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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 cringe when I read (a million times a week),”I am so sorry”, I am so happy”...

It feels like there is part of the statement missing, like “I am so happy I could cry”, or “I am so sorry, I don’t  know what to say.” Is “so anything” a legitimate phrase on its own? Or am I right in thinking it needs more?

 

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I run. I ran. I had ran. I had run.

I went. I had went. I had gone.

There appear to be localized aberrations where people insist on saying “had ran” even though they know “had run” is proper. They seem to be victims of conforming to local language.

This group of people seems to me to come from a region. I grew up in California, and I never saw this. I started seeing it in Colorado. It was a little more common in Kansas. It was very common in GA. It always showed up in people who had moved west from eastern locations like MA, KY, DE, VA, WV, NC. 

What is it that I am trying to say here? Peer pressure overrides language correctness? Is there a better way to refer to this?

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Isn’t “agree the terms” simply bad form? The following is taken from today’s online Guardian in a quote from Theresa May: . . . the prime minister said she believed it was “necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union”. Then as the article continues, the same usage appears in the Guardian’s own words: “The EU institutions and 27 remaining member states, however, have long said they were determined the divorce settlement, such as the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons on the continent and the size of Britain’s exit bill, must first be agreed before substantive talks on a future relationship could begin.”

Agree to the terms, yes; but agree the terms?

Be agreed upon, yes; but settlement be agreed before?

I have not run across this usage in US English, so is it something happening in British writing/speech?

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Consider the following sentence: “Last year, the rent was $500, but now it’s risen to $1,000. The rent is two times higher than it used to be.”

To me, this sentence is misleading, since “two times higher” would mean starting with a value of $500 and duplicating it, twice (in other words, $500 + $500 x 2 = $1,500). It seems the correct sentence should read:

“The rent is two times as high as used to be.”

Are both forms acceptable? Unfortunately, it seems that the more confusing form (”two times higher”) has become more common.

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Whilst I appreciate that it is increasingly less common to write or receive a letter these days - and that traditional usage has been Dear Sir/Madam->Yours truly/faithfully or Dear Mr Smith ->Yours sincerely - the few letters rarely follow these “rules”.

I have had (1) Dear Mr Smith without any closure from the UK Pensions Service, (2) Dear Mr Smith->Yours sincerely from the local power board, and (3) Hi Mr Smith->Until next time from my bank. Personally I have never used ‘Yours faithfully’ (which smacks of subservience) since the turn of the century, even when applying for a job. I do still use “Sincerely” in a few emails (particularly when making a complaint). 

For the life of me, I cannot see why bygone formalities are still required for examinations such as the International English Language Test. 

As to emails, it seems more difficult to be formal. Mostly I use “Hi + first name” and end with “Cheers”. 

My question is what are  other people in English-speaking countries experiencing? Is stuff like “Yours faithfully” “Yours truly” now passé? If so is there any reason to teach them?

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This sentence:

“By securing a permanent US commitment to the defence of all its members from 1949 onwards, Nato changed the calculus confronting potential aggressors.”

appeared in this Daily Telegraph article.

I think I grasp what the author is getting at, but it does seem a most unusual and perhaps incorrect use of “calculus.”

Or am I behind the times once again?

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The definitions of “go figure” that I found in various dictionaries do not match what I thought it meant. Is it just me?

Here are what I found:

“said to express the speaker’s belief that something is amazing or incredible.”

“used when you ​tell someone a ​fact and you then ​want to say that the ​fact is ​surprising, ​strange or ​stupid”

“Expresses perplexity, puzzlement, or surprise (as if telling somebody to try to make sense of the situation).”

I thought “go figure” meant the same as “duh!” or “just my luck”. That is, it’s obvious after the fact. It implies “I should have known.”

Let’s take some of the examples that appear in these dictionaries:

“The car wouldn’t start yesterday no matter what I did, but today it works just fine. Go figure.”

My interpretation of this is that, given how unlucky he is in general, in retrospect, it’s obvious that this happened to him again. It’s just part of being unlucky in general.

“She says she wants to have a conversation, but when I try, she does all the talking. Go figure.”

My interpretation for this is that she is already known to the speaker as a talkative person, but since she claims to want a conversation, the speaker gave her another chance, but again, all she does is talk not listen. Duh! The speaker should have known. It should not be a surprise to the speaker.

“The paint was really good, so they stopped making it - go figure, right?”

Again, what is implied here is not something surprising or unexpected; it’s the exact opposite. The speaker is being sarcastic. Because consumers have no appreciation for good products, they all fail, and bad products like Microsoft Windows thrive. “Duh! I should have known that they would stop making it.”

