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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 imagine everyone uses an apostrophe with expressions of distance or time when the number is one:

It’s only an hour’s drive from here.
They live a mile’s walk away.
A stone’s throw away.

It follows that an apostrophe should also be used in the plural version, as stipulated by, amongst others, The Guardian and Economist style guides:

It’s three hours’ drive from here.
They live two miles’ walk away.

I notice the apostrophe is often dropped here, so my question is this - do you think the apostrophe:

is always optional?
is only necessary in formal writing?
is always necessary?

or that there is some other grammatical explanation that makes the apostrophe unnecessary?

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Why, for a task, can we take it on, or put it off But for clothing we take it off and put it on?

(background: I am an American living in Hungary, so teaching/correcting English comes up a lot, and many here learn British English, so even I learn new words. People here often mix up the words for “put on” your clothes or “take off” clothes. They’ll say put off your jacket, or take on your shoes, etc. This became an embarrassingly awkward situation yesterday when I had to get an x-ray and ultrasound, and the tech didn’t speak very good English. She told me to undress everything, but then said I could take on my trousers, or put off something, and I really had no idea how “undressed” I had to get. I was thinking of how to explain it, that putting should be away from you, and taking should be towards you... but when it comes to clothing, we use the opposite - put ON and take OFF. Unless we’re taking it OUT of a closet and putting it AWAY. aaahh!!!)

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I’m all for the metric system, and I’m sure a lot of British schoolchildren would be well pissed off if UKIP’s idea of restoring the imperial system ever came to fruition. But I do find sentences like this, in a item on the BBC website, rather strange and unnatural:

Mr Teller says the first question is not “How can we make a tonne of money?”

I know that tonne is our unit of measurement now, but does it have to take over our idioms as well, especially as this is probably more of an American idiom anyway (I think we Brits would be more likely to say ‘ton(ne)s of money’)?

The following idioms are all listed in British dictionaries with ‘ton’ or ‘tons’:

They came down on him like a ton of bricks.

That bag of yours weighs a ton!

I’ve got tons of work to do.

We’ve got tons of food left over from the party.

I don’t know why the BBC insist on using tonne in idioms. Perhaps they think young people won’t know what a ton is. I say keep the idiomatic ton, and leave tonne for weights. After all people don’t say they’re off to spend a new penny, do they? (Actually I’m not sure anyone says that anymore anyway!)

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I have always believed, probably in common with most Scots, that the pronunciation of “gill” varies depending on whether one is referring to the organ of respiration in fishes and other water-breathing animals ( /ɡɪl/ ), or a measure of liquid (/dʒɪl/ ), or even one of the many other variations of the word. I was therefore somewhat surprised recently when watching an episode of QI to hear the erstwhile Stephen Fry and his guests use /ɡɪl/ for both the fishy organ and the liquid measure..

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As a kid in the ’50s I pronounced the word ‘often’ with the ‘t’ sound until I looked it up and found preferred pronunciation ‘of-en’. Now I always hear it with the ‘t’ pronounced. Did I imagine the change?

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Just what does “You have two choices” actually mean? Since “You have a choice” indicates that more than one option exists, what is “You have two choices” meant to convey?

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Why do we nowadays have to pre-book or pre-order items? Surely we always used to book or order them, and they would be delivered when ready.

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To preface, I have been studying conditionals for the last few days because the grammar book that I used barely mentioned it. Now as the title suggests, I have a question about modal remoteness and tense. My question deals with stories, which are typically in the past tense, and when modality occurs which I should use: second (present time remote) or third (past time remote) conditional. I am unsure of which but am leaning towards third conditional. Which would be used?

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While doing some homework for literature, I constructed these two sentences and was wondering if they can be interpreted differently. The original sentence was the synopsis of “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Poe and started in the present tense, which will also be included because there is a question I have about it.

A1) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that had requested his presence.

A2) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence.

What is the difference in meaning between the above sentences?

The original sentence was:

B) The narrator arrives at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence.

In the sentence, the narrator is currently arriving at the house because he received a letter that requested his presence, which had been sent by Roderick Usher. Does that coincide with the above statement?

For a timeline: Usher sent the letter—> the letter, through Usher’s words request the narrator’s presence—> the narrator’s arrival.

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Selfie becomes a word!

The selfie – defined as ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself’ – has taken off to such a degree in 2013 that the term was last week named Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Progress indeed!

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Latest Comments

It is you who are/is ...

a) "you're" is short for "you are" - "I hope you are well " sounds ok so the answere is "you're".
"Your" sounds the same but indicates possession (compare we - our / you - your) ; "I hope your health is ok" is correct.

b) Who is seeking? Answer: "our client"; singular or plural? = singular; therefore "is" is correct. Thus either: "Our client is seeking" or "Our clients are seeking".

c) "Our client seeks" is fine, just perhaps a little more formal in this context.

Quotation marks for repeated items

  • Dyske
  • February 5, 2016, 10:58am

I think you are referring to "ditto mark". See this Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditto_mark

It is you who are/is ...

I hope you're well? or I hope your well?

It is you who are/is ...

Our client is seeking individuals or our client are seeking individuals or Our client seeks individuals?

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

Resumé would be the international spelling for a document known in America as a CV. This is pronounced the same as café which is also a French word adopted worldwide for a coffee shop. Apparently the English language is spoken in the US also.

Neither do I or me neither are just like informal expressions, actually when someone say like " Me neither " it's the opposit of " Me either " just like that "n" means NOT, but it isn't right to say, " Me not either " Haha, please don't do that! Actually I think that neither do I is a little bit ugly to say, I don't like to use it...

Some people of a certain generation and background (like me) can recall being told at school NEVER to use this so-called "ugly" (ie lower-class) word.
Quite why the word "get" was deemed bad was never explained, and that indeed is the question.
'Get' has been in English an awful long time and is widely used:

etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=get

Nonetheless, for examinations/academic writing I do still teach my students to consider using a more precise word such as "obtain/receive/become", if only to demonstrate a wider lexis.

However there are phrases where "get" is the only natural choice:
"They became married" would sound quite odd.

I would suggest there is little wrong with sentences like "The hard disk got erased by mistake" either, where get=become befits the situation.

As to why "people" use "get" so widely, well I think it might have something to do with it being somehow harder to formulate the sentence without "get" in some situations. But who are these people? Be not peeved, life is too short.

Subjunctive? Yoda speak?

Subjunctive with inversion tends to mean "if" or "though" or "whether" as in:
"Yes, dearest, it is an awful moment to have to give up one's innocent child to a man, be he ever so kind and good..."
"As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, ... " (12th night)

see also :
http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.nz/2011/...

Subjunctive? Yoda speak?

I'd say that your "easy" explanation is more than adequate.

Omitting the “I”

I'd say it's acceptable in all but the "most formal" communications.