Pain in the English https://painintheenglish.com Forum for the gray areas of the English language Tue, 19 Sep 2017 21:57:19 +0000 daily 1 equivalency https://painintheenglish.com/case/5870 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5870 Fri, 21 Jul 2017 04:04:19 +0000 AndrewF https://painintheenglish.com/case/5870 I’m reviewing a New Zealand scientific report which uses the word ‘equivalency’. This sounds to me like an Americanisation of the word ‘equivalence’, both being nouns but with the redundancy of an additional syllable in ‘equivalency’.

As we use British English (despite word processing software trying to force American English upon us) I’m inclined to use ‘equivalence’.  What do you think?

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“that” referring to a preceding phrase https://painintheenglish.com/case/5846 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5846 Wed, 24 May 2017 04:50:27 +0000 Andrew Kim https://painintheenglish.com/case/5846 What does “that” mean in the following sentences? Are there any rules which apply to the exact phrases which “that” refers to?

1. The graphs above show the rates of electricity generation of Kansas and “that” of the U.S. total in 2010. 

Q. Doesn’t “that” refer to “electricity generation”? If yes, isn’t “of” needed before “that”? 

2. The rate of electricity generation by nuclear power plants in Kansas was about the same as that of the U.S. total. 

Q. Doesn’t “that” refer to “the rate of electricity generation by nuclear power plants”? If yes, why is it “that in the U.S. total”, instead of “that of the U.S. total” to be parallel with in Kansas?

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What exactly is “width” in geometry? https://painintheenglish.com/case/5834 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5834 Mon, 8 May 2017 09:14:05 +0000 Dyske https://painintheenglish.com/case/5834 I had never thought I would ever wonder what “width” is until my 12-year old daughter came home one day and told me that her math teachers (not just one but two) told her that “width” in geometry is the vertical side of a rectangle. That to me was like saying up is down and down is up. How could this be?

It turns out that her teachers are not alone. Take a look at this page I came across while Googling on the topic. It says:

In the case of a square or a rectangle, the expression length (1) is commonly used instead of base and width (w) instead of height. In the case of a circle the expression diametre (d) is used.

“Width instead of height” is very much like saying up is down. Where did this come from?

And, what is even more disconcerting is that the teachers are not aware of this ambiguous nature of “width.” Two other teachers told me that width is always the horizontal side, and another told me that she has heard others call the vertical side “width.” So, apparently, each is teaching their students in an authoritative manner their own definition of “width.” If a 12-year old is told by her math teacher that “width” in geometry refers to the vertical side, why should she doubt it? Unless, of course, she was also told that “width” can be vertical or horizontal (i.e. direction neutral, like “length”). But that is apparently not what is happening at school in New York City.

If we teach our kids that a triangle has three sides, we don’t want them thinking that the definition of “triangle” could be flexible as if it could have four or five sides. If the definition of “width” is not universal, they need to know that. Here is a case in point. The following question was in 2016 Common Core Math Test for Grade 6.

“A carpenter built three bookcases, A, B, and C, to stand next to each other along a wall. The total length of the wall is 456 centimeters. The carpenter will build two more bookcases, D and E, along the same wall. These two bookcases will have equal widths. The widths of bookcases A, B, and C are shown in the table blow.”

Now, if you were taught that in geometry, “width” means the vertical side and “length” means the horizontal side, you would have to be confused reading this question. The correct response would be, “But why should the ‘widths’ of the bookcases have anything to do with the ‘length’ of the wall in fitting the bookcases?”

My daughter tried to figure this out by drawing a bunch of bookshelves with different heights, and eventually gave up because the question made no sense to her.

In Merriam-Webster, the word “width” has no ambiguity: “the horizontal measurement taken at right angles to the length.” After all, the word “height” has no ambiguity, so why should we think “width” would?

But looking at the Oxford dictionary gives us a slightly different answer: “The measurement or extent of something from side to side; the lesser of two or the least of three dimensions of a body.”

In other words, in a rectangle, “the lesser of the two” sides would be called “width” regardless of the orientation. So, it appears that this is an American-versus-British issue, or is it? (Note the spelling of “diametre” on the page from fao.org quoted above.)

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agree the terms https://painintheenglish.com/case/5811 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5811 Wed, 29 Mar 2017 19:10:41 +0000 providencejim https://painintheenglish.com/case/5811 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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“if he were alive, he would be” vs. “would have been” https://painintheenglish.com/case/5771 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5771 Sat, 4 Feb 2017 06:12:00 +0000 paula1 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5771 There is a structure used by native speakers that I often read on social media, referring to people who have passed away, on the day of their anniversary. e.g. “He would have been 60 today.” Shouldn’t it be “He would be 60 today”? Meaning, if he were alive, he would be 60 today.

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“40 and 50%” vs. “40% and 50%” https://painintheenglish.com/case/5766 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5766 Fri, 27 Jan 2017 11:36:20 +0000 Pauline Hilborn https://painintheenglish.com/case/5766 I need to give a range of percentages. Do I say “somewhere between 40 and 50%?” or “somewhere between 40% and 50%”? Does the percentage sign get assigned to the first value, even though it’s not verbally articulated?

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Is it acceptable to say “higher than” when you mean “as high as”? https://painintheenglish.com/case/5734 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5734 Tue, 29 Nov 2016 14:37:15 +0000 Max_Elliott https://painintheenglish.com/case/5734 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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Salutations in letters https://painintheenglish.com/case/5731 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5731 Sun, 20 Nov 2016 22:54:35 +0000 jayles the unwoven https://painintheenglish.com/case/5731 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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use of “prior” in space vs. time https://painintheenglish.com/case/5724 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5724 Thu, 3 Nov 2016 23:14:48 +0000 SpeakEnglandverydelicious https://painintheenglish.com/case/5724 It grates every time I hear a local radio traffic reporter say “there is an accident just prior to the Erindale Rd turn-off.” 

