November 1, 2011  •  John Colbourne

always wanted to be

J.K .Rowling always wanted to be an author. J.K. Rowling had always wanted to be an author. J.K. Rowling has always wanted to be an author. I assume “has always wanted” is incorrect because she became an author. Please, which one is proper?

October 29, 2011  •  Margaret A Giordano

“8 inches is” or “8 inches are”

Is it “8 inches is” or “8 inches are”?

October 28, 2011  •  Thomas guzzi

Terms of Endearment from the 20s and 30s

I am playing rooster in a production of Annie and I need some terms of endearment that were used in the 20s and 30s. I use the term “blondie” but the woman I say it to isn’t blonde. How about “sweet cheeks”? Any help?

October 25, 2011  •  Rob


Is it actually correct to use “American” when referring to residents of the United States? I was traveling in Peru last summer and to my surprise realized for the first time that people down in South America consider themselves to be “Americans” too. After all, South America is as “America” as North America, right? So to be clear, for a technical publication I’m working on, what’s the best way to refer to residents of the US? Is “American” still acceptable? The study I’m quoting uses “US residents,” but there are times when that phrase becomes unwieldy.

October 25, 2011  •  Tonto

Backward vs. Backwards?

Is there a grammatical difference between saying “I walked down the street backwards” and “I walked down the street backward” (without the “s”)? Is one of them incorrect, or are they interchangeable? Does the same go for “forward(s)” and “toward(s)”?

October 15, 2011  •  sigurd

Semicolon between sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction

Is separating two coordinating-conjunction-linked sentences, the former having a comma(s), with a semicolon instead of a comma logically justified? In’s Semicolons category, Rule 5. reads: Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence. Examples: When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep. If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.

October 10, 2011  •  Greg Allen

attorneys general vs. attorney generals

Why is the term “attorneys general” correct? It used to be “attorney generals” ... There are multiple attorney generals. If I was describing a group of Army generals, I wouldn’t say “Armies General” ... would I?

October 8, 2011  •  AnWulf

What can I do besides...

“What can I do besides complaining” sounds wrong to me but I can’t say why ... I think it should be complain. “What can I do besides complain?” “What can I do but complain?” However, “Besides complaining, what can I do?” sounds ok. Any thoughts? Or am I completely off base here?

October 7, 2011  •  Astartes

Prepositions at the end of a clause

I have an ear for when people use bad grammar, especially the use of prepositions at the end of a clause. I was recently watching a show, however, and a character said “Toys are meant to be played with.” What is the correct wording of this phrase? It is killing me.

October 5, 2011  •  Perfect Pedant

“Under urgency”

“Under urgency”? I recently came across this phrase for the first time in my life. The context was:- “Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment Act into law under urgency last night” Can’t really put my finger on why, and I can’t at the moment come up with an alternative, but it just doesn’t sound right. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

October 5, 2011  •  Perfect Pedant

“hone in” vs. “home in”

Why does sports media persist in the use of the phrase “hone in” instead of “home in”. Traditionally, a missile homes in (not hones in) on a target. Hone means “to sharpen.” The verb home means “to move toward a goal” or “to be guided to a target.”

October 3, 2011  •  sigurd

whensoever vs. whenever

Are “whensoever” and “whenever” really the same?  In some of the dictionaries I checked, “whensoever” is defined “whenever”; but I disagree. For instance, I think “The students may leave whenever they so choose” can be written “[...] whensoever they choose” because “so” is already part of “whensoever”.

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?

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