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Misunderstandings, colloquialisms, wrong words and false friends: 17


GERALD: I think your flat needs painting. The walls are getting very dirty.
TERESA: I wish I could, but I have no occasion to do any decorating at the moment.

The problem here is the word ‘occasion’, and here we need to define what the word actually means.

According to, an occasion ‘…is a time when something happens, or a case of it happening.’ For example: I often think back to the occasion when my eldest daughter got married ten years ago. I have been asked on more than one occasion to deliver a presentation at the Jagiellonian University. They met on two occasions. I saw him on one occasion last year. It also lists an occasion as ‘an important event, ceremony, or celebration’: It will be a unique family occasion. I’m getting too old to attend official occasions such as meeting heads of state.

Outside of these examples the word is regarded as formal. In the example the speaker is talking about the fact that they are always too busy, but their response could be literally interpreted as meaning ‘as a result of this time at which something happens which I don’t have, I can’t do this particular job’.

Finding time to paint the bedroom is perhaps not regarded as a formally important ceremony or event. However, it can be used in another way, but again, according to Collins, ‘…an occasion for doing something is an opportunity for doing it [formal]’: September 30 is an occasion for all the family to celebrate. It is always an important occasion when parliament returns after a summer break. So the speaker could say Monday would be a good occasion to paint the bedroom (meaning a good time or opportunity), but this is a different sentence structure from the example.

Now if the speaker was being a little more formal then they might say There hasn’t been any occasion to decorate the flat, and although I cannot find a suitable occasion to decorate the flat is correct as an accepted word order, it does sound strange and a little pompous in spoken English (to behave and sound in such a serious way that the speaker believes they are more important than they really are).

What our speaker should really have said was I have no time. I have no time to do my homework. They could also say I have no opportunity/chance to do the decorating in the flat.

So it is not no occasion, but no time, unless you want to be formal/pompous about it.

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