General Writing and Grammar Help/Have a pulse


Dear Ted:

What does "to have a pulse" mean?

Does it have a figurative meaning?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.


Dear Paolo:

What does "to have a pulse" mean?

*** Its literal meaning is that someone's heart is beating.  In other words, if a doctor can find his patient's pulse, he knows that the patient is still alive.

Does it have a figurative meaning?

*** Its figurative meaning is usually applied in a sarcastic or negative sense.  A person may "appear" to be dead, but his having a pulse shows that he is not.

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

LITERAL:  When the paramedics arrived at the scene of the terrible accident, they pronounced four people as being dead. One paramedic, however, called out to his colleagues, "This one is still alive. He has a pulse."  [The pulse is usually found by pressing the blood veins near a person's wrist OR his carotid artery in the neck.]

FIGURATIVE:  Johnny had slept throughout his history class.  One of the students said, "Maybe he's dead."  But the teacher said, "No.  He may be dead to this class, but he is really alive, because he has a pulse!"

Another example of figurative language:

A student says, "Having Johnny on this committee is a complete waste.  He has done nothing at all, and he sits through our meetings as if he were dead."  Another student says, "If he WERE DEAD, we could get rid of his body.  Unfortunately for us, he seems to have a pulse."


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Ted Nesbitt


I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.


I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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