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This is a forum to discuss the gray areas of the English language for which you would not find answers easily in dictionaries or other reference books. You can browse through the latest questions and comments below. If you have a question of your own, please submit it here.

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In my opinion,  the greatest pain in the English language is the so-called Tenses.

Generation after generation, grammarians and linguists have been trying to use the term for describing how English Verb System works writing more and more wise books on the subject, without any visible results.

Millions of ESL/EFL learners find Tenses to be hopelessly tangled, confusing and totally incomprehensible. So do a great number of ESL/EFL teachers.

And it is no wonder, because describing English grammar as having only past and present is like trying to describe a car as having three wheels. 

I think  that English can do perfectly well without “Tenses” because it is a meaningless and therefore useless term.

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A change that has happened in my lifetime is the use of ‘1800s’, ‘1900s’ and so on. When I was young they referred to the first decade of the century. They would be followed by the ‘1910s’, ‘1920s’ et al. Now they’re used to mean the whole century. I’m not whinging - just noting the changes that happen with the years.

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I seem to be pretty fond of the adverb ‘pretty’ used as a modifier, so was rather surprised when one of my young Polish students told me that his teacher at school had said that this use was ‘OK with his mates’ (his words), but inappropriate in the classroom. Looking around I see that this is not an isolated objection, although people didn’t seem to complain about it much before 1900.

Why has this word, much used by eighteenth and nineteenth century writers, writers of prescriptive grammar included, attracted this opposition in more recent times?

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In this question, I deliberately misspelled “mispelling.” 

Is (sp!) an appropriate abbreviation to stand for “deliberately misspelled?”

Many people use

(sp?) for (I don’t know how to spell that word)

Julie Andrews sang Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (sp?) with great gusto.

(sic) or [sic] is not appropriate here. I understand that [sic] is used to indicate that the word was spelled that way in document that is being quoted or cited.

The new commander consumed [sic] control of the military base.

(illustration modified from an actual case of using the wrong word)

So, it seems to me that we can use

(sp!) for (I am deliberately mispelling (sp!) this word

QUESTION: Is there a better abbreviation, or a well-known abbreviation for this usage?

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Nowadays one routinely reads such sentences as...

 “The situation transformed into something quite different.”

“That translates as ‘Beware Greeks bearing gifts.’”

It’s a curious phenomenon that the passive is so often ditched. What’s going on?

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a) “Could I borrow your pen please?”  “Of course.”

b) Teacher: “Did you do your homework?”  Student: “Of course.” 

c)  Interviewee: “May I sit down?”   Interviewer (thinking: what a twit!): “Of course.”

d) Police: “Do you have ID, and license?” Driver: “Of course, officer. Good of you to ask”. 

e) Called from the shower: “Is it raining out?” Spouse: “Of course.” 

f) In hallway to home-comer: “Is it raining out?” Dripping home-comer: “Of course.”

g) At party: “Could I borrow your wife for a quickie?” “Of course.”

h) After party: “Are you coming?” Only sober car-owner/driver: “Of course.” 

i) Boss: “Can you have that report on my desk by 2300?” “Of course.”

Of course it may depend on how it is said, but where would it be dangerously ambiguous?

What alternatives are there which are safer?

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Why do some people, especially pseudo eloquent corporate types, insist on substituting “I” for “me” under the misplaced guise of speaking formal English: “Between you and I, the meeting was substandard”, “Thanks for taking Julie and I for dinner”. I know there’s not much to discuss here. It’s simply wrong but it represents a deeper misunderstanding of the use of nouns/pronouns. Personally I tolerate the incorrect use of “me” as the subject to a much greater extent (“me and Geoff went to the beach”) because although grammatically incorrect, it is acceptable to many in colloquial English. The use of “I” as the object is neither grammatically correct nor colloquial or formal. It is in a sense a clumsy grammatical over compensation. Besides people who make this error usually (but not always) over rate their own eloquence.

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Many years ago using the prefix co- and co meant two different things. Now they are used interchangeably, but is this correct? I was taught if you used co- you were a subordinate and if you used co you were equals. An example. A co-pilot is subordinate to a pilot, however coauthors means both writers were equal in the endeavor. Once upon a time, a co-chairwas subordinate to the chair. Now co-chair and cochair are used flagrantly to mean the same thing, they are equally sharing the duties of chairperson. What are your thoughts on this?

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All of a sudden spectators are not “looking on” but “watching on”. Does that make them onwatchers?

They no longer say “welcome to” but “welcome along to”.

“Early on” has become “early doors”.

Players now “contest for” the ball.

They now “update you” with the latest scores.

To me all of that is rather more idiotic than idiomatic.       :-))

I’m sure there are many more examples that I have (thankfully) missed.

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I should probably count myself fortunate that I almost reached my allotted three score and ten without having come across this dreadful word.

But alas my belief that a mentor has a protégé has now been cruelly shattered.

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Pled versus pleaded

We are not talking connotation and de oration here. Plead is plead and the past is pleaded, end of discussion. There is no pled!

Oh, that didn't seem to work very well.
The main point is the verb to use with 'small talk' is 'make'. Eg We made small talk while waiting for the bus to come.
'I had a small talk with someone' to me suggests that there is some issue or grievance which needs to be settled in private; but possibly it is not used in this way in the US (or, who knows, by presidential candidates of the non-presidential variety ).

It would be relatively unusual to make 'small talk' countable; one could say "She gave a small talk on ....", but that would be using the phrase in its literal meaning.
"Small talk" usually means talking about the weather, some football game, the latest shade of lipstick (or whatever women consider inconsequential) , or some other non-weighty matters.
http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=+*+small+talk&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2C*%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bof%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bthe%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Band%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmake%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bfor%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bno%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmaking%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmade%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bwith%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0

Pronunciation: aunt

"Aunt" should rhyme with "Haunt;" therefore I say ont.
Born in Arkansas but raised in California.

wtf? Maybe it's better, I prefer, then I would..

should this be of any help????

Pled versus pleaded

{t may be "old-fashioned, but then so am I. I go with "pled."

Nope

Would Nancy Reagan's Just Say No To Drugs campaign been more successful if it was Just Say Nope To Dope?

As comedian John Mulaney noted, In porn movies you hear lots of "Yea", "Oh Yeah","Uh-Huh","Mm-hmm","Yes YES!" but never "Yep"

age vs. aged

One of these areas included young adults and middle aged adults.

graduate high school simply goes against the grain , the structure of the language, that is why it sounds so illiterate ! It has nothing to do with idiomatic expressions. Whenever I hear it , as i did today on NBC News , it's a shock !!

With friend, the adverb form matches the adjective form. Both are "friendly".