January 7, 2008  •  george

When to use verbs with an s or without

My teacher says the sentence “It is urgent Molly prepare a revised copy of the file.” is correct. I think it should be “It is urgent Molly prepares a revised copy of the file.” Molly is singular so it needs a verb ending with a s. Can someone help me?

November 27, 2007  •  legaltranslator

obliged or obligated?

I am puzzled by the usage of ‘obliged’ and ‘obligated’. What’s the difference between the two words, which seem to share the same noun form “obligation”? I could think of two sentences as below: (1) John Doe is not obligated to do this. (2) Experts felt obliged to investigate. What if obligated and obliged are exchanged in the examples? any difference meaning? Thanks

November 16, 2007  •  silver

Skilled or skilful?

What is the difference between ‘skilled’ and ‘skilful’? Is it just a matter of collocation - the skilled craftsmen, the skilful footballer - or is there something more profound to it?

October 13, 2007  •  tessajoughin

Nauseous or nauseated

I have always said “I feel nauseous”. My daughter found out that we are supposed to say “nauseated” because nauseous means that we are making others nauseous! I have never heard anyone say they feel nauseated so has the rule changed through common usage?

July 26, 2007  •  xiphos

Plurals in titles

I’m crossing my fingers in hopes that this question will be answered without any attacks on a person’s personal beliefs. Can it happen? When carrying more than one book entitled, “Book of Mormon,” do you say you have three “Books of Mormon?” This has been a bit of a joke among people of the LDS faith, as some people are very insistent that “books” must be used. The book is made up of many sections called “books” (similar to how the Bible is set up), and Mormon is said to be the editor who compiled and abrigded the book (hence the title). Based on that, I could see how someone could think of it as a collection of books edited by Mormon, and decide that “books” makes the most sense. Personally, I see “Book of Mormon” as a title that is handled like a complete unit, and so the plural would be Book of Mormons - which still sounds funny. So, is there any set way to pluralize a title with the word book in it? Like “Books of the Dead” compared to “Book of the Deads?”

July 3, 2007  •  annie

Merchandises as a word

I was wondering if it is alright to use merchandises as a word. I am reading a report where the author uses it frequently, e.g. delivery of merchandises. I think it should be delivery of merchandise rather than merchandises.

March 13, 2007  •  barbara

troops vs soldiers

Listening to the news, I am wondering why there was a change of usage for troops and soldiers. Since the US involvement in Iraq, we are now sending “10,000 troops” over there, rather than 10,000 soldiers. According to www.dictionary.com, a troop is Military. an armored cavalry or cavalry unit consisting of two or more platoons and a headquarters group. Therefore, nothing has changed: troops still means a group. However, in the last few years it has come to be synonymous with “soldier.” Perhaps I missed something living abroad for so long. Any clues would be helpful as I teach English and found this usage has changed. Thanks. Barbara

March 5, 2007  •  jonathan

Substantial vs. substantive

When I first heard someone use the word ‘substantive’ to mean ‘substantial’ three or four years ago, I assumed that they’d made a mistake. The next few times, which were in political speeches or academic contexts, I assumed it was pedantry or affectation. Now I hear it so much, that I’ve been forced (by my Chambers) to admit that it is probably a reasonable substitute. Is there any substantial/substantive difference in the way one should use either form? And is there an explanation for the rise (if I am correct in perceiving it as a rise) in the use of ‘substantive’ over ‘substantial’?

February 15, 2007  •  stal359

In actuality, actually

I hate the expression “In actuality, ... ” Is it correct or should one use “Actually,...”

January 26, 2007  •  steven2

Ernest

I wonder whether anyone can clear something up for me. I have encountered a couple of times (once in a review of the play) the claim that the Victorian audiences for Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Ernest” would have recognised in the word “ernest” a pun that relied on Victorian slang: one meaning of “earnest” was “homosexual,” roughly equivalent to the modern “gay.” Can anyone confirm or deny?

January 22, 2007  •  susie

Everybody vs. Everyone

My mother and I were discussing the use of “everybody” and “everyone” at dinner this evening. Are these two words interchangeable? Is one more informal than the other? I have a B.A. in English, but oddly have never seen this topic, nor have I been asked about this. Any insight would be greatly appreciated!

December 31, 2006  •  renegadex2

A “homely” home - would you want to live in it?

I was watching one of those property-buying shows on television the other day, and the show’s host (/real estate agent) was having difficulties finding a house that met his client’s taste. Eventually, the client was introduced to a comfy older property. “Oh, now this homely”, cooed the client - smiling with surprised approval and relief. I laughed and said out loud, “Ha - they meant ‘homey’, not ‘homely’!!” I always understood “homely” to mean “simple, plain, unattractive”, and “homey” to mean “cozy, comfortable, home-like”. However, a family member disputed my criticism saying that the word was used correctly. I know it’s not the be-all and end-all of dictionaries, but my first online search was with Google’s dictionary, and it produced definitions which both included the description “homelike” (with a comfortable & cozy connotation). homely homey This is an contradiction and presents a problem. Is a homely home cozy, comfortable and welcoming, or plain, ugly even - and uninviting? I’m not so sure that I’d like to live in a homely home.. I’d much prefer a homey home.

December 31, 2006  •  renegadex

How to ask a question?

