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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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I have a question about when to use hyphens. For example, do I have a five-year-old dog or a five year-old dog?

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Working from a textbook, one exercise requires students to find the error in different sentences. Can anybody find the error in the following sentence?

*The painting of the Buddha, that has nine figures, made the religion more concrete to believers in 13th-century Tibet.*

The sentence refers to a picture in the book of a painting of a Buddha with several other figures (bodhisattvas) around it.

Sections of the sentence is underlined. I will use square-brackets to indicate the underlined sections. The error should be with one of these underlined sections. Here is the sentence again:

The painting of the Buddha[, that has]{A} nine [figures,]{B} made the religion more [concrete]{C} to believers in [13th-century Tibet.]{D}

The Teacher’s Edition of the textbook says that the error is with {A}. If this is correct, what is wrong with it?

Thanks!

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I need to list the people in a photo, below the photo. The picture will be framed, not in a magazine, etc. What is the proper punctuation? The way I originally typed the names follows but I am ready to finalize the layout and want to know the proper format. The way I have it now:

1. Catherine, March 11, 1874; 2. Alice Bell, July 8, 1875; 3. Birdie Alberdine, February 14, 1877; 4. Mary Adella, November 15, 1879… and so on for eight people.

If I number each person, is additional punctuation required between the names as I have typed it or do the numbers stand alone? Should the individual names even be numbered? I am really not certain what the proper format is.

I am on a deadline to complete this restored photo and layout for a client so a prompt reply would be greatly appreciated.

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So, for a last name like “Stachewicz”...would it be The Stachewiczs or the The Stachewiczes?

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Is it appropriate to use a bulleted list in a question? Example:

Which type of flour would you use for the following items: - bread - cake - cookies

Would you put a question mark at the end of each bullet? Would you only use a question mark at the end of the last bullet? Does the sentence need to be re-worded?

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If our organization is called Help for Kids and we want to use the abbreviation HFK . . . is this correct usage in this sentence: HFK’ activities will start in the summer. With the K standing for Kids and Kids being plural, would this be correct use of the apostrophe at the end of HFK’?

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I have a sentence with which I am struggling because I am not sure if I can use both a colon and semi-colon in it. However, I want everything in one sentence and cannot figure out what other punctuation I should use. Here’s the sentence with names and details altered for anonymity.

“I am indebted to my family, especially my cousins: Jane Smith, my first teacher, without whom I would not be where I am today; and John Smith, my second teacher, who taught me more than he could have possibly imagined.”

The colon is setting up a list and the semi-colon is separating items in the list that contain commas. Thoughts? Thanks in advance.

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I recently gave a class of six year olds a spelling test and saw that many of the children were spelling words with the correct letters but had used capital letters at the beginning, middle or end of a word. Is a word that has the correct letters but some of them are in capitals still considered to be correctly spelled?

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“Do’s and Don’t's” is a popular phrase, but the punctuation of it seem to vary for “don’t's”. What should it be?

Dont’s

or

Don’t's

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While waiting for the subway to arrive, I noticed this mysterious symbol between “PRINCE” and “ST.” This is not a mistake of any kind. All of the signs at the station had this little triangle, and whoever created these signs put a significant amount of effort in inserting it. (Just look at how it is tiled.) Obviously this was something important for the artist who created this mosaic sign. What could it mean? It could not be a dash. Firstly, a dash would be inappropriate for this context. Secondly, if it were meant as a dash, it would have been much easier to draw a straight line out of these square tiles (instead of a triangle).

(FYI: This is New York City.)

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Latest Comments

First annual vs. second annual

  • Burt
  • January 19, 2017, 11:51pm

If I am correct and an annual event requires 2 years prior to an event for it to be considered an annual event. Then isn't the term "second annual" incorrect as well? Actually it should be referred to as consecutive meaning second? Looking forward to feedback!

I disagree with Dyske's answer.
In the first example, you are saying something that you know is not true.
In the second example, that is a subjective opinion. They can truly believe they have the best pizza, just like you hear people say they have the greatest wife or kids. It's a subjective opinion that they may truly believe in.
In the third example, that would be a lie because once again you are saying something that is not true even though it's hyperbole.
The way I under the definition of "lie" is that it wouldn't be a lie if I say something I BELIEVE to be true, but is factually wrong. If the police ask me to describe a suspect from memory I could truly believe I'm giving the correct description from memory and be factually wrong, but wasn't my INTENT to deceive the police.

Salutations in letters

In email to someone familiar, I open with "Hi" and sign off with "Cheers" or "Slàinte mhath". Otherwise I use "Good day" and "Regards".
In letters it's normally "Dear ......" and "Yours sincerely".
I agree that "Yours truly" and "Yours faithfully" now seem to be considered passé.

How about, "The rent has doubled.", or "The rent is now twice what it was."
Both "two times higher" and "two times as high" sound like phrases used by primary school kids.

Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

The team has access to multiple sources

On Tomorrow

  • JBS
  • January 16, 2017, 2:22pm

This is an old world English term sometimes trapped in areas of Appalachia, like many other old German, Scottish, Irish and English phrases (or variations thereof). It's commonly used among religious African American folks in Georgia and Alabama from my experience. The reason so many comments have referenced NE Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina etc.. is the Appalachian connection.

An extension of solecism?

Actress instead of Actor

I have long found referring to both male and female thespians as "actors" extremely distasteful, as in PC gone amok. When I waited tables, I had no problem with the term "waitress." Then again, I have no problem with the term "comedienne" for a female comedian. The stewardess/steward thing which is now deemed offensive seems patently absurd to me, but well, "flight attendant" it is! However, reading all the comments with historic connotations does help me make a bit more sense of it all. Personally, I have no problem with the masculine and feminine forms of words/professions, and in fact I do buck against changing all of that, but appreciate the perspectives offered. I totally get that a female MD is not called a doctoress in English, but she would be called "la doctora" in Spanish, and a male "el doctor."

Usually a brand name or a play on words, used in advertising. Like the old pop brand, "Hi Klas" rather than "Hi Class" I want to say what that is called. Would an advertising agency know, I wonder? Or a college course in advertising maybe?