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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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I was quite comfortable with the concept of direct and indirect speech that had been drummed into my head by a succession of teachers at the schools I attended in the 50s and 60s.

However the term “indirect speech”, like so many other facets of the English language, has now apparently undergone a change.

At least that is what one noted linguist would have us believe.

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As in: the pie charts give information about the water used for residential, industrial and agricultural purposes ...

To me, “give” here sounds crude, as if the writer could not come up with the right verb; whereas “provide” sounds more appropriate, albeit just a bit high official. 

So in an English exam I would have to mark the writer down? Am I correct in my thinking?

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“I had a talk with so and so,” is a common phrase, so I would imagine that “I had a small talk with so and so,” is equally correct. But “small talk” appears to be treated as an uncountable noun most of the time. Is it countable or uncountable? If both, in what contexts does it become one or the other?

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I’ve been listening to Van Morrison’s “Friday’s Child” for quite some time now because I love this song so much. I tried to look up the meaning of ” Friday’s Child” but onbly found a reference to an old rhyme. Can anybody tell me the meaning of the saying “Friday’s Child” and when and why it is used? Many thanks.

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This sentence:

“By securing a permanent US commitment to the defence of all its members from 1949 onwards, Nato changed the calculus confronting potential aggressors.”

appeared in this Daily Telegraph article.

I think I grasp what the author is getting at, but it does seem a most unusual and perhaps incorrect use of “calculus.”

Or am I behind the times once again?

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Can anyone tell me when and how the adding of “ish” to the end of words got started? Do we lack such confidence in ourselves that we need to add “ish” like a disclaimer to our own words? When has the word become not word enough?

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Why do people feel it necessary to add “of” to some phrases?

For example:

How big of a problem.
How long of a wait.
How bad of a decision.

Seems rather a waste of time.

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When including a complete sentence in parentheses, what are the rules? For example, someone just sent me this in an email:

“I always change some of the readings from semester to semester (for example, I am trying out the book on migration for the first time this semester and am not sure if I will keep it in the Fall).”

But I could just as easily see it written this way:

“I always change some of the readings from semester to semester. (For example, I am trying out the book on migration for the first time this semester and am not sure if I will keep it in the Fall.)”

Are both acceptable? Is one preferred? 

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I would like to know if it is correct to use the adjective “key” predicatively. I was taught that this word is like the adjective “main,” which can only be used in the attributive position. I’ve seen sentences like “This is key to the success of the plan,” but I remember typing something similar and the word processor marked it immediately as wrong. I think both “key” and “main” are special, (irregular, if you want) adjectives (in fact, they have no comparative forms) and feel they should be treated accordingly. I’ve never seen something like “This book is main in our course.” We will normally say “This is the main book in our course.” Thank you for your help!

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Could somebody please explain the problem with “as such”? I understand the frustration with its incorrect usage as a synonym for “therefore” or “thus”, but the response thereagainst wants to banish its usage entirely. I am confident that I am using it correctly, but I am constantly being directed to remove it from my papers nevertheless. Could you explain its proper usage?

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Latest Comments

X and S

How do I make the name Fox in possessive plural form?
Ex. Ms. Fox' instructional practices... or Ms. Fox's instructional practices...

He was sat

  • Marusja
  • February 17, 2017, 7:04am

I can see that there is a long and diverse discussion on here, but my response is to you Brus, hailing from the British Isles. The epidemic as you rightly describe it, seems to be spreading contagion like from the BBC and into written material. "I was sat" and "we were stood" are examples of colloquial terms from the North of England. Dialects are unique to an area and rich in expression when used in an authentic way and don't appear out of place.

The reason we may be startled by the sudden introduction of such vernacular is due to it simply being out of place when spoken by someone who has been educated in the Queen's English. It rankles because it is wrong in our ears. Unfortunately, this is a legacy of inverted class snobbery whereby some people think that they should downgrade the language in order not to sound 'posh'. It backfires spectacularly though upon them when they try so hard to fit in with the crowd, rather than represent the side of 'well spoken'. I cringe whenever I hear these dialects out of place, not just because of the infringement but also because it doesn't sound beautiful or harmonious, but clumsy.

My mother couldn't speak English when she arrived in the country shortly after WW2. By listening to the radio and armed with a dictionary and the daily newspaper, she taught herself through these mediums. Later she read to us as children and took us to the library, where I inherited a love of the language, reading several books a week by the time I was 7 years old.

Although we lived in the Midlands, I didn't have a regional accent since my exposure early on had been to programmes such as 'Women's Hour' and radio presenters in those days all and without fail spoke to a standard considered appropriate. After all, they were communicating to all and needed to be understood widely.

On passing the eleven plus exam and entering Grammar school, we had a Headmaster and a Head Mistress. Miss Simister had a passion for the English language and heaven forbid any pupil who might drop an H or flatten a vowel. I felt right at home there.

It wasn't about being elite, it was about learning and knowledge. It was about aiming for excellence and drawing out the best in oneself.

Miss Simister would turn in her grave were she to hear the downfall of the language. As someone born and raised in the UK, I can assure you that the standards have slipped considerably. It isn't possible for someone learning the language to be sure that they are being taught English correctly if studying here.

I am not speaking out against dialects as they remain an integral part of our culture. To introduce a convoluted invasion however into received pronunciation is noticeably discordant, drawing attention in the wrong way. It becomes an interruption and tunes out whatever the speaker might be conveying.

There is hope though. Apparently when asked, people do prefer the sublime eloquence of the spoken word as voiced by Joanna Lumley and Diana Rigg, recognizing these dulcet tones to be vehicles of quality, easy on the ear and without question completely trustworthy ambassadors of English in all its glory.

No Woman No Cry

It means, if the woman is gone, there will be no tears. It is a reference to the queen and her rule of Jamaica at the time. It's a political song.

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fill in the blanks!

  • Sheri
  • February 15, 2017, 4:23pm

I have a release of all claims and above the notary & witness signatures, there is this statement:
WITNESS___________ hand and seal this ______ day of _________, 2017; what is put in after WITNESS?

Idea Vs. Ideal

  • FrankR
  • February 14, 2017, 9:18pm

I think that using ideal when idea should be the correct word is a silly way to speak. I hear ideal used incorrectly all the time, it really gets on my nerves. Oh well...

How many “ands” in a row

  • Josh S.
  • February 13, 2017, 3:18pm

Wouldn't it have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Peg, and between Peg and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Whistle, as well as after whistle?" This sentence is much easier to read because the writer placed commas between and and and and and and And, and and and and And and and And and and, and and And and and and and and and And, and and and and And and and And and and, and and And and and and and and and.

Twice what it was (= 2x).

He was sat

  • marie
  • February 13, 2017, 1:14pm

Sorry, but your argument doesn't make sense to me. If you were teaching science you would give your students the correct formula. I think the tragedy is that in the UK grammar hasn't been taught for so long, a lot of people who try to teach English don't understand enough to do this effectively. I certainly wouldn't have any respect for a teacher who didn't teach me correctly.

This website was really useless and was no help to me. All I wanted to know was the tension/stress of totalitarianism and it did not give me anything. This website is useless ad it should be taken down. It will be know help to anyone.

Thank You