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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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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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Is separating two coordinating-conjunction-linked sentences, the former having a comma(s), with a semicolon instead of a comma logically justified?

In GrammarBook.com’s Semicolons category, Rule 5. reads:

Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence.

Examples: When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.

If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.

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Why is the term “attorneys general” correct? It used to be “attorney generals” ... There are multiple attorney generals.

If I was describing a group of Army generals, I wouldn’t say “Armies General” ... would I?

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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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Latest Comments

Computer mouses or computer mice?

  • Brus
  • October 1, 2016, 9:51am

First it was called a mouse because it looked like a mouse, then 'they' thought up a suitable acronym. Of course the plural, should it ever be needed, is "mice", for 'mouses' sounds plain silly. The same applies to goose-geese, and your man who says it is "not acceptable" seems, as it were, to be shooting from the hip: being authoritarian but quoting no authority and using terminology which has a whiff of political correctness about it in its dogmatism. Humourless, too. 'Gooses' is a verb, and renders uncomfortable its use in the context suggested. So I say the plural form of the noun is 'geese' as always.

The handle of a tailor's smoothing iron is a goose. The word geese is NOT acceptable as the plural. In this case the plural of goose is GOOSES. So, I vote for mouses !

On Tomorrow

I live is south Louisiana and I hear it more and more. It's driving me nuts.

attorneys general vs. attorney generals

  • jdjay
  • September 28, 2016, 1:04pm

Isn't "General" a rank rather than an adjective. The AG is the top ranking government attorney and not some general purpose "JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES" . Are we really supposed to say Postmasters General, etc.?

It seems to me that the premise of this assertion is entirely false. The British do use plurals where North Americans tend to use singulars. Words such as family and staff are commonly construed as being plural in Britain. This is not a new phenomenon. I think the import part is to be consistent and to be attuned to one's audience.

No Woman No Cry

It's a purely political song about the subjugation of Jamaica by the British. "Woman" is "Queen".

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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)