Comments for Pain in the English Forum for the gray areas of the English language Mon, 27 Apr 2015 05:05:50 +0000 hourly 1 Comment on Canadian pronunciation of “out and about” by TRUENORTHSTRONGANDFREE TRUENORTHSTRONGANDFREE Fri, 24 Apr 2015 16:08:43 +0000 Hello,
I happened to come across this and after quite a laugh I thought, as a resident of Noth, north west of Canada, I thought I should set the record straight. Not all Canadians talk the same. It depends on your background, as someone from Vancouver will sound and use phrases different from someone from Hally, N.C. But there are common themes throughout. A sing-song type of rythim is carried through sentences on a up unstressed and down on stressed vocals, most evident in the Maratime Provences where the old Irish influence are still felt the most. French rythims are incorporated into speech as the spread of Royal Canada moved west. By the time it reached the west coast, Native languages were being incorporated using a range of "uuu" type pauses between words and especially vouls, giving the North West a distinct sound compared to the East Coast. Mat M.

Comment on Capitalizing After the Colon by Hairy Scot Hairy Scot Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:37:41 +0000 @WW

I have submitted a couple of items during the past month but as yet they have not been published.
Perhaps Dyske is unwell or on vacation?

Comment on Capitalizing After the Colon by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Mon, 20 Apr 2015 04:36:26 +0000 @HS. Well, I keep looking in hope that someone will provoke one of my rants, or, simply an explanation, if I can give one. I often prefer PITE to other language forums such as Stack Exchange or Word Reference, because it' s not as hectic (or as competitive, pointswise), but I agree things are getting a bit too quiet around here, which is a shame.

Comment on Capitalizing After the Colon by Hairy Scot Hairy Scot Sun, 19 Apr 2015 19:08:54 +0000 Is PITE losing its appeal?

1) No new topics are being published. Although some have been submitted.
2) New comments are few and far between.

Comment on Capitalizing After the Colon by Jack Yan Jack Yan Fri, 17 Apr 2015 06:10:50 +0000 My apologies in advance for the absence of italics in my reply; shrinking text for the examples was out of the question! We’ve always used Hart’s Rules here (I’m very surprised no one has brought this up in all these years), and there’s no capitalization under their convention. Here’s the OUP link:

I understand some have cited the Chicago Manual of Style. As I understood it, the capitalization after a colon that it advises is to cover cases such as captions, e.g.:

Above: Some examples of text. Tinker believed these did not aid legibility. Below: A secondary example.

As far as I can recall, even in US typesetting, until the late ’90s, there was no capitalization after a colon in text. This began emerging around 1999, and since then, it has become commonplace Stateside. I’d be interested to learn if my recollection is correct.

I started as a proofreader in the 1980s, had stints on computer terminals on phototypesetting machines before most people had heard of the word font, and I now publish. I kept more than a casual eye on how these things developed, and even remember discussing it with a colleague in New York in 2001 when I worked there, a few years after the post-colon capital began appearing Stateside.

I’m not attacking those who feel there should be a capital; I just wanted to get an extra perspective into this long-running discussion.

Comment on Past tense of “text” by Grammar Gan Grammar Gan Tue, 14 Apr 2015 22:51:42 +0000 While "text" may not be considered a verb by all, the majority of people use it as such. Therefore, it should be treated like other regular verbs that end in a 't' or 'd' sound. Paint goes to painted, wait goes to waited, mend goes to mended, paste goes to pasted. Yes, there are verbs such as "find" and "fight" that have irregular past tense forms, but unless the speakers of common English are going to come up with an irregular past tense for for "text", then we should go with what makes sense....TEXTED. The reason we add a second syllable to these verbs ending with 't' or 'd' is so that we can mark the tense change so people know we are referring to a time in the past. Using "fax" as an example does not make any sense, because fax ends with an /s/ sound not a /t/ sound. Just because there is an 'x' in "text" does not make it the same as all other words that have 'x' them.

Comment on What’s happening to the Passive? by Damien KK Damien KK Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:16:23 +0000 On a different thread - my daughter who studied ancient Greek tells me that the literal translation of the Homer is something like

"beware Greeks - and (as for) Greeks bearing gifts!"

