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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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“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?

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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.

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“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?

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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.”

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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”.

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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.”

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“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.

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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?

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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?

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While/among/amid vs whilst/amongst/amidst 

Which of the foregoing variants is older?

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Latest Comments

Someone else’s

"Else" can be an adjective or adverb, we can agree. But would it be improper to recognize certain usages as being an indefinite noun, or as a compound noun as in "somewhere" (both an adverb and a noun) as it relates to "somewhere else"? Both are indefinite places, only "somewhere else" is an indefinite place other than the indefinite place referred to as "somewhere". Is one of those more definite than the other? A mathematician using logic and set theory might give a different answer than a grammarian. But either way it seems like a trivial question of no substantive import.
Maybe we can accept variations of syntax and spelling as having a preferred status (according to the source) without the requirement that one form be labeled incorrect from a literary or scholarly perspective. Sure makes life a little easier and less contentious, unless one is obsessively compelled to accept only black-and-white, all-or-nothing single versions, which gets really complicated since most words have more than one definition. The bottom line is whether the message is easily understood by all or most readers, (and whether there are any penalties or adverse consequences which an administrative authority may impose). And if it has the additional factors of consistency and commonly accepted versions, so much the better. Eventually, most languages undergo changes in some way or else another. (I refuse to even try to analyze that usage.)

In 1826 it occurs in print here:
Hearings Before Subcommittee No. 3 of TheCommittee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Eighty-first Congress,

as "I'm just saying that this is ridiculous and unfair".

As a stand-alone sentence, possibly about 1936.

http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/de...
identical adjective
BrE /aɪˈdentɪkl/ ; NAmE /aɪˈdentɪkl/

*similar in every detail
*a row of identical houses
*The two pictures are similar, although not identical.
*identical to somebody/something: Her dress is almost identical to mine.
*identical with somebody/something: The number on the card should be identical with the one on the chequebook.
Cheerio! :)

“ask the gays”

Technically the grammar is ok; it is just that by using "the" one almost tends to suggest that all gays are one homogenous group who think alike. There is a discussion about this here:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=26223

I'm not at all surprised that no one cited from Oscar Horace's second (1913) publication, "Word and Phrase Sources and Usage: Adjectival and Advebial Etymologies and Preposition Connectors," which he dedicated to his father, Horatio, and his daughter, Amelia.

Horace explains the French usages, as for instance ), "Je suis amoureaux d'Amelia.," of which the English translation is, "I am enamored of Amelia."

He was greatly surprised that, born of the English casual pronunciation of that phrase, an artisan created a tiny glazed bird he called the "Enamor Dove," to be used when words fail the suitor who wants her to be apprised of the depth of his love for her. (In marketing the artisan, at fairs, emphasized that the Enamor Dove exemplifies a a level of courtship that is far beyond the turtle dove stage).

Anyway, the Enamored Dove was oft-bought throughout the British Isles.

And, explains Horace, the product increased the popular usage of "I am enamored of."

Ultimately, Horace's 13 volumes of his word-usage explanations were replaced by more recent books authored by others beginning in the 1880s. Nothing replaced the Enamored Dove, and it was soon forgotten. Foolishly, Horace was against copyrighting and his volumes were not reprised. Libraries, always in need of shelf space, discarded the Horace 13 volumes or stacked them in their basement. Apparently, none of them now exists, either.

Luckily, a friend from Cambridge U, Divad Saratla, visited Washington, DC and was introduced at a party to a huge defensive lineman and they became fast friends. When David learned about his new friend's verbal deficiencies caused by dyslexia, he showed one of the Horace volumes to him, of which the football player became enamored. David gave to him all 13 of the Horace volumes.

I have no idea if any volumes are extant. After years of contacting the usual suspects (forgive me, Sam), and as I now unable to continue, I suppose that Horace's works, to the extent some still may exist, are lodging in a few private homes.

Cheers,
JuTep

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • doug
  • July 19, 2016, 6:12pm

Speedwell - I understand "affected overcorrectness" and "we don't use accent marks in English." But it's nice to have a clear difference between "re-zoom" and "rez-oo-may," and the accents clearly eliminate any ambiguity.

Pled versus pleaded

In court, it is common for attorneys and judges to state someone "pled guilty" in the past. I was a criminal prosecutor as well as defense attorney for years and I rarely heard the utterance, "pleaded," in oral discourse. I'm not sure what global marketplace carries more weight than daily use in the courtroom.

Hi all vs. Hi everybody

I have never understood why we address "Dear". I prefer using it only for personal mails only. Like family and friends. Refering to the discussion here may I suggest "Hello xyz team" on professional mails. Usage of "Hello all" is certainly not the correct way but a more assimilated and tolerated approach.

Is “much” plural?

please

Past tense of “text”

  • Melony
  • July 14, 2016, 8:45pm

I can not bring myself to say "texted". It sounds grammatically incorrect. I use "text", in past, present and future conversations. It may not be correct, but I have not found anything to say what "is" grammatically correct. I will continue my way until it is proven wrong!