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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 can I do besides complaining” sounds wrong to me but I can’t say why ... I think it should be complain.

“What can I do besides complain?”
“What can I do but complain?”

However, “Besides complaining, what can I do?” sounds ok.

Any thoughts? Or am I completely off base here?

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If a semicolon is used to contrast two sentences, we can omit repetitive words by using a comma, as in: 

“To err is human; to forgive, divine”

and

“The cat was orange; the dog, brown.”

However, if no semicolon is used, can we still do the same? For example:

“You’re our son, Heracles, and we, your family.”

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“If I was the Prime Minister. ...” said Ed Miliband, British Labour party leader, today, Sunday 24th September 2011. Is this not how to phrase it if it remains a possibility that he was once Prime Minister, or if he is not sure if he was, or is reluctant to admit it? 

“If I were the Prime Minister, ...”, using the subjunctive mood of the verb, would suggest that he is not Prime minister but is about to tell us what he would do if he were the PM. If the subjunctive is now defunct in UK Labour politics, as I suspect, how did he continue to tell us what he would have done, if he were the PM, without using the subjunctive? “if I was the PM, I ~~~~~ ???” It cannot be done.

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I never know whether to use “it” in the following sentence: “Just because ___, (it) doesn’t mean ____.” In other words, would you say,

“Just because I was mean to you, it doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” OR

“Just because I was mean to you, doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” OR

“Just because I was mean to you, that doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.”

I hear people using the second variation all the time, but it seems that the third is preferable. Thoughts?

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I know that the proper order for a nominative series of nouns including the speaker is “John and I,” but what about for the objective? “Mrs. Smith taught me and John,” or, “Mrs. Smith taught John and me”? The same goes for prepositions, “Mrs. Smith taught chemistry to me and John,” vs. “Mrs. Smith taught chemistry to John and me.”

Also, does whether one uses the objective pronoun or the reflexive pronoun affect the order? “I taught John and myself,” vs, “I taught myself and John.”

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My teen-age daughter wrote a psychological thriller novella, “Keeping Her in the Light” last summer that Canada-based Eternal Press published last November.

She wants to finish another psychological thriller that she started writing 2 years ago. The setting is during the Victorian Era. She stopped writing this novella because she feels that the conversations in her novella should be in the style of the Victorian Era.

Kindly advise if there is a software or method of converting modern day English to the Victorian Era English.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Jomel Fuentes Manila, Philippines

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How do I write out .25%

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When you link something in a quote, should we include the double quotes in the link? For instance:

I asked where to look, and John answered, “Wikipedia!

or

I asked where to look, and John answered, “Wikipedia!”

This is really a matter of style, but I’m wondering if any major sites have a style guide that specifies this.

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I’m still undecided on how to spell correctly: “Drum Track Recording Service” or “Drum Tracks Recording Service”. I’m personally voting for the second variant, but as I’m not a native English speaker, I’m not sure.

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I’ve noticed in the past that the BBC News Web site seems to be rather hit-or-miss with its use of acronyms and abbreviations. One I see repeatedly is its use of “Nasa” for “NASA,” and another I noticed today is “Farc” instead of “FARC” for the Colombian guerrilla group. At the same time, UK, TV, PM, US, and even BBC are treated as I would expect. Can anyone explain this beyond “the editors are twits”?

The abbreviation which prompted me to post this, though, is their habit of abbreviating “Sri Lanka” as “S Lanka.” Why would anyone think it necessary to drop those two characters?

By way of introduction, my name is Mike, and I was born and raised in southern California. I’m a survivor of public schools through high school graduation in 1978. I know full well that my command of the English language is far from perfect, and I do not attempt to correct errors in others’ informal writing or speech, but journalists, authors, and others who write for public consumption I hold to a higher standard, and are therefore considered fair game. :-)

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Latest Comments

“I’ve got” vs. “I have”

If you can substitute 'got' with 'fetched' in your sentence, you are not using 'got' incorrectly.

Idea Vs. Ideal

  • jenny1
  • September 23, 2017, 1:53pm

"I have an idea."
"This is an ideal situation."

percentages

  • jack1
  • September 22, 2017, 1:11am

For the most part, it is accurate that spelling out numbers is wrong. However, in legal writing (I'm a legal proofreader), often it is required that everything be spelled out exactly, with the express purpose of making sure there is no wiggle room for interpretation. Shakespeare had some thoughts about lawyers in Henry VI...

Sweet and Savory

  • Devlyn
  • September 19, 2017, 11:59pm

Unsavoury sums it all up. When something is unsavoury, it means that it is just vile. Got nothing to do with salty and sweet

I don’t think...

I don't think implies or directly translates to "I do not think" when actually I do think, but "I think you did not" a more positive direct statement or translation. Or "I don't think" so is "I think not" because you do THINK "no".

“Liquid water”?

  • quincy
  • September 17, 2017, 9:58am

In my geography homework they ask if snow and ice are examples of liquid water but i can't find it in the book and i can't find a good awnser online can you help me?

What about the following situation? Would it be the same "equivalence"?
"Was Helen the murderer?"
"It was she?" or "It was her"?

“This is she” vs. “This is her”

  • Tdream
  • September 13, 2017, 9:50pm

I was taught in school, "This is she." One way to completely dodge the issue would be the following scenario:
Hello, may I speak to Jane Doe?
Yes, This is Mrs. Doe (or Jane).

“This is she” vs. “This is her”

  • Tdream
  • September 13, 2017, 9:50pm

I was taught in school, "This is she." One way to completely dodge the issue would be the following scenario:
Hello, may I speak to Jane Doe?
Yes, This is Mrs. Doe (or Jane).

Exact same

LIfe keeps changing all the time so why wouldn't language and the way it's used and accepted?