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Discussion Forum

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 was in empty space in an elevator one day when it occurred to me that it’s actually “pains-taking”, the taking of pains to do something thoroughly. I’d never thought about it before.

But it’s too hard to pronounce “painz-taking”, because the “z” sound must be voiced; whereas the unvoiced “s” combines easily with the “t” to make “-staking”, so that’s what we say. That’s my theory, but BrE might be different. Is it?

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For example, “Every morning, I wake up at 6:00 am and then I make a cup of coffee.”

As a writing teacher for international students, I see this kind of sentence all the time. I know it is technically correct to use a comma before a coordinating conjunction, but I have found that so many Americans omit this comma that it has become extremely commonplace even among native English speakers. Is it socially acceptable in writing to omit the comma? How serious is it to mandate that my international include this comma?

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Could you please explain the difference in the following sentences?

1. The instruments used are very reliable.

2. The instruments being used are very reliable.

Are participle 2 “used” and passive participle 1 “being used” interchangeable in this context?

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I seem to be pretty fond of the adverb ‘pretty’ used as a modifier, so was rather surprised when one of my young Polish students told me that his teacher at school had said that this use was ‘OK with his mates’ (his words), but inappropriate in the classroom. Looking around I see that this is not an isolated objection, although people didn’t seem to complain about it much before 1900.

Why has this word, much used by eighteenth and nineteenth century writers, writers of prescriptive grammar included, attracted this opposition in more recent times?

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The New York Yankees

The Utah Jazz

The Orlando Magic

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I’m new here, and am wondering what all you experts think about the use of the word “leverage” as a verb. It seems it’s being used more often recently. Personally I feel that “leverage” is a noun, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s as “the action of a lever or the mechanical advantage gained by it”. However it seems that mainly financial and managerial types seem to like using is as a verb - “Hey, let’s leverage the unfortunate circumstances of these people that can’t pay their bonds, and get their homes for free”.

What does it mean? Although MW does give it as a verb as well, it’s interesting that investopedia.com gives it as “1 The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.”, i.e. it lists the verb first. Other sources give different meanings, suggesting that the meaning of “leverage” as a verb is not very clear. I wonder what these people do when their roof leakages, or the engines of their cars failure?

Just for interest, over the years I’ve bookmarked the following in my web browser (under info / language / English):

(please excuse the language there where not appropriate :)

Oh yes, and a quote from Seth Godin’s blog (although I’m not sure who he is quoting):

“leveraging” , - comment: i asked everyone on my team not to use those words. the frequency of use of words like “leverage” is inversely proportionate to the amount of original thought. the more you say “leverage”, the less you’ve probably thought about what you’re saying.

(Seth is an American marketer, motivational speaker and author)

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Recently saw this headline in Time:- 

“Katy Perry Admits She’s Nervous to Perform at the Super Bowl”. 

To me “nervous to perform” sounds a bit strange. 

My feeling is that “nervous of performing” sounds better.

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I had always believed that saying “thanks for that” without a following noun or phrase was intended as something of a put down.

I’m not referring to its use in the form “Thanks for that information” or “Thanks for that wine you sent”, but to the situation(s) where someone had said something inane or pointless, or had told an uninteresting story or a somewhat obscure joke.

One would then say “Thanks for that” followed by the person’s name.

eg:  

Tim: “This one time, I broke a pen and then fixed it again.”

Me: “Thanks for that, Tim.”

But now the phrase seems to be in general use with no irony attached.

Instead of just saying “Thank you” some people are now saying “Thanks for that” with no further qualification.

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I read recently that there are those who feel that the word “rack” in the phrases “rack one’s brain” and “rack and ruin” should perhaps be spelled “wrack”, while others maintain that either spelling is acceptable.

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I replied to a letter from a solicitor and in return got a letter beginning “Thank you for reverting to us so promptly”. I have never seen “revert” used in this way. Is it a legal usage (in any sense)?

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Latest Comments

“went missing/gone missing”?

  • annie2
  • October 19, 2017, 9:50pm

I dislike the use of this phrase as a replacement for any phrase which implies blame or responsibility. It is easier for someone to say "my purse went missing" than "I misplaced my purse", etc. It is similar to a person choosing to say "The glass broke" as opposed to "I broke the glass". We are so very good at denying blame or responsibility.

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.