Writings > Lexical Leavings


Around five in the evening a few days ago, I had just gotten off a train in Shibuya, Tokyo, when an older woman came up and spoke to me in Japanese. She had seen me reading a book in Japanese on the train, and she asked if I was a native speaker of English and could answer a language question. After a slight hesitation—in general I am not enthusiastic about being asked by strangers for free language lessons, though fortunately it happens to me only rarely—I said okay.

Her question turned out to be interesting. She showed me an NHK language text that contained a dialogue with a sentence like the following:
(1) I'd just as soon we go home now.
She then turned to an earlier page that had a sentence like this:
(2) He would just as soon quit his job.
Her question was: In (1), why isn't there a verb after "soon"? From (2) and perhaps from her previous knowledge, she had assumed that the sentence pattern was would (just) as soon + Verb, and (1) seemed to violate that pattern because "soon" was followed by a pronoun. I came up with the explanation that the sentence pattern is in fact would (just) as soon + Sentence and that the subject of the subordinate clause is deleted if it is identical to the subject of the main clause. (Later, I realized that the syntax is a bit more complex, as "that" can appear optionally before the subordinate clause, in which case the identical subject is not deleted.)

The next day, I checked several dictionaries to see if any of them would have answered her question. All but one gave examples only like (2), in which the subordinate subject has been deleted:
I would just as soon stay at home (as go). (行くよりも)むしろ家にいたい. (新英和中辞典)

I'd as soon go to another restaurant as wait for a table here. (Macmillan English)

"Would you like to go out for dinner?" "I'd just as soon stay in - I'm not feeling very well." (Cambridge Advanced Learner's)
The one exception was Cobuild, which gave the following four examples:
(3) These people could afford to retire to Florida but they'd just as soon stay put.
(4) I'd just as soon not have to make this public.
(5) I'd just as soon you put that thing away.
(6) She'd just as soon throw your plate in your face as serve you.
Cobuild explains the construction of (5) with the marginal abbreviation "MODAL that"; I guess the reader is expected to understand that the "that" has been omitted from (5). Other dictionaries would do well to note this construction; it should also be possible to explain it more clearly than Cobuild does.

(July 20, 2003)