2

Is it correct to say?

A: What did you do yesterday?
B: I woke up, had a shower, wrote a book and then went to work. (I didn't write the whole book) 1:03 --- 1:10 a teacher from YouTube, please have a look

A: What did you do yesterday?
B: I went to the library and read some books. (I didn't read the books in their entirety)

A: What did you do yesterday?
B: Well, many things. I knitted my sweater, read some books, built a wooden ship. (I'm going to finish them in the future)

I read /rɛd/ Tom Sawyer to my son almost every night. (I didn't read the whole book every night, only several pages)

"Did you read the Bible yesterday?"

8
  • 2
    I think a native speaker would say "I did some work on my book/sweater/model ship" and "I did some reading". Feb 17 at 10:41
  • 2
    Idiomatically, there's usually a big difference between I [read | wrote] a book, because we naturally use context to decide whether the read version implies ...to completion, but (particularly with the indefinite article) the wrote version nearly always implies "completion", so in a context where that's impossible, such as I wrote a book while I waited for her to phone me back, we're forced to assume a "facetious" usage (there was no actual book, but I would have had time to write one; the implication is she didn't phone me back for a very long time! :) Feb 17 at 15:29
  • @FumbleFingers Here I've got a video on youtube from a native English speaker, who was explaining Past Simple. At 1:03 he said something. I'd love to hear your opinion on his example. youtube.com/… Feb 17 at 18:23
  • 1
    If you want to reopen the question you need the votes of another two members. I have cast my vote, but I think if you edited the question and showed the research, which does not necessarily means a link to YouTube but an actual reference from a reliable source then we're good to go. The fact that a moderator, Andrew Leach, answered your question plays into your favour. And before accusing people of being totalitarian look up the rules of closing questions and when comments can or have to be deleted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 17 at 19:07
  • 1
    Every one of your sentences is correct. None is wrong. Except I would say: Read **a(( book, Did you build it? I started building it but I didn't finish it. Simple past.
    – Lambie
    Feb 20 at 18:36

2 Answers 2

4

Language is squishy, and there are often exceptions to language 'rules'.

Nevertheless, it's often the case that a claim to an act of construction is equivalent to a claim to completing the construct, whereas a claim to an act of perception can be made when only a portion of the whole has been perceived.

For example, "I built a boat" means that I built the whole boat, while "I saw a boat" doesn't imply having inspected every plank and nail of the boat. Seeing even a silhouette of the boat through a fog can count as having 'seen' it.

Hence in your examples, writing, knitting and building (all acts of construction) would tend to be understood as claiming to have completed the construction. But reading wouldn't necessarily be understood as a claim to having read every word.

As mentioned, there are exceptions. For example, if you are asked whether you have read the instructions, the question is asking whether you have read and understood the instructions in their entirety. Conversely, nouns that convey incompleteness can affect how verbs of construction are understood - e.g. "I have made progress" isn't the same as a claim to have progressed all the way to the end. It is in this case equivalent to "I have made some progress".

2
  • 1
    Thank you. That's very helpful. Feb 20 at 19:42
  • @IlyaTretyakov You're welcome.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 6 at 16:15
2

Yes: the rule is correct and your sentences do not mean what you want them to mean.

"I wrote a book" means exactly that: you wrote the book, in its entirety, and completed that action. If you only wrote part of a book, you need to say that: "I wrote some more pages of my book".

The same applies to all your sentences.

There may be more idiomatic ways to say what you did.

I woke up, had a shower, wrote a bit more of my book and then went to work.
I went to the library and dipped into some books.
Well, many things. I carried on knitting my sweater, read a bit, built some more of my wooden ship.

All of these actions are completed, but the actions are specific. You only built part of your ship.

18
  • 1
    The problem is that if I say "I read a bit", I may be asked "What book did you read?" Another problem is that if I say "I played that computer game" it doesn't mean that I finished the game (because I didn't have much time), since that why do you think "I read the book" mean the whole book? And are you really sure you can't say "I read(red) Tom Sawyer to my son almost every night" if you didn't read the whole book each time? Feb 17 at 11:32
  • 3
    But "Did you read the Bible yesterday?" is idiomatic and would be taken as meaning "Did you do some Bible reading yesterday?" As usual, 'rules' are rules of thumb. Feb 17 at 12:05
  • 3
    If someone manages to read an entire book in one sitting, that's what they'll say "I read (all of) Les Miserables in one day/one night" . Sometimes @IlyaTretyakov, people use more words to express more precisely what they mean, but more often than not, listeners will use their own experience to fill in the gaps. Is this different in any language? Is there a language where the phrase "Yesterday he read the Bible" must mean he read every single page of the Bible?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 17 at 12:08
  • 1
    I wrote a book is actually unusual because it suggests completion more strongly than many expressions in simple past tense. This is maybe because there are so many ways of saying "I wrote something shorter than a book" (I wrote in a book, I wrote some of my book, I wrote a chapter of my book, I wrote a little.) and because writing any of a book is an unusual thing for most people to do, so you don't say it often.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 17 at 12:24
  • 1
    Please note that comments are not for discussion. Those who think the question is interesting enough should vote to reopen so they can post their own answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 17 at 18:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.