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In or Under Quarantine?


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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher we answer a question from Samuel in China. He writes,

Question:

When I read the news, sometimes I see 'under quarantine', and at other times I see 'in quarantine.' Are they different in meaning? In the following sentence, which one should I use?

Jerry left Hohhot for school in Hefei when the virus outbreak started in Hohhot. So, when he arrived in Hefei, he was put (under or in) quarantine in a quarantine hotel.

Prepositions are tricky for Chinese English learners. I hope you can help clear my mind a little bit.

Thank you in advance,

Samuel, China.

Answer:

Dear Samuel,

Thank you for writing to us. I am sure that almost everyone who is reading or hearing this knows that “quarantine” is the isolation of a person or a group of people to prevent the spread of infection to others. But it may not yet be clear how we use different prepositions with the word “quarantine.”

Let us begin with “under.”

Since May 2020, language researchers have collected what people are saying related to the pandemic in 20 different English-speaking countries. They call the result the Coronavirus Corpus. I searched in that collection and learned that “under quarantine” is much less common than “in quarantine.” Here are some examples:

All close contacts of the coronavirus cases have been placed under a quarantine order.

Following his classmate’s positive test, the 11-year-old was placed under quarantine on Thursday.

Many countries put their entire populations under strict quarantine in order to prevent the virus from spreading.

A woman leaves a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong's Centrals area on February 6, 2022, as authorities on February 5 announced a record number of new infections.
A woman leaves a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong's Centrals area on February 6, 2022, as authorities on February 5 announced a record number of new infections.

Compare these examples of how “in quarantine” appears.

Some schools are offering meals to students in quarantine.

New Zealand requires a 10-day stay in hotel quarantine for all travelers.

Note that the words “put” and “place” appear before “under quarantine” in our examples. Often there is an official organization taking this kind of action. You can also find examples of putting or placing someone “in quarantine,” but they are less common.

The short answer to your question, Samuel, is that you would not be wrong to use either “under” or “in” before the word quarantine in your example, but English speakers would be more likely to use “under quarantine” after the verb “put” in the statement:

When he arrived in Hefei, he was put under quarantine in a quarantine hotel.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

sentence n. a group of words, usually containing a verb, that expresses a thought in the form of a statement, question, instruction, or exclamation and starts with a capital letter when written

tricky - adj. difficult to deal with and needs careful attention or skill

positive – adj. on a medical test, showing the presence of a virus or other infection

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