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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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There are all sorts of things I believed in then which I don’t believe in now, and language rules set in stone is/are (?) one of them.

My feeling is that ‘is’ is OK here, since ‘language rules set in stone’ is one of a list of things I once believed in, and ‘are’ would grate with ‘one’. What do you think?

NB This is purely a grammar question, not one about my beliefs, which I know some of you will strongly disagree with. There will no doubt be plenty of other occasions to cross swords over them.

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What type of words are respectively ‘-ward/s’-suffixable and ‘un[...]worthy’-affixable?

In oxforddictionaries.com/definition/-ward, ‘-ward/s’ is a ‘suffix added to nouns of place or destination and to adverbs of direction’.

In that case, are the examples ‘Richard the Lionheart travelled Jerusalemwards’, ‘Zoroastrians pray flameward’ and ‘John looked Sunward and was briefly blinded’ correct, meaning ‘Richard the Lionheart travelled towards Jerusalem’, ‘Zoroastrians pray toward flame’ and ‘John looked toward the Sun [...]’ respectively? If not, why?

Also, are ‘unswimworthy’, ‘unwatchworthy’ and ‘unbuyworthy’ correct, meaning the thing mentioned is worth/deserves swimming, watching and buying respectively?

Insofar as ‘un[...]worthy’ is affixed to a verb when meaning ‘worth/deserving’, is it correct? If not, why?

I’m aware ‘-worthy’’s meaning can be different when affixed to a noun, so I only asked if with verbs, where the meaning is consistent (=worth/deserving), it is correct.

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Since ‘of’ is possessive, is writing ‘the Ark of the Covenant’, ‘Book of Ezekiel’, ‘Robin of Locksley’ and ‘Joan of Arc’ respectively as ‘the Covenant’s Ark’, ‘Ezekiel’s Book’, ‘Locksley’s Robin’ and ‘Arc’s Joan’ correct? If not, why?

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Is ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’ correct English?

Since ‘You have no idea where they live’’s and ‘You have nothing better to do’’s respective inquisitive forms—‘Have you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Have you nothing better to do?’, their past tense forms being ‘Had you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Had you nothing better to do?’—are correct, following the same logic, isn’t ‘He had breakfast this morning’’s inquisitive form, ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’, likewise correct?

Please read the full question. I’m looking for a logically (hopefully) justified answer. The more informative the answer is, the better.

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A question about time expressions with the past perfect tense: I realise “by the time” is a time expression used with the past perfect but in this sentence: “By the time he arrived at school, the lesson had finished” , why is “by the time” next to the verb in the past tense (arrived) as if it is refering to that verb rather than to the one in the past perfect (had finished)?

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In English, I know it’s perfectly correct/proper/formal to, for lack of a better word, ‘‘shorten’’ phrases and sentences in a certain way in some cases as in ‘Be that true, ...’ (= ‘If that is true, ...’), ‘if need be’ (= ‘if it is necessary’), ‘come what may’ (‘regardless of what may come/happen’) etc.

So, I’m wondering if similar rules apply to ‘Why be anonymous?’, ‘Why so excited/angry/etc?’ and ‘Why the question?’ as well as to ‘Haven’t you anything better to do?’ and ‘Have you any idea [...]?’, which I also hear a lot from seemingly formal English-speakers. Are they correct English?

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I did a search and came up with nothing relating to the use of “enamored”. I am seeing, more and more often, “enamored with” and “enamored by” when I was taught that it is correctly “enamored of”.

I just opened the latest issue of Cook’s Country magazine and this quote jumped out at me: “[...]Americans became enamored with international cooking.” Is this correct? Am I just a purist who needs to lighten up?

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J.K .Rowling always wanted to be an author.
J.K. Rowling had always wanted to be an author.
J.K. Rowling has always wanted to be an author.

I assume “has always wanted” is incorrect because she became an author. Please, which one is proper?

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Is it “8 inches is” or “8 inches are”?

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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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Latest Comments

eat vs. have breakfast

  • Rukfas
  • October 17, 2017, 5:16pm

I have another question, but related to this: is the word breakfast a verb? That is, can we say 'I breakfasted eggs this morning.'? Or for that matter, can we say '- What are you doing? -I'm breakfasting,' instead of 'I'm having a breakfast.'? Thanks

Complete Sentence

Is asking "John Smith?" a full sentence?

agree the terms

Finebetty's research seems to settle the question. But as an American user of the language I will not be saying "agree the terms" anytime soon.

The reason the verb "to be" is an exception is that its meaning makes it equivalent to an equal sign. "It is I." means: It = I.

Both "It" and "I" are co-equal subjects of the sentence. There is no object. The subject of a sentence, in this case both subjects, require the nominative case.

Contrast this with the sentence : "It hit me." The subject "it" acts upon the object "me," so the objective case is required.

Another example of the exception with the verb "to be", which may be surprising, is: "It was we." This is the correct usage for the same reason, however in common usage, most people say, "It was us," which is technically incorrect.

agree the terms

'Agree' can be used intransitively and transitively. According to Merriam Webster, your example is "chiefly British" - which I guess means it does come up but is rare in the US whereas it is standard in British English (and not "bad form" at all, please note that 'agree to the terms' changes the meaning, 'agree on or upon' is the only option here).
Oxford dict:
2.1 with object Reach agreement about (something) after negotiation.
‘if they had agreed a price the deal would have gone through’
no object ‘the commission agreed on a proposal to limit imports’
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/agree

MW:
transitive verb
2. chiefly British: to settle on by common consent
e.g. … I agreed rental terms with him … —Eric Bennett
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agree

(the 'before' in your example does not belong to 'agreed' of course - i.e., it means 'must be agreed upon before...')

Worst Case or Worse Case

  • Eric F
  • October 11, 2017, 2:39pm

"worse-case" is a comparison between TWO degrees of tribulation. Which one of the TWO options is worse than the other?
"worst-case" implies that there are many degrees of tribulation, and it is the worst of many options.

For LaurenBC: I find it's useful to read previous comments before posting. For example, Warsaw Will on June 6, 2014, contributed a lengthy discussion of the idiom's history and defense which included the fact that it's been seen in British written texts as early as 1859.

So the phrase is not of recent origin and is now widely accepted. I think fewer folks are bothered by it than by, say, the use of multiple question marks (or exclamation points in declarative sentences) in online posts.

“went missing/gone missing”?

This expression (and its variations) drives me crazy. It’s right up there with “the reason being” instead of “the reason is” or, more simply, “because “!

The English language is getting slaughtered ????

Lego (the bricks) should be lego in both singular and plural, like fish or sheep.

Word in question: Conversate

douglas.bryant

In your rush to discredit 'conversate' you're grossly misusing 'dialectical':

dialectical | ˌdīəˈlektək(ə)l |
adjective
1 relating to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions: dialectical ingenuity.
2 concerned with or acting through opposing forces: a dialectical opposition between social convention and individual libertarianism.