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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 have an ear for when people use bad grammar, especially the use of prepositions at the end of a clause. I was recently watching a show, however, and a character said “Toys are meant to be played with.” What is the correct wording of this phrase? It is killing me.

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Can “box turtles can live for 80 years” be written “box turtles can live 80 years”? What about “I ran 13 minutes” instead of “I ran for 13 minutes”? Are the foregoing examples still proper English?

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Which is correct : 

My writing books proves I am an entrepreneur. 

Me writing books proves I am an entrepreneur. 

ME or MY ? Both sentences are awkward, yes, but which sentence is grammatically correct?

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In the sentence “Karen is the taller of her and Lin”, why is the pronoun ‘her’ used (as opposed to ‘she’)? I would have thought that, since Karen is the subject of the sentence, the appropriate pronoun would be ‘she’? This sentence comes out of the Institute of Professional Editors Accreditation Exam, so I can only assume that it is correct. Thanks to anyone who can help!

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The following sentence is taken from Advanced English CAE: 

Within seconds Barry, who was wearing enormous rubber boots, had tied a rope to the front bumper of the car and was pulling it out with the tractor.

I’d say: 

Within seconds Barry, who was wearing enormous rubber boots, tied a rope to the front bumper of the car and pulled it out with the tractor. 

Any opinions?

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I recommend that you do not take this pill.

I recommend that your wife does not take this pill.

I recommend that you not take this pill.

I recommend that your wife not take this pill.

Are all four sentences correct English? Do many native American/British English speakers use verb forms like in the first two sentences?

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I am sure most of us will agree that “from” is the only preposition which should follow the word “different”. However it would be interesting to hear logical argument from those who favour others such as “to” and “than”.

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Shouldn’t “who are you?” be “whom are you?” and “who is this?” be “whom is this?”

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My co workers and I are in disagreement over how a phrase should be worded using proper English in the legal documents we type into our computer system.

If one were to say (using proper English) that John Smith used to own a piece of property would one say:

“The current tenant states that John Smith IS the previous owner of 2400 Green Cir.”

OR would one say:

“The current tenant states that John Smith WAS the previous owner of 2400 Green Cir.”

Which way is correct? And WHY (please explain why the correct way is correct--what rules apply, etc.).

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In English, there are comparisons and superlatives for some colours. Take for example: black, blacker, blackest; blue, bluer, bluest.

How about other colours like silver and gold/golden?

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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.