'somewhat' in survey response options

meijin

Senior Member
Japanese
Hi, when something is somewhat xxx and if it's a negative opinion, I think native English speakers use rather instead of somewhat.
But I often see somewhat used for negative opinions in survey response options. The following is a survey template from a major provider of web-based survey solutions:

Q: Was the entertainment event length too long, too short, or about right?

Much too long
Somewhat too long
Slightly too long
About right
Slightly too short
Somewhat too short
Much too short

Do you find the use of somewhat here inappropriate yet accept it because it's a survey?
A response option like 'Somewhat disagree' (followed by 'Strongly disagree') is very commonly used, but shouldn't it be 'Rather disagree' from the respondent's point of view?

Thanks
 
  • meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    That's rather an unexpected response, owlman. :)
    You said in a recent thread that "I doubt I've ever heard anybody use 'somewhat too expensive' in a conversation with me. If somebody thinks that something is rather expensive, that person will use something like "rather expensive" or 'kind of expensive'."

    What's the reason you prefer "rather expensive" to "somewhat expensive" in a conversation but prefer "somewhat" to "rather" in the above survey? It's a mystery to me.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    As far as I can remember, meijin, I have never heard anybody use "somewhat too expensive" in a conversation with me. However, I don't expect the language of surveys to reproduce what I've heard in conversation.

    "Somewhat" looks better to me than "rather" in that survey. I certainly understand if you find this confusing, but I'm giving you my honest opinion about how "somewhat" appears to me in a survey that attempts to quantify people's answers.

    Here is the quote from the earlier answer you mentioned:

    I doubt I've ever heard anybody use "somewhat too expensive" in a conversation with me. If somebody thinks that something is rather expensive, that person will use something like "rather expensive" or "kind of expensive".

    I suppose I find "somewhat expensive" natural in language about a scale that runs from "very expensive" to "not at all expensive."

    I'd expect something like "fairly expensive" in an AE conversation about how expensive something was. I hear "rather" sometimes in phrases like this, but I don't think that Americans use "rather" as widely as Britons do.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    "Somewhat" is the "standard" intermediate between "slightly" and "much" in such surveys. That's just the way it is:D It works for both AmE and BrE while "rather" is somewhat ambiguous in BrE - the Collins entry at WRF has
    • relatively or fairly; somewhat: it's rather dull
    • to a significant or noticeable extent; quite: she's rather pretty
    • to a limited extent or degree: I rather thought that was the case
     

    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you both very much. Very helpful. Especially...
    That's just the way it is:D
    :D


    So, that's fine in survey response options, but what about when describing the result in a report?

    About 70% of respondents say the price is somewhat expensive.

    Does this sound natural or should it be rephrased as the following?

    [If the report readers are Americans]
    About 70% of respondents say the price is fairly expensive.

    [If the report readers are Britons]
    About 70% of respondents say the price is rather expensive. (This IS ambiguous, isn't it?)

    [When it's a bother wondering who's going to read the report]
    About 70% of respondents say the price is "Somewhat expensive".
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    About 70% of respondents say the price is somewhat expensive.

    Does this sound natural or should it be rephrased as the following?

    [If the report readers are Americans]
    About 70% of respondents say the price is fairly expensive.
    I think "somewhat expensive" is fine in that report, meijin, and so is "fairly expensive." It does make sense to use the same phrase in the report that you used in the survey, but you could change the answer to "fairly expensive" if you wanted to.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    In my opinion, "somewhat" is a better word than either "fairly" or "rather".

    I find "rather" ambiguous, because some people use it to mean "to some degree", while others use it to mean "very". "Fairly" seems to me more vague than "somewhat"; the latter says "in the middle" to me.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    I think Julian offered a rather good answer to a somewhat difficult question. "That's just the way it is" … because that's the meaning of the words, at least as they've come to be used. It looks like rather can indicate a fairly wide range of degrees, while somewhat typically points to a middle ground.

    Oxford has somewhat as "to a moderate extent or by a moderate amount" and rather as "to a certain or significant extent or degree."

    Macmillan has somewhat as "to some degree but not to a large degree" and rather as either "to a fairly large degree" or "a little too much, or to a degree that is slightly too great."

    The etymological root of rather includes a lot of references to "more."

    This article has an interesting title: Social Media Ads: Fairly Annoying, Rather Useless, Somewhat Effective.
     
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    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you all very much. It's great to know that I can use somewhat to indicate the "middle" degree without worrying about who's going to read the report, etc.

    By the way, the last link attached by gramman does have an interesting title, but what I find more interesting about the report is that it considers "liking an advertisement" as an action. To me, liking an ad is a spontaneous occurrence rather than an action to take, but I guess a little odd categorization like this is accepted commonly in survey reports.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    It considers "liking an advertisement" as an action.
    This is the meaning of like that has developed only recently (you might say somewhat recently):

    Indicate one’s liking or approval of (a web page or posting on a social media website) by activating a particular icon or link:​

    More than 15,000 Facebook users had liked his page by Monday morning
    . — Oxford
     

    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Ah...I knew about the Like button for showing support for the article/post on a web page (although I've never clicked it), but I didn't know that online ads also have the button in them.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I'm not exactly disagreeing with post #5, but I find that "somewhat" is used much more by AE speakers, and "rather" is used more commonly by BE speakers.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    "somewhat" is used much more by AE speakers, and "rather" is used more commonly by BE speakers.
    Yes, I think I saw that mentioned in the pages I glanced at on this topic. And yes, you're not disagreeing with that post, which stated only that both words "work" in both versions of the language.

    I might mention that capitalizing the el ("Like," e.g., while 41% say they have Liked an ad," might make it easier for readers to discern the intended meaning.
     
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