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Warsaw Will

Joined: December 3, 2010
Comments posted: 1371
Votes received: 1050

I'm a TEFL teacher working in Poland. I have a blog - Random Idea English - where I do some grammar stuff for advanced students and have the occasional rant against pedantry.

Questions Submitted

fewer / less

May 3, 2014

Natural as an adverb

April 13, 2014

tonne vs ton

January 25, 2014

Tell About

October 18, 2013

“reach out”

May 25, 2013

Recent Comments

I know many Americans were raised on Strunk , but the book is is almost unknown in the UK. What's more his chapter on the passive is so awful I wouldn't be likely to pay any attention to anything he said anyway - he gives four examples of "weak" passive sentences, only one of which is in the passive. And to prove how much better the active is he compares these two sentences:

"My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me."
"I will always remember my first trip to Boston."

Only thing is that not even the keenest fan of the passive would ever utter a ssentence like that. We rarely use pronouns as agents, and especially not "me". It's strange how passive-bashers always like to use these "by" comparisons, even though 80% of passives don't have an agent.

I do see what you mean, though, about the flexibility of "however". Sometimes it is better after the subject or the verb. However, that's not always the case. And the use of commas here is surely universal, whether or not the examiner has ever heard of Strunk, just as with any other conjunctive adverb.

Warsaw Will July 15, 2015, 5:47am

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Part 2 - More grist

1) "He searched five years for his estranged daughter."

As well as the adverbial cropping up in an unexpected place, there's the added problem that 'searched' and its dependent preposition 'for' have got separated. I'd never say it myself, but there are a few examples of this type do exist at Goggle Books, although in infintissimal numbers (from Ngram "searched * years").

"In a foretaste of what was to come, the symphony board searched two years for a new music director to succeed Alessandro" - Texas Monthly 1987

2) "He sought five years his estranged daughter."

Absolutely no way! This sounds like Google Translate - you seek somebody or something. All the examples of "sought * years" I've found at Ngram turn out to be red herrings, such as - "which he sought five years ago"

3) "I was two years buiding a trimaran."

Wouldn't say it myself, but ...

"Solomon was seven years building the Temple" from perhaps 1814, and reproduced several times in the nineteenth century. This is the only example I can find at Ngram of "was * years building". There were no results at Ngram for "studying, making, doing", or example.

4) "Seven years I studied Latin."

No problem in the right context - "Seven years I studied Latin, and what good did it ever do me!" This is classic fronting for special effect.

5) "I was two hours waiting for the ambulance"

At first sight, it doesn't seem too bad to me, in informal conversation. It hasn't separated "waiting" and "for", and the shift from normal word order seems to stress the two hours (but see below). However*, in the whole web "I was two hours waiting" gets precisely 4 hits, and one of them is this post. Of the others, one is Russian, one Portuguese, and this one from New Zealand - "Yesterday I was two hours waiting for my appointment with a specialist." (and he turns out to be originally from South America). And in case you think I'm being too restrictive, here are a few others: "one hour" - 1 hit, "an hour" - 3 hits, "three hours" - 0 hits, "four hours" - 0 hits. So probably best avoided.

*Michael Gove, British minister of justice, has written to his department suggesting that they don't use "however" at the beginning of a sentence. I was taught the same at school, but have no idea why. As far as I remember nobody mentioned doing this with other conjunctive adverbs, such as "nevertheless, consequently, accordingly, moreover" etc. What's so special about "however" I wonder.

One alternative in (1) and (5) might be to use a bit of fronting:

"Five years he searched for his estranged daughter, but to no avail."
"Two hours I was waiting for the ambulance, and nobody even bothered to call me to say it was on its way!"

Warsaw Will July 14, 2015, 5:13am

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Part 1 - For the original question: it seems neither particularly American, nor particularly new:

"and he lived many years there, after my return to England."
The Valetudinarians Bath Guide, London 1780

The next two aren't exactly the same pattern, but do omit 'for':

"Hildanus relates the case of a girl who lived many years without food or drink"
Encyclopædia Metropolitana, London 1845

"Olympidorus the platonist, assures us that he knew a person who lived many years, and in his own life neither fed nor slept, but stood only in the sun to refresh himself."
The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, London 1841

Warsaw Will July 14, 2015, 3:53am

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@Ash78 - As a matter of interest, "where do you stay?" (for "where do live?") is very common in Scotland.

