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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

“You have two choices”

In my opinion there is no vagueness to the sense of the word. The meaning of the word "choice" is identical both in "You have a choice" and "You have two choices".
This is because the choice in "You have a choice" is the one that you choose. Sure, there may be a variety of options available, but you only ever have the one that you end up choosing.
This, however, does not break contract of meaning with the sentence "You have two choices". Sure, there is a supplement of information concerning the perceived number of options available, which analogously insinuates the reality of multiple simultaneously choosable options, but they will only ever be options to choose from singularly.

Texted

Yes you add the Ed but you say it like one word you DONT double verb it text Ed no
You say textd! Almost like the e isn't there. I know I friggin took speech class for years

Pled versus pleaded

That makes a lot of sense. Almost my whole life I've heard "pled" and only recently have heard people use "pleaded". "Pleaded" does generate more of an emotional appeal and makes a person who admits guilt seem if they are remorseful.
Using "thru" instead of "through" also bugs me. I can't stand that my boss at work, in charge of online writers, does this. It's English. Yes, language is fluid and English is well known for backstabbing other languages in a back alley, but that doesn't mean you should just lop off letters because you can make the same sound with less.
I also like "leapt" instead of "leaped", "snuck" instead of "sneaked", and "hung" instead of "hanged". The latter in all of these examples just sounds as wrong as "pleaded".
And just to get it off my chest, acronyms are not words. That's why we call them acronyms. I can't believe "LOL" is in the dictionary.

This mispronounciation of the words like strong, and destroyed, by Michelle Obama has been so annoying and distracting and in my opinion really so unbecoming of a first lady. It also seems to me, that other words, like America, for example, are said with a tone of complaint or disdain. It is so distracting that I have trouble following the context of her remarks on a given occasion. As a role model for the youth of this nation, and speaking publicly as the First Lady, it surprises me no one ever counseled her on the inappropriateness of mispronounciation of these words that in my opinion, diminishes what she was trying to say in any given speech.

Past tense of “text”

  • Garuda
  • August 26, 2016, 9:59am

I was just looking this up, but have not found anything "conclusive". I prefer to use "text" for present and past tense though most of my friends use "texted". To me "texted" sounds ignorant and childish. I was hoping to find support for my view, but so far have not.

@gary Curiously, translating English into French usually makes the text at least fifteen percent longer:

http://www.media-lingo.com/gb/faqs/will-the-tra...

The use of 'got' in a clause describing possession of something, such as 'I have got a pen', is superfluous. 'I have a pen' is just fine and indicates a brevity and clarity of thought that eludes many people. It may also indicate the influence of other languages. In French 'I have' is normal. I'm not sure how you would say 'I have got' in French. In fact in French you don't need the addition of 'got' to convey meaning or emphasis. French does seem to have a brevity that English has lost over the years. Around 60% of the English vocabulary originates from French. The Norman invasion of 1066 established French as the language of nobility and government, Latin was the language of the Church and Anglo-Saxon was for the commoners. 
I am an Englishman who has spent many years learning English so I feel I am entitled to criticise the language and especially those who use it badly. Perhaps it's the Germanic influence on English that has caused the gradual creep of 'got'. American English has certainly been a big influence  on the language. A good example of how American English has been a positive influence eludes me at the moment but I do know they exist. The German language had a big influence on American English and in my opinion this comes through in expressions such as 'gotten'. It's a natural progression on the word got but it definitely grates on the British ear. 
The next time I watch a British movie of the 1930s or 1940s I will note the use of the word 'got', although the scripted dialogue may not be a good indicator of common usage. 
Grammar is the set of rules used to govern the use of spoken and written words. As with all rules, some are so rarely enforced that they wither on the vine of principles until extinct. 

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • Nana2
  • August 24, 2016, 3:46pm

The accent is called an accent aigu and is usually put on both e's so the reader does not confuse résumé with resume - meaning to start working again on what you were doing previsously

I would call it "native speaker error"

It seems to me that the natural way to write figures as words would be the same way as we say them. So 65.25476% would be sixty-five point two five four seven six percent. If the decimals only go to two or three places then we might talk about hundredths or thousandths but rarely beyond that.