September 30, 2011  •  sigurd

Semicolon and omission of repetitive words

If a semicolon is used to contrast two sentences, we can omit repetitive words by using a comma, as in:  “To err is human; to forgive, divine” and “The cat was orange; the dog, brown.” However, if no semicolon is used, can we still do the same? For example: “You’re our son, Heracles, and we, your family.”

September 25, 2011  •  Brus

“If I was” vs. “If I were”

“If I was the Prime Minister. ...” said Ed Miliband, British Labour party leader, today, Sunday 24th September 2011. Is this not how to phrase it if it remains a possibility that he was once Prime Minister, or if he is not sure if he was, or is reluctant to admit it?  “If I were the Prime Minister, ...”, using the subjunctive mood of the verb, would suggest that he is not Prime minister but is about to tell us what he would do if he were the PM. If the subjunctive is now defunct in UK Labour politics, as I suspect, how did he continue to tell us what he would have done, if he were the PM, without using the subjunctive? “if I was the PM, I ~~~~~ ???” It cannot be done.

September 22, 2011  •  Max_Elliott

Just because..., (it) doesn’t mean...

I never know whether to use “it” in the following sentence: “Just because ___, (it) doesn’t mean ____.” In other words, would you say, “Just because I was mean to you, it doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” OR “Just because I was mean to you, doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” OR “Just because I was mean to you, that doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” I hear people using the second variation all the time, but it seems that the third is preferable. Thoughts?

September 20, 2011  •  sigurd

Specifying time duration without “for”

Can “box turtles can live for 80 years” be written “box turtles can live 80 years”? What about “I ran 13 minutes” instead of “I ran for 13 minutes”? Are the foregoing examples still proper English?

September 14, 2011  •  sigurd

While/among/amid vs whilst/amongst/amidst

While/among/amid vs whilst/amongst/amidst  Which of the foregoing variants is older?

September 7, 2011  •  kellyjohnj

“This Wednesday” vs. “Next Wednesday”

Why do we say “this Wednesday” when we are talking about next week? Shouldn’t we agree that “this” modifies an assumed week and that the week in question is the current (Sun or Mon thru Sat or Sun) one? If it’s Friday today, we could say “this coming Wed” or “next Wednesday” but not “this Wednesday,” because if we did that, then “next Wednesday” would either mean Wednesday of the week after next, strictly speaking, or given ambiguity could mean the very same day as was indicated by “this Wednesday.”

September 4, 2011  •  Brus

What happened to who, whom and whose?

Has the English relative pronoun ‘who/whom/whose’ been banned while I was not looking? It seems to have been replaced by the ugly use of the word ‘that’. On the rare occasions when it can be spotted in printed prose in, for example, a newspaper, ‘who’ is used for ‘whom’ and it is all very disappointing. I write as a disillusioned and pedantic old schoolmaster (retired) whose 12 year old pupils had no problem learning how to deal with ‘who’ and ‘whom’ and ‘to whom’. I blame the Americans for this desecration of our language.

September 2, 2011  •  hero

Oblige to mean “force”

LDOCE says that “No one can oblige you to stay in a job that you hate.” is not correct. Do you think that this sentence is acceptabale?

August 26, 2011  •  Jamie Fritz

“for long”

Why is it that the phrase “for long” can only be used in a negative sentence? For example: I didn’t see her for long. » I saw her for long. I wasn’t there for long. » I was there for long. It’s the case in other phrases using the word long when referring to time: I won’t be long. » I’ll be long. It seems strange to me that only one is acceptable, yet it would have the same meaning in both sets of sentences, were the positive use acceptable.

August 21, 2011  •  Dyske

LEGOs — Is the Plural form of LEGO incorrect?

On this page (#18), the writer says, rather authoritatively, that “LEGOs” (plural of LEGO) is wrong because “LEGO” is a company name (a proper noun). I disagree. Firstly, there is no grammatical rule that says a proper noun cannot be used to refer to a countable object. “Mac” is a proper noun. It’s a name of a product but it is also used to refer to the individual Macintosh machines, i.e., “Macs”. Think of car companies, like Honda, BMW, and Porsche. When we refer to their cars, we say, “Hondas”, “BMWs”, and “Porsches”. BMW’s own site uses the plural form: “Today’s BMWs are equipped with...” And, Porsche’s own site says, “Barely any two Porsches are identical.” So, I would say “LEGOs” is perfectly fine if you are referring to the pieces of LEGO. It is however wrong to say “LEGOs”, if you are referring to the brand/company.  And, this should be a sparate issue from how the company officially uses the term for their marketing and communication. They could have their own policies but that does not make “LEGOs” grammatically incorrect. The correct use of a word is not determined by the person who coined it. What do you think?