Comment on Why so many different spellings for some Arabic terms? by Damien KK Damien KK Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:11:04 +0000 Lots of good answers here.

Another way of looking at this is to ask who has the authority to decide the "right" way to spell any of these words using the Roman alphabet - and the obvious answer is no-one. Hence lots of spellings.

Comment on Is “leverage” a verb? by Damien KK Damien KK Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:03:24 +0000 Impressive responses here.

Incidentally, George Orwell, who is generally viewed as an excellent exponent of English written style, said the same as Jayles the Unwoven. Grammatically you can use a noun as a verb - he quoted "tabling a motion".

Leveraging is a useful verb as it does not mean the same as levering. To lever something (a manhole lid perhaps) you apply a lever to it. To leverage something you apply it to the other end of a lever in order to multiply its effect. So when I used a pick axe at the weekend to lift a manhole lid, I was levering the lid but leveraging my strength. In corporate finance, leveraging is not just borrowing, but using credit to increase the effect of some existing assets. Certainly (like a lot of Americanisms) really useful when used well.

Comment on Littler by Hairy Scot Hairy Scot Sun, 12 Apr 2015 17:48:45 +0000 Littler is the surname of a famous golfer.
I've never heard it used in any other context.

Comment on Littler by Trueeee Trueeee Sat, 11 Apr 2015 22:23:27 +0000 It's in the dictionary but it makes you look dumb af if u use it unless ur young. For example ain't it's in the dictionary but not grammatically correct. These are used by younger kids or people who use this in middle school and up who have little education or just don't care

Comment on Littler by Tru Tru Sat, 11 Apr 2015 22:23:15 +0000 It's in the dictionary but it makes you look dumb af if u use it unless ur young. For example ain't it's in the dictionary but not grammatically correct. These are used by younger kids or people who use this in middle school and up who have little education or just don't care

Comment on Pronouncing “str” like “shtr” as in “shtrong” “shtrange” by Nancy Schmith Nancy Schmith Thu, 9 Apr 2015 01:52:20 +0000 I have been beefing about this to everyone I know since I first heard it from the first lady's campaign speech on the radio. I just heard it moments ago from the Charmin TP bear on tv commercial with Ultra Shtrong description. I thought it was just me but I found this article before I posted to Facebook. Someone has to make it stop!!!!!

Comment on and so... by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Tue, 7 Apr 2015 03:06:06 +0000 This might be of interest: an article linking to research on the conversational benefits of 'so':

Comment on Victorian Era English by Random Random Tue, 7 Apr 2015 00:13:02 +0000 Just because I stumbled upon this looking for some answers myself, I will share what I found. This website helps a TON! Hope someone else finds that helpful.

Comment on Water by don1444 don1444 Sun, 5 Apr 2015 06:20:10 +0000 In palau we call it sobtaringk

Comment on Social vs Societal by jayles the unwoven jayles the unwoven Fri, 3 Apr 2015 22:03:21 +0000 @WW Quite right my dear fellow!
I just have a couple of quick questions for you:

1) Do you advise your students NOT to start a sentence with "but" when writing in an English exam?

2) Do you advise your students to comma off "comment" such as "Personally" at the start of a sentence?

The point here is that without a style guide or some element of prescriptivism, no one knows what is right or wrong: for instance if I write "the provided information" the meaning is clear and unambiguous, although the phrase is not in the normal word order: correct or exellent?

Beyond my scope to comment on the societal ills of American culture.

Comment on Social vs Societal by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Thu, 2 Apr 2015 08:08:09 +0000 I'll ignore all the historical / social stuff, which I suspect is a lot of 'golden age' bunkum; rear-view mirrorism, I think it's called; you know the sort of thing: 'back in the good old days', 'nowadays everything's being dumbed down', and so on. Whereas I imagine that if you used any objective criteria like overall exam results etc, this fear would be found to be groundless.

However, I do think JohnH makes one good point. There is an unfortunate propensity on this forum to ascribe motives such as pretentiousness, or even worse 'middle management' pretentiousness, to people who use language the commenter doesn't approve of, and I think that smacks of a certain intellectual snobbery. Which I think is rather sad.

