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Looking for some feedback on the stock answer I usually give to Korean learners of English when they use the phrase "It would be grateful if..."

Quick background: I'm an English language instructor/coach for Korean business professionals in Seoul, South Korea. Recently, I have frequently encountered the expression above in students' emails.

My stock answer is that this expression is incorrect because "it" (the situation/event/action) is not a person, so it cannot feel grateful about another person's actions. Students usually then ask, "Well, what about: 'It would be appreciated if...'"

This expression is ok because it is passive construction; 'appreciate' is a verb, not an adjective like 'grateful'.

This seems to me to be the best explanation I have come up with so far. Does anyone have any input/additional comments in the way of a better explanation? Also, along the same lines, how would you then explain the expression: "It would be embarrassing if..." Thanks!

  • If an obvious (non-participial) or -ing form adjective is used (It would be awkward / good / wonderful / dangerous / handy / ... // boring / exciting ... if you did X), there is (always, as far as I can see) the paraphrase 'Doing X would be/prove awkward / good ... // exciting...). But the unacceptability of 'Doing X would be grateful' clearly underlines what you say in your third paragraph. With -ed forms, adding 'by John' to 'It would be appreciated / welcomed / valued ...' underlines the verbal nature. However, idiomaticity ... – Edwin Ashworth Feb 10 '18 at 11:38
  • is unpredictable. 'John would like it if you ...' is fine, but 'It would be liked by John if you ...' sounds unnatural. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 10 '18 at 11:38
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There are two things going on with expressions such as

  • It would be appreciated if...
  • It would be embarrassing if...

Firstly, they show the desire to depersonalize the request or statement. It would have been equally possible to write:

  • I would appreciate (it) if...
  • I / you would be embarrassed if...

But in some contexts the writer might feel that such a formulation is too direct.

The second aspect to consider here is the sentence structure. It would be appreciated if... and It would be embarrassing if... start with the dummy pronoun it. This is a very common structure in English, in part because it enables the principle of end-weight. This is a fairly nebulous concept, but basically it means that longer phrases are typically placed later in sentences than shorter phrases.

You could write:

A response to my third attempt to settle this issue once and for all would be appreciated.

But this places the shorter phrase at the end, which contravenes the end-weight principle. If we use the dummy pronoun, we can create a sentence, which I suspect most people would find more natural:

It would be appreciated if you could respond to my third attempt to settle this issue once and for all.

Your stock answer to It would be grateful if... is fine. But the expression works if they replace grateful with gratifying.

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