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How to use “Resonated” Correctly

“Resonated” is joining the ranks of the most misused words in the English language.  The word is common in intellectual conversation, as one speaks of ideas and concepts resonating.  In this context of elevated discourse, misusing the word is especially cringeworthy.  Its precise usage and position in a sentence have become fraught.  Allow me to explain.  

The third definition from Merriam Webster’s entry, “to relate harmoniously: strike a chord,” is the most common usage of “resonate.”  The definition itself is not misunderstood so much as is the position of the word in terms of who resonates with what exactly; or what resonates with whom.  

What one hears too often is something like this: 

“I really resonated with that book.”   

No, no, you don’t resonate with the book.  The book resonates with you

“That book really resonated with me.”  

Whoever is the holder of harmonious resonant feeling is with whom something resonates, not the other way around.  

Another example

“The idea resonated with the jury.”  

Of course, the jury does not resonate with the idea, that would be backwards.  

When the verb is used in this sense, it is typically followed by the preposition “with,” and then by the holder of the resonant feeling.  A final example: 

“States rights resonated with Southern conservatives.”  

If this is confusing, just think that nothing will “resonate” with an inanimate object or anything nonhuman, in this sense of the word. As Merriam Webster puts it, “[…]resonate often involves a person.” An idea or work of art resonates with us to the extent that we are conscious entities capable of feeling and thought.

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2 responses to “How to use “Resonated” Correctly”

  1. This has always frustrated me. Resonance is inherently mutual. If we used the phrase more causally – “That book caused me to resonate” versus “I caused that book to resonate,” the former obviously makes sense and the latter clearly doesn’t.

    If you resonate with the book, or the book resonates with you, in either situation, both subject and object are resonating. In the world of music if you hit a tuning fork, and bring it up to another tuning fork tuned to the same pitch, they both vibrate. These are two nonhuman inanimate objects that absolutely do resonate with each other.

    So, the book resonates with me – I have some natural pitch, and when I draw near to the book, it resonates with me. We are both are at the same frequency.

    Or, I resonate with the book – the book is resonating at some frequency, and when I interact with it, it activates a harmonious pitch in me.

    I’d love to know what I’m not understanding here.

    • Close but no cigar. The 2 tuning forks you mention may resonate at the same frequency and wavelength simultaneously, but one does not elicit resonance out of the other and vice versa. Therein lies the rub.

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