I am fascinated though as to what JohnH means by 'linguistic excellence'. One dictionary defines linguistic as 'connected with language or the scientific study of language', and surely the main function of language isto communicate with other people. Now I think a lot of London street traders communicate excellently with their customers, although not in a language that is considered Standard English; most mothers communicate excellently with thier babies, but perhaps not in a very elegant way - is this what JohnH means by linguistic excellence? I suspect not.

I tried googling "linguistic excellence", and apart from a lot of references to the "linguistic excellence of the Koran" and other religious texts, all I could find was stuff about people who are able to learn a lot of languages, and the role of language in Ancient Greece and Rome. But I did find a couple of references in academic books:

"Consequently, from the point of view of general linguistic excellence, nothing matters except the ability of the sentences in that language to convey transparently and without ambiguity their meaning", Stephen Everson, Language, Cambridge

By this definition, my London street trader and mum would qualify as having linguistic excellence, I imagine. But many people would no doubt come up with a definition more like this one:

"The view of language was a monodialectical one in which the role of language education was to eliminate (through the use of sanctions) variant forms, thus maintaining the language's imagined purity, and to impose norms of perceived linguistic excellence, thus safeguarding its future. Linguistic change of any kind was widely perceived to be deterioration", ed. Rebecca S Wheeler, The Workings of Language, Greenwood (talking about 18th and 19th century prescriptivism).

Which brings us back to the old question of who decides what is 'correct', and what is 'excellence' (and in what contexts). If 'linguistic excellence' here is closer to the first definition, then perhaps it's worth striving for. If it's more like the second, it's just the old prescriptivism in a different guise.

Comment on On Tomorrow by Ruiz Ruiz Wed, 1 Apr 2015 12:44:12 +0000 I live in a suburb of Dallas and work as an Educator. I hear this expression often, mostly from African-Americans. It sounds wrong to me and it makes me cringe but ... This isn't common practice in my household!

Comment on Social vs Societal by JohnH JohnH Wed, 1 Apr 2015 11:27:19 +0000 Generally speaking the word "societal" is only used when speaking of a society as whole, as in, "The American public is a societal melting pot of many cultures". The word "Social" can also be used to refer to the whole of a society, but is most commonly understood to refer to small groups with in a larger society, as in "New York City has a very divers social structure." The word, Social or societal, could be used in either of these instances but societal, feels better when used to refer to society as a whole.

The problem I see here, is not the proper usage of of the word societal, but has to do with a greater societal problem with the American culture. In the past, the American culture was one that encouraged people to strive for personal excellence at all levels. They had very high standards that people had to live up to in order to gain respect within the society. In other words, the bar of acceptability was placed very high and people had to reach up to reach it. Unfortunately, the modern American culture has lowered the bar of acceptability so low that you have to dig down to get to it, and anyone one that tries to raise that bar up is attacked as being 'Pretentious". The modern American culture abhors the idea that there should be a standard that a person must try to live up to and fights to keep any such standard from arising. We want a standard that anyone can reach, even without trying. Actually, in some social groups within the American culture, they actually pride themselves in their complete and utter inadequacy and incompetency. In these social groups, they consider the bar of acceptability to be one that encourages them to become the most useless, reprobate and disrespectful human being they can be. The unfortunate thing is that, I have observed that the trend of these social groups at striving for dis-excellence has permeated the American societal culture as a whole.

Even in the comments to this question we can clearly see those that overtly attack anyone that would try to strive for linguistic excellence. Their argument has not been that to use the word "Societal" is improper (if used in the proper context), but that the people using it are only trying to use it to pretend to be better then others (pretentious). This is a very typical and common response among this this modern American culture that encourages dis-excellence and attacks and tries to discourage anyone one that would dare to strive for excellence.

The fact is that "Societal" is a recognized word that has a proper usage. The idea that the word can only be used by a certain group of people (social sciences) and that anyone else who tries to use it is only being pretentious, is a farce that is only perpetuated by those that seek to promote dis-excellence and want to discourage any attempt at raising the societal bar of acceptability.

