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

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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?

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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.

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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)”?

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Latest Comments

Is it just me, or is the spacing between 'Pig' and 'and' and 'and' and 'And' and 'And' and 'and' and 'and' and 'And' and 'And' and 'and' and 'and' and 'Whistle' just a little bit off...?

Proper usage of “as such”

  • ggh
  • April 29, 2016, 12:45pm

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History of “-ish”

@Philip
Never seen or heard "ish" used in the manner you describe.
In my experience it's more commonly used to mean "around" or "about", as in "What time will you arrive?" "12ish"

History of “-ish”

  • Philip
  • April 25, 2016, 10:57pm

Yes. Sorry for the confusion.
What I mean by "ish" is the "ish" I saw on a note fastened to a local store's locked entrance door that claimed they would return in fifteen"ish" minutes to reopen. I have also experienced the statement made, "That's cool'ish'". When I asked someone where something that I was looking for was I received the answer, "it's around'ish'". I understand its meaning but why the need for it? Is it laziness? Has it become so pop culture that now it is in common use in our languages? Do we fear committing to the very statements we make? "Ish" to me implies a lack of confidence. Call me old fashioned, but when a store owner used to claim they would return in fifteen minutes they, more often than not, would. But a store owner claiming to return in fifteen'ish' minutes means they could either return in fifteen, twenty, thirty or sixty minutes. There seems to be no accountability in "ish".

History of “-ish”

Just to be clear: we are not discussing the "-ish" ending of words like abolish, punish, which comes from French.
"-ish" in the sense of "somewhat" is recorded in the OED as far back as 1894/1916
The alternative is to use the French version: "-esque" .
"Ish" has become a new standalone word in British English, meaning somewhat.

I will be honest and say that I have no academic background in the use of words, grammar or punctuation, that is aside from a high school diploma that I barely acquired in my youth. In fact, in almost everything that I have typed, am typing and will type, it will be quite understandable if one was to find a multiple amount of errors. I have probably proven this within the few sentences that I have written here. However, this does not stop me from trying, nor does it stop me from learning. I love to learn about words, their history and their origins. Before I research, when I come across a word that I do not know I first guess at it's story and then search it out. So allow me to try that here with the word 'of'

Now I could be completely wrong or I could be on to something. When I think of 'of', I think of it in relation to a subject or topic. When we say "How bad of a decision" the of refers to the particular decision. If we were to say "How bad a decision" there is more ambiguity as to what decision is being referenced. "How bad a decision?" could be any decision, whereas "How bad of a decision?" is more specific to the situation at hand. "A decision" is more abstract and free. "'Of' a decision" is a little more concrete and belonging to. Call me crazy or just plain wrong, but hey I got to play in the world of words for but a few moments.

Someone asked me how to respond to a text message (from a prospective employer) which began "Hey John" .
My usual advice is use whatever they do - use "Dear" if they do, and "Hi" if they do - but, hey, "Hey" sounded just too informal, and "Dear" too formal, so the solution was "Hi " + first name.
"Hey" is NOT the same as 'Hello' or 'Hi'

I wonder if it does not stem even further back to ancient Hebrew or ancient Semitic language. From my understanding the letter "hey" represents the divine breath or revelation. So "hey" would be a revealing of oneself, in this case God, to that of others via divine breath. We are aware of the others presence when we see them move(like breathing) and communicate, but we say they are not with us when they cease to do so (i.e. death). So when we express "hey" we are actually calling peoples attention to the fact that we are present and breathing, we are indeed alive. It is also a recognition to the other that we are aware of them also. It is a very old custom of greeting that brings attention to one another, that makes aware that each breathes and that each is acknowledged. It is really a relational word, that has perhaps taken on, unfairly, negative meanings.

how do I type out or write 1 and 42 hundredths percent