August 20, 2011  •  lanora

“think of” vs. “think to”

My husband is from the UK. I am from the USA. We have a grammar question. I will post two questions which demonstrate the question of the use of the word ‘to’ instead of ‘of’ in a sentence. What do you think of my new car? What do you think to my new car? I have wagered that the use of ‘to’ is grammatically incorrect in the second example sentence. I believe it may be in ‘usage’, but it is not correct. Does anyone have any knowledge to share on this matter?

August 19, 2011  •  Nancy Resnitzky

Proper use of st, nd, rd, and th — ordinal indicators

Is writing “the August 1 card” correct, or should it be “the August 1st card”? I know July 23rd, 2011 is incorrect but when it comes to the “st”, I’m a confused Canadian. Can you help?

August 11, 2011  •  Carolyn Lunn

“My writing books” or “Me writing books”?

Which is correct :  My writing books proves I am an entrepreneur.  Me writing books proves I am an entrepreneur.  ME or MY ? Both sentences are awkward, yes, but which sentence is grammatically correct?

August 1, 2011  •  Hairy Scot

Stood down

In the antipodes it is common to use “stood down” as a synonym for suspended, eg - “The Commander of a Navy vessel has been stood down from his position following allegations of “inappropriate” behaviour on a recent port visit.”. But somehow this does not sound right. A person can stand down, ie: resign or give up a post, but I am not sure that it is correct to say a person was stood down. Why not just say “suspended”?

July 25, 2011  •  lainiewhitney

Comma before “respectively”?

When using the word respectively after listing items and corresponding relations do you use a comma before it? Example: The corresponding sewer projections for the monthly and yearly flows are 18 and 200, respectively.

July 20, 2011  •  isis

“council” vs. “board”

What is the difference between “council” and “board”?

July 16, 2011  •  Dyske

Isn’t the word “feminism” itself gender-biased?

Google’s new application called Ngram Viewer lets you see how frequently any terms or phrases appeared in books over time. The data is based on the millions of books Google digitized. As you can see below, the occurrence of the word “feminism” peaked in 1996 and has been in decline since. But, in the same period of time (from 1980 to 2008), the occurrence of the phrase “gender equality” has steadily grown. This makes intuitive sense to me. Now that the economy assumes each household to have two people earning income, in order to sustain a decent lifestyle, men need and want their wives to work. It is no longer a matter of choice. In other words, “gender equality” is just as important for men as it is for women. However, men are much less likely to identify themselves as “feminists” because the word itself implies gender bias; i.e., someone who advocates for the interests of women. The men who are interested in gender equality would not want to advocate for women or for men. The point is to eliminate gender bias as much as possible. In that sense, the word “feminism” or “feminist” does not make sense; it feels awkward and inappropriate. I believe the first graph above reflects that. Language has subtle yet powerful ways of influencing our values and behavior. This is why certain words have been deemed politically incorrect and have been replaced by new words, like “black” to “African American”. I feel that it’s time for us to retire the word “feminism” as it does not make sense for the ideal of gender equality itself to have gender bias. What do you think?

July 8, 2011  •  Ken Jr

Use of “he” for your father

This has become very aggravating for me. I have searched the internet and can find very little about this in a quick reference way. When I was growing up I was taught that when I spoke about a third person and they were present, that I should use their name or their proper reference title (such as Dad, Mom, Grandpa/Grandfather, and especially elders in general) to refer to them at the very least in the first sentence that involves them. For example as a child if I picked up the phone and my Dad was calling, after I spoke with him he would ask me to pass the phone to my Mom. Knowing full well that my father could hear what I was saying, I would say “Dad is on the phone.” to my mother, NOT “He is on the phone.” as I pass the phone to her. Even though my Mom knew that it was “Dad” whom would be on the phone should I have said “He is on the phone.”, I would never have referred to my Dad as “he” in the first sentence referring to him. I was taught that is very disrespectful. I think the tone taken in such an instance is disrespectful and exclusionary in a sense, but I’m not sure what grammatical rule applies or what it’s called. Can someone help me with this? Thank you for your help.

May 16, 2011  •  Pam Kline

wrong, incorrect, bad

I am currently teaching English in Spain and one of my students asked me a question that has left me dumbfounded. How would someone explain the differences between: Wrong/Right Incorrect/Correct Bad/Good I know what sounds good, but I haven’t been able to find a hard and fast rule.

May 11, 2011  •  Windy Road

Usage rules for adverbs

An article I was writing recently came back to me with this suggested edit: “commitment to proactively address the issues” was changed to “address proactively the issues.” This grates on my ear, and I’m interested in this forum’s insights. My quick research suggests that adverbs usually follow “be” verbs, but there are complicated usage rules for other than “be” verbs, and in many cases, adverbs correctly come before the verb.

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