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People talking about how something will be perceived sometimes use the phrase "to it". For example people sometimes say "It will have a nice color to it." instead of just it will have a nice color. Or when something sounds nice someone says "It has a nice ring to it." What is the function of "to it" in these kinds of sentences?

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    D’you know, that’s actually a really good question. I can’t really describe in words what nuance of meaning it adds. The best way I can think of to describe it (and that’s not very good—it’s the kind of subjective, wishy-washy fluff that I hate because it will almost certainly mean different things to different people, and nothing at all to most) is that it creates a looser, more detached relationship between the object and the sound/colour/ring than just perceiving the latter as a property of the former. (Sometimes it’s just necessary, though: “It has a nice ring” doesn’t work at all.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 11 '17 at 17:03
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    @JanusBahsJacquet perhaps something 'having a nice ring to it' just has a nicer ring to it than it 'having a nice ring'... – Spagirl Jun 11 '17 at 17:25
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    @Spagirl Unless you're at an engagement party. ;-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 11 '17 at 17:26
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    If something "has a nice ring" there is some suggestion that it is meant literally, about some form of circular band. If it "has a nice ring to it" then the ambiguity is lost and it becomes clear the speaker means "ring" more onomatopoeically or as in the sense of "ringing a bell". The relationship of this term to the physics of sound generation in a bell may be less clear. The etymology of the word "ring" in the sense of literally ringing a bell is something I've not been able to uncover. I found an SE question about the etymology of the metaphor, but it doesn't go beyond a literal bell. – Darren Ringer Jun 11 '17 at 21:36
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    "a nice color to it" isn't an idiom, but "nice ring to it" is. It means that the name, word or sound that has been attributed to something sounds especially pleasing or appropriate in some way. – Strawberry Jun 12 '17 at 9:47
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I would say that adding to it emphasizes perception of the thing, as opposed to an inherent quality of the thing. In other words, it emphasizes or draws attention to a subject that observes or otherwise perceives or interacts with the thing.

The expression really refers to an effect on the observer. In a nice ring to it the ring[ing] is not a quality of the thing but a feeling/thought that takes place in the observer.

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    Very good. I think you might have captured it. Like Janus Bahs Jacquet's comment, this is one of those things that you can feel a sense of, but it's had to translate into words. – fixer1234 Jun 11 '17 at 21:42
  • Anything to back this up. I have downvoted it because I disagree. The construction does refer to the object being talked about. – 9fyj'j55-8ujfr5yhjky-'tt6yhkjj Jun 30 '17 at 4:39
  • @Clare: Of course it refers to the object being talked about. It's a question of nuance, connotation. Adding to it can draw attention to the subject's appreciation of the object. That does not mean that no attention is given to the object. There may be a ring coming from the object itself - there usually is (but there also may not be). – Drew Jun 30 '17 at 13:22
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It is a good question.
The have X to it construction reminds me of some constructions in other languages.

  • Spanish A mí no me gusta el cilantro. 'I don't like cilantro'
    [literally To me not me likes the cilantro.]

Spanish has no transitive verb like, with the emotional perceiver as subject and perceived thing as object; instead, there is a flipped construction with gustar, which takes the perceiver (me) as object, and the perceived thing as subject. Adding a mí is optional and emphatic.

  • German Er hat sich die Hände gewaschen. 'He washed his hands'
    [literally He has to himself the hands washed.
    Sich is the 3p dative-accusative reflexive pronoun]

German prohibits using some inalienably possessed body parts and other special terms as objects with possesors. Instead, there is a reflexive dative construction, converting 'wash' into a verb with an indirect object.

In both of these constructions, there is a repetition of some NP, for some kind of pragmatic purpose like emphasis or taboo; and at least one of these NPs is typically a pronoun, just like the have X to it constructions.

This suggests to me that the to it construction (which doesn't have any common name I'm familiar with and doesn't seem to be in the literature yet) may be a work-around idiom for some deficiency in English. Which in turn suggests looking for how one says this in other languages.

And looking for other verbs than have (or give, which involves have) to try it with:

  • That has/gives a nice color to it.
  • *That paints a nice color to it
  • *That looks like a nice color to it
  • *It/That seems a nice color to it
  • *She wants a nice color to it

And looking for other subject-object relations to try it with:

  • That has (quite) a kick/a smooth feel/an interesting rhythm to it.
  • That has a top/a bottom/a door/a latch/4 sides/a real future to it.
  • *That has a steering wheel/new tires/an overhaul to it
  • *That has a missile launcher/a machine gun/armament to it
  • *That has my approval/his authorization/a license to it
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    A mí no me gusta el cilantro – legrojan Jun 12 '17 at 8:28
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    Literally He has to himself the hands washed. You can't tell whether sich is accusative or dative, but in (e.g.) the first person, it is clearly dative:_Ich habe mir die Hände gewaschen._ (I wouldn't have mentioned this, but it is after all what your answer is about!) – TonyK Jun 12 '17 at 9:37
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    No, it isn't an answer, but I don't think we're going to get one This is an interesting construction, but there isn't much known about it. And, for the record, apologies for my bad German and Spanish examples. Thank you all for your corrections. – John Lawler Jun 12 '17 at 15:29
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    I think if you want a really literal translation of "gustar" you should use "please" rather than "like" ("cilantro does not please me"). – Casey Jun 12 '17 at 20:58
  • That's a good fit for the syntactic construction -- object experiencer and subject experienced thing -- but please me doesn't have the idiomatic connotations of I like, not to speak of the Victorian scene it conjures up. Thanks for the suggestion, though. – John Lawler Jun 12 '17 at 22:53
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I would suggest that when expressing something with "has a ___ to it" there is an implied sense of what the word "aura" means.

the ideas of "radiating" or "emanating" a "feeling"

A few definitions of "aura" might help.

aura at Merriam Webster

1 a : a distinctive atmosphere surrounding a given source

The place had an aura of mystery.

b : a subtle sensory stimulus (such as an aroma)

and

aura at Dictionary.com

1. a distinctive and pervasive quality or character; air; atmosphere:

an aura of respectability; an aura of friendliness.

2. a subtly pervasive quality or atmosphere seen as emanating from a person, place, or thing.

6

The way I use 'a has b to it' is as to express that there is a sense/feeling of b in a. For example, to me, 'the movie has a strong vibe to it' says that there is a sense of a 'strong vibe' in the movie. As to your example, 'it has a nice ring to it' is effectively saying, 'there is a feeling of a nice ring in it'.

At other times, such as your example 'it will have a nice colour to it' or the sentence 'this football player has got nice feet to him', the to it part may stand for aspect instead of sense/feeling, so 'there is an aspect of nice colour in it', and 'there is an aspect of having great feet in this football player'.

P.S. In fact, having thought about it, the sentence 'it has a nice ring to it' may refer to either case depending on the context. For example, 'this phone has a nice ring to it' will probably fall into the second group.

  • Yeah, probably declaring the b as a component to a with a as the subject. – can-ned_food Jun 12 '17 at 23:51

protected by tchrist Jun 13 '17 at 23:55

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