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We have a text for kids with a box for a drawing that reads "People you are social distancing with", we have been thinking about the meaning of the sentence and we're not sure about the meaning, it should be one of these:

  • People whom you are NOT keeping distance from (such as family members)
  • People that you cannot see because you have to keep the distance (such as your friends)

We lean towards the first meaning, but we're o sure..

Some of you requested for the source to get more context, it's the pdf here (a time capsule exercise for students, page 2) here

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    I am not at all sure what "People you are social distancing with" means. It sounds like a group of people who, together and as a group, spend their time avoiding other people.
    – Greybeard
    Jun 13, 2020 at 23:32
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    Can you ask whoever gave you the assignment to fill in?
    – shoover
    Jun 14, 2020 at 1:11
  • I am playing with my kids. I draw 3 of us sitting and playing together. "I am social distancing with", I would draw 3 people standing away from each other. Total strangers but all are participating. The center figure is me from my perspective. That is how I imagined at least. I simply imagined "social distance" as a verb and imagined it just like any other verb I use together with "with". What is on that paper is ambiguous though. This was just my interpretation.
    – Grizzly
    Jun 17, 2020 at 23:50
  • You need to stste the source of the material. Tuffy gives the government-sponsored UK usage, but there may be other usages in other Anglophone nations. The usage is inherently ambiguous, and needs context (eg the UK Govt uses it this way only) to be disambiguated. Jun 18, 2020 at 14:28
  • Isn't this everybody in the world at this point? Of course, even before the crisis, you were already socially distancing from many people, and more thoroughly, due to the fact that you'd never met them.
    – Spencer
    Jun 19, 2020 at 17:34

8 Answers 8

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I think it's the former because of the preposition with. If they had meant the latter, they would have used from instead, as in either of the following:

a. People you are being social distanced from

b. People you are social distancing yourself from

There's no way they could have meant the latter by using the preposition with.

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  • But then there's fighting with which can mean fighting against. Why did 'they' use 'with' here? Jun 19, 2020 at 18:52
  • I'll accept this answer, reasoning is simple ant makes sense. thanks,
    – aseques
    Jun 19, 2020 at 21:57
  • @EdwinAshworth But then the verb fight takes different prepositions than does the verb distance. So I think you're comparing apples and oranges.
    – listeneva
    Jun 20, 2020 at 3:13
  • I'm pointing out that, to someone not totally au fait with the possibly idiosyncratic colligation/s of 'distance' and prepositions, but who is aware of 'fighting with' = 'antagonistic to', there might well be confusion. Your answer needs fleshing out. You're not bothering to compare pomelos with anything. And an answer 'I think it's the former because ...' lacks conviction. HM Govt certainly uses the phrasing with this meaning, but supporting context is vital when the issue is important to get right. Jun 20, 2020 at 10:58
  • @EdwinAshworth If you're that someone, which I doubt you are, please don't get confused and accept the reality that the language is idiosyncratic...so much so that 'fight with' can even mean 'fight on the same side as'. Fortunately, the question is specifically about the verb '(social) distance' and not about both the verb and another verb such as fight, and rightly so. Hence the "skeletal" answer. If you're into the fleshing out business, please guide me as to how I should go about doing that business. I'd appreciate it.
    – listeneva
    Jun 20, 2020 at 14:12
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It is technically ambiguous, but I think most people, by far, would take the former interpretation (you are not distancing from them; you, as a group, are collectively distancing from others).

I say it's technically ambiguous, because the only thing that is clear is that you are doing this activity (social distancing) with them. How you do this activity, and the role you play in relation to each other, is the part you have left open to interpretation with this sentence structure, and the term social distancing isn't quite well-established enough in the language to have built its own special relationship with the word with as so many other verbs have.

To understand this better, let's try a different sentence with a similar structure: I am playing chess with Jessica. Technically, this could mean:

  • Jessica and I are playing chess, and Jessica is my opponent
  • Jessica and I are playing chess with a third person (or computer, etc.), and we are working together to defeat them, even though it is traditionally a two-player game
  • Jessica and I have decided to spend some time in each other's company, each playing chess against computers or online opponents, etc., as a shared activity, while talking and having beer
  • Jessica and I are on a team going to some sort of team chess competition

Because chess is understood to be a two-player, competitive game, the former interpretation would be the default understanding, absent some sort of context that complicates it. If you were describing one of the other scenarios, you would generally make it explicit to avoid the confusion.

If you are social distancing, this is generally something you do in relation to everyone, not specific people. The reason the term social distancing exists is to make it clear that it is people that you are keeping your distance from, and if you are talking about specific people then the word social isn't really necessary. I might say my brother is in quarantine or that I am keeping my distance from my brother, but it sounds a bit odd to say that I am social distancing from my brother.

This, then, provides a context from which we can derive a default expecation of what with would refer to here. If social distancing is an activity that isn't in relation to specific people, then when I am social distancing with my brother, the default implication would be that it is an activity we are doing together in relation to all other people, rather than in relation to each other. And in today's context, the most natural way to understand that would be that we are actually making an exception and not distancing from each other, and thereby forming a household/bubble. So I would take the phrase I am social distancing with my brother to be a shorthand for I am social distancing, with the exception of my brother, as we have formed a bubble/household that acts as a mutual pact wherein we will do what we can to minimise our likelihood of being infected, with the knowledge that we would likely infect each other.

