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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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Since ‘of’ is possessive, is writing ‘the Ark of the Covenant’, ‘Book of Ezekiel’, ‘Robin of Locksley’ and ‘Joan of Arc’ respectively as ‘the Covenant’s Ark’, ‘Ezekiel’s Book’, ‘Locksley’s Robin’ and ‘Arc’s Joan’ correct? If not, why?

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Is ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’ correct English?

Since ‘You have no idea where they live’’s and ‘You have nothing better to do’’s respective inquisitive forms—‘Have you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Have you nothing better to do?’, their past tense forms being ‘Had you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Had you nothing better to do?’—are correct, following the same logic, isn’t ‘He had breakfast this morning’’s inquisitive form, ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’, likewise correct?

Please read the full question. I’m looking for a logically (hopefully) justified answer. The more informative the answer is, the better.

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A question about time expressions with the past perfect tense: I realise “by the time” is a time expression used with the past perfect but in this sentence: “By the time he arrived at school, the lesson had finished” , why is “by the time” next to the verb in the past tense (arrived) as if it is refering to that verb rather than to the one in the past perfect (had finished)?

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In English, I know it’s perfectly correct/proper/formal to, for lack of a better word, ‘‘shorten’’ phrases and sentences in a certain way in some cases as in ‘Be that true, ...’ (= ‘If that is true, ...’), ‘if need be’ (= ‘if it is necessary’), ‘come what may’ (‘regardless of what may come/happen’) etc.

So, I’m wondering if similar rules apply to ‘Why be anonymous?’, ‘Why so excited/angry/etc?’ and ‘Why the question?’ as well as to ‘Haven’t you anything better to do?’ and ‘Have you any idea [...]?’, which I also hear a lot from seemingly formal English-speakers. Are they correct English?

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I did a search and came up with nothing relating to the use of “enamored”. I am seeing, more and more often, “enamored with” and “enamored by” when I was taught that it is correctly “enamored of”.

I just opened the latest issue of Cook’s Country magazine and this quote jumped out at me: “[...]Americans became enamored with international cooking.” Is this correct? Am I just a purist who needs to lighten up?

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J.K .Rowling always wanted to be an author.
J.K. Rowling had always wanted to be an author.
J.K. Rowling has always wanted to be an author.

I assume “has always wanted” is incorrect because she became an author. Please, which one is proper?

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Is it “8 inches is” or “8 inches are”?

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Is there a grammatical difference between saying “I walked down the street backwards” and “I walked down the street backward” (without the “s”)? Is one of them incorrect, or are they interchangeable? Does the same go for “forward(s)” and “toward(s)”?

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I have an ear for when people use bad grammar, especially the use of prepositions at the end of a clause. I was recently watching a show, however, and a character said “Toys are meant to be played with.” What is the correct wording of this phrase? It is killing me.

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Can “box turtles can live for 80 years” be written “box turtles can live 80 years”? What about “I ran 13 minutes” instead of “I ran for 13 minutes”? Are the foregoing examples still proper English?

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Latest Comments

Most-Populous vs. Most-Populated

You would not hyphenate "most-populous" just as you wouldn't hyphenate "she is the most popular girl in school." You would however hyphenate something like "Honolulu is an ultra-populous urban epi-center."

Really cute website. Very clever.

Actress instead of Actor

As far as I am concerned females who act are actresses, as was always known in the past. I disagree with Whooping Goldberg. An actress can play any role as needed, there is no need for her to be called an actor. This is similar to calling the chairman, " the chair", absolutely unnecessary, what is wrong with madam chairman? A chair is something one sits on!

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

Sorry Jun-Dai, but you are wrong, If we are going to use accents, let's use the ones that make sense. In current English resumé is pronounced REH-zue-MAY. There is no need for the accent ague on the first e, because that would indicate it should be pronounced RAY, not REH. My personal preference is to avoid these accents carried over from the French original, as we do for cafe. Another way to avoid the issue, in a document title for example, is to use all caps when appropriate, such as RESUME; then in even for proper French spelling no accents are required. Finally, don't take my word for it: per Wiktionary: "In Canada, resumé is the sole spelling given by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary; résumé is the only spelling given by the Gage Canadian Dictionary (1997 edition)." Oxford rules for those who wish to speak and write English; Americans are welcome to use their Webster's as long as they keep it south of the border.

Typo in previous entry; typed fact instead of facet. :)

That was a somewhat petulant and insulting post.
I am certainly not trying issue you with any fiats or diktats, but merely pointing out that there are those of us whose views differ from yours.
You are of course entitled to your opinions, as am I.
I also like to question many things; among these are the way our language has been and is being bastardised and the laissez faire attitudes of those who consistently trumpet the dubious virtues of common usage.
As for my education being founded in a "Victorian" view; that premise is not even worthy of comment, let alone discussion.
I do not cling unquestioningly to any fact of the English language, but it does seem that there are those like yourself who are quite happy to see the language sullied in support of common usage.

What is the "chronological position" of man Mohan Singh as a prime minister

people like she/he are...

The word "like" is a preposition, and the pronoun is its object. Objects take the accusative case: 'him', 'her', etc.
The correct form of the pronoun is 'her.'

people like she/he are...

The word "like" is a preposition, and the pronoun is its object. Objects take the accusative case: 'him', 'her', etc.
The correct form of the pronoun is 'her.'

Computer mouses or computer mice?

  • antoine
  • October 14, 2016, 11:59am