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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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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?

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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.

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Is “no end” as acceptable as “to no end”, as in “This amuses me no end.”?

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What is a correct... “A gift of John Doe” or “A gift from John Doe” when referring to a large charitable donation? I like the sound of “of” but not sure which one is right.

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Is there any defense of capitalizing after a semicolon? This reads well to me:

We do not sell tricycles; We sell velocipedes. 

Learn the difference.

Not capitalizing the first word of the second clause diminishes the perceived parallelism:

We do not sell tricycles; we sell velocipedes.

The store around the corner sells bicycles.

With a period between them, the first two clauses read like the premises of a syllogism:

We do not sell tricycles. We sell velocipedes.

Do we sell unicycles?

I will continue, of course, to pen as I please, but, in this instance, wonder if I can confidently publish as I please.

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My evening of horror transpired as follows:

While sharing a bottle of wine with my girlfriend I was stupid enough to posit why it was that I had taken such a huge interest in blues music. 

“Why, because it’s accessible to your mediocre guitar skills,” she said, “and when your skills improve you switch to real music, like classical guitar”.

“Well then, I hope, once your skills improve in belly dance you’ll switch to real dance,”  I responded, “besides it is a misnomer that blues is ‘simple music’!”

Now,  my meaning here was that blues music has been historically labeled and designated as “simple music” in order to mislead people into thinking that African-Americans, from whom the music generated, are not capable of anything complex and so somebody will say, “I love blacks because they play ‘simple music’!”

My girlfriend claims English superiority because she went to college and has been told she has a greater grasp on the language than it’s inventors, so she informed me that I had incorrectly used the word “misnomer”. According to her, what I should have said was that ‘simple music’ was a ‘misconception’ and not a ‘misnomer’. I can see the angle she is coming from and, in all honesty, I barely graduated high school, but I am sure that in this instance I am correct. My point was that blues was “misnamed” or “mislabeled” in order to mislead and not if it is actually simple music (I obviously believe that it is not and I am improving at guitar, so hopefully one day I will be able to tell).

In any case, I am currently sleeping on the couch. Is she correct or is it my “belly dance isn’t real dance” that has me on the couch?

Please help me.

Mr. On the Couch Blues

I beg you not to yell at me about any grammar mistake I may have just made. I finished the bottle of wine by myself and I really just want to be right about this one thing.

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Is this correct?

“I so appreciate you taking mine and Gregg’s child to school today.”

Is it correct to use “mine” or should I say “my”?

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Can clauses be misplaced because I always thought that they were superordinate of that. While searching for math accuplacer questions, I was given a set of problems, which I did not want, and, in boredom, did the first one and was wrong. The question was this:

Select the best substitute for the parenthesized parts of the following ten sentences. The first answer [choice A] is identical to the original sentence. If you think the original sentence is best, then choose A as your answer.

Question 1:

Although she was only sixteen years old, (the university accepted her application because of her outstanding grades).

  A. the university accepted her application because of her outstanding grades.

  B. her application was accepted by the university because of her outstanding grades.

  C. her outstanding grades resulted in her application being accepted by the university.

  D. she was accepted to study at the university after applying because of her outstanding grades.

I chose A, but it said D was the correct answer on these grounds:

The clause Although she was only sixteen years old describes the characteristics of the female student. Remember that clauses always need to be followed by the name of the person or thing they are describing. Therefore, “she” needs to come after this clause.

So, to reiterate, is there such a thing as misplaced clauses?

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What would be the preferred form of each of these:- 

a) “in hopes of” or “in the hope of” 

b) “a change in plans” or “a change of plan”

c) “apprise” or “inform” 

d) “envision” or “envisage”

I favour the second of each of the above, but no doubt there will be different opinions.

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“I intend on doing something about that”

Just came across this in the latest Baldacci novel.

First time I’ve seen this particular form so I’m not sure if it was a slip by author, editor, proof-reader, typesetter, or all of the above; or is it common in some parts of the English speaking world?

I’d think that “I intend to do ...........” or “I am intent on doing .........” would be the normal form.

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and so...

I like to use 'and so' in certain forms. I would never use it in an academic paper but I would in poetry and some others as well. Correct or not, it is understood and I have accepted much less elegant words or terms under the premise that a living language changes

The letter o is silent in the name phoebe(feebee, not fobe)

What about vowels? I have a list:

Silent A:In "ea" words when it makes the short or long e sound:Leaf, head, bread, stealth, read, knead

Silent O:In "ou" words where it's pronounced like a short or long u:Couple, you, cousin, rough, coupon

Silent U:Build

Does anyone have any more? I can't think of any.

eat vs. have breakfast

To " have " breakfast is to " eat " and "drink" something.
To " eat" breakfast is to only eat something.
Thus, have is more convenient and makes more sense to use, especially when you're teaching ESL students.

@jtu
I rest my case.

@HS I don't recall being taught anything about collective nouns plus singular verbs at school; perhaps it was taught and I was so busy daydreaming about our French conversation mistress at the time and worrying about my sinful thoughts that I missed it. Presumably your syllabus was different or you were more attentive.

@jtu
I just have one more question:
Do you, and those who share your thoughts on issues like this, believe that those of us who attended schools and universities prior to 1965 should forget all that we learned about the English language in that time and adopt the various fads and errors that have become commonplace since then?

@jtu
That is a typical descriptivist cop out.
Your use of "different to" illustrates that you are firmly in the camp of those who just like to be different for the sake of being different and who have absolutely no respect for the language.
No doubt you will soon be advocating the use of "should of" as a correct alternative to "should have" and that perpendicular just means at right angles with no regard to plane.
How do you stand on mixing up past tense and past participle?

Whether it is "correct" or not would hinge upon the criteria used. However if "people who are apparently reasonably well educated" persistently and knowingly use words such as "family" with a plural verb, despite "what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere", there must be a good reason, they must feel comfortable doing so, and editors do not automatically edit such constructions out. If you feel uncomfortable with this, then your eduction or background or thinking must be different to theirs.