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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

eat vs. have breakfast

To " have " breakfast is to " eat " and "drink" something.
To " eat" breakfast is to only eat something.
Thus, have is more convenient and makes more sense to use, especially when you're teaching ESL students.

@jtu
I rest my case.

@HS I don't recall being taught anything about collective nouns plus singular verbs at school; perhaps it was taught and I was so busy daydreaming about our French conversation mistress at the time and worrying about my sinful thoughts that I missed it. Presumably your syllabus was different or you were more attentive.

@jtu
I just have one more question:
Do you, and those who share your thoughts on issues like this, believe that those of us who attended schools and universities prior to 1965 should forget all that we learned about the English language in that time and adopt the various fads and errors that have become commonplace since then?

@jtu
That is a typical descriptivist cop out.
Your use of "different to" illustrates that you are firmly in the camp of those who just like to be different for the sake of being different and who have absolutely no respect for the language.
No doubt you will soon be advocating the use of "should of" as a correct alternative to "should have" and that perpendicular just means at right angles with no regard to plane.
How do you stand on mixing up past tense and past participle?

Whether it is "correct" or not would hinge upon the criteria used. However if "people who are apparently reasonably well educated" persistently and knowingly use words such as "family" with a plural verb, despite "what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere", there must be a good reason, they must feel comfortable doing so, and editors do not automatically edit such constructions out. If you feel uncomfortable with this, then your eduction or background or thinking must be different to theirs.

@jtu
"@HS It's not just Jane Austen:
http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=%22the+family+...

Does that makes it correct?

@jtu
Are you saying that Jane Austen could not have been wrong?

You know, it really surprises me that people who are apparently reasonably well educated seek to gainsay what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere.
It's a bit like the old lady watching troops marching past and exclaiming, "They're all out of step bar our Willie".

@HS You have not actually explained Jane Austen's use of 'family' - a "collective" noun - with a plural verb, which seems contrary to your opening post: 'Despite arguments to the contrary, "family" is a collective noun, and I don't care how many family members there might be, it therefore gets a singular verb.'