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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 correct usage of causative and causal? If, for example, you want to describe the etiological agent of a disease, would you call it a “causative agent” or a “causal agent”?

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I have noticed dozens of examples of people, mainly on the Internet, typing the word “loose” when what they really mean is “lose.” For instance, “I didn’t want to loose the car keys.” Do you know when or how this annoying mistake came to be? It seems like it has only been going on for the past year or so, but it could be longer.

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A friend has issue with the use of “fetch” used to mean “go get someone.” She referred to its association with having a dog “fetch” something as being offensive: “it is not okay to use a word commonly known for a dog retrieving a bone to refer to a human being - period.” And also hinted its use as being inappropriate in a professional/office setting.

The definition i have says: “go for and then bring back (someone or something)” and says nothing at all about it being a dog trick. Also interesting that someone is listed before something.

What do you say?

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I translated some legal agreement several day ago. It is about an accident in a hospital resulting in the death of AAA. In this agreement, it is provided that AAA’s parents would waive (the term I used) all claims they may have against the Hospital and something like that, but my boss told me yesterday that “release” should be used in this case. I referred to certain dictionaries, but found nothing that can explain their difference.

Can the term “waive” be used in this case? Is there any difference between a waiver and a release?

Many thanks

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I’ve seen both of these words used to describe a person’s stubbornness. Obstinacy seeming to come from obstinate, and obstinancy seeming to derive from obstinant. Which is the correct form of the word, and is there some sort of subtle difference between the two?

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Anyone notice the banishment of “pled” about 5 years or so ago? The newspapers used to say “The defendant pled not guilty.” Suddenly, everything became “pleaded.” I contend that this is an improper imposition of some kind of twisted “grammar correctness,” except it is incorrect. “Pled” is a less emotional word than “pleaded”. I plead when I am begging for something. Unless the defendant is on his knees weeping, he is not pleading, he is entering a plea. In the past tense, he pled, not pleaded. What do you think?

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I am wondering how to use the phrase ‘as of’ correctly. I learnt from my daily email communications with native English speakers that the phrase could mean “from”, “on/at” or “by the end of”. However, the last sense was not found in Oxford English Dictionary or Merriam Webster’s online edition.

That made me quite puzzled. Examples may speak louder than theories.

“As of yesterday, we had finished three tasks.”

Is this usage correct and does it mean the same thing as “by the end of yesterday, we had finished three tasks”?

Thanks.

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I thought ‘friendly’ was an adjective, but some dictionary published in Korea says it can be used as an adverb, and another dictionary says it was used as an adverb before the 16th century. Is ‘friendly’ still used as an adverb or is it used only as an adjective?

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I am working in China helping professors and graduate students improve their journal articles. It appears ingrained in Chinese journal writing to use “study on” a subject rather than “study of.” Some individuals insist on “on” because it is widely used and accepted by some english language publications. Any comments on usage history here or other clarification? My usage history is for “of”.

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For some reason most-populous just doesn’t sound right when used in a sentence. Most-populated makes more sense to me. Here is the sentence that it’s used in for context.

“BLANK is the public health care system for the nation’s third most-populous county.”

Any help on the usage of these 2 phrases would be much appreciated. Thank you in advance!

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Latest Comments

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.

Writing out percentages correctly

10% or ten percent (in a legal contractor)? Not at the beginning of a sentence.

Over exaggeration

Over-exaggeration sounds like taking a sweet cute dump in the deep end of the pool or something. Seems to much like not manning up to your sins or errors.