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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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Has someone decided that some prepositions and conjunctions are no longer required, and that dates shall no longer be denoted by using words like first second and third?

Is this just another step toward abbreviating  speech and writing to the level of English used on mobile phone text messages?

Is there something wrong in saying, or writing, the following:-

‘December the third (or 3rd.)’ as opposed to ‘December three (3).’

‘The third (3rd) of December.’ » ‘Three (3) December’

‘I’ll see you on Wednesday’ » ‘ I’ll see you Wednesday’

‘In a conference on Monday..’  »  ‘In a conference Monday...’

‘One hundred and twenty’ » ‘One hundred twenty’

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Dear Sirs, I read your post on “I was/ I were”.  I found it very helpful, resuscitating memories of English classes. I’m still not sure if I should use “was” or “were” in this sentence, below. 

“And if anyone else were to peek, they would see the bear cubs looking fast asleep, dreaming of all the things they loved.”

The “anyone else” might be peeking and might not be peeking. We don’t know. “were” sounds better to my ear, but my MS Word has it underlined in green. Who is correct? Me or the machine?

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Is it really correct to say such  a thing as, “We are waiting on your mother,” when referring to the anticipation of the arrival of someone’s mother?  It would seem to me that it would be more appropriate, if not more comfortable (at least for the lady), to “wait for your mother.”

One can wait on the corner, and one can wait on a table (if that is his profession), but does one really want to wait on his dinner? 

It seems to me that the preposition “from”  has been replaced by “on” when used in conjunction with the word “wait.”

It makes me cringe! Lately, I’ve heard it so often, I must look like a victim of St. Vitus Dance!

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I noticed in reports of the recent GOP debate a number of instances where the phrase “Person A debated Person B.” was used rather than “Person A debated with Person B.” Is this common in USA?

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Is it escaped prison or escaped from prison?

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Is this not just perpetuating the English caste system? 

Why are words like “a lot of”, ” a bit of”, “get” considered lower-class words and “a great deal/number of” and similar cumbersome periphrases considered “better” ?

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For instance: “We need to do everything we can prevention-wise.”

Other similar words: taxwise, money-wise, property-wise, food-wise

I realise there has been resistance to indiscriminate usage; the question is really about what constitutes “indiscriminate”?

Secondly, why the prejudice against what is a productive and concise suffix, when the alternative phrases are cumbersome and pretentious.

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How do we justify “a” with a non-count noun such as “...to have a knowledge of Latin...” ?

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Can anyone tell me why the second ‘a’ in Canada and Canadian is pronounced differently? 

I’m English/British and I and from England/Britain.

Surely it should either be Can-a-da & Can-a-dian or Can-ay-da & Can-ay-dian...

My guess is it has something to do with the French influence, but I would love to know for sure.

Here in the UK our language has been heavily influenced over the years, including by the French and it has always interested where these things start or change.

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In my opinion,  the greatest pain in the English language is the so-called Tenses.

Generation after generation, grammarians and linguists have been trying to use the term for describing how English Verb System works writing more and more wise books on the subject, without any visible results.

Millions of ESL/EFL learners find Tenses to be hopelessly tangled, confusing and totally incomprehensible. So do a great number of ESL/EFL teachers.

And it is no wonder, because describing English grammar as having only past and present is like trying to describe a car as having three wheels. 

I think  that English can do perfectly well without “Tenses” because it is a meaningless and therefore useless term.

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Latest Comments

Someone else’s

The grammar patterns of Courts Martial, Judge Advocates General, etc. would seem to agree. In example, those who pass flatulence would be "gas passers" or passers of gas, just as passers by, which is short for an entire phrase "passers by the side of [implied or mentioned object]" is different. However, "someone else" appears to hearken back to a more Germanic form of grammar, rather than the French Norman with its Latin influence. If this is the origin of the phrase, then using the entire phrase as a single noun or idea would be appropriate. In this case, where both words originate from the Germanic, it would be "someone else's". The Germans frequently abbreviate such phrases where they become excessively long, but in their original were written as one word using their cursive. In school I studied French, Classical Latin, and German enough to become aware that our aggregatenous language has so many exceptions because of those origins. (I have dabbled with Gaelic which is as far as I can tell the source of split infinitives.)

Someone else’s

The easiest way to avoid the use of "someone else's" (which is grammatically incorrect), is to put the NOUN, with which you are linking the possessive, FIRST in the sentence.
For example: "It was someone else's fault." (incorrect)
"It was the fault of someone else." (correct)
This works every time when you write, but for conversational speech, "someone else's" is the common usage. However, if you are quoting what was spoken by someone else, then you would want to quote it exactly.

@Lisa: biennial

What happens if you skip a year?

I'd say that when using the % sign it would be "between 40% and 50%" but when spelling it out "between 40 and 50 percent" would be adequate.

It depends on what you are writing. In a legal document one might spell it out unambiguously as "between forty percent and fifty percent". Elsewhere omitting the first percentage sign may well be clear enough.

There is a good explanation of mixed conditionals here:
http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.nz/2011/...

If I remember correctly, there is a comment in Michael Lewis's "Lexical Approach" (1993) that in conditional sentence one just uses the appropriate tense and modal. If we construe "would" as a modal subjunctive indicating a counter-factual situation, and "have been" as a perfect infinitive indicating the situation is in the past, then this does not sit well with the time adverb "today".

However, I do believe that in some areas, such as Quebec, usage may be different, so there may be some wiggle-room here.

Where are the commas?

  • dionne
  • March 21, 2017, 1:35pm

I was lead to believe it was Sally.

As far as I can discern, it is neither impolite nor polite. However, it is incorrect. "Can I get [something]?" implies that the person is asking whether it is possible that they, themselves, are able to go and fetch or obtain something e.g. "Can I get petrol there?" or because they are asking whether another person would like something that they could obtain on their behalf, for example "Can I get you a drink?"

If they are asking a waiter, bartender, shop assistant or other person serving if they would go and fetch something for them on their behalf, they should ask the question "May I have/can I have/could I have" and similar variants preferably with "please" in there somewhere!

I am wondering how you say this percentage in words:
.00011 percent.
Is it something like:
One hundredth and one thousandth of one percent??

I am trying to show how SMALL 1100 parts per billion is...

Thank you,

Joanna