When people are genuinely surprised and puzzled about something, and they want someone to go figure it out. I generally hear people say, “figure that one out.” I find this very different from “go figure”. The latter has a sense of irony or sarcasm that the former does not have. It almost means the opposite. That is, “forget it, don’t even bother trying to figure it out because it’s just my luck,” or “don’t bother figuring it out because people are just stupid.”

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Is it really correct to say such  a thing as, “We are waiting on your mother,” when referring to the anticipation of the arrival of someone’s mother?  It would seem to me that it would be more appropriate, if not more comfortable (at least for the lady), to “wait for your mother.”

One can wait on the corner, and one can wait on a table (if that is his profession), but does one really want to wait on his dinner? 

It seems to me that the preposition “from”  has been replaced by “on” when used in conjunction with the word “wait.”

It makes me cringe! Lately, I’ve heard it so often, I must look like a victim of St. Vitus Dance!

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Does this
“The flu is going around. In order to keep from catching it, you should gargle and wash your hands regularly”
Make sense? I’ve never heard. “In order to keep from catching it.” used in a sentence before.

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One hears this phrase more and more from sports commentators. A typical example would be a commentator at a sports event referring to an injured player or perhaps some celebrity as “watching on from the grandstand”.

Makes one wonder if, and why, “looking on” has suddenly become passé; or is it just an affectation started by someone trying to be different for the sake of being different and which has then been adopted by those who are inclined to participate in fads? Shall on-lookers now be known as on-watchers? Somehow it just doesn’t sound right.

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Latest Comments

How many thats?

  • WR
  • April 19, 2018, 6:58pm

Teacher critiquing an essay: “I think that that “that that” that that student wrote should’ve been a “which that.”

Littler

No you cannot use littler at all. The correct grammar is smaller. As for the comment in regards to your brother, the correct grammar would be my younger brother instead of smaller if you choose. Hope that helps.

If the word OUT in Canada is pronounced OAT (as in Quaker Oats) and the word ABOUT is pronounced A BOAT (the thing that floats) I assume other OU words and OW words have the same sound: clout, doubt, gout, lout, shout, tout and also bound, downed, found, hound, mound, pound, round, sound, wound, count, mount and I am not sure what else. The way Canadians pronounce the words HOUSE and MOUSE rhyme with DOSE. I have this question: does the word BOW (as in bowing one's head) sound the same in Canada as the BOW that shoots arrows or tying a ribbon in a BOW?

What Rhymes?

My son is in the entertainment field/ hip hop being most of it / editing & stuff. But Did u know ~ that Eminem read the dictionary Every Single Day before he made it ~ so tha he could not only find words that rhymed ~ But☝????Words that Rhymed and made total sense in the Rap? And he uses some lOng Ass words!!! I just found that interesting and wanted to share ~ ????????

What Rhymes?

☝????I beg to differ with you @poetess ~ Silver rhymes w/ Bewilder ????

Double Words

How do I locate the "comments" that come back to me? Pain in the English told me that I had three comments, but when I go to your site, there are none. Thanks.

Double Words

I hear people both in person and on television using the alleged word "I's." Is there such a word. For example, people might say, "John, Joe's, and I's baseball ticket got lost in the subway." To me, that is just wrong and there is not such word as I's. Am I right?

Double Words

Thanks so much for your response. However, I was very serious about double words. I find the use of them to be lazy and an avoidance to one's vocabulary-building. The people that I hear using double words are not saying them jokingly or for humor. In other words, instead of asking "Were you elated?", they say, "Were you happy, or were you happy-happy?" I dislike such lazy speech and hope that it does not become acceptable. Besides, it is often quite confusing, such as, "Was he at the gym, or at the gym-gym?" Someone said that to me and I don't know what he or she meant, nor did I feel that I should have to check for clarification. Thanks for your input.

Double Words

  • Vickie
  • April 10, 2018, 11:32pm

I would imagine these are all mainly humorous.

Were you happy-happy, or were you just "happy" because you're expected to say so out of politeness?

Was it fixed-fixed, or was it just hardcoded or duct-taped to work for that one use case/scenario?

He’s in his office-office -- this could easily apply to my boss, who is a workaholic. Everywhere is his office, and then we have our real corporate office.

I can't say I see any need for saying "Do you know how to type type", unless most people they have encountered only know how to type with one finger and you're looking for someone who knows how to use all 10.

I am soooo fed up with being "reached out to" instead of being "contacted."
It is so false when an email arrives with phrases like "You reached out to us" or "I reached out to you."
First I received such phrases in emails from USA but now New Zealand seems to have cottoned-on to it too! It drives me batty!!