"... to (ravel-unravel) the problem ..."

prankstare

Senior Member
Portuguese - Brazil
I know I may use "unravel" in the given sentence, but may I also use "ravel" to mean the same thing - which is to solve, resolve?

Thanks.
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I don't think that's a current use of "ravel", at least in American English. The action is to unravel, while the adjective is either "unravelled" or "ravelled", in my experience. "Ravelled" is generally uncommon, as far as I know.
     

    prankstare

    Senior Member
    Portuguese - Brazil
    Ohh, okay. Thanks James! :)

    Ahh, just to make sure then:

    ... to unravel the problem ...

    This is a very common expression in American English right? Which would be the same as "to solve the problem".
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    Yes they are synonymous in meaning. Perhaps, unravel suggests a bit more effort, but that may be my personal non-native impression.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The thing is, 'ravel' isn't really used in everyday English, and also we have a visual problem. Imagine a ball of wool (AE: a ball of yarn). When you get it from the shop, it's a nice neat, tight ball, and it's easy to unwind a length of wool (AE: yarn) from it. So you knit, and make it into a jumper (AE: um, don't know . . . sweater?). If this jumper gets caught on a hook or a nail, the wool unwinds - it unravels.

    So in this picture, ravelled wool is neat and easy, unravelled wool is messy and bad. But what if you're using this wool and the kitten comes in and starts playing with it? In places it gets tightly tangled up in knots. Now you have to unravel it to make it neat and easy: the ravelled-up wool the kitten produced is messy and bad.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I was surprised to find several threads on this already. I would say the dictionaries don't provide much help in understanding why the words can mean the same or the opposite or how they came to be that way - precedents seem to be all over the place. Perhaps we can be thankful that one (ravel) seems to have gone away from mainstream usage. It seems that we may agree that, today, unravel means to disentangle - although the original (en)tangling may have been deliberate (in the fabrication of a woven or knitted fabric - or in the figurative sense in a detective novel where all the clues are mixed up) or unintentional (as in a complex situation in which different threads of thought must be separated to allow understanding of the true situation) .
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top