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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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What is an infinitive without “to”?

He need not wait. or He needs not wait.

Can you explain more about this?

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In one of the discussions here, Brian W. tells me that the following sentence is wrong:

“This is one of the most common errors people make…”

He says it should be: “One of the more common…”

He explains:

Proper use of ‘most’ requires the size of the set in which the subject is a member: “one of the 10 most.” Without a numeric qualifier, all but the last are potentially included in the set “one of the most.” That (unfortunately) makes it as meaningful as “up to 10… or more!”

Now, is this a grammatical issue or stylistic issue? I see “one of the most” being used quite often.

As a side note, in Japanese, “one of the most” would be an oxymoron because the concept of “most” implies that it is at the top of the list, that is, there is only one thing that could be “most” or “best”. I remember feeling awkward about the phrase “one of the most” when I was first learning English.

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What is it called when a verb is no longer the process of doing, but the process of being something? Is it still simply just a verb?

Sorry for the lack of example, it was troubling me late last night, if i still remembered the word, i probably wouldn’t be asking this question.

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This is one of the most common errors people make, and I frequently come across people arguing about it. The explanations of how to use them properly are easy to find, but the conceptual difference between the two does not seem to stick in people’s mind. The confusion comes from the fact that “effect” can be used as a verb, although it’s rare. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be any confusion (i.e. “effect” = noun and “affect” = verb). To make it worse, “effect” used as a verb is pretty close in meaning to “affect”. And, if that’s not confusing enough, “affect” can also be used as a noun, and it’s also similar in meaning to “effect” as a noun.

So, the only way to get the hang of using them properly is to see actual examples. While I was arguing about this with a friend of mine, I came across this quiz that tests your ability to use “effect” and “affect” properly. I’m curious how well or badly everyone does on this quiz.

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So I frequently write headlines such as “Manchester United are in the quarter-finals” but I always wonder if it should actually be “Manchester United is in the quarter-finals”. I think I actually use them interchangeably depending on what mood I’m in. I guess the question is whether a soccer team is a group of players (”are”) or if it’s an entity (”is”). Which is it?

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I cannot stand when people say “sleep” instead of “asleep”. For example I’ve heard, “When I got home, he was sleep on the couch”. What is this laziness of not saying ASLEEP?? I have lived in the North all of my life, and most recently moved to the south. This must be some sort of “southern dialect”, annoying to say the least....Has anyone else encountered this?

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Which would be correct? There ARE progress and improvements. There IS progress and improvements.

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This is what I’d like to have engraved on a memorial brick, but the last line doesn’t look correct with the word “it” after “known”.

I’m glad most
folks let me know
they’re religious.
By their actions,
I wouldn’t have
ever known it.

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My wife is a non-native speaker and came up with the phrase above. Rightly or wrongly - I gently suggested that I’d use OR instead of AND ie

“I didn’t sleep last night AND the night before”. --> “I didn’t sleep last night OR the night before”.

That’s based on the sound of it (I’m no expert). The second sentence sounds better to me, but makes no sense really. Why is it “OR”.

In fact I’d probably use a slightly difference sentence in written English (after multiple hacks), and don’t really care re verbal use.

But that’s not my my question. I’ve been wondering about the use of ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ in similar contexts. For example:

“I don’t like chocolate OR ice-cream” “I don’t like chocolate AND ice-cream”

“I don’t like chocolate OR vanilla ice-cream” “I don’t like chocolate AND vanilla ice-cream”.

I think there’s two issues here... the grouping of words, and the way in which OR somehow acts like AND.

The AND vs. OR bit particularly bothers me... Can somebody explain this? In math/logic they are opposite terms.

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I was wondering if Curriculum Vita is indeed the usage for a single CV. Is Curriculum Vitae not used in both the plural and singular formats?

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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.