English semantics

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These word pairs have essentially the same meaning, but differ in semantics by a distinction that isn't made in certain other languages I know. This makes these distinctions lexical selection issues in machine translation.

say, tell

  • "say" takes as a required complement the utterance/thing said; the person told is optional
  • "tell" takes as a required complement the person told something; the utterance/thing said is optional

since, starting

  • "since" means something is still ongoing
  • "starting" doesn't mean it's still ongoing

watch, look at

  • "watch" if something changes or has the potential to change
  • "look at" if something is static

hurry up, be quick

  • "hurry up" if activity has already started
  • "be quick" if activity hasn't started yet

out, outside

  • "out" = not at the house = somewhere else
  • "outside" = not in the house = but often at the house (i.e., not out)

before, until

  • "before" if event has a stage that can start or end preceding reference event
  • "until" if event has stages or iterations that can continue preceding reference event and end upon reference event

Or maybe it's just about the presence ("before") or absence ("until") of a gap of time between the event and the reference event.

that's why, so

both explain that the thing before is a reason for the thing after, but they differ in their uses:

  • "that's why" if you've already talked about the thing after it ("that's why I went shopping")
  • "so" if you haven't already talked about the thing after it ("so I went shopping")