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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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We’re arguing in the office. Help us get this straight once and for all.

You could boil the question down to this: how would you write this title?

“email Is Destroying Our Children”

email or e-mail?

Do you capitalize the E if it’s at the beginning of a sentence or part of a title?

Do you capitalize the M if it’s at the beginning of a sentence or part of a title? If so, do you only do this when it’s hyphenated?

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How do I correctly write YES as a plural. Example: # of Yes’s.

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While on vacation during the first week of summer, I came across an advertisement for the H1N1 Vaccine on the back of a coach bus. It stated “Get your ‘free’ H1N1 vaccine today!”

This begs the question, does putting quotation marks around “Free” (but not as a quotation, of course) serve any function or purpose? Such as:

All these hot dogs are “free”.

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i wonder why english has capital letters? as a non native english speaker, i could not understand the logic behind it. it also increases key strokes on typewriters, computers, and makes it difficult for non natives. i am sure that if puritans of english would be mild, it could be reduced.

similarly i find the use of THE very problematic. why it cant be reduced to a minimum?

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I am in media relations and sent a story pitch to an editor telling him I could send him more information if he was interested and added a question mark to ensure some kind of response, e.g.,

I can send you more information if you are interested?

Is this grammatically incorrect? I just like doing this because it’s not as forceful as Are you interested?

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Why is “page” abbreviated “p” while “pages” is “pp”? Of somewhat less interest to me, I also wonder whether “p” or “p.” is the correct notation?

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Talking about the concept of the afterlife in Catholicism, would you capitalize Heaven? Moreover, what about Hell?

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According to my research, punctuation is part of “mechanics”. If so, is it redundant to say, “punctuation and mechanics”?

I do see many instances of people using “punctuation and mechanics”. For instance, I came across an article written by an English professor entitled “Common Mistakes of English Grammar, Mechanics, and Punctuation”. If punctuation is indeed part of mechanics, then this title itself would be a mistake ironically.

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When referring to “French” and “English” bulldogs, the geographic part of the breed will always be capitalized. What are the rules about capitalizing the stand alone word “bulldog?”

From what I understand, AKC dropped the requirement to use “English” in front of the word “bulldog” (or so I’ve been told....) so I am left with the word “bulldog.”

Should I capitalize or not? I referred to the AKC site to see how they were handling the capitalization and they begin by capitalizing the word then use a non-capitalized version throughout their article.

Thoughts?

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Is “someone else’s” grammatically correct? Every time I type, the spell-checker reminds me that it’s wrong.

There are a lot of discussions online about “passers-by” vs. “passer-bys”. The general consensus, from what I saw, is that the former is more correct. If this is true, shouldn’t it be “someone’s else”?

I personally feel that “passer-bys” is more correct, especially when you remove the hyphen (”passerbys”). It’s more consistent with other words like “blastoffs” and “playoffs”.

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Latest Comments

Horizontal Stripes?

We just had this very discussion in the office which brought me here... the boss believes they are Hoops, however, 6 colleagues in the office, 1 of the colleagues wives and even the bosses 13 year old daughter all agree... definitely... Stripes. Some say that for clothing Stripes implies vertical and that they would call them Horizontal Stripes... but all agree that Hoops is not the correct term for it.

Might could

  • vgb
  • June 29, 2016, 9:53pm

I am from all over, but my parents are from Idaho, so I'm not sure the regions identified in previous posts have a monopoly on the form. Anyway, I inherited "might could" from one of parents, and find it very useful. The way I use it, it deflates the less cooperative "might," alone as in "I might do that," which sounds like a teenager challenging an authority figure.

"I might could do that" suggests a willingness to try rather than an insouciant "I might," as in "if I feel like it."

I have a BA in English and an MA in teaching English as a Second Language. If one of my international students used "might could," I would be over-joyed. There are so many worse "infractions" with modals. Believe me, I see them every day.

all _____ sudden

  • vgb
  • June 29, 2016, 8:11pm

I hear "all the sudden" in interviews on NPR. I agree with asheibar that such colloquialisms emerge because they are heard and passed on, but not seen in written text. It reminds me of the occasion someone had written on the blackboard, "It's a doggy dog world." Clearly, whoever wrote this had never seen the written version, "It's a dog eat dog world." Well, marzy dotes and dozey dotes and little lambsy divey" !

It does not bother me that colloquialisms emerge and colonize the language; what bothers me is that it seems that reading is becoming a quaint, anachronistic habit performed by backward looking people who haven't caught on that it's all in the tweet.

The term "First" or "Second Generation", omits the obvious, first or second generation "American". If we say that those who immigrated are the 1st, then by definition their children are 2nd. But that poses a problem, not everyone who immigrates becomes an "American" (11 million are not even legal residents). Although a bit confusing because many of them (I am one of them) do end up becoming American, for clarity, we need to start calling only those who are born here the First Generation.

It's always been LEGO to me (caps or not). I see people who use "Legos" as casual consumers of the product, and should have no business writing about LEGO for public viewing.

Did I get an earful on a "Hey!" when I was in London!!

The concierge in my apartment really took offence when I casually greeted him - "Hey!"

I got something on these lines:
"That's very disrespectful of you. How dare you 'hey' me?!"

So I have been ever so careful when using "hey" over a "hi" or a "hello". I thought this was a very English thing, but quite surprising to find quite a few English folks on this page to be okay with "hey".

Hey, what the heck!

Might could

  • jeb
  • June 26, 2016, 3:08pm

I might could say something about snobby grammarians...bless their hearts...but I won't.

As a well educated native of southern Appalachia (BA in English; PhD in Education), I can say with confidence that might could is mighty useful modal construction that conveys nuance and a sophisticated appreciation of the historical English, at least as spoken by the Scotch Irish settlers who populated these parts.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_English

Indirect Speech?

Oops.
Forgive the extra line in my previous post.
A thought that died at birth.

:)

Indirect Speech?

We could call it "oblique speech", or even "roundabout speech", or we could use a derivative of euphemism, metaphor, or allegory.
I am sure there a a number of terms that could be used to avoid the inevitable confusion caused by the use of the term "indirect speech" in this context.
.
Perhaps a simpler solution would be to refer

Someone else’s

  • Don
  • June 25, 2016, 3:04pm

An adverb, such as else, cannot be made possesive. That is reserved for nouns and pronouns. Else cannot be made in a possesive form. If used, it is poor English.