October 16, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

“it caught on fire”

In NZ I have often seen in print and heard people say “it caught on fire” instead of “it caught fire”. Is this a regional thing or does it occur elsewhere?

September 30, 2012  •  lakshay anand

from among

What’s the difference between “among” and “from among”? Do you select a winner “from” the list of participants or “from among” the list of participants?

June 14, 2012  •  harigramvym

“We will have ... tomorrow” or “We have ... tomorrow”

‘we have a cricket tournament tomorrow.’ or ‘we will have a cricket tournament tomorrow.’ -which is more correct?

June 4, 2012  •  Make Your English Work

in other words

It seems to be common for writers to use “in other words” in their writing, which seems to be mostly done as a rhetorical technique. I can see no reason to use this phrase in writing, except perhaps in the case of explaining complex technical information or visual content to a general audience. This is a pet peeve of mine but others seem to have no problem with it. I feel that if something can be said more effectively in other words, those words should be used instead of the less effective ones. Your thoughts on the matter?

May 31, 2012  •  Inovatia

“Live local.” Is it a complete sentence?

Is the following a complete sentence? Live local.

May 12, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

“As per ....”?

I have noticed that here in NZ a lot of people use the phrases “as per usual” and “as per normal” in everyday speech. In the UK I only ever heard these phrases used as a form of sarcastic emphasis. I am sure there are a number of “as per ..” phrases in which the “per” does not seem redundant, such as “as per instructions”, but even that seems cumbersome when copmared with “as instructed”.

April 18, 2012  •  Hacovo

watch much stuff?

Alright, this has me stumped for some reason. I believe that saying “I don’t watch much stuff.” is incorrect, but I can’t articulate why. At first, I thought the problem was with [action verb] + stuff, but I realize that you can ask someone to please watch your stuff, so that’s not it. And the problem isn’t simply ‘much stuff’ because someone can have too much stuff. In any case, I was hoping for a definitive reason why (or why not, if I am wrong) it is improper to say ‘watch much stuff’.

March 1, 2012  •  Artis Roenspies

of a

My question is on “of a”, as in, “How long of a process would this be?” or “How long of a wait is it?” I was taught there is no “of”, rather “How long a wait is it?” or “How long a process?” I see and hear “of a” so often now, I’m wondering if the rules have changed. Thank you.

February 8, 2012  •  Brus

He was sat

Is the dialect expression “He was sat ...” in place of “He was sitting ...”, which is quite common in the UK, also found in US English? When I first arrived in England I was astonished to hear a teacher tell his class to “stay sat” when they had done whatever it was they were doing. Now it is like an epidemic, heard on the radio and television too, used by people speaking otherwise standard English. US dialect is very rich and diverting, but I wonder if this one features?

November 22, 2011  •  SamG

“with the exception of” or “with the exceptions of”

I’ve come across the following dependent clause that has piqued my grammar interest, and I’m not sure if said clause is grammatically correct: “...with the exception of a roast beef sandwich, a protein-dense smoothie from Jamba Juice, and 500 million dollars!” In this case, should the word “exception” be plural since it’s referring to a list (and subsequently the preceding “the” should be dropped as well)?

November 10, 2011  •  Cheshire

God only knew

Do we change tenses on common expressions when writing fiction? “God only knew” sounds bizarre, but I find it difficult to let “knows” persist when writing...

April 10, 2011  •  Thảo

want it that way

I need you help explain this structure to me: “prefer/want it that way”. I have heard it the first time in the song “I want it that way” of Backstreet Boys. But I think the complete sentence could be: “I want it in that way”, is it right? Is “in” left out in this sentence? Thank you in advance.

April 8, 2011  •  michael owan

I dove my hat

What is the meaning of “I dove my hat”?

March 22, 2011  •  Hairy Scot

“I’ve got” vs. “I have”

Is there not a redundancy in the use of “got” with “have”? Why say “I have got” or “I’ve got” when “I have” conveys the exact meaning? The same would be true of its use in the second or third person.

January 31, 2011  •  mart


Can the term ‘self-confessed’ be correct? I read it last week and it’s been bugging me ever since. Surely the only way to confess is to do it personally? Can someone else confess to my crime or secret? The ‘self’ part is redundent. Then I thought it might come from a police background. If someone is about to be questioned and they confess without any probing I can see how ‘self-confessed’ could make sense, as they were not forced to confess by interrogation. But it still feels like saying ‘cold ice’ to me!

February 3, 2010  •  justinforce

Like a red herring, but unintentional.

I’m looking for a phrase or idiom that conveys the same sense of wild goose chase or false lead as a red herring, but that is not placed intentionally. A red herring is necessarily an attempt to mislead. I’m looking for a phrase that can apply if the distraction is unintentional.

January 10, 2010  •  swardie

“went missing/gone missing”?

The first time I heard the phrase “went missing” was a few years while watching a national news broadcast. The new reporter interviewed a midwestern sheriff about the case of a missing girl. He said she “went missing eight days ago”. I assumed it was a colloquialism (and very poor grammar). Now I hear it and read it quite frequently. Where did this strange expression come from? How can someone “go” missing? Shouldn’t it be “disappeared”? Or perhaps, “has been missing”?

December 20, 2009  •  rogermourne

“It is what it is”

It sounds to me as if this term is descended from “What it is”, a Black-American expression that goes back to the 1960s. Then it meant, “It’s part of The System”, or “It’s just part of how African-Americans have to live in the USA”, implying restriction, being the object of racism and prejudice, and adopting a philosophical and pragmatic way of living under pressure. “What it is” seemed to come from late 1960s black culture, including the Black Panthers, so-called “soul music” and more. It might come from a song. I only heard black people say it, never anyone else, and it was an expression of positive resignation, as if it also meant, “We can’t change that but we will move forward anyway.” Now, 45 years later, “It is what it is”, sounds like a more vague descendent. I think it’s weaker and less compelling because it sounds artificial, as if a movie screenwriter created it. Again, I dislike the vagueness of it, especially because wen people say it, they seem to imply it explains something, which it does not. It seems to be a weak vulgar shrug uttered by those who don’t know what else to say, and are baffled or confused themselves. I’d accept it from African-Americans, who might catch a subtlety or a meaning I don’t. But now I’ve heard it from 2 highly educated white friends, and it sounds phony coming from them. WHAT DOES IT MEAN AND IS IT EVER VALID OR WORTHWHILE?

December 1, 2009  •  redfern

Moments & Seconds

Are you writers aware of time? More and more often I read about a character staring at another character for several moments. If you mean several brief time periods, try using seconds. It’s much more powerful and precise. For example, “the angry client stared at the well-dressed bank manager for several seconds”. That’s believable and many of us have experience glaring at someone for several seconds. But if you use several “moments” in that phrase it just sounds endless and wrong and inaccurate. Who holds eye contact for several “moments”? Unless it’s a prelude to a kiss, someone is sure to walk away before several moments are up.

November 26, 2009  •  whoopycat

“...not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

I’m curious as to the origin of the phrase “...not that there’s anything wrong with that.” I have a vague recollection of hearing it for the first time -- possibly in a comedian’s act? -- many years ago, clearly in the context that it now seems to ubiquitously have: a reference to homosexuality. For the life of me, I cannot recall who it was I first heard say this. I do seem to recall that it was long before Seinfeld made it popular. Does anyone else have a similar memory?

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