Comment on Does a lie have to have intent to deceive? by Dream Otters Dream Otters Sat, 28 Mar 2015 21:25:09 +0000 I agree, basically. A lie needs to be a deception. However, if lying to oneself is possible then how is telling others the same untruth not a lie?
After you've allowed yourself to be convinced then sharing that lie, believing in it, still would make one guilty of lying. It is because of how convinced you have become without sufficient evidence. Our assumptions make us liars.

Comment on “American” by AnWulf AnWulf Sat, 28 Mar 2015 13:06:23 +0000 "The Oxford Companion to the English Language":


In modern English, North and South America are generally considered separate continents, and taken together are called the Americas in the plural, ..., without a clarifying context, singular America commonly refers in English to the United States of America.

Since the 18c, a name of the United States of America.


This seems to only be a true problem in Spanish. As someone pointed out abuv ... and my Brazilian friends confirm ... in Brazilian Portuguese, an "americano" is someone from the US. As someone esle pointed out, in other tungs suchs as German, an "Amerikaner" is from the US. I livd in Germany for a few years and never met anyone who thought of an "Amerikaner" as anyone but someone from the US.

Nonetheless, we're talking about English here. Someone from the United States of Mexico (estados unidos de Mexico) is a Mexican, someone from the United States of America is an American as well as a North American. A Mexican is also a North American (as is a Canadian), an Argentian or a Brazilian is also a South American.

The US, Canada, and Mexico are part of the North American Free Trade Association. They are all North Americans.

Central America is a region of the continent of North America.

In English, an American refers to someone from the US. Otherwise, it is North or South American to refer to someone from one of the TWO continents In English it is not one but two continents and together they are the Americas (plural).

There is no confusion in English about this. Spanish speakers want to bring their confusion about the whole thing into English and act offended. Too bad.

Comment on “How is everything tasting?” by Michael MMc Michael MMc Fri, 27 Mar 2015 23:28:04 +0000 Clearly some consultants somewhere in the restaurant business came up with this and has spread it throughout the industry. I, too, find it incredibly annoying. It seems designed to limit customer statements of dissatisfaction. Even worse, some places have gone even further and trained their wait staff to ask "Is everything tasting great?" Um, yeah, sure. Such a closed question is clearly designed to NOT elicit any form of real feedback while maintaining a pretense that the wait staff is actually interested in the customers.

Comment on It is you who are/is ... by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Thu, 26 Mar 2015 07:04:03 +0000 Although 'Is it you who are' is the gramatically 'correct' answer, I'm increasingly convinced I'd normally say 'Is it you who's ...' or use a workaround.

A similar problem with a relative clause came up in class the other day in an exercise on tenses from a book called Grammarway Advanced. There was a question where the students had to fill the gap with a suitable verb in the appropriate tense, includinng the word 'ever':

"This is one of the best books that ................ on the subject"

The students were obviously meant to pick the present perfect passive of 'write'. And my first reaction was:

"This is one of the best books that has ever been written on the subject". But then I started thinking: the relative clause refers to 'books', not one, just as the relative clause above refers to 'you', not 'it'. So maybe it should be 'have', not 'has'. It turns out this one has been bothering people for centuries. Although Fowler thought 'has' here a blunder, it's been used by many good writers. It seems that 'one' is just too strong a draw for most of us; it's that oldidea of notional agreement taking over from formal agreement.

I think it's the same with 'Is it you who are'. Formal agreement favours 'are', notional agreement favours 'is'. And in spoken English, at least, notional is often more natural and idiomatic than formal or 'correct'.

Comment on Opposition to “pretty” by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Tue, 24 Mar 2015 06:50:06 +0000 @AnWulf - No, the teacher is Polish. I think the 'mates' bit was the words my student used.

@HairyScot - One of my English teachers used to give this example of the oddities of English:

' "Now, then", he said, giving me a pretty ugly look.'

'Pretty' was prety popular with British writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially with Daniel Defoe. Johnson gives eight examples, presumably approvingly. Even Lowth, and other grammarians used it in their books.

