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What's the difference between these?

a. I had a look around the room.

and

b. I looked around the room.

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  • I've never met the phrase delexical verb. But the answer is, you don't have to use it - and, given the unpredictability of which verbs customarily get nouned, it will be hard. You just need to be able to recognise it when it comes up.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 13, 2020 at 16:47
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    I, too, had to look up what delexical verbs are. The term seems to refer to verb phrases such as have a meal, take a bath where the verb is only given its meaning by the noun it is attached to. You just have to learn these phrases, as they are in common use. Jun 13, 2020 at 17:05
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    They are called light verbs because they are semantically light in the sense that their contribution to the meaning of the predication is relatively small in comparison with that of their complements, cf. "She gave him a kiss", which has the syntactically simpler alternant "She kissed him", which does not contain a light verb. The main semantic content is located not in the light verb but in the noun functioning as head of the direct object.
    – BillJ
    Jun 13, 2020 at 17:17
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    Does this answer your question? Why do native speakers often use delexical structures? 'I bathed, and then drank a coffee. Then I walked in the park' sounds unnatural, stilted. Jun 13, 2020 at 18:32
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    These are subtly different. The first demands a reasonably thorough inspection; it is in a terser, businesslike style. Used in a detective novel, perhaps. The second could be more incidental, desultory (though it may have the same meaning as the first). It's in a less informal register. //// With 'I had/took a bath' v 'I bathed', there is no/negligible difference in meaning, but hardly anybody uses the second variant nowadays. Jun 19, 2020 at 11:56

1 Answer 1

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In "I had a look around the room," had is a light verb, one whose contribution in terms of meaning is small in comparison with that of its complement look; typically this complement is associated with an ordinary verb, and there is an alternant that uses that verb, in this case "I looked around the room" (Huddleston & Pullum (2002), p. 290-291). Generally, using a light verb "yield[s] a significant increase in syntactic versatility over that of the associated verb construction," since it allows "a greater range of elaboration by modifiers and determiners" (ibid., p. 291). Moreover, in cases like this one, the use of the indefinite article results in a change in meaning; "I had a look around the room" suggests a single, short event, whereas "I looked around the room" does not necessarily do so; compare "She gave him a kiss" with "She kissed him" (ibid., p. 290-291).

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  • I had a quick look around the room. I looked quickly around the room. Same thing really. I don't see amu real difference in meaning. Those guys seem not to like other formulations based on how the language actually works.
    – Lambie
    Dec 2, 2023 at 21:16
  • @Lambie Note what I said: "I looked around the room" does not necessarily suggest a single, short event, whereas "I had a look around the room" does. Compare: "I looked around the room for hours" sounds fine, but "I had a look around the room for hours" sounds quite odd, at least to me.
    – alphabet
    Dec 2, 2023 at 21:23
  • I had a long, slow look around the room. This game can be played forever.
    – Lambie
    Dec 2, 2023 at 23:03

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