I just came across this website for the first time, and immediately thought of one of my grammatical pet peeves: the improper usage of the phrase “how to” in the context of a question, as frequently seen in topic titles on web messageboards everywhere. ex: “How to get from the airport to downtown?” ex: “How to remove blood stains from clothing?” A “How to” phrase indicates that the text that follows the statement will be an informative, if not authoritative description of how to do or accomplish whatever it is being discussed. When used as an informal topic title or heading, think of “how to” as “THIS IS” or “HERE IS how to (do whatever)”. ex: “Here is how to get from the airport to downtown” ex: “This is how to remove blood stains from clothing” If a question is being asked, “How do I.. ?”, “How might I.. ?”, “How would I.. ?”, “How could/can I.. ?”, “How should I.. ?” - or any of those using “one” or another pronoun in place of “I” - are acceptable. Regardless, as a question, it should always end with a question mark. So those same 2 examples again: “How can I get from the airport to downtown?” “How would I remove blood stains from clothing?” Perhaps an easier, and equally acceptable way of re-phrasing an informal question such as the above is to drop the “How...” altogether and add ‘ing’ to the verb. ex: “Getting from the airport to downtown?” ex: “Removing blood stains from clothing?” Without any ‘helper’ words such as “how can” or “How would”, etc, the reader must now rely entirely on the punctuation (the question mark) at the end of the phrase in order to understand the phrase’s meaning.

November 30, 2006  •  hope

Impact as a noun

My history professor would not accept the word “impact” as a noun, as in “The first explorers left a substantial impact on the Mayan empire”. He wrote on my paper and pointed out my error in a lecture, that “impact” could only be used as a verb, as in “the car impacted the tree”. Is there any truth to this, or did some college mistakenly give this crazy man a phd?!

November 19, 2006  •  mikew

Social vs Societal

Last year in my college English 1201 class, my professor always crossed out the word “societal” on a paper I did. He would write above it “...you should use ‘social’ instead...” Does that have something to do with context. Is there a situation where one of the words is wrong and one is appropriate? and why if they are synonyms and the same part of speech would there be a seperate rule?

October 27, 2006  •  cameron

impression vs. impersonation

Impression or impersonation? I do not understand how “impression” has come to mean “imitation” as in “This is my impression of Marlon Brando.” “Impersonation” seems to be the better choice in this situation, but it seems that these two words are used interchangeably. I understand how “impression” can refer to the process of duplication in situations like taking an impression of one’s credit card, but I wonder if “impression” is misused as substitute for “impersonation” in other cases. Any thoughts?

September 22, 2006  •  lawrence

Neologisms, altered or lost meanings, and lexical monsters

The inventiveness of English-speakers can be wonderful. The other day I discovered “advismentor,” a word that seems to me to be witty and useful. We know at once what it means, and it extends the words “advisor/adviser” and “mentor” a bit, in (what I consider) a charming way. Let us adopt it forthwith. But...the purists, pedants and fussy traditionalists have some valid points, IMHO. Inventions and changes can be stupid, unimaginative and ignorant. There are neologisms -- and new meanings and uses for old words -- that contribute nothing but lexical pollution. Take, for example, a pet peeve of mine: the use of “parameter” to mean limit or setting. “Parameter” does not mean that; look it up, and see whether you can understand its real meaning. I can’t, so I don’t use the word. Many academics love junk words like this -- they consider them shibboleths that proclaim erudition and intellect. Hmpf! Congress should outlaw the abuse of “parameter,” even among computer enthusiasts. Others: first we had “contact,” and then “to contact.” Not good. Then we had monstrosities like “to channelize,” “to compartmentalize,” and other -izes, which are all obvious rubbish. “Enormity” lost its trenchant meaning and became a silly, needless synonym for “huge size.” The hideous trend continued with “to critique,” a stinker if ever there was one. The British, stupidly ignoring Fowler/Burchfield, decided to write “all right” as “alright,” a zany error that seems somehow to go well with their penchant for those hilarious unattached participles. I don’t know when people started using “if” to mean “whether,” a nasty bit of illogic and confusion that seems to have escaped English instructors the world over. Now (gag!) we have “to text,” another tellingly ignorant error. Like the intolerable verbal tics “you know,” “like,” and “I mean,” these lexical monstrosities are expressions considerate people avoid. After all, one does not join friends for lunch, and then pick one’s nose after finishing the soup, now does one? Change -- the new -- is not always bad. That does not mean the bad is ever anything but bad, period. Usage born of sheer ignorance does not have my respect, though I do not doubt that over generations, many egregious alterations of English managed to shed the stigma of illegitimacy. Heavy sigh.....

September 20, 2006  •  dima

Amount of people

This is one that a good portion of the population is guilty of. I hear plenty of people use “amount” while referring to discrete objects, such as cars or people. (Yes, I just called people objects.) I don’t remember actually learning this rule, but I have always used “amount” while referring to things that do not easily separate into countable parts, such as water, sand, courage, experience, etc. It seems to me that “number of people” (or some other phrase, depending on context) should be used instead. I understand that there are cases where this can get confusing (”amount of time” but “number of minutes”), but I think it’s never okay to use “amount” with something that is thought of as a collection of separate objects. Am I crazy? Does this make anyone else cringe? I don’t think I made this rule up, but I will concede that it’s a possibility.

September 17, 2006  •  janmorgan

First annual vs. second annual

If the initial year an event is held it is called the inaugural, what is it called the next year? First annual or second annual? And why?

September 13, 2006  •  Dyske

Quarters

Why is the word “quarters”, to mean a place of residence, plural? When we say, “I’ll show you to your quarters,” we mean a room. So, why don’t we simply say, “I’ll show you to your quarter,” without the ‘s’? There are some nouns that take a plural form but they are not actually plural, like “means”, when we say, “a means to an end”. However, I do not think this is the case with “quarters”. Otherwise, we would say, “a quarters”. (I did find a few instances of this on the web.) How did the word, which means one fourth of something, come to be used as a place of residence in the first place? My wife suggested that it came perhaps from quarters (corner sections or rooms) of a castle, but if this were the case, each room would be a quarter, and there would be no need for the plural ‘s’.

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