'm trying to rewrite this sentence, can someone suggest a grammatically correct (and better) sentence:

I was not prepared for his calm enthusiasm for my question.

I'm thinking something like:

I was not prepared for his calm enthusiasm to my question.

But I'm not sure that maintains the same meaning and intent by substituting to for for. Is it grammatically correct to say, "his calm enthusiasm to my question"?

The reason I ask, is because (to my native English speaker's ears) the phrase "his calm enthusiasm for my question" sounds correct, even though I'd rather not repeat the word for in the original sentence quoted at top. Maybe I just need to live with the repetition, but I'm very open to having someone suggest any alternative that doesn't involve repeating the word for twice.

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    You have enthusiasm for something, not to it. Too bad if you don't like the repetition. – FumbleFingers Feb 10 '16 at 21:23
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I can't tell whether you were surprised that the person was enthusiastic at all (because you expected him to be hostile or at best neutral toward your question) or whether you were surprised that the person wasn't more warmly or demonstratively enthusiastic (because you expected him to be quite pleased by it).

If the former, you might be better off with a different opening to the sentence. I would recommend "I was gratified by his calm enthusiasm for my question" in place of "I was not prepared for his calm enthusiasm for my question," since gratified points to the positive interpretation of "calm enthusiasm" that you mean to suggest, whereas "not prepared" could point to either gratification or disappointment.

If the latter, you would be better off with "impassive reaction to"—or with "coolness toward" or "lack of enthusiasm for"—than with "calm enthusiasm for," because pivoting on enthusiasm (calm or otherwise) when what actually surprised you was the low level of enthusiasm does not indicate the nature and direction of your surprise.

If, however, you want your sentence to consist of the exact words "I was not prepared for his calm enthusiasm _____ my question," and you want to avoid having a second for appear in the fill-in-the-blank location, your best bet might be to use the longer phrase "in response to":

I was not prepared for his calm enthusiasm in response to my question.

  • Thanks @Sven Yargs ... It was the former, but the context makes it clear that the writer was not just gratified, but truly not prepared and in fact stunned (the audience was hostile, and the questioner had expected the speaker to also be hostile, but the speaker wasn't hostile, but calmly enthusiastic to answer their question). I had also thought to use in response to instead of for, but thought it was too long. Upon reflection, I think you're right that that's the way to go, so I ended up with that construction (as a suggestion to the writer). Thanks again!! – likethesky Feb 15 '16 at 6:21
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For an abstract noun like 'question', prepositions do not have their spacial meanings. 'To' can mean 'toward', which can mean 'about', so 'to' is understandable. There is nesting (whether or not you repeat the preposition), but you may find 'about' better than 'to', without recycling 'for'.

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Another preposition that might sound correct would be at which would be implicitly invoking the verb hearing:

I was not prepared for his calm enthusiasm at my question.

I was not prepared for his calm enthusiasm at [hearing] my question.
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In my opinion 'to' sounds better to the ears and is not grammatically incorrect either. But I wonder what state you are in when you are both calm and enthusiastic!

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