As to meaning, I like Johnson's definition best - 'it is less than very'. I can see why you might want to avoid it in academic texts (although both Darwin and Ruskin used it), but I would have thought that the same goes for 'very', so I don't really understand those who say use 'very' instead. For me, at least, they are not the same: 'petty' is more nuanced.

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Comment on “American” by Galvanster Galvanster Sat, 21 Mar 2015 22:01:07 +0000 Something that is widely ignored in the USA is that "America" is the name officially given to the continent in 1507 by German cartographer Martin Waldeesmüller when the first official map showing the new continent was printed. In actuality, "America" only and exclusively applied to southern America. From then on, the inhabitants of the newly discovered continent were refered to as "Americans". Much later, the central and northern hemisphere were included in the concept of America.

This is why you will most likely start a fight in Ameirca, because the terms "America" and "American" were never used to mean "USA" and "US citizen", so obvioulsy it feels like an unfair appropriation of terms that have defined millions of people for longer than the existence of the USA. The USA lives in some sort of isolated bubble from the rest of America and that is why it is widely ignored this piece of history in the USA. No country has the right to appropriate terms that define millions of people equally.

Many educated people in the USA have acknowledged this problem and have come up with proper demonyms to exclusively mean "US citizen" such as United Statesian, Usanian or Usonian. Some online dictionaries allow the use of "United Statesian" although Usanian also sounds like a good demonym because it is even more distinctive and shorter if you want one short.

Until the USA gets its proper official demonym this will to come to an end.

Comment on Opposition to “pretty” by jayles the unwoven jayles the unwoven Sat, 21 Mar 2015 18:34:39 +0000 Maybe because the meaning can be unclear - "very" or "somewhat" ?

Deeming "pretty" as informal seems to predate the wave of political correctness so I wonder wherher it was just some post-Victorian academic snobbery, in the same way as in the decade following WWII was taught at school not to use "get", which apparently was an ugly lower-class word. I would guess it was at school that I acquired (or got) the idea that "pretty" was unacceptable in formal writing. Blame the teacher(s)! Not sure where they got the idea from though.

With other words we have seen, just over one generation, "unseemly" become "inappropriate"; and words like "old", "elderly", "fat" become scarcely polite under the influence of political correctness, but the idea that "pretty" is informal seems to predate that.

Comment on Opposition to “pretty” by Hairy Scot Hairy Scot Fri, 20 Mar 2015 20:46:29 +0000 I see nothing wrong in the use of pretty as an adverb, although certain combinations could be amusing:-
"She's really pretty ugly."
"That's pretty bad."

I'm sure there are more.


Comment on Why do sports teams take a definite article? by AnWulf AnWulf Fri, 20 Mar 2015 18:26:36 +0000 A small clarification … sox is plural of sock. Thus, the Boston Red Sox is indeed plural.

As for the Heat, heat is a play on words. Miami is hot but also the word 'heat' can mean 'pressure' or even 'gun'; it is noted phrases like "put the heat on" or "the heat is on".

Comment on Opposition to “pretty” by AnWulf AnWulf Fri, 20 Mar 2015 17:31:48 +0000 Is his teacher a nativ English speaker (or at least British taught by the note of "mates" insted of friends)?

There's no good reason that I can think of aside from maybe he thought his students were saying it too much and he was trying to get them to note other words.

Comment on Pronouncing “str” like “shtr” as in “shtrong” “shtrange” by notanozombie notanozombie Fri, 20 Mar 2015 12:47:18 +0000 The first time i heard this,shtrong garbage, publically was michelle Obama. I have heard others, all blacks, throughout my lifetime With that way of pronouncing the word strong as shtrong. I do believe that since M. 0bama says it publically it is becomming a fad for her audience.

It is only recently that i have heard whites and others pronounce that word the wrong way.

Hey my experiences are mine and no one can tell me what I observe is not what I observe so don't even think of trying your racism B.S with me.

Comment on It is you who are/is ... by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Thu, 19 Mar 2015 08:40:48 +0000 Judging by its use in books, the plural is the norm; this is from Thackeray, ' "It is you who are cruel," cried Pen'.

