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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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Why does it sound correct to say or hear “the only one I ever wanted”, but sound incorrect when saying “the one I ever wanted”? What is the secret of this little four letter word, “only”? There was a pop song out a few years back that used the latter phrase, and although it sounded so awful to my ears, I couldn’t really think of any reason that it was technically incorrect.

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I am university student, and take a seminar in a third grade. In the class, we were given assignments, which is we check on how native speakers feel or think about the following questions. So I would like to ask your opinions. Could you answer the following questions?

1. “The plane must land in a few minute.” When you read this sentence, what kind of situation do you imagine? I’d like to know the meaning of “must” in this sentence. So what kind of meaning does the “must” include?

2. In the same way, how about “He can seem so sane.”?

3. What is the difference among Look, See and Watch?

4. “He could hear the phone ringing on the other end but no one answered.” In this sentence, do you think the phone rang straight? Does “can/could + feeling verb” mean an instant or a moment situation.

Thank you very much for your time, and I’m looking forward to your opinions.

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I have a friend insistent on saying the phrase “You gotta be joking me” when I think he should be saying “You have to be kidding me”.

Does anyone know anyone else who says this and can you tell me how wrong it is?

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There’s a slang expression in English which I don’t know how to spell correctly. The phrase would be used (phoentically) like this:

“I’m gonna sic the cops on you for doing that!”

meaning “I am going to report to the police what you did, and you will presumably be punished for doing it.”

Now I’ve seen internet kids using this phrase left and right, and I have seen it consistently spelled

“SICK” --> “I’m gonna sick the cops on you!”

It’s slang, so I’ve looked, but I can’t find the answer in a dictionary anywhere. But it’s driving me nutty, because I always thought it was spelled “sic” and not “sick.”

Is there a proper answer to this question, and if so, does anyone have it?


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A group of us were discussing the use of “me” and “I”. Which of these sentences is correct? “My mother bought some sweets for me and my sister.” or “My mother bought some sweets for my sister and I.” thanks for your help in advance.

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Could any cooking expert explain to me what the phrase: “goulash communism” might mean?

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Is there any nice and succinct word for the audio-video set that comprises of a tv, video and/or dvd and which people often have at their homes?

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As a father of a newborn, do I say:

1. We had a baby. 2. I had a baby. 3. My wife had a baby.

Which one is it?

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I have never understood why people say stuff like “Can my car be repossessed _without my being warned_?”. In my ears it should be “without me being warned”. Heck I would even prefer “without I being warned”. The only explanation I can come up, given that “my” is possessive, is that “being” is a noun which refers to you as a mortal being. But that doesn’t make much sense in the sentence since “being” is used as the verb. For it to work it would have to be “without my being getting warned”, or “without my being being warned”.

Am I right that this is just badly evolved english (although seemingly legitimate today) or am I missing something here ?

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Is the expression “Sunday best” (=one’s best clothes) still used currently?

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Overhead yesterday in a coffee shop:
Customer: Excuse me; I was wondering if I could trouble you for a side salad.
Waitress: Side salad?

Slight mismatch of styles!

How should a waiter or bartender address a customer?
"Do you want .........................?"
"Would you like.....................?"

When you say, "Can I get..?" in the UK, it's generally considered a f**king rude Americanism. Happy Thanksgiving, though.

She and her father look alike
Her and her father look alike

age vs. aged

Which is correct? aged 45 years or over OR aged 45 years or more


Your apology is noted.


Although the addition of "got" may not follow the strictest syntax rules I believe it's use can be justified here because it serves as an intensifier that emphasizes the need to act is greater than the use of "have" alone connotes.
Also, when the contraction "I've" is used then the addition of "got" improves the word structure sonically by preserving the normal rhythm of a sentence because the contraction works as a single word that serves as the noun, or rather, pronoun of the sentence and leaves a need for another verb.

@WW Sorry, I assumed 'cacography' was just a made-up word - it's all Greek to me ;}

@jayles - OK, let's deal with cacography first. Yes, literally, in Greek, it means what you say, and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition, but it also seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least in linguistics:

"Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour similar to malapropism ... A common usage of cacography is to caricature illiterate speakers." Wikipedia.

Languages are creative like that, giving new meanings to adopted words, and so HS was perfectly correct.

You ask HS why he is resorting to Greek. But I could also ask why these (for me, at least) weird Anglish-inspired words have been noticeably creeping back into your own comments recently ("spider-dread" - come on, get real!). For me they have even less to do with natural English than Greek loan words, and I very much doubt that "normal people" have much time for them either.

English is a glorious mix - and I relish it. I have no objection to keeping things simple, but personally I hate this idea of language purism as much as I hate pedantry. Leave the language alone, it's just fine as it is!

I wouldn't have mentioned this if you hadn't brought the subject up :). And as for Stephen Fry, he has made one of the best commentaries on English I've ever seen:

mixing semicolon and em dash

Not an answer, but a comment on the use of dashes in British English. As far as I know BrE doesn't talk much about em-dashes, for example you won't often see -- (substituting for an em-dash) from British contributors to forums etc. We simply use a dash, in writing the same length as a en-dash, (but on a computer just using a single hyphen), and we put spaces either side - like that, for example. And they don't seem to be used nearly as much as in American English.

From one website on British grammar:

'The double dash encloses supplementary information in the same way as round brackets –
"Alaska – purchased from Russia in 1867 and granted statehood in 1959 – comprises some 586,000 square miles and 624,000 people."
But brackets are preferred in formal scripts.'

This is from the Chicago Manual of Style Online:

"note that it is also the common British practice to use an en dash with a word space on either side where American publishers would use an em dash closed up to the surrounding words"

But I've noticed that the Economist has recently started using M-dashes without gaps. In the online version they are obviously M-dashes, and there's no real problem, but in the print edition they don't seem to be as wide. This is really confusing my students (and me, to be honest), who think they are hyphens, reading the two separate words as one hyphenated word. It turns out that Polish, like British English always uses gaps. I'm beginning to wonder about other European languages. WW will have to investigate!