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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 constantly see apostrophes used in ways I believe are incorrect. I am wondering anyone can confirm for me, though. For example, I often see “Temperatures will reach the high 90′s today...”

Aren’t apostrophes only used to show possession or in contractions? For example, “This sweet ride isn’t (cont.) mine; it’s (cont) Jessica’s (poss).”

Also, how would I word something to the effect that everyone is coming to the house that my husband, Mike, and I own?

“Everyone is coming to Mike’s and my house.”?

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Let us say I received a box of apples from Joe Jones, Ltd.

Would I write:

“Joe Jones, Ltd., sent a box of apples.” or

“Joes Jones, Ltd. sent a box of apples.”?

Notice that the first example has one more comma.

Thanks!

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Is it proper to hyphenate percentages if they’re modifiers? Example - a 20 percent increase. I’m trying to determine this by Associated Press standards.

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Are common pet-names capitalized as per proper names i.e. when writing to a loved one, which of the two is the better option? -Hello darling- or -Hello Darling-

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When do you capitalize directions? ie) Uncle Henry flew south for the winter.

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1. The much talked about question; or The much-talked-about question. If hyphenation is not required, would hyphenation make it wrong, and vice-versa.

Though I’d definitely hyphenate the following: “The much-talked-about-but-never-dealt-with question”. No?

2. I like groceries shopping; or I like groceries-shopping. Same for things like coat(-)checking, floor(-)scrubbing, etc.

How about: The groceries-shopping tedium; coat-checking etiquette; etc. Would it be okay if you don’t hyphenate them?

3. Behaviour is context dependent; or Behaviour is context-dependent. The page is content heavy; or The page is content-heavy.

Likewise, if hyphenation is required, would the lack of hyphenation make it wrong, and vice-versa.

4. The end of school vacation; or The end-of-school vacation. A not so surprising accident; or A not-so-surprising accident.

Again, the same question applies. Especially for the first case, since not hyphenating it would possibly change its meaning: The end of *the* school vacation vs. The vacation that happens at the end of school. Thus, can anyone, without hyphenating it, argue that they mean the latter?

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I’m curious about the correct way to punctuate something like the following: David found a note that only had a few words written on it. “I’m too tired to walk.”

Is there a correct way to do this without quotation marks. I’ve seen hyphens used in some instances but that seems incorrect.

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From Jim Van:

“If the Recovery (read it Money) is in the millions [of dollars], even 4 decimal places would make a SIGNIFICANT figures.”

Question: What difference in use between parenthesis and square brackets?

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On page 89 of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”, Lynne Truss writes, “I wonder why?” Many people put a question mark at the end of this phrase, but to me it doesn’t seem like a question. Isn’t it a statement? “I wonder” is a statement. “Why” is a question in and of itself. In this context, though, the question mark is not making sense to me.

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I am a student working on a thesis in anthropology and I am quoting one of my informants. In his quote, he says “United States Geological Service.” I know that it’s “United States Geological SURVEY,” not “service.” Should I put [sic] after the word “service” in the quote? Is it obnoxious to do that? Is it necessary?

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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.