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I don't know who Cotetta is, but OsoGegenHest (a SpanishGerman Dane?) is referring to Noam Chomsky's exemplary sentence used to argue that since there can be grammatically correct sentences that are none-the-less [allegedly] meaningless due to a "category mistake," it shows the distinction between syntax and semantics.
In other words, meaning and structure are independent. (I don't think he was completely correct, but that's what this is about. In other words, Duolingo is teaching/testing us on two independent things, grammar and vocabulary, but doing it simultaneously. Is this a good thing? There are arguments for and against it. For: learning and remembering are strongly facilitated by jarring, weird and humorous sentences. Against: Learning is much easier if it is meaningful and connects to meaningful and known things.)
I'm not quite used to "below". Isn't it "in an inferior level" or something like that?
Can someone be "below the table" (literally, between the floor and the table)?
And what about a book on a bed, and you cover the book with a shirt. Can you say the book is "below the shirt"?
Those sound a little weird to me, but I'm not a native speaker...
One of the things that's so much fun about learning languages is that you wind up scrutinizing your own language based on other people's comments.
Your question about the difference between under and below is one I'd never thought about. For starters, I found this link which provides a pretty good summary:
Personally, I think under and below are essentially synonyms and are mostly interchangeable when the meaning involves position. However, as the link points out, there are some usages/semantics where this is definitely not the case.
- The temperature was five degrees below zero. (not «under»)
- The robot was under his control. (not «below»)
In answer to your questions, yes, to my ear «He was below the table» sounds just fine. Similarly, if you put a shirt on top of a book, the sentence «The book is below the shirt» sounds good, as well.
Inexplicably, though, I'm just realizing that in those two sentences my preferred choice of under/below could change depending on the context. I'll need to think about exactly why, however. I hope emeyr will weigh in on this; I'd be curious to get her take.
Yes.... Sometimes I say somethings in Portuguese based on other languages and keep thinking....what... was that legal?
At least in PT, there is a non strict difference, where:
- Debaixo de / embaixo de = usually covered or right below something
- Abaixo de = more as a level comparison, may be less literal or separated by a more significant distance.
I tend to associate the first with "under" and the second with "below", but for some reason, the difference seem stricter in English to me.
the book's below the shirt is OK. Though if the shirt is hiding the book, I'd probably use "under."
If the shirt is on the chair, and the book is on the floor (definitely lower than, not necessarily directly underneath), that's also "below."
"below" has the dual meanings of "directly underneath" and simply "lower than." Just like "above" can be "directly above" or simply "higher than." The river is below the town; the town is below the mountain; the mountain is below the clouds; but (when the clouds close in and hide the mountain) you might more likely say the mountain is under a cloud.
To be pedantic, if you think of the table being the entire table, not only the tabletop, it would be hard to be "below" the table. But if I'm looking for a stool (low, backless chair), and can't find it, someone might indeed tell me that it's "below the table." Literally, below the table top / at a lower level than the table.
Debaixo and embaixo are pretty much interchangeable.
Abaixo can too, but I feel it doesn't match certain cases quite well. I wouldn't use it for "eating under the table", unless I'm trying to locate the positions of things in a picture, like saying "to the left" or "to the right", but with "under/below".
Wait.....I think I'm finally grasping their cases.....
Perhaps this is too much to concern about, but that is how I use them....
Physically under objects and other things, somehow nested or covered by it, you use "debaixo", accepting "embaixo" and "sob" too. (Sob is not very common, and often confused for "sobre = on/over").
- Debaixo/Embaixo da mesa - Sob a mesa - under the table
- Debaixo do carro - Embaixo do carro - under the car
- Debaixo de chuva - Embaixo de chuva - under rain (in the rain)
- Debaixo do mesmo teto - Embaixo do mesmo teto - under the same roof (lit: ceiling)
Now, for positional orientation or level, use abaixo, accepting also "embaixo" (you see, embaixo will be the easy choice after all :p ). By orientation I mean locating the position of things related to others not necessarily covering them. (Think about the expressions "to the right - à direita" and "to the left - à esquerda". I wonder why there isn't one saying "to the down", but if it existed, it would be "abaixo"). It's good for map analysing, screens, identifying/locating things in the distance. Different from "debaixo", this one usually accepts adverbs.
- O Uruguai fica abaixo/embaixo do Brasil = Uruguay is below Brazil (looking to a map)
- O botão fica abaixo/embaixo da foto de perfil = The button is under the profile photo (in a website).
- Mais abaixo - Mais embaixo = Lower
And finally, if there is motion dowards, use only "abaixo" or "para baixo". (Abaixo fits mostly only after a noun, like mounting an expression "down the noun").
- Desceu/Foi morro abaixo = Went down the hill
- Foi por água abaixo = Went down the drain (expression meaning it's all lost/over)
- Rio abaixo = Down the river
- O edifício foi abaixo = The building went down (fell).
For regular motion dowards, use "para baixo".
Now, the differences :p
- Minha casa é debaixo/embaixo da (casa) dele (My house is probably part of the same building of his)
- Minha casa é abaixo da dele (It can mean my house is down the road, or in a lower level, but not necessarily part of the same building)
Here, "embaixo" takes a dubious meaning, but tends to "debaixo".
Hiya! Earlier in this thread Danmoller mentions that a Brazilian idiom that conveys this meaning is «por baixo do pano».
Here are links to a few other duoLingo sentence discussions that have some useful comments: