Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of October 26, 1998
Look Over it, Overlook, Look it Over
Sometimes writing English is easier than understanding the nuances of spoken English. Do you understand the differences between:
I looked over it;
I overlooked it;
I looked it over ?
You would think that the above would mean the same thing, but they don't. These sentences are too informal to be used in writing, but you may hear them at conferences or in conversation with native speakers. The native speakers don't realize how difficult nuance can be.
"I looked over it" means that I had a view beyond. For example, from my window, I have a nice view of my neighbor's garden, and I can look over the garden to see my neighbor's house.
"I overlooked it" means that I omitted something. For example, in my list of things to buy at the grocery store, I forgot to purchase eggs. I overlooked the eggs.
"I looked it over" means that I considered something. For example, if someone wanted my help with a publication or proposal, I might tell them that "I looked it over, and I think...."
I apologize profusely for these kinds of difficulties. English enjoys wide acceptance because it is fairly easy to reach a level where you can communicate. It is also very tolerant of mistakes -- the meaning is usually understood even if there are errors. Much imagery is used in informal speech. That's fun for us native speakers, but trying for those who are still learning.
Can you fill in the blanks?
1. Give me your paper and I'll look it over over the weekend.
(Notice "over" is used twice correctly!)
2. I'm sorry I missed our appointment. I overlooked it in my calendar.
3. From Mount Tendre you can see Lake Geneva. I enjoyed my look over it.
4. Thanks for the quotation. I'll look it over.
5. From the back row of the class I could look over his shoulder.
6. I overlooked our meeting today. Sorry.
"The advantage of culture is that it enables you to talk nonsense with distinction."
from Ashenden, by W. Somerset Maugham (1927)
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Created October 26, 1998, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.