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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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Which of the following are okay to you?

a) While roses are red, violets are blue.

b) Whilst roses are red, violets are blue.

c) While some roses are red, many are not.

d) Whilst some roses are red, some are not.

e) Roses are red, whereas violets are blue.

f) Roses are red, while violets are blue.

g) Roses are red, whilst violets are blue.

h) Some roses are red, whilst some are not.

i) Whereas most roses are indeed red, some are not.

j) While I loved my first wife very much, she did in fact become fat.

k) While my first wife did in fact become fat, I still loved her very much.

l) Whilst I loved my first wife very much, she did in fact become fat.

And thus what, to your good mind, is the rule?

And what a pain English is!

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Nowadays one routinely reads such sentences as...

 “The situation transformed into something quite different.”

“That translates as ‘Beware Greeks bearing gifts.’”

It’s a curious phenomenon that the passive is so often ditched. What’s going on?

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I have recently received a number of emails where the phrase “Thank you for reaching out to ___” is used instead of what I would expect to be the normal expression “Thank you for contacting ___”.

These emails are from companies in the USA.

Is “reaching out” now the in vogue expression for the simple act of contacting someone?

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Now, I’ve been rolling this question over for few weeks now. I personally believe whom in the cases, but on we go. After writing most of this, I think [1] should be who now.

The infinitive phrase/clause normally takes the objective case as its “subject”.

“I wanted to meet him.”

Thus, the corresponding interrogative:

“Whom did he want to meet?”

But what happens if you take this construction and use it with a copular verb?

[1] “Who/whom am I to judge.” (?)

[2] “I am who/whom to be.” (?)

Which may correspond to the declarative sentences (U=unacceptable; A=acceptable):

[1a] “I am he to judge.”

[1b] “I am him to judge”

[2a] “I am he to be.”

[2b] “I am him to be.”

[2c] “I am to be he.” (U)

[2d] “I am to be him.”(A)

It is possible to expand them into relative clauses:

[1a'] “I am the person who can judge them.”(A)

[1b'] “I am the person whom can judge.” (U)

[2a'] “I am the person (who) you should be.” (U)

[2b'] “I am the person (whom) you should be.” (A)

The construction has two verb constructions (one copular and the other infinitive) vying for dominance. So thoughts? These conundrums are fascinating and, due to my obsessive-compulsiveness, frustrating. </p>

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I just have the impression that the old proverbs that I heard as a child aren’t heard as much today. People just don’t seem to use them much anymore. 

Of course this is hard to prove: maybe I am not mixing in the right circles; maybe there are newer proverbs that have replaced the older (proverbs change with each generation); maybe the media and/or gurus have picked up some and ignored others; maybe few make into print outside the tabloids and popular magazines. 

As far as the printed word goes, of those I have looked at some seem to peak around the 1930′s and then trail off, only to recover somewhat over the last decade or two. “Actions speak louder than words” was the commonest one I found, 3:1 against “Beggars can not be choosers”.

What is your impression? Is proverb use declining or just new ones becoming popular?

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I’m trying hard to figure out the differences and proper usages of these three particular words (primarily putative vs. supposed). Can putative (-ly) be used in the same spots supposed (-ly) can? What’s the nuance between them?

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I’m having a custom item made to indicate when our home was established.  The year will be the year my husband and I were married and started our family.  My issue is I’m not sure how our name should appear.  Here is the text.


Est. 2008

Our last name is Myers.  Please help!  I’m not sure if it should be possessive (ownership of the home/family) or plural (for the people).

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At the clinic I was directed to the “subwait area” and left to ponder my fate. I did wonder whether this should be sub-wait and how fully portable “sub” has become as a preposition and/or prefix, when attached to a Germanic-rooted word. What other words are there where “sub” is used as an English word, apart from phrases like “sub judice” and “sub” as a short form of “substitute” eg in sport “he was subbed off”?

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Googling for “use my brain” (singular) returns 16 million results whereas “use my brains” (plural) returns 11 million. “Rack my brain” returns 792,000 results, and “rack my brains”, 312,000.

Why do we even consider using “brains” (plural)? What are we trying to say by adding the “s”? Is there any difference in connotations?

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a) “Could I borrow your pen please?”  “Of course.”

b) Teacher: “Did you do your homework?”  Student: “Of course.” 

c)  Interviewee: “May I sit down?”   Interviewer (thinking: what a twit!): “Of course.”

d) Police: “Do you have ID, and license?” Driver: “Of course, officer. Good of you to ask”. 

e) Called from the shower: “Is it raining out?” Spouse: “Of course.” 

f) In hallway to home-comer: “Is it raining out?” Dripping home-comer: “Of course.”

g) At party: “Could I borrow your wife for a quickie?” “Of course.”

h) After party: “Are you coming?” Only sober car-owner/driver: “Of course.” 

i) Boss: “Can you have that report on my desk by 2300?” “Of course.”

Of course it may depend on how it is said, but where would it be dangerously ambiguous?

What alternatives are there which are safer?

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Latest Comments

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:

mixing semicolon and em dash

Not an answer, but a comment on the use of dashes in British English. As far as I know BrE doesn't talk much about em-dashes, for example you won't often see -- (substituting for an em-dash) from British contributors to forums etc. We simply use a dash, in writing the same length as a en-dash, (but on a computer just using a single hyphen), and we put spaces either side - like that, for example. And they don't seem to be used nearly as much as in American English.

From one website on British grammar:

'The double dash encloses supplementary information in the same way as round brackets –
"Alaska – purchased from Russia in 1867 and granted statehood in 1959 – comprises some 586,000 square miles and 624,000 people."
But brackets are preferred in formal scripts.'

This is from the Chicago Manual of Style Online:

"note that it is also the common British practice to use an en dash with a word space on either side where American publishers would use an em dash closed up to the surrounding words"

But I've noticed that the Economist has recently started using M-dashes without gaps. In the online version they are obviously M-dashes, and there's no real problem, but in the print edition they don't seem to be as wide. This is really confusing my students (and me, to be honest), who think they are hyphens, reading the two separate words as one hyphenated word. It turns out that Polish, like British English always uses gaps. I'm beginning to wonder about other European languages. WW will have to investigate!