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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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Hi All

On another forum, two native English speakers insisted that the questions shown below were incorrect English. Please tell me why, if the affirmative forms (answers ) shown are allowed, the question form is not allowed.

What does psychology study?

What does solid state physics study?

What does quantum mechanics study?

................

-Psychology studies the relationship between environments and human behaviour. -Psychology studies the human psyche, behavior, and mental processes. This diverse field has roots in biology, medicine, philosophy, religion, and history. ... -Solid state physics studies the processes taking place on surfaces and semi-conductors. - -Theoretical physics above all examines the theory of quantum fields, gravitation and quantum information. -Quantum mechanics studies the behavior of atoms and the particles that make them up.

Thanks

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I am trying to figure out if there is a definite pattern in when ‘th’ is voiced (as in ‘the’) or unvoiced (as in ‘thin’). Someone has commented that sounds are to a large degree determined by the sound that comes after them. This doesn’t explain to me why the ‘th’ in ‘with’ and ‘myth’ are pronounced differently as they have the same ‘sound’ preceding them and nothing after. Can anyone shed any light on this for me? Thanks

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What does the “o’” in “o’clock” stand for? I’ve heard it means “of the”, but that sounds odd. “I’ll meet you at two of the clock”. Perhaps it means “on the” which makes more sense to me. “I’ll meet you at two on the clock”

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Does the word “akin” share roots with other words starting an “a”? For example, “Morton’s gone acourtin’ Daisy Sue”. And if so, are these hillbilly expressions? Hillbillies on TV never seem to use the word “akin” they say “kin” a lot as in “...we’re kin folk”.

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Where does the word “nope” come from? Is it just slang for “no” or does it have more distinguished roots?

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Summarising: Three ways of looking at it. Extracts from the Geoffrey Leech article, English Grammar in Conversation.

View 1: Spoken English has no grammar at all: it is grammatically inchoate.

(That view) ...does not need to be taken seriously, although it is surprisingly persistent in the mind of the folk grammarian. It is inherited from the age-old tradition associating grammar with the written language, and it is bolstered by examples such as the following, which, like others which follow, is from the Longman spoken corpus:

No. Do you know erm you know where the erm go over to er go over erm where the fire station is not the one that white white

View 2: Spoken English does not have a special grammar: its grammar is just the same as the grammar of written English

Conversation makes use of entities such as prepositions, modals, noun phrases and relative clauses, just as written language does. So - assuming, as many would, that differences of frequency belong to the use of the grammar, rather than to the grammatical system itself - it is quite natural to think in terms of one English grammar, whose use in conversational performance can be contrasted with its use in various kinds of writing. In other words, conversational grammar is seen to be just a rather special implementation of the common grammar of English: a discovery which does not necessarily in any way diminish the interest of studying the grammar (i.e. the grammatical use) of spoken language.

View 3: Spoken English does have a special grammar - it has its own principles, rules and categories, which are different from those of the written language.

In handling spoken language, (David) Brazil argues for a totally different approach to grammar from the approach which has become familiar through conventional focus on the written language. He argues for a linear model moving dynamically through time, and puts aside the more traditional architectural model in terms of hierarchies of units. Although Carter and McCarthy do not take this thorough-going approach, they do throw the spotlight on grammatical features of spoken language which they feel have been largely neglected by standard grammars entrenched in the ‘written tradition’. They argue that structures which are inherent to speech have not been properly studied until the advent of the spoken computer corpus, and are consequently absent from canonised written grammar familiar to learners of English throughout the world: structures such as the ‘dislocated topic’ of This little shop ... it’s lovely or the ‘wagging tail’ of Oh I reckon they’re lovely. I really do whippets. These tend to find their raison d’être in the fact that conversation constructs itself in a dynamic fashion, giving the speaker only a small look-ahead window for planning what to say, and often inducing retrospective add-ons. Carter and McCarthy (1995) put forward a structural model for the clause in conversation, containing in addition to the core clause itself a pre-clause topic and a post-clause tail. With their refreshing emphasis on the dynamic modelling of grammar in action, Carter and McCarthy seem to be taking a line similar to Brazil’s advocacy of a new grammar of speech.

Read more at: tu-chemnitz.de

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Who thought of calling left, left, and right, right? Why don’t we say 1 and 2, or A and B to determine left and right? My sister really wants to know and I don’t have a clue.

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Does anyone know where the term “zero conditional” comes from and why we use it for labeling the “unchanging Laws of Existence” conditional?

What does that “zero” mean?

(Looking for a bit of etymology here and not a desription of zero conditionals per se.)

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I’m wondering if George Lucas just made this word up. I found that sith was from the celtic word “sidhe” meaning “fairy, especially one that conjures dead spirits.”

It seems really random that Sith would mean something and that Jedi would be meaningless.

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L

Can one say “beforehandedly?” and if so should it be with double L or single. If rejected what word would you useinstead? By the way, is the any rule as to use one or two Ls when making adverbs?

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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.