This ambiguity is very much built into the word with, and you can see that if you compare what you would think of as the default interpretation for each of these sentences:

  • I spent most of Saturday arguing with Jeremiah
  • I have stolen bread with Julia
  • I have broken bread with Jedidiah
  • I do not enjoy fencing with Junko
  • I am WhatsApping with Josephine as we speak
  • I served on the HMS Victory with Joshua
  • I fought with Jericho several times
  • I ran along the Thames with Jacqueline
  • I was in a race with Jamilah to finish the project
  • I circumnavigated the globe with Jacopo
  • It was when I quarantined with Jasper that our relationship really took hold

In each of these, there's a sort of default expectation of what the with implies in relation to the activity. You can sort of visualise them, and in some cases there may be an antagonistic relationship, a friendly competitive relationship, and in others a cooperative one. In each case, technically other interpretations are possible, but they would all be edge cases and would require some context or disambiguation for them to become reasonable interpretations.

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By logic alone, we can surmise that people you are social distancing with means people whom you are NOT keeping distance from (such as family members):

Your PDF's page to draw in the people is too small to include the balance—your friends, your classmates, your teacher, your neighbors, the mail carrier, cashiers, the rest of entire free world—from whom you ARE keeping distant.

This would have been better worded as people you are sheltering in place with or people you are social bubbling with.

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  • The "sheltering in place" is, I believe, an American English expression which has been borrowed by speakers and politicians during the COVID 19 crisis. (For learners) It is often used in times of natural disasters, for example when a hurricane or typhoon is expected to arrive, the population is advised to stay "barricaded" at home, until the extreme weather condition has ceased.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 19, 2020 at 18:44
  • The PDF file has British spelling, e.g. favourite and colour, however, it could be a Canadian document because it mentions "movie" and "sidewalk"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 19, 2020 at 18:46
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+300

I place this as an answer because it is so vital we all get it right. What the government means is people in the same domicile or living together. they do not distance from each other, except if one of them develops symptoms or tests positive, in which case that person ‘self isolates’ within the. dwelling.

You can argue about whether ‘with’ is the best preposition. But in the U.K., at least, the usage has been widely enough used and (I hope understood) that it is now an established usage even if it had not been before.

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"Social distancing", in the Covid 19 sense, means staying six feet apart from those you are with, wherever you are, whatever you are doing. The child is NOT doing this with those s/he lives with but those outside his or her home. I see nothing wrong with the instruction in the PDF as written, unless one takes exception to ending the sentence with a preposition. But that's a different question.

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We need some new terminology here.

I’d interpret the verb “to social distance” as adhering to the new norm of staying about six feet away, not touching.

“People we are socially distancing with” are those you see in accordance with the norms. I think “socially” works better here.

Then there are those with whom you are in regular close physical contact, like household members.

And then, people you don’t get even within “social distance” intentionally or unintentionally. They are non-contacts.

My guess is the game refers not to household intimates but to people one sees at the new six-foot norm.

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    My guess is the opposite. I think they mean those within your “close social group” I.e., those from whom you don’t try to maintain your distance or remain masked around. Typically those you sheltered with when sequestered.
    – Jim
    Jun 14, 2020 at 2:01
  • Could be. But we do need some new words. The NBA is working on plans for groups who can sit together, e.g., members of a household, to buy tickets together.
    – Xanne
    Jun 14, 2020 at 2:35
  • I upvote both Xanne and @Jim comments, both make sense still can't decide on one :I
    – aseques
    Jun 16, 2020 at 21:24
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    @aseques - The pdf you posted makes it clear it’s talking about your close family and whoever else might be sheltering with you. You aren’t going to draw a picture of everyone else in the world, you’re going to draw a picture of the group of people you were close to- the group you went through this ordeal with, so you can look back and remember them.
    – Jim
    Jun 16, 2020 at 21:31
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I think it helps in clarifying the intent to restructure the sentence to avoid the preposition at the end. It then becomes "People with whom you are social distancing". Deriving the meaning of the sentence is further challenged by the lack of adverb after covering the noun-phrase "social distancing" to the verb-phrase "socially distancing". For me, when you do that, which I reflexively tend to do, the sentence becomes about the interactions: "People with whom you are socially distancing". Now, for me, in this corrected form the meaning is more clearly intending to convey the interaction between "you" and others: more aligned to the second interpretation proposed.

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In this context,

'People you are social distancing with'

is short for

'People you are practicing social distancing with'.

The noun phrase 'social distancing' is now being used as a verb, rather than as a direct object of 'practice'.

That is, 'to practice social distancing' (Verb + Direct Object Phrase) has been shortened to 'socially distancing'.

Here, 'practice' means 'to carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly' (Lexico).

The workbook wants the kid to draw a picture of the people she/he is habitually or regularly (practicing) social distancing with as a way to recall these days, people, and activity in the future--and especially the people with whom she/he has been (practicing) social distancing.

This means you make a drawing in the available space those people with whom you are practicing social distancing: it means those people in your life with whom you are together during this ongoing Covid19 situation. It means people close to you during this crisis, literally, as in you and they are part of your family or friends with whom you are doing this activity; not people you are staying away from--although if someone in your family did have the virus or test positive, it would not be wrong to include them in the picture. This is only an interpretation and not necessarily conclusive, the preposition with tends toward being close, not being separated.

For 'social distance' as a verb, see (MacMillan), whose definition happens to be 'to practise social distancing', using the UK spelling of the verb 'practice/practise'.

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    You haven’t said what “practicing social distancing means” does it mean if you and I keep 6 feet apart and wear masks we are practicing social distancing with each other or does it mean that we, in private don’t need to maintain our distance or wear masks when we’re together but when we do go out together we wear our masks to make sure we maintain our distance from those we might encounter? Please update to say what you mean here and most importantly what leads you to that conclusion.
    – Jim
    Jun 17, 2020 at 5:36

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