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I'm reading essays written by non-native English speakers about movies and I keep coming across the phrase "put in a great performance." For example, when talking about an actress in a movie one person wrote:

Takahata Mizuki put in a great performance. I was very moved.

or

The voice actors who appeared in the movie put in a great performance.

I have never heard the use of in in this phrase (American English). So my question is: is this standard English anywhere? Is this just a malapropism? If it is used, does it have a different meaning from using on?


Here are my thoughts. First, if you put on a great performance, it almost always refers to a live show, play, etc. When discussing the performance of an actor in a movie, it would make more sense to say "their performance was great" or "their acting was great."

Second, the part that really confuses me. How can you put in a performance? Isn't a performance an output, not an input? One can put in effort, but can you put in a performance? Logically, it doesn't really make sense to me. Although of course English is far from logical.

Third, I found a FEW examples of the phrase used in sports related instances. All of them appear to be non-native speakers (and football players, huh). But still, the usage seemed uncommon.

  1. SPALLETTI: "WE ARE EAGER TO PUT IN A GREAT PERFORMANCE"
  2. Zidane: “We're only thinking about putting in a good performance”
  3. Mayoral: “We've put in a great performance”
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Yes. It is standard English. The phrase "put in" is defined as something you devote time or effort to, while the phrase "put on" refers specifically to organizing or presenting a play, exhibition, or event. While they are essentially analagous, when speaking of the theater the latter is preferred. While I will put in the required hours at work, at least in my profession they wouldn't want me putting on the required hours at work.

Follow up: the definitions above are from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/put and you simply have to scroll way down into the phrases to unearth the following usages of "put in".

‘employed mothers put in the longest hours of all women’

‘Employees frequently put in at least 50 hours a week.’

‘People are putting in long hours to make up for poor organisation and planning in the workplace.’

‘But even in the face of potential relapse, many exercisers worry that taking a break for health concerns may undo all the hard work they've put in at the gym.’

‘Mother-daughter arguments are normal at this stage, but it's definitely worth putting some effort into improving the relationship.’

‘Why don't they instead put the energy into presenting scientific rebuttals against our side?’

‘I think it's a reflection of the hard work staff put in at the school.’

‘We've been putting in a lot of work over a long period of time, it's been a struggle.’

‘Most people do not mind putting in some extra time when there's a crisis or an unexpected rush.’

‘We have had almost 120 training sessions, so a monumental effort has been put in.’

‘Joe says that by putting in the hours at the social hall, he feels he is giving something back to the community.’

Source: oxforddictionaries.com

  • Do you have a source showing its usage in standard English? Also, can you explain what exactly you pulled from the Oxford Dictionary? Of course I can understand the term "put in," but that's not my question. My question is how can you "put in" a performance? As I said above, a performance is an output, not an input. Of course you can put in time, you can put in effort, etc. Because these things are all inputs. A good performance is an output, the consequence of putting in effort. So how can one put IN the consequence of the action? – KumaAra Dec 26 '17 at 7:20
  • Perhaps it has to do with perspective. While I can understand your concept that the performance is an output, or consequence of efforts put in, for the artist in question it is their job, their very essence that they are putting into the show of effort. The artist creates the performance. Just as a linebacker, or a doctor puts in a great performance, so too does an artist. I think the confusion lies in the fact that the performance of a doctor is not actually a performance, in the same sense. That word might be worth looking up. – Jesse Ivy Dec 26 '17 at 7:41
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    Are we talking about the difference between "The action or process of performing a task or function", and "An act of presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment"? These are two very distinct definitions of the word performance, and they relate to the discussion at hand. In your second example you can see that the movie was a performance they put in a good performance to produce. As convoluted as that sounds, it is propper albeit shoddy grammar. I would say that it is in general in poor form to use the above terms with regards to artists for the reasons you yourself are confused. – Jesse Ivy Dec 26 '17 at 7:50
  • Side note: I hate it when the word performing is used in the definition of the word performance. – Jesse Ivy Dec 26 '17 at 7:56
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I think it is noteworthy that there is an alternative, which I would argue from experience is more standard.

The Oxford Learner's dictionary defines put up as

  1. to show a particular level of skill, determination, etc. in a fight or contest
  2. to suggest an idea, etc. for other people to discuss

and one of the examples brought for the first meaning is specifically

The team put up a great performance

which is interpreted as they played very well.


Based on this, I would argue that better usage would be to put up a performance, as opposed to put in or put on.

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    This is absolutely not preferable to put on or even put in. In fact, it's a bit bizarre. – Robusto Jan 10 at 21:21
  • @Robusto in the context of sports or employment (job performance), from pure experience, this is one people use vast majority of the time – gt6989b Jan 10 at 22:19
  • Maybe your experience isn't quite as pure as you think. – Robusto Jan 10 at 23:24

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