I believe I’m right in thinking the word ‘prior’ is more correctly used in a time context, meaning earlier than or sooner than. 

Thoughts?

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data is vs. data are https://painintheenglish.com/case/5720 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5720 Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:37:25 +0000 hstaunch@hotmail.com https://painintheenglish.com/case/5720 I consider “data” as collective, like “sugar.” You can have a lot of sugar or a lot of data. Then “the sugar IS on the table,” or “the data IS correct.”

I do not like “the data ARE.” Never did. I worked as a technical writer and my philosophy was as I have stated. (Even though data can have one bit called datum, whereas sugar must have one grain.)

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Walking Heavens https://painintheenglish.com/case/5700 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5700 Tue, 20 Sep 2016 11:19:22 +0000 Bonnie https://painintheenglish.com/case/5700 In making a plaque, I need to know the correct grammar for the following.

  1. Walking Heavens woods with her daddy.
  2. Walking Heaven’s woods with her daddy.
  3. Walking Heavens’ woods with her daddy.

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Trend of referring to a singular collective as a plural noun https://painintheenglish.com/case/5694 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5694 Mon, 12 Sep 2016 10:33:06 +0000 Stacy https://painintheenglish.com/case/5694 In American Grammar specifically, there is a somewhat new trend of referring to a singular collective as a plural noun. For example, “The band are playing at the Hall tonight.” To which I want to reply “It are?” While the British and Canadians have never understood the concept of singular collectives such as large companies or the aforementioned musical groups known by a name such as Aerosmith or Saint Motel, but why is this becoming popular in America where singular collectives have been referred to, until recently, as a singular entity? It’s on the radio, it’s on TV commercials and even in print. Are singular collectives now plural?

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people like she/he are... https://painintheenglish.com/case/5677 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5677 Sat, 13 Aug 2016 11:36:10 +0000 Bonster https://painintheenglish.com/case/5677 I just read this in a Wall Street Journal article

 ”Sandy Bleich, a technology industry recruiter, says that for years a bachelor’s degree was enough ... Now recruiters like SHE are increasingly looking for someone with hands-on experience...”

Query: is the use of SHE correct?!

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The fact of the matter is is that https://painintheenglish.com/case/5656 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5656 Wed, 29 Jun 2016 21:59:52 +0000 vgb https://painintheenglish.com/case/5656 I have searched the forum and not found any reference to this matter. More and more, I’m hearing this kind of construction: “The fact of the matter is is that we need to...” or “The biggest problem is is that we don’t have...” I’ve even heard President Obama use it. At first blush, it bothers me. There’s no need for the second “is,” and no grammatical precedent. That is to say, I don’t know what it might spill over from. Furthermore, it seems like a fairly recent arrival. What do you think? Is this something we should eschew or embrace? Has anyone else heard and taken note of this?

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“I’m just saying” https://painintheenglish.com/case/5655 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5655 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:28:13 +0000 Andrew Murray https://painintheenglish.com/case/5655 What is the origin of the phrase “I’m just saying”?

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“ask the gays” https://painintheenglish.com/case/5651 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5651 Sat, 18 Jun 2016 23:05:01 +0000 katrin1 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5651 Hi everyone, I’ve got an interesting question from my student:

Trump’s “ask the gays” statement:

- what exactly is wrong with it grammatically?

Thanks!

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Indirect Speech? https://painintheenglish.com/case/5649 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5649 Wed, 15 Jun 2016 06:59:49 +0000 Hairy Scot https://painintheenglish.com/case/5649 I was quite comfortable with the concept of direct and indirect speech that had been drummed into my head by a succession of teachers at the schools I attended in the 50s and 60s.

However the term “indirect speech”, like so many other facets of the English language, has now apparently undergone a change.

At least that is what one noted linguist would have us believe.

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“provide” vs “give” information https://painintheenglish.com/case/5646 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5646 Thu, 9 Jun 2016 21:49:48 +0000 the meedgetter https://painintheenglish.com/case/5646 As in: the pie charts give information about the water used for residential, industrial and agricultural purposes ...

To me, “give” here sounds crude, as if the writer could not come up with the right verb; whereas “provide” sounds more appropriate, albeit just a bit high official. 

So in an English exam I would have to mark the writer down? Am I correct in my thinking?

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Small Talk—Countable or Uncountable? https://painintheenglish.com/case/5638 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5638 Fri, 27 May 2016 07:09:39 +0000 Dyske https://painintheenglish.com/case/5638 “I had a talk with so and so,” is a common phrase, so I would imagine that “I had a small talk with so and so,” is equally correct. But “small talk” appears to be treated as an uncountable noun most of the time. Is it countable or uncountable? If both, in what contexts does it become one or the other?

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“Friday’s Child” https://painintheenglish.com/case/5632 https://painintheenglish.com/case/5632 Sat, 21 May 2016 10:37:26 +0000 PhilippS. https://painintheenglish.com/case/5632 I’ve been listening to Van Morrison’s “Friday’s Child” for quite some time now because I love this song so much. I tried to look up the meaning of ” Friday’s Child” but onbly found a reference to an old rhyme. Can anybody tell me the meaning of the saying “Friday’s Child” and when and why it is used? Many thanks.

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