Lately, I came across an interesting thread on the WordReference forums in which one user asked:

He's growing up much faster than I'd expect.

He's growing up much faster than I'd expected.


He's growing up faster than I expected.

Do you guys think which one is the best way to speak?

I know all of them are correct but not sure which one does make so much sense.

Thank you.

The first reply contains a very informative answer:

Just to make it clear to other readers, I have expanded the apostrophes. I have also deleted the word 'up' that I don't think helps in the example.

He's growing up much faster than I would expect. = a consideration of the process of growing up after giving the matter and circumstances some consideration.

He's growing up much faster than I had expected. = a simple remark on the process of growing up without giving the matter much consideration.


He's growing [up] faster than I expected. = expressing some polite surprise.

Spoken, the tone would convey a lot of the meaning and any differences between them. All of them make sense.

At first glance, this seems reasonable enough. The answer is well-formatted, can be easily understood, and is very thorough - hallmarks of an excellent reply. However, the more I think about it, the less it makes any sort of sense. The reasoning as to why I am confused will be expressed through these questions:

  • Is the answer actually correct?


  • What could possibly be the reasoning behind the interpretations?


  • Why is it not when the speaker considers, but to which degree they consider?

  • Does the third example even adhere to the abovementioned implication? If yes, then how does it relate to the rule itself?

  • How exactly can the speaker's tone change the meaning of each example?

Edit: As part of the mandatory research report, I have indeed done some sleuthing, but absolutely nothing of interest was ever discovered. By nothing, I mean it. I can't find so much as a clue regarding this conundrum. So please, forgive my severe lack of research evidence.


The answer is not correct - and I agree with you that it's largely meaningless. I strongly suspect that, for most speakers, these three sentences would be functionally synonymous, with little or no difference in meaning or emphasis.

To the degree there's any difference, I would say that sentence 1 has a slight implication that the speaker has not yet totally given up expecting a different outcome, where as sentences 2 and 3 (which are completely synonymous) suggest that the speaker is resigned to the fact that the boy in question has in fact grown up faster than expected (ie any expectation to the contrary has been completely abandoned). But it seems doubtful whether such subtle shadings in meaning would have any practical impact on a listener - or indeed were consciously intended by the speaker.

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