I think in informal English, however, we might well say 'It's you who's wrong'; 'are' sounds a bit stilted somehow.

My explanation would be is that this is a cleft sentence where 'It' is an introductory device, the subject of 'is', and 'who is wrong' is a specific type of restrictive relative clause modifying 'you'. The verb should therefore agree with the subject of the realtive clause, 'you', not 'it'.

Compare with a couple of more obvious plurals:
"It's the Johnsons who have just been to Cypress, not the Smiths." (Not 'has')
"It's oysters that make me feel ill, not mussels." (Not 'makes')

Comment on ta-ta & ho-ho by Actually Actually Tue, 17 Mar 2015 12:38:07 +0000 Dean Andrews was referring to an event in which he gave the name of an individual not referring to anyone specificly, but just to give the interviewer bait. Well that man took that name and ran with it, coming up with an individual who had been charged with carrying a concealed weapon in Houston I believe. Well the original guy Dean Andrews gave to get this ball rolling was fictional, so this individual who was charged for carrying a concealed weapon might have done so, but that doesn't make the original fictional individual who just happens to have the same name any more real because of this coincidence. That was my interpretation anyway. Either way "the right ta ta but the wrong ho ho" can't really get any better. Haha

Comment on It is you who are/is ... by Mick Thomson Mick Thomson Sun, 15 Mar 2015 12:22:39 +0000 still confused about this one... doesn't the word "who" relate to the word "it" ? for me to use a singular verb?

Comment on being used by Anton Ivanov Anton Ivanov Fri, 13 Mar 2015 16:28:51 +0000 Many thanks

Comment on Can every letter be used as a silent letter? by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Fri, 13 Mar 2015 09:11:35 +0000 @Dean. I think you're cheating a bit with almond and dinghy, and perhaps even with honour. There are still sounds there; they wouldn't sound the same if you take away the letter altogether, as with 'listen, hour' etc. The 'gh' in dinghy is a specific sound, /ŋ/, not just g and h together, otherwise it would be 'dinhy'.


and even with honour, /ˈɑːnər, the sound of British 'ou', or American 'o' is not 'u', but the schwa.

Comment on Why do sports teams take a definite article? by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Fri, 13 Mar 2015 09:01:17 +0000 As I've said before, I know nothing about football, and so nothing about 'iPro Stadium' without going to Wikipedia myself, so I think perhaps you should start doing a little research of your own. As for foreign stadiums, just Google them and see what results you get. But if in doubt add 'the'.

Comment on being used by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Fri, 13 Mar 2015 08:50:00 +0000 These are both 'reduced relative clauses', and both are passive (present simple passive and present continuous passive):

1. The instruments (which are) used are very reliable.
2. The instruments (which are) being used are very reliable.

The meanings are very similar, the difference being the normal one between using present simple (1) and present continous (2) forms

The first one suggests you are talking about a standard process, situated in general time, which is fairly static. The second sugegsts that you are talking about a situation occurring now. For example:

'We have been operating this procedure for some time now, and the instruments used are very reliable'

'This is a new procedure, which has its risks, but a least we know that the instruments being used are very reliable.'

Comment on Can every letter be used as a silent letter? by Dean Garrett Dean Garrett Wed, 11 Mar 2015 13:25:28 +0000 G dinghy

Comment on Can every letter be used as a silent letter? by Dean Garrett Dean Garrett Wed, 11 Mar 2015 13:22:39 +0000 O honour and almond

Comment on Why do sports teams take a definite article? by dwishiren dwishiren Tue, 10 Mar 2015 17:10:48 +0000 Perfect. How about "iPro Stadium"?
Is this related to a sponsor or area?

By the way, what about foreign stadiums outside England ones, for example in Spain, Italia, etc? As a nonnative, I'm rather perplexed to decide whether to use or not. But a native speaker is so easy to do that. I
do want to be able to determine when to use "the" or not with foreign stadiums without going check Wikipedia. Please help me, teacher Will.

Comment on attorneys general vs. attorney generals by Hairy Scot Hairy Scot Mon, 9 Mar 2015 19:08:28 +0000 @WW

See my comments in the thread on was/were.