Warsaw Will July 7, 2015, 7:05am

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Third time lucky: this time I couldn't agree with John Thiesmayer more. What's more the link is nothing to do with the question, and looks like spam, pure and simple. In any case I don't think I'd want any of this lot writing an essay for me if their own blurb is anything to go by. Here is a sample:

"A lot of alumni mix graduate essay writing services with high school tasks, still the difference between them is extremely significant, as in colleges UK essay writing service appears for a complete scientific work, that cannot simply repeat information, but also make certain verdict. This kind of task supposes giving out plenty of time. People that mistakenly reckon that the high-class way to do away with the assignment – means downloading it from the web, will be upset concerning the fact that today’s professors widely explore the advantages of modern world, and accordingly are able to detect assignments uploaded from the web considering certain software."

Certainly worth a visit just for the laugh. On the other hand, I cannot recommend too highly my latest ...

Warsaw Will July 3, 2015, 5:53am

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Interesting question. Garner has a good explanation of why "me" is the grammatically correct version, but then goes on to show that several good writers have chosen the "I" variant, and he appears to regard this simply as 'an oddity', common in modern speech and writing, something he says Fowler would have called a 'sturdy indefensible'. Fowler seems to have used this term for things that were theoretically incorrect, but so common in normal use as to be, at best idiomatic, at worst, not worth bothering about.

Warsaw Will July 2, 2015, 2:28am

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Both "nervous of" and "nervous about" are common in British English, and both are given at Oxford Dictionaries Online:

"he’s nervous of speaking in public"

"The days are gone when I am going to get nervous about games or worry about whether or not I play well"

This is from a grammar forum:

"Both prepositions are correct. A dictionary search suggests that "nervous about" is more common in the U.S. and that "nervous of" is more common in the U.K., although the two expressions show up in citations on Google from both major linguistic communities."

At the British National Corpus, they're fairly evenly distributed, 113 hits for "about" and 78 for "of". At COCA (the Corpus of Contemporary American English) , on the other hand, "of" gets only six, compared with over a thousand for "about". (from a brief discussion at Stack Exchange - see below)

To me there is a slight difference, in that I think I'd use "nervous of" about things in general, and "nervous about" for more specific events: "He's nervous of flying at the best of times, but he's particularly nervous about tomorrow's flight". But the Oxford examples don't really seem to make this distinction.

@John Thiesmeyer - I'm not quite sure whether you're saying "nervous of" can never be used in "good English", but if that's what you mean, I disagree:

"The prodigal son was evidently nervous of visiting the parental abode"
Charles Dickens - Dombey and Son (narrative not dialogue)

"He did the round of the house every night, for he was nervous of fire. It is the only thing that I have ever known him nervous of." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Valley of Fear

Warsaw Will June 30, 2015, 6:21am

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I accept that in certain academic work you might want something more specific, but for most of us, informal speech is what we use English for, the vast majority of the time. And that goes for my students as well, although of course we point out the differences between formal and informal buse.

But need it really be limited to informal conversation (or to fiction)? Some of the greatest 18th and 19th century writers of non-fiction would apparently disagree:

"I may mention that carnivorous animals, even from the tropics, breed in this country pretty freely under confinement," Charles Darwin - The Origin of Species

"His third tier, if not his second, will probably appear a sufficiently secure foundation for finer work; for if the earth yield at all, it will probably yield pretty equally under the great mass of masonry now knit together over it." John Ruskine - The Stones of Venice

"We may observe, that it is universally allowed by philosophers, and is besides pretty obvious of itself, that nothing is ever really present with the mind but its perceptions or impressions and ideas, and that external objects become known to us only by those perceptions they occasion."
David Hume - A Treatise of Human Nature

"The ice was melted for three or four rods from the shore, and there was a smooth and warm sheet of water, with a muddy bottom, such as the ducks love, within, and he thought it likely that some would be along pretty soon." Henry Thoreau - Walden

"Goethe's Tasso is very likely to be a pretty fair historical portrait, and that is true tragedy."
Ralph Waldo Emerson - Essays

I can't think of any word that would be more appropriate in these extracts, where something a bit less than 'very' seems to have been called for. Modifiers don't always have to be exact.

Warsaw Will June 29, 2015, 6:45am

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It shouldn't really sound odd, as "in the long term" appears to be more common than "over the long term", both in the US and Britain, but especially in Britain. At Ngram (published books)- "in the long term" figures twice as strongly as "over the long term" (although the difference for American books is markedly smaller). The difference is even greater at Google Books: "in the long term" - 15,000, "over the long term" - 6,000. On general search, ther incidence is about the same.

NY Times "in" - 29,400; "over" - 24,000
Washington Post "in" - 22,700; "over" - 13,700
Times (London) "in" - 22,700; "over" - 770
The Economist "in" - 41,000; "over" - 21,000

There is the proviso noted above, that with the "in" version, it sometimes acts as an adjective, but the majority of cases seem to be the stand -alone expression. (None of the ten most common followers at Ngram are adjectives).

In Britain, at least, I would suggest that the "in" version is more idiomatic than the "over" version.

Warsaw Will June 25, 2015, 5:24am

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@Lance - those of us who put forward usage as the yardstick rarely dictate grammar rules to anyone; you have to look elsewhere for that. What we do say, however, is that there is something called register, which the prescriptivists rarely mention. In these controversial areas there is hardly ever one "correct" answer. For me (BrE language teacher) "It was I" is very formal, but there are no doubt a few contexts where it is appropriate. In what I would call normal, informal conversational English (I take it this is what you mean by unguarded use) "It was me" seems to me much more appropriate and natural, and there is often a third neutral alternative, along the lines of "I did it", or suchlike.

Look at any descriptive grammar book, (i.e. those based on usage), and it will show you these options (unlike prescriptive ones); this is from Practical English Usage (BrE):

"It is possible to use a subject form after be, but this is extremely formal, and is usually considered over-correct (especially in British English)"

Just a litle quibble, while I take your point about "c'est moi", "moi, toi" aren't actually in the objective form, which would be be "me, te" ("je t'aime, elle me regardait"), but are 'pronoms toniques', sometimes called disjunctive pronouns, and have very specific uses, where admittedly objective pronouns are used in English, but they are not usually used as direct objects, for example.

Warsaw Will June 12, 2015, 4:45am

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Some pre-1960 examples of "in the 1800s" at Google Books, (there are less than thirty entries all told) which I presume refer to the century:

"it would triple the former record set in New York during subway construction late in the 1800s" 1958

"The minor force behind output expansion in the 1800s became the major force in the 1900s." 1958

"Most breeds were established in the 1800s by dog fanciers, using a small number of founders that featured traits of particular interest" 1952

"Now, Sir, I would suggest that if that was true in the 1800s, it is probably no less true to-day," 1959

Only a few appear to definitely refer to the decade:

"Land disturbance began again in the 1800s and culminated in the 1880s" 1923

"It appears that a previous pastor of the same church back in the 1800s had a son, Woodrow Wilson, who grew up there" 1944

Though many are admittedly ambiguous without looking at the actual contexts. Going back further we find:

"The Lakota had migrated from Minnesota to the plains in the 1700s. Here they developed the classic plains culture. After the Civil War they fought against the United States to keep their lands but were concentrated on reservations in the West," 1846 (perhaps ambiguous)

In all countries having the social cleavages and the feudal survivals of England in the 1700s and early 1800s, the offenders against the criminal law come in the far greater proportion from what are known as the " lower classes," 1899

" Men and women of both classes flooded the colony in the 1600s and early 1700s and had an enormous impact on both the population of the colony and its laws. U.S.A. " 1895

But there are also examples where no doubt the decade is being referred to.

I imagine that this expression has long been used in both senses, except when talking of the century we're living in. For us oldies, much of our lives was lived in the twentieth century, when naturally the 1900s was used for the decade, but I'm not so convinced about the 1800s. As with much in language, it simply depends on context. And as soon as things like "early, mid, late" are added, it seems more likely that the century is being referred to.

Interestingly Ngram suggests that this expression wasn't much used before the mid twentieth
century, even for the 1700s and 1800s. Incidentally, the written out forms hardly register.

Warsaw Will June 12, 2015, 3:55am

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Sorry, that link won't work. I forgot PITE doesn't like asterisks in web addresses.

Warsaw Will June 12, 2015, 3:01am

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For what it's worth, there's not a lot of difference at the BBC website, 473 for "in the long term", 517 for "in the long run". And at the Economist it's even closer: 480 to 485 respectively. But these are both British, of course, and if you go to jayles's Ngram link and narrow it down to British books and American books, the use of "in the long term" in books seems somewhat more popular in the UK (1/3) than in the US (1/5).

There is a small problem with the figures for "in the long term", however. In two of the first ten entries at the Economist, for example, the expression is being used adjectivally - "in the long term value", "in the long term trend", although there are none like that in the first ten entries at the BBC, nor inthe first ten collocations at Ngram.*%2Cin+the+long+run+*&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=18&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2Cin%20the%20long%20term%20*%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20the%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20to%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20it%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20and%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20by%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20as%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20than%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20if%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20term%20they%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2Cin%20the%20long%20run%20*%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20to%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20the%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20it%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20be%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20than%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20by%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20they%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20a%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20the%20long%20run%20and%3B%2Cc0

Generally, I reckon if something's good enough to be printed in the Economist, it's good enough for the rest of us. Some examples:

"So technological progress squeezes some incomes in the short term before making everyone richer in the long term"

"That could have profound effects, in the long term, on the economy and the markets"

" ... suggest though that economic conditions are not repeatable in the long term."

It seems that "in the long term" is especially used when contrasting with the short term, and it seems to be often used at the end of the sentence.

Warsaw Will June 12, 2015, 2:59am

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It's definitely officially with a hard z sound in BrE. Check out (and listen at) Oxford. But after repeating it to my (British) self several times, I think you might well be right that the s sound tends to soften in practice.

Warsaw Will June 4, 2015, 2:48am

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Sorry about that. I tapped twice.

Warsaw Will June 4, 2015, 2:30am

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In academic writing (especially, I think, in the US), commas seem to be expected, unless the second clause is very short. But I can't imagine your example occurring in any formal context, so I don't see any problem. In non-academic writing I go with jayles and use a comma when I would pause, rather than worrying about formal rules.

My usage bible, Practical English Usage, and Oxford dictionaries online seem to suggest that commas are only necessary in complex sentences or where clauses are longer:

I came home and the others went dancing.

I decided to come home earlier than I had planned, and the others spent the evening at the local disco.

Warsaw Will June 4, 2015, 2:28am

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In academic writing (especially, I think, in the US), commas seem to be expected, unless the second clause is very short. But I can't imagine your example occurring in any formal context, so I don't see any problem. In non-academic writing I go with jayles and use a comma when I would pause, rather than worrying about formal rules.

My usage bible, Practical English Usage, and Oxford dictionaries online seem to suggest that commas are only necessary in complex sentences or where clauses are longer:

I came home and the others went dancing.

I decided to come home earlier than I had planned, and the others spent the evening at the local disco.

Warsaw Will June 4, 2015, 2:28am

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Just one small point: you should keep the same grammatical form for the listed items after the colon. You have noun, clause, noun; so better would be: study skills etc, counsellors who will give advice etc, and the option etc.

I don't think there is any reason why you can't use both in one sentence, but in this particular case I would probably go for two sentences as your second clause is quite long.

Warsaw Will June 4, 2015, 1:49am

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There are approximately twenty irregular verbs that have all three forms the same, and most of these have been around for hundreds of years. And, as you show, most of these have a single vowel followed by a single consonant - hit, cut, etc and so are not really analogous. Only two, I think, end with a double consonant - cost and burst.

Meanwhile there are thousands of similarish verbs, such as test, post etc which form their 2nd and 3rd forms regularly. It's arguable whether text is a new verb or not, but in any case virtually all new verbs take regular past forms - fax, faxed; google, googled, tweet, tweeted etc. Why on earth should text be any different? What makes it so special that it should it be included in a tiny group which has been closed for over two centuries?

On an idiomatic note, the British (and I believe, original) version of 'get your panties in a bunch' is 'get your knickers in a twist'.

Warsaw Will May 7, 2015, 5:22am

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@HS. Well, I keep looking in hope that someone will provoke one of my rants, or, simply an explanation, if I can give one. I often prefer PITE to other language forums such as Stack Exchange or Word Reference, because it' s not as hectic (or as competitive, pointswise), but I agree things are getting a bit too quiet around here, which is a shame.

Warsaw Will April 20, 2015, 12:36am

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