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stackexchange!

I've been referring to this site for a while now and have finally decided to join you all.

This is a semantics and use question about the phrase "available soon" that appeared as part of a test item for EFL students. I'm curious about what answer native speakers of English would select. I won't say too much here as I don't want to influence how one reads and answers the item.

I would like to ask interested individuals to read the following dialogue and then answer the multiple choice question. If possible, I would like to hear the reasoning behind your choice.

Thanks for your time...

Woman: Have you looked at this catalog yet?

Man: Yes. Which car do you like?

Woman: I’m interested in the Roadmaster. It’s environmentally friendly and has great safety features plus a navigation system.

Man: I don’t really want an electric car.

Woman: How about a hybrid like the Supersonic? It has a rear-view camera, and I heard it’s the only model in stock.

Man: Hybrids are too expensive.

Woman: Then which car were you thinking of?

[This part omitted but not necessary for the answer.]

Man: I’ve got a better idea. How about the Grand Adventure? It’s a hybrid like the Supersonic so it’s environmentally friendly. And it’s got the safety features too.

Woman: That seems like a good compromise. Let’s take a test drive on Saturday.

Man: Good idea.

Question: Which car is available soon?

(1) The Grand Adventure. (2) The Roadmaster. (3) The Supersonic. (4) The Tiger Minivan.

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    Nothing is said about the availability of the Grand Adventure although it is reportedly out of stock currently. It's assumed that a test drive can be had on Saturday, but it's possible you'd need to order one and that could take months. Nothing is said about the availability of the Roadmaster other than that a rumor has it out of stock. The Supersonic is reportedly in stock and so is available now, not soon. And no mention is made of the Tiger Minivan (unless it is mentioned in the omitted portion). Therefore if any car is available soon, it cannot be deduced from the information given. – Jim Jun 21 '16 at 4:21
  • Problem: "soon" does not mean "right away". The Supersonic is available right now, but we don't know which others will be available soon. This "soon" vs. "right away/immediately" difference is a big issue, for example, in ESL for Japanese speakers. Consider: Bob: "Frank, I think Im having a heart attack. Call an ambulance." Frank: "Ok, Bob. I'll call an ambulance soon." Why is Frank's response odd? – curious-proofreader Jun 21 '16 at 4:33
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I reckon it's (3) the Supersonic and here's why.

Some people are saying there's ambiguity in "soon" and I agree but I think ambiguity could also lie in "available": Whom exactly are we waiting for it to be available to?

The Supersonic will be available to the car salesman immediately, but to the man and woman soon. So the question is: Is the question asking "which car will be available (to the car salesman) soon?" or "which car will be available (to the man and woman) soon?".

If it's the former, then we don't have enough information to make a decision between the Roadmaster and the Grand Adventure because their availabilities go untold.

If it's the latter, then we can safely say it's (3) the Supersonic because the woman says "it's the only model in stock", so of course it'll be available soon... to the man and woman... because they won't need to wait for it to arrive.

Assume no ambiguity.

  • If it’s available now (in stock) it’s not available soon because soon means “sometime in the near future” but explicitly not now – Jim Jun 21 '16 at 22:25
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    If it's available to the care salesman now (in stock), then it's available to the man and woman soon, right? Because they can test drive and buy it soon. – chambln Jun 21 '16 at 23:44
  • No. when an item is in stock that means it is ready for a customer to purchase now. If a customer cannot purchase it now and needs to wait until it becomes available for purchase then it cannot be said to be in stock. Traditionally, stock referred to merchandise physically in the store- either on the shelf or in the stock room. If you call a store about an item and they say it’s “in stock” then you know you can drive to the store and buy it and take it home with you. – Jim Jun 21 '16 at 23:55
  • Okay but they still have to take the time to drive there, which means it's not available immediately to the man and woman; it's available soon. I know that's a weird way to interpret it but it's the only one that gives you a solid answer to the question. – chambln Jun 22 '16 at 0:00
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Thanks all! Here is a breakdown of the 13 answers I've recieved from native speakers: 4 for the Supersonic, 5 for The Grand Adventure, 1 for either the Supersonic or Grand Adventure, 2 with no answer, and 1 with the Roadmaster.

3 of the 4 respondents who chose the Supersonic also mitigated their answer with things such as "avoid ambiguity/weird interpretation," "if availability is refering to the test drive," and "but I can see how the Grand Adventure could also be the correct answer."

For those who chose the Grand Adventure, it was always because "available soon" means "not yet available (but will be in the near future)" and "in stock" means "currently available." Therefore, the Supersonic couldn't possibly be the answer and as the Grand Adventure is available for a test drive, it may be "available soon."

For the one who chose either the Supersonic or Grand Adventure, he said that if "soon" is important to interpreting the meaning of the question, then the Supersonic could not be the answer, and therefore the Grand Adventure would be.

For the one who chose The Roadmaster, she actually treated the item as a riddle and not a test item. (The wife had already made up her mind and everything after her description of the Roadmaster was "just conversation".)

Curious-proofreader picked up on the Japanese connection. This item was put out by a Japanese company for Japanese high school students. It is often mistakenly assumed that "soon" includes "now/immediately" which is an obsolete meaning in English.

Contrum picked up on the problem with the ambiguity of "available." Available to whom? I would also add, available for what? Available for purchase? Available for order? Available to purchase and drive off the lot?

This is a good reminder that when writing test items, we need to be sensitive to the context. The context here (looking at new car models in a catalog) is a merchandise situation, and as Jim said, "in stock" and "available soon" are two different (not synonymous) categorizations. The item writer, treated them as synonymous, most likely unaware of the phrases' use in merchandising. (Notice how if the dialogue were between a waiter and busboy at a restaurant and the question was "Which table is available soon," the meaning of "available soon" would change.)

There are probably problems with the wording of the question as well. If it were, "Which car would be available soon?" perhaps there would be more who answer the Supersonic as it would be asknig about a future state and there would be more flexibility in how one interprets "available". As it is, the question asks about the current state (A is B) and as the Supersonic is "in stock" it is not at the same time "available soon."

Anyway, thanks for all your insights. I'm glad I finally joined these forums.

  • I forgot to add that the publisher's intended answer was the Supersonic. That is what caused all the fuss. :) – THoltz Jun 22 '16 at 4:28

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