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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How can backwards be a word if backward is as well? Forwards and forward? Beside and besides?
I can’t turn a light switch ons, can I? Go outs the door?
Nouns can be plural, and verbs have tense, but prepositions?
When did we start pluralizing those?
“She said she...” or “She said that she...”
All my life I have received great feedback about my grammar, but these past few years I find myself over thinking it—all the time. It actually causes me to create mistakes where there previously weren’t any. Bizarre?
One such thing that I have thought too much about is the necessity of “that” in phrases like the above. When would you say it’s necessary? Always? Never? Sometimes? Explain! Thanks!
Are adverbs something to be avoided like the plague or an inevitable mutation of the English language that we just have to deal with? I’ve heard it said that they’re the mark of a writer who lacks the vocabulary to use powerful words (for example, “He walked slowly” does not carry the weight of “He plodded” or “He trudged”) and the skill to vary their sentence structure. I’ve seen them used in published in professional work, from George R. R. Martin to J.K. Rowling, so it’s not something authors shy away from and, for the most part, the public accepts it without question.
Do excuse the purposeful misspelling in my name. It comes from a time where I thought doing such was what the “cool” kids did.
Anyways, I have a question, which just so happens to concern the word I used to start this sentence. I find myself using “anyways” instead of “anyway”, despite it not being “correct”. It’s more a matter of it feeling like it rolls off of the tongue better than any hard reason. If someone can offer their thoughts on its use (or misuse) I would be most appreciative.
Is there a difference between “further” and “farther”? David Attenborough (age 86, I think) says “farther”. I have never, ever, used that word. What’s the difference, if there is one? My dictionary does not say they are synonyms, but their definitions are identical. “Nothing could be farther from my mind” sounds to me a bit over the top, like saying ‘looking glass’ when you mean ‘mirror’. Views?
Is there any difference between “bad” and “poor.” I always thought that bad implied a moral tone whereas poor simply implied low quality. Has this ever been true? I now look both words up in the dictionary (AHD and Merriam-Webster) and they are synonyms of one another and carry very similar meanings. Have these two words always been essentially the same in their meaning? Or has popular usage of “bad” made them converge toward one another?
In the third conditional, the structure uses the past perfect with the if clause (e.g. “If I had studied...” and the conditional modal + present perfect in the second clause (...I would have gotten a good grade.”)
When and why is it also acceptable to say “If I had studied, I would have a good grade,” where “have” is used as a possessive auxiliary instead of a conditional modal?
Another oddity from my favourite source, The New Zealand Herald:
“Perhaps it’s time to deal to the ads that are just plain downers?”
It may be an undetected error or a misprint, but knowing the Herald, I’m sure the author, the proof readers, and the editors, all thought that “deal to” made perfect sense in the given context.