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.
Search Pain in the English
“I had a talk with so and so,” is a common phrase, so I would imagine that “I had a small talk with so and so,” is equally correct. But “small talk” appears to be treated as an uncountable noun most of the time. Is it countable or uncountable? If both, in what contexts does it become one or the other?
“We have to go to the store yet.”
I would just remove the “yet” all together; however, I keep hearing someone use the word yet in this fashion and I am wondering if they are grammatically correct.
Problem with capitalizing and pluralizing official titles. For example:
He is a State Governor (or a state governor; a State governor; a state Governor: a governor of a state; Governor of a State?) in Nigeria.
She is a deputy registrar (or is it a Deputy Registrar?) in my university. Many Deputy Registrars (or is it deputy registrars?) attended the conference.
Some university Registrars (or is it university registrars) have criticized the policy.
Many Presidents (or is it presidents) came in person. Others were represented by their Vice Presidents (vice presidents?)
Dear Sirs, I read your post on “I was/ I were”. I found it very helpful, resuscitating memories of English classes. I’m still not sure if I should use “was” or “were” in this sentence, below.
“And if anyone else were to peek, they would see the bear cubs looking fast asleep, dreaming of all the things they loved.”
The “anyone else” might be peeking and might not be peeking. We don’t know. “were” sounds better to my ear, but my MS Word has it underlined in green. Who is correct? Me or the machine?
Now, I’ve been rolling this question over for few weeks now. I personally believe whom in the cases, but on we go. After writing most of this, I think  should be who now.
The infinitive phrase/clause normally takes the objective case as its “subject”.
“I wanted to meet him.”
Thus, the corresponding interrogative:
“Whom did he want to meet?”
But what happens if you take this construction and use it with a copular verb?
 “Who/whom am I to judge.” (?)
 “I am who/whom to be.” (?)
Which may correspond to the declarative sentences (U=unacceptable; A=acceptable):
[1a] “I am he to judge.”
[1b] “I am him to judge”
[2a] “I am he to be.”
[2b] “I am him to be.”
[2c] “I am to be he.” (U)
[2d] “I am to be him.”(A)
It is possible to expand them into relative clauses:
[1a'] “I am the person who can judge them.”(A)
[1b'] “I am the person whom can judge.” (U)
[2a'] “I am the person (who) you should be.” (U)
[2b'] “I am the person (whom) you should be.” (A)
The construction has two verb constructions (one copular and the other infinitive) vying for dominance. So thoughts? These conundrums are fascinating and, due to my obsessive-compulsiveness, frustrating. </p>
In Britain the the winners of the Bad Grammar Awards have just been announced, and the prize has gone to Tesco, partly for a label on its toilet paper which said ‘More luxury, less lorries’, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on the ‘fewer / less’ question.
According to the OED, people have been using less for countable nouns since the dawn of English, and it only seems to have become a golden rule after certain grammarians latched onto the observation of one Robert Baker, who in 1770 remarked that ‘No fewer than a hundred seems to me not only more elegant than No less than a hundred, but more strictly proper.’, while admitting that less ‘is most commonly used when speaking of a number’.
And it was used like this in at least two influential nineteenth century grammars - ‘less hopes’, ‘less parts or portions’ - Lindley Murray’s English Grammar, Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners, and ‘No less than five verbs’ - William Cobbett’s A Grammar of the English Language.
It obviously annoys a lot of people. One woman wrote on Tesco’s Facebook page that she ‘was unable to purchase’.
But I can’t help wondering why. There is absolutely no danger of ambiguity, and many of us use ‘less’ with countables informally. (And for many of us ‘Ten items or less’ sounds much more idiomatic than ‘Ten items or fewer’). Does this rule really have any functional basis, (we don’t need any distinctions for ‘more’ - more luxury, more lorries) or is it simply a rule for the sake of having a rule and just another excuse for finding fault with others?
Recently seen on a standardized assessment for elementary students: “Which fraction of the fruit are apples?” Shouldn’t it read: “Which fraction of the fruit is apples?” Doesn’t the subject verb-agreement rule dictate “is” apples since fraction (singular) is the question’s subject?
To preface, I have been studying conditionals for the last few days because the grammar book that I used barely mentioned it. Now as the title suggests, I have a question about modal remoteness and tense. My question deals with stories, which are typically in the past tense, and when modality occurs which I should use: second (present time remote) or third (past time remote) conditional. I am unsure of which but am leaning towards third conditional. Which would be used?
While doing some homework for literature, I constructed these two sentences and was wondering if they can be interpreted differently. The original sentence was the synopsis of “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Poe and started in the present tense, which will also be included because there is a question I have about it.
A1) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that had requested his presence.
A2) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence.
What is the difference in meaning between the above sentences?
The original sentence was:
B) The narrator arrives at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence.
In the sentence, the narrator is currently arriving at the house because he received a letter that requested his presence, which had been sent by Roderick Usher. Does that coincide with the above statement?
For a timeline: Usher sent the letter—> the letter, through Usher’s words request the narrator’s presence—> the narrator’s arrival.