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.
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Latest Posts : Grammar
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?
Now, I’ve been rolling this question over for few weeks now. I personally believe whom in the cases, but on we go. After writing most of this, I think  should be who now.
The infinitive phrase/clause normally takes the objective case as its “subject”.
“I wanted to meet him.”
Thus, the corresponding interrogative:
“Whom did he want to meet?”
But what happens if you take this construction and use it with a copular verb?
 “Who/whom am I to judge.” (?)
 “I am who/whom to be.” (?)
Which may correspond to the declarative sentences (U=unacceptable; A=acceptable):
[1a] “I am he to judge.”
[1b] “I am him to judge”
[2a] “I am he to be.”
[2b] “I am him to be.”
[2c] “I am to be he.” (U)
[2d] “I am to be him.”(A)
It is possible to expand them into relative clauses:
[1a'] “I am the person who can judge them.”(A)
[1b'] “I am the person whom can judge.” (U)
[2a'] “I am the person (who) you should be.” (U)
[2b'] “I am the person (whom) you should be.” (A)
The construction has two verb constructions (one copular and the other infinitive) vying for dominance. So thoughts? These conundrums are fascinating and, due to my obsessive-compulsiveness, frustrating. </p>
In Britain the the winners of the Bad Grammar Awards have just been announced, and the prize has gone to Tesco, partly for a label on its toilet paper which said ‘More luxury, less lorries’, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on the ‘fewer / less’ question.
According to the OED, people have been using less for countable nouns since the dawn of English, and it only seems to have become a golden rule after certain grammarians latched onto the observation of one Robert Baker, who in 1770 remarked that ‘No fewer than a hundred seems to me not only more elegant than No less than a hundred, but more strictly proper.’, while admitting that less ‘is most commonly used when speaking of a number’.
And it was used like this in at least two influential nineteenth century grammars - ‘less hopes’, ‘less parts or portions’ - Lindley Murray’s English Grammar, Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners, and ‘No less than five verbs’ - William Cobbett’s A Grammar of the English Language.
It obviously annoys a lot of people. One woman wrote on Tesco’s Facebook page that she ‘was unable to purchase’.
But I can’t help wondering why. There is absolutely no danger of ambiguity, and many of us use ‘less’ with countables informally. (And for many of us ‘Ten items or less’ sounds much more idiomatic than ‘Ten items or fewer’). Does this rule really have any functional basis, (we don’t need any distinctions for ‘more’ - more luxury, more lorries) or is it simply a rule for the sake of having a rule and just another excuse for finding fault with others?
Recently seen on a standardized assessment for elementary students: “Which fraction of the fruit are apples?” Shouldn’t it read: “Which fraction of the fruit is apples?” Doesn’t the subject verb-agreement rule dictate “is” apples since fraction (singular) is the question’s subject?
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?
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.
From “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin:
“She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who had cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.”
At the ‘as’ clause, why is it fine for the verb to be conjugated in the present tense (continues), instead of past tense? I don’t believe it’s wrong, but I would like an explanation.
Something has happened to the spellings of “into, onto” and “in to, on to”: they seem suddenly to feature in newspapers spelled wrong more often than right. It is a quite new phenomenon. These examples might serve to show what I mean, although they are made up by me, typical nevertheless:
He went onto become president. He got in to bed. He climbed on to a chair. The firemen went into rescue a cat from the burning building.
Now, how do we go about explaining to folk when these should be two words, and when one word? To my mind it is simple enough: the “to” which is separate is part of the infinitive form of the following verb: to become, to rescue. When the following word is a noun the preceding preposition is ‘into’, ‘onto’. There are other situations, too: “....he carried onto Rome” instead of “Instead of going back home he carried on to Rome” where ‘on’ goes with carried, and ‘to’ goes with Rome. Any rules to help those who are suddenly getting it wrong everywhere? Politicians not excepted.
You don’t see these errors in books, which have been proof-read by literate editors. Why then are they suddenly everywhere in newspapers, and even signs in public places? At Gatwick there is a huge, expensive sign telling people where (or is it when?) they should check-in (sic). Check-in is the name of the place where you check in, surely? (noun/verb).
Any thoughts, anyone? I shall supply, tomorrow, examples gleaned from the UK Sunday Telegraph, one of the more prestigious newspapers in this country.
I had always wondered about a construction (of conjugation within a sentence) but never could write it down properly. I have since found that construction. This is a quote from “The Day It Happened” by Rosario Morales.
A) “I wouldn’t have known anything about any of this [if Olga next door hadn't rung our doorbell and banged on the door just when Mami was too deep in prayer to hear and Maria was leaning out over the sill with her eyes bugging out].”
Specifically the verbs in that clause. My question here is why is “when Mami was... and Maria was...” past tense instead of past perfect. I’m perfectly aware that the actions of Mami and Maria are happening simultaneously with Olga’s banging of the door. I concluded that it was because that it would be interpreted further in the past than Olga’s banging. But I have supposed I’m looking for a logical consistency similar to math.
Please look at the following examples:
a) The plants died. ( an event - intransitive verb)
b) The plants were killed. ( event -passive verb)
c) The plants were dead. ( state - adjective)
d) The plants were withered (state? - adjective?)
e) The plants were withered by the sirocco. (event? - passive)
f) The plants shrank. (event - intransitive verb)
g) The plants were shrunk by the dry wind (event - passive)
h) The plants were shrunken. (state - adjective)
i) “I was bored” - is this a passive or an adjective, an event or a state?
Is it ambiguous, context-dependent or a case of “unmarked-grammar”?