a little ways [formally acceptable?]

susanna76

Senior Member
Romanian
Hi there,

I have a question about the following phrasing:
"he turned a little ways along down the street and gave her a wave"
(Sarah Blake, The Postmistress)

Sarah Blake writes wonderful prose, and I was baffled [edit: baffled because the style is not conversational] to find "a little ways" in there. I thought that was restricted to colloquial English. She also uses it in dialogue ("You've got a ways to go still" -- about a woman in childbirth) -- there I can see it; but in formal prose?

Thanks!
 
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  • paul f

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree that it would out of place in formal prose as it is certainly not correct grammatically. I am not familiar with Sarah Blake and therefore cannot comment much on it in comparison with her usual style however.
     

    paul f

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I understand that a ways is perfectly acceptable colloquial American English:)
    I agree that it is certainly acceptable in colloquial AE, but would you say it is acceptable in a formal context in the US? Unfortunately the majority of my understanding of AE originates from television and films and therefore wouldn't be too sure about its use in other registers.
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    It is casual, colloquial, spoken American English. :) I am not familiar with the author or the book; is it written in a conversational style? The sentence you provide has that sound to it.
     

    susanna76

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Hi everyone, and thank you for your responses. Nunty: Some reviewers call the prose "exquisite." I tend to agree. You ask about the conversational style. It's not conversational but it's not heavy either. Well, that's my take on it. I see the NYTimes reviewer writes about "the purple prose that suffuses this book."
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/09/books/09book.html
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    "Purple prose" doesn't tend to be a compliment, nor is it one in the New York Times review (the full sentence is "The letters are so good that they outweigh the purple prose that suffuses this book when Iris and Harry begin making that doctor’s certificate irrelevant.") In any case, one can be a very good writer (I don't know whether or not Sarah Blake is one) without restricting yourself to 'formal English'. It is quite normal to play with words, to write in a conversational style, etc. in novels. It's entirely different from using "a little ways" in a medical report or a business proposal etc.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    My problem with "a little ways" in most formal documents is that it is not precise. Formal writing should be precise.

    As posted, though, a novel isn't necessarily written in formal style.
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    It would seem that the use of "a ways to go" per se means that the book is written in a conversational style. That does not mean dialectal. It is not unusual for modern novels to be written in an informal way.
     

    susanna76

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Hi Gwan and Egmont. Gwan: Yes, it wasn't a compliment. I probably didn't make it clear, although I intended to. And yes, there are great novels in a conversational style. This one, however, tends towards a poetic prose of a different kind. But yes, Gwan and Egmont, I see what I did: I wrote the initial post as if "wonderful prose" excluded a conversational or colloquial style (or straightforward, etc. style). Nunty was right to ask the question, too. I edited my OP to clarify things.
     
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