Comment on “If I was” vs. “If I were” by Hairy Scot Hairy Scot Mon, 9 Mar 2015 19:05:21 +0000 Hi WW,

Point taken.
I must say that in addition to respect for your knowledge I am impressed by your patience.
Were I to once more involve myself in this discussion I might well grow tired of casting my pearls .........................

Enough said methinks. :-))

Comment on thus, therefore and hence are different by archbishop archbishop Mon, 9 Mar 2015 10:20:44 +0000 Great website! I love it! Thanks a lot!

Comment on “If I was” vs. “If I were” by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Mon, 9 Mar 2015 06:51:20 +0000 Wake up, HS, it's morning again :). And the subjunctive, and especially the use of 'were/was', being one of the most controversial areas of grammar, I doubt it will ever go away.

My discussion with jayles has been purely historical, and I've learnt a little about Old English along the way.

But when someone like EnglishElle calls herself a 'firm believer in descriptivism', and goes on to contradict that in everything she says, I will react, especially when she puts it down to lack of education. She might try reading a modern grammar book for a start before throwing about that sort of accusation.

Comment on attorneys general vs. attorney generals by Warsaw Will Warsaw Will Mon, 9 Mar 2015 06:33:40 +0000 But, HS, one or two people saying something doesn't make it common usage. Common usage is what is generally used and/or accepted by educated speakers and writers of a given language community, not 'anything goes'. This expression is used in the plural mainly in the States, and if you check the New York Times, for example, the entries are nearly all for "attorneys general" - that *is* the common usage.

Here there is a certain logic to it, but there are other language contexts where it is only common usage that makes something 'correct' , especially in vocabulary. It is because of common usage, not any written grammar rule, that most of us don't say 'thou art' any more, or that English moved away from inflected endings to the use of auxiliaries, and all the other changes that happened in English before any grammarian put pen to paper.

And what did the first grammarians use a basis for their rules - the observation of common usage.

And on the subject of compound nouns, is there any rule for deciding whether they spelt as two words, hyphenated, or joined together? None that I know of, except common usage.

As for Nick D's idea - passer-by, and brother-in-law are also nouns in their own right - but passer-bys and brother-in-laws certainly don't sound OK to me. Why? Because it's neither common usage, nor is it logical, as mshades explains (he explains a lot more than the history). Same difference with attorneys general - they are general attorneys, not some kind of general.

And what about expressions such as spoonful, cupful, bucketful and truckful. Logically you might think it should be spoonsful etc, as this commenter on a forum suggested, "The grammatically correct answer is "spoonsful", those who say otherwise are mistaken. However, those who say otherwise also have custom and usage on their side, and "spoonfuls" is perfectly acceptable. "

Some people think 'spoonfuls' is recent, but I'm not so sure. According to Ngram, that has always been the case, although 'spoonsful' got close in the first half of the 19th century. And according to another grammar book, this time from 1830, "The words spoonful, mouthful, and others of a like kind, are indivisible compound nouns, therefore must form their plural regularly", a point echoed in several books of that time. And why are they 'indivisible'? I would suggest through common usage.

So, what many people seem to think is the 'grammatically correct' version has in fact been dismissed in many grammar books. Which simply confirms me in my belief that there is only one unbiased, objective way of deciding whether to use one form or another, and that's common usage. And to be very wary when someone says 'the grammatically correct answer is ***'!

Comment on “If I was” vs. “If I were” by Hairy Scot Hairy Scot Sun, 8 Mar 2015 18:01:30 +0000 I thought this one had been put to bed some time ago.

Comment on attorneys general vs. attorney generals by Hairy Scot Hairy Scot Sun, 8 Mar 2015 18:00:25 +0000 @Nick D

Of course you can use it.
However the unfortunate fact is that common usage does not always mean correct usage.


Comment on attorneys general vs. attorney generals by Nick Donnelly Nick Donnelly Sun, 8 Mar 2015 08:42:58 +0000 mshades explains the history.

However - right now 'attorney general' is a noun in and of itself. Therefore attorney generals is fine - and we don't need permission to use it - we can just use it.