In one of my recent edits, I revised a sentence from this wording:

I said surely she meant seeing as, not seems, (she’s used this word in a similar way before). She replied:

to the following wording:

When I asked her that she should have meant seeing as not seems (because she’d used this word in a similar way before), she replied:

However, I was berated and told that the rewording would not pass muster with native speakers. Is there something grammatically or otherwise wrong with the above sentence?

  • Please provide a complete sentence. – coleopterist Aug 1 '12 at 17:59
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    Not only is it grammatically wrong, it is very difficult to figure out what you wanted it to mean. – Peter Shor Aug 1 '12 at 18:00
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    Almost all of those instances are using that as a pronoun, while your usage implies that it is introducing a subordinate clause, which is not right, just as Peter Shor said. The first result on the linked page is doggerel. – Cameron Aug 1 '12 at 18:33
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    @Noah I noticed that a couple of the entries (like this one) that do use a similar construction to yours, are (IMHO, poorly) translated works. It is possible that you are convinced of your revision's rightness because it would be grammatically correct in your first language. Just a thought ... :) – coleopterist Aug 1 '12 at 19:25
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    @Noah: Your link to 2M GB entries for "asked her that" is misleading, as coleopterist indicates. You should have searched for "asked her that she", which has only 19 hits (none of which match your context anyway, so far as I can see). – FumbleFingers Aug 1 '12 at 22:07

This particular construction really shows up the weaknesses in Google Ngrams. I just searched for ask him that he - if you follow the link, you'll see a graph which suggests it's relatively common. In fact, the actual hits are 1700-1839:3, 1840-1901:1, 1902-1976:7, and 1977-2000:23.

I don't take this as evidence that the construction is gaining acceptance - probably it's just become easier for non-native speakers to get work published in English over recent decades.

I'm not sure there's a grammatical rule involved here, but idiomatically you can

Ask someone to do something, or

Ask that someone does something, but native speakers simply don't say

*Ask someone that they do something. (it sounds "archaic" to me, but I don't know it was ever used)


When I asked her that she should have meant seeing as, not seems,( because she'd used this word in a similar way before), she she replied:

You appear to be asking and telling at the same time.

A reworded version using 'ask' could look something like the following:

When I asked her if she meant "seeing as" rather than "seems" (as she's used this word in a similar way before), she replied ...

... and using 'tell':

When I told her that she surely meant "seeing as" rather than "seems" (as she's used this word in a similar way before), she replied ...

Also, there really isn't all that much wrong with the original sentence besides its rather colloquial and conversational nature.

  • Let's not forget the "she she" – Kit Z. Fox Aug 1 '12 at 18:14
  • Fixed that. It was a typo. – Noah Aug 1 '12 at 18:17
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    And, of course should have meant may be grammatical (though on the borderline), but there are almost no situations where it's meaningful. – TimLymington Aug 1 '12 at 20:06
  • @TimLymington- Are you serious? "If “sovereignty” means complete autonomy, self-government, self-determination, and freedom from external interference, then “tribal sovereignty” should have meant that the Indian tribes were entirely independent of both the United States and ..." – Noah Aug 2 '12 at 6:09
  • @Noah; isn't that 'should mean'? – TimLymington Aug 2 '12 at 11:49

The original wording was clear and grammatical. You cannot ask and make a statement at the same time. 'Should have meant' seems both ungrammatical in this context and uncomfortable in use. I am afraid that you were berated for vandalising the previous text, albeit with good intentions!

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