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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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What is the difference between “common” and “commonplace”? In which situation can I replace “common” by “commonplace”?

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Is “nevermore” a real word? Can it be used in “ordinary” writing? I’m wondering because it seems to be the only word that means ‘never again’, and it would be nice to have a concise word.

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I seem to have developed a writing tick of using “and so” rather than “therefore” or “accordingly.” I like the flow of “and so,” but I have been discouraged from using it. I’m curious about what others think of “and so.”

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When did we stop “giving” presents, and instead started to “gift” presents?  I was taught that “gift” was a noun and not a verb, but it appears it is now used as the preferred verb to indicate the giving of a gift.

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Is it really proper to say “I graduated high school,” or should it not be, “I graduated from high school?” Previously, I thought only rednecks were able to “graduate high school.”

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Am I the only person in the world who finds the ubiquitous misuse of the verb “reference” to be incredibly annoying? Where did the use of “reference” rather than “refer to” start? I realise that the definition can skirt close to this usage, but I maintain that it is a misuse.

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The word signage seems to keep popping up more and more and it would seem that in the majority of cases it is being used as the plural of sign and increasingly is perceived as a “clever” alternative to that plural. The OED states:

Chiefly N. Amer. Signs collectively, esp. public signs on facia boards, signposts, etc.; the design and arrangement of these.

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Is there a gustative equivalent to the olfactory word “malodour”?

Is there a lexical, not imaginary, word that means anything that tastes bad just like “malodour” means anything that smells bad?

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Any regular rule applicable for those words “make” and “do” while using with some nouns?

  • make war
  • do the homework
  • make a new plan
  • doing my own business

Any rule ladies and gentlemen, or just memorize every case one by one?

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A simple way of distinguishing and using these words accurately:

1. ‘Thus’ means ‘in this/that way’ - it relates to ‘HOW’ - the manner in which - this or that happens or comes about. It has a practical flavour. eg.Traditionally, you arrange things thus = Traditionally, this is how you arrange things

2 .’Therefore’ means ‘for this reason’, or ‘because of this or that’ - it relates to deductive reasoning, it tells WHY this or that is so, or happened. eg. He was late and therefore missed the bus = he was late and for this reason missed the bus

3. ‘Hence’ means ‘from this/that’ - it relates to WHERE - position, or point in time; it tells from where or what, or to where or what, something comes, derives, or goes eg. -i. Get thee hence! = Get yourself away from here! -ii. Henceforth all entrances will be guarded = From now on all entrances will be guarded -iii. She got the job - hence her good spirits = She got the job and her good spirits derive from that fact. (Note the different slant to ‘therefore’, which would also fit, but would say ” her good spirits are due to (’because of’; ‘for that reason’) that”.

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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.'