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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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Since ‘of’ is possessive, is writing ‘the Ark of the Covenant’, ‘Book of Ezekiel’, ‘Robin of Locksley’ and ‘Joan of Arc’ respectively as ‘the Covenant’s Ark’, ‘Ezekiel’s Book’, ‘Locksley’s Robin’ and ‘Arc’s Joan’ correct? If not, why?

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I’ve come across the following dependent clause that has piqued my grammar interest, and I’m not sure if said clause is grammatically correct:

“...with the exception of a roast beef sandwich, a protein-dense smoothie from Jamba Juice, and 500 million dollars!”

In this case, should the word “exception” be plural since it’s referring to a list (and subsequently the preceding “the” should be dropped as well)?

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Is ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’ correct English?

Since ‘You have no idea where they live’’s and ‘You have nothing better to do’’s respective inquisitive forms—‘Have you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Have you nothing better to do?’, their past tense forms being ‘Had you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Had you nothing better to do?’—are correct, following the same logic, isn’t ‘He had breakfast this morning’’s inquisitive form, ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’, likewise correct?

Please read the full question. I’m looking for a logically (hopefully) justified answer. The more informative the answer is, the better.

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A question about time expressions with the past perfect tense: I realise “by the time” is a time expression used with the past perfect but in this sentence: “By the time he arrived at school, the lesson had finished” , why is “by the time” next to the verb in the past tense (arrived) as if it is refering to that verb rather than to the one in the past perfect (had finished)?

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Do we change tenses on common expressions when writing fiction? “God only knew” sounds bizarre, but I find it difficult to let “knows” persist when writing...

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In English, I know it’s perfectly correct/proper/formal to, for lack of a better word, ‘‘shorten’’ phrases and sentences in a certain way in some cases as in ‘Be that true, ...’ (= ‘If that is true, ...’), ‘if need be’ (= ‘if it is necessary’), ‘come what may’ (‘regardless of what may come/happen’) etc.

So, I’m wondering if similar rules apply to ‘Why be anonymous?’, ‘Why so excited/angry/etc?’ and ‘Why the question?’ as well as to ‘Haven’t you anything better to do?’ and ‘Have you any idea [...]?’, which I also hear a lot from seemingly formal English-speakers. Are they correct English?

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I’ve done some research about the use of “for example” in its shortened form, but have been left more confused than ever.

Is it eg, e.g., or eg.? It comes from the Latin “exempli gratia”, so I would have thought it correct to place a period after the e and after the g in place of the missing letters.

Yet, in official documents all over the place I see one or two periods, or none at all. I have in front of me an official document from the New South Wales government, The Board of Studies English K-6 Syllabus. Throughout this document each example is preceded by “eg”, no dots at all. Same with other Board of Studies documents, however other Education Department documents do have e.g.

Personally I think that e.g. is more correct, but seeing no dots at all in an official document on teaching English to primary school students, had me wondering whether the convention in this case has changed, or whether it might simply be a matter of choice with no one way being either right or wrong.

Which is correct, or doesn’t it matter?

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I did a search and came up with nothing relating to the use of “enamored”. I am seeing, more and more often, “enamored with” and “enamored by” when I was taught that it is correctly “enamored of”.

I just opened the latest issue of Cook’s Country magazine and this quote jumped out at me: “[...]Americans became enamored with international cooking.” Is this correct? Am I just a purist who needs to lighten up?

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The phrase “would of” seems to be coming more and more common. I have heard it used in a number of films and have also seen it used in print when the author is depicting direct speech. However, I was amazed to see it used outside of the direct speech context in a novel I am currently reading. I appreciate that “would’ve” could be heard as “would of” but the increasing use of this phrase is damning testimony to the malaise that afflicts our language.

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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?

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Latest Comments

“go figure”

IMHO "go figure" is right up there with "do the math" on the list of sayings to be avoided at all times.


Overhead yesterday in a coffee shop:
Customer: Excuse me; I was wondering if I could trouble you for a side salad.
Waitress: Side salad?

Slight mismatch of styles!

How should a waiter or bartender address a customer?
"Do you want .........................?"
"Would you like.....................?"

When you say, "Can I get..?" in the UK, it's generally considered a f**king rude Americanism. Happy Thanksgiving, though.

She and her father look alike
Her and her father look alike

age vs. aged

Which is correct? aged 45 years or over OR aged 45 years or more


Your apology is noted.


Although the addition of "got" may not follow the strictest syntax rules I believe it's use can be justified here because it serves as an intensifier that emphasizes the need to act is greater than the use of "have" alone connotes.
Also, when the contraction "I've" is used then the addition of "got" improves the word structure sonically by preserving the normal rhythm of a sentence because the contraction works as a single word that serves as the noun, or rather, pronoun of the sentence and leaves a need for another verb.

@WW Sorry, I assumed 'cacography' was just a made-up word - it's all Greek to me ;}

@jayles - OK, let's deal with cacography first. Yes, literally, in Greek, it means what you say, and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition, but it also seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least in linguistics:

"Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour similar to malapropism ... A common usage of cacography is to caricature illiterate speakers." Wikipedia.

Languages are creative like that, giving new meanings to adopted words, and so HS was perfectly correct.

You ask HS why he is resorting to Greek. But I could also ask why these (for me, at least) weird Anglish-inspired words have been noticeably creeping back into your own comments recently ("spider-dread" - come on, get real!). For me they have even less to do with natural English than Greek loan words, and I very much doubt that "normal people" have much time for them either.

English is a glorious mix - and I relish it. I have no objection to keeping things simple, but personally I hate this idea of language purism as much as I hate pedantry. Leave the language alone, it's just fine as it is!

I wouldn't have mentioned this if you hadn't brought the subject up :). And as for Stephen Fry, he has made one of the best commentaries on English I've ever seen: