Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

Pain in the English offers proofreading services for short-form writing such as press releases, job applications, or marketing copy. 24 hour turnaround. Learn More

Warsaw Will

Joined: December 3, 2010
Comments posted: 1371
Votes received: 797

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

"a great number of the troops were killed and wounded"
"The militia hung upon their rear; and many of the regular troops were killed and wounded."
"in which many of the provincials, and more of the regular troops were killed and wounded"
"About two thousand of the British troops were killed ..."
" In this assault about 60 of our troops were killed"
"and great numbers of the American troops were killed or taken ..."

These all come from American books. And they are all from the first half of the nineteenth century! In fact, judging by Ngram, the expression "troops were killed" appears less frequently in twenty-first century books than in early nineteenth century ones. On the other hand, the use of "soldiers were killed" (in those books included at Ngram) increased at about double the rate of "troops were killed" during the 2000s.

This does not cover media use, of course, but it does show that the use of the word "troops" to mean "soldiers", rather than a specific group of soldiers, is nothing new, and while I can see that "collateral damage"really is a euphemism, I can't really see how "troops" would be seen as a euphemism for "soldiers", anymore than "soldiers" is a euphemism for "men".

I wonder if there's any proof Bush asked the US media to use "troops" instead of "soldiers", or whether this is just another of those internet myths. And I also wonder how real this perceived change actually is.

At the NYT, a site search brings up 108 hits for "soldiers were killed in Iraq" as opposed to 56 for "troops were killed in Iraq". At CNN, it's 89 for soldiers, 49 for troops. At Fox News, which might have been expected to be more sympathetic to Bush's alleged request, it's 68 for soldiers as opposed to 36 for troops, and at the New York Post, it's 14 to 10. Hardly overwhelming evidence.

Warsaw Will August 4, 2014, 2:59pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Just to clarify something - not all these verbs are ergative verbs, one test for which is to interpose 'and so' between the transitive version and the intransitive one:

'Little Johnny broke the window, and so the window broke'
'The sun melted the ice, and so the ice melted'
'The government increased taxes, and so taxes increased'

This is obviously not the case with 'translates (as)', 'reads' and 'says' - where something else is happening.

Warsaw Will August 3, 2014, 4:42am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Jasper - I'm sorry about your name ; I think I also confused you with jayles once - I get a bit muddled with all these Js (That's no excuse, though!).

Incidentally, the whole book is online, illegally I presume, so I won't link to it. I take it you mean Chapter 8 - 'The semantics and grammar of adverbials' - a mere seventy pages or so - I'll try and give it a whirl sometime.

@jayles the unwoven - "Where is your evidence for this? ;=))" - virtually every post. I would suggest that a majority of the few remaining regular posters consider formal grammar 'more correct' than actual spoken Standard English (although I don't include you in this). That is not a criticism, just a statement of the position as I see it. Jasper himself says that that his 'focus is always on the grammar and not so much on spoken language and the idiomaticity of the sentence'. Whereas my focus (and interest in English) is exactly the opposite.

At the risk of being accused of banging on about descriptivism yet again (sorry, Jasper), as far as I'm concerned (and I think as far as many linguists are concerned, including the aforementioned Quirk et al), grammar derives from the language as it is used, not from a canon of old grammar books, many aspects of which, such as their attitudes to preposition stranding and split infinitives, are now largely discredited. I believe that 'grammar' should reflect the language as it is actually used by educated speakers, and I also think we should think more about register and 'appropriateness' than 'correctness' as dictated by the writers of formal grammar.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that this is currently a minority view on this forum, in contrast to forums such as StackExchange and WordReference, where discussion is based more on usage. Hence my statement.

I confess I do have a thing about 'whom', which is where I think traditional grammar departs most from reality, and I have written a series of posts under the rubric of 'Whom Watch'. My problem with examples like "Whom did you meet last night?", and the far worse "With whom did you eat the pizza?", which comes from a so-called 'grammar infographic' reposted on a couple of ESL sites by teachers who should have known better, is that these are very obviously from contexts where they would be spoken, and unlikely to crop up in formal texts. And in informal spoken language almost nobody would use 'whom' in these contexts (and nowadays it's not so common in books either).

Even back in 1772, in the third edition of 'The Rudiments of English Grammar',polymath Joseph Priestley wrote "As, 'Who is this for?' 'Who should I meet the other day but my old friend' . This form of speaking is so familiar that I question whether grammarians should admit it as an exception to the general rule."

His next bit might be of more interest to Jasper, as it involves the infinitive of 'be' - "Dr Lowth says that grammar requires us to say 'Whom do you think me to be'. But in conversation we always hear 'Who do you think me to be'. "

Warsaw Will August 1, 2014, 2:47pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Rdavis202 - 'Cats and dogs' - that surprises me too. It's in lots of EFL course books, but I've always found it a bit artificial, and tell my students we're probably more likely to say something like 'It's bucketing down' (BrE) - although Ngram suggests I'm wrong.

Warsaw Will August 1, 2014, 1:11pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

"Obstinancy"is certainly in the OED, at least according to Wiktionary, but is listed as 'rare', and it is not listed in Oxford Online. In fact it is only listed in two of the many online dictionaries searched at 'OneLook'.

Incidentally it is very unlikely Dickens did use it, and especially not in "Oliver Twist" - in the First Edition of 1838, it reads -

"Come; you should know her better than me - wot does it mean ?” “ Obstinacy—woman's obstinacy, I suppose, my dear,” replied the Jew shrugging his shoulders."

Searching 19th century books at Google for "obstinancy" "Dickens" brings up only one result - "and little by little to make common cause on the one subject of Martin Chuzzlewit's obstinancy.". But it's not by Dickens, but by a pair of literary critics, the Littels.

Its use was always infinitesimal compared to that of its n-less cousin and seems to have peaked in the late eighteenth century. So, the word exists,yes, but its use is virtually non-existent.

But, remember this next time you're at pub quiz - skaddoura might be right about buffalo (and also bison). This is from 'The Smooth Guide to Animals and the English Language' - 'A gang, a herd, an obstinancy, a troop of bison' and the same for buffalo (but without 'gang'). This idea is repeated quite a lot round the web, but I can't find any reputable source for this.

Warsaw Will August 1, 2014, 1:03pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

"The situation was transformed into something quite different." - this is fine when we know that there was an agent who/which transformed the situation, but situations have a habit of changing under their own steam: here are a few intransitive examples:

"The situation turned nasty"
"The situation improved"
"The situation worsened"
"As the situation darkened on the Northern Plains, Sheridan was pulled away"

Incidentally, Skeeter, I much prefer your first choice of "the sentences should read this way" to "The sentences should run this way". After all, we can say "It says here ..." when nobody is saying anything. And we also say things like "This reads more like an advertisement than a review", so what's wrong with "the sentences should read this way". This is from "All About Grammar", by Rosemary Allen (2007):

"James ran in the house to tell Mum." This should read:

"James ran into the house to tell Mum."

I can't see any problems there. Trust your instinct!

Warsaw Will August 1, 2014, 12:19pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

"Now we all know who is the agent that increases taxes" - something not quite right there: "Now we all know who it is that increases taxes, who the agent is"

Warsaw Will August 1, 2014, 11:51am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

First, jayles is right that there is a lot of antipathy to the passive from people who really should know better, especially in American writing schools - their reason being that they see it as 'wimpy' and avoiding responsibility. One striking aspect of this criticism, is that many of these critics routinely misidentify the passive. Linguist Geoffrey Pullum has collected many of these examples at Language Log, and I've written about it here (with links to Pullum):

Funnily enough, I've also written about ergative verbs on my blog, and I gave this example of one, which is where the object of a transitive can also be used as the subject of the same verb used intransitively:

"Little Johnny broke the window when playing with his ball." - transitive active
"The window was broken when little Johnny was playing with his ball." -transitive passive
"The window broke when little Johnny was playing with his ball."- intransitive use

Naturally, the window didn't break of its own accord, but I think most of us would accept the third variation as being OK. Of course children use this as a way of trying to avoid blame - "Mummy! My toy broke!" Most ergative verbs are related to cooking - "the pasta was simmering away", changes of state - "the door opened", general movement and the movement of vehicles - "the plane circled overhead".

I notice that under the heading "Verbs expressing change" I've included a section on "Beginning and ending, increasing and decreasing", including such verbs as "begin, finish, decrease, grow, fade" - "The sun had faded the colours / The colours had faded in the sun."

Ngram graphs would suggest be true that the intransitive use of some of these verbs has increasing in the last forty years or so:

It seems to me that this intransitive use is more common with some of these verbs than others, and I can see no reason to object to the intransitive use with "increase", for example. And I would argue, that this is really more about transitive vs intransitive use, than active vs passive. Take, for example:

"The government have increased taxes again!"
"Taxes have been increased again!"
"Taxes have increased again"

Now we all know who is the agent that increases taxes, and so a passive example is very unlikely to mention the agent - so I can't see any great improvement in using the passive here. But perhaps that's because I'm so used to teaching students that "increase" and "decrease" can be both transitive and intransitive.

Although the growth in the use of "translates as" seems fairly recent, it seems perfectly idiomatic to me, and this use is listed in Oxford Online. It goes back at least a century: this is from 1911 - "In the second volume of the historical annals of Korea is found a reference to rain gauges which translates as follows: "In the 24th year ..."

The lack of any mention in either Fowler (3rd ed) or MWDEU would suggest that this has not been considered problematic by commentators. I would also suggest that your passive example - "That is translated as 'Beware Greeks bearing gifts.'" sounds as though it has been translated like this on a particular occasion, by a particular translator, not simply that that is its meaning in English.

I agree that the "situation transformed" example sounds a bit odd at first, and at a cursory glance at Google Books I can't find any examples of this use much before 1980. But Oxford Online has this example:

"a wry cynicism rapidly transforms into an overwhelming sense of sourness" - I don't suppose cynicism has volition either. The definition given here being "Undergo a marked change".

(Incidentally, I don't think volition has a lot to do with it - "It was an event that would transform my life.". Events don't have volition either. And even when chrysalises transform into butterflies, I don't suppose there's much volition involved there either. The question for me, is whether a verb that is normally used transitively sounds natural when used intransitively.)

I doubt there would be any objection to “The situation changed into something quite different.” , so I can't really see any logical reason why transform shouldn't be used in a similar way.

Warsaw Will August 1, 2014, 11:48am

2 votes    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Jason - I must confess I hadn't read your final concessionary paragraph until now. So sorry about that.

Warsaw Will July 20, 2014, 9:54am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Skeeter Lewis - I sort of gathered after I posted - sorry. And I agree with you that both sides should take a step back. I was rather taken aback by Jason's 'I don't care' and 'spout off ESL' comments, and went into defensive mode.

@Jason - concession where concession is due. I have discovered that there is indeed a school of thought amongst linguists that 'wh' words in simple interrogatives function as complements, and so I now accept your position there (although I don't think that's the case with 'wh' relative pronouns - but I won't insist on that). I also got a bit confused between 'subject-operator inversion' (the phrase you used) and subject-auxiliary inversion (the term we normally use).

If by Quirk et al, you are talking about 'The Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language', I take my hat off to you - it's enormous)

Warsaw Will July 20, 2014, 9:50am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Skeeter Lewis - As we are often on opposite sides in these dicussions, I took your comment at face value. But I'm now beginning to wonder if your comment wasn't perhaps meant to be ironic, in which case I take that back.

Warsaw Will July 20, 2014, 7:01am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

"It's true - dear old Will does try to bludgeon us to death with his tolerance." - so a mere one person standing up for a different view to the one held (and oft repeated) by the majority (which now seems to consist of about four people) is"bludgeoning you to death" is it? I am glad that the spirit of open debate is still alive and kicking.

First of all, this question was about the use of 'whom', and as this is probably the single area where traditional formal grammar is most out of kilter with normal spoken English, I think that my point there was totally relevant. Tell me honestly, who among you would say 'Whom did he want to meet?'

If I repeat the point about usage, it is because this is one of the few language forums where this is not considered important.

I may have been a bit critical of Jason's example sentences, but that was because I genuinely didn't understand them, so had some difficulty in the point he was making.

You may have noticed that activity on this forum has been pretty sparse lately, and if the intolerance now being shown by some people to those with opposing views is to prevail, I can't see this situation getting much better. From now on I'll choose the threads I comment on rather more carefully. And I don't think this will be one of them.

Warsaw Will July 20, 2014, 6:47am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Beat you to it HS - - apparently it's quite common in something close to your ex-line of business - tech companies.

Warsaw Will July 20, 2014, 6:24am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

One swallow doesn't make a summer!

Warsaw Will July 18, 2014, 8:34am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Wow! Someone got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. But I'll ignore all the negative stuff and try and answer some of your points:

I'm sorry you think that some arbitrary rules that hardly any educated speakers actually follow in spoken language (which is definitely the case with 'whom') are more important than the natural idiomatic language the majority of educated speakers actually speak.

What you call 'standard grammar' is in effect formal grammar, and it is not, for example, the definition used by linguists. And my position on this is not simply of EFL, but of modern linguistics in general.

You say: No, "who" is not the subject of "am", but "I" is. This is basic subject-operator inversion common in interrogative sentences; if it were "who is going to the mall", then yes, but here, no.

Well, that is contentious to say the least. As your example shows, 'standard subject-operator inversion' is not used when 'who' refers to the subject. Why should it be any different with 'be'?

'Who hit Mandy?' subject + verb + direct object
'Who is Mandy?' subject + verb + subject complement

This is from your StackExchange link: 'Notice that there is nothing in between the auxiliary "will" and the verb "be", and so, that means that there hasn't been any subject-auxiliary inversion, and that means that the subjects are "Which" and "What". '

We could both find opinions here to support our argument, but these are both only forums: they prove nothing.

As for your other examples - you say 'How hard are they to understand?' And you give the example: 'For "I am who to be", think of it as some king standing over his people and saying this sentence to mean: emulate me, aspire to be my glory.' Well, I think that's stretching it a bit, but OK when it's explained it might be possible . But I doubt anybody actually speaks like that. There are precisely two examples in the whole Internet, neither of which have this meaning, and both of which sound distinctly odd - .

'For thy guiding hand of thee, Thou I am who to be proud'
'Who are you who do not know that I am who to be set to create him as a Prophet'

And the others:

“I am he to judge.” - one example - 'I am he to judge and he to know, I am he to rain justice upon the masses and conquer ALL!' - but one swallow doesn't make a swallow.

“I am him to judge” - no examples outside this forum

“I am he to be.” - a handful, mostly either from foreigners or misprints

(Now "I am not the one to judge" I would understand)

“I am him to be.” - no examples outside this forum, but at a pinch I could imagine Jesus saying it in the KJV (but it doesn't occur in any books)

These simply are not idiomatic English, to my ear, but more the sort of thing Yoda might come out with. But if that's what floats your boat, who am I to argue - or should that be 'whom', perhaps?

Here are a couple of (I would suggest more realistic) examples 'who' + 'be' + infinitive, where I think we can more or less rule out 'whom' (see the respective Ngram graphs):

'Who is he to tell me what to do?'
'Who am I to be treated this way?'

Warsaw Will July 18, 2014, 8:31am

1 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

“Whom did he want to meet?” - Does anyone actually say that? Conversationally? Apart from in radio dramas, etc.

I have very grave doubts about your opening premise, beloved by certain grammar sites, that if the answer is 'him', it must be 'whom'. The fact is that 'whom' is rarely used in spoken English, either in direct questions or in relative clauses - . In EFL, we teach that the only time you need to use it is after a preposition. Formal written work is another matter, of course, but that's not the place I'd expect to find a sentence like “Whom did he want to meet?”, except in dialogue.

But for the sake of the game:

1 - “Who am I to judge?” - this is such a well-known expression there should be no question of using 'whom' - in any case 'who' is the subject here (not 'I'), so 'whom' would be plain wrong.

2 - “I am who/whom to be.” - sorry, but I have no idea what's going on here, nor for the rest of sentences 1a to 2d, which as far as I'm concerned, simply aren't English.

[2a'] “I am the person (who) you should be.” (U)
[2b'] “I am the person (whom) you should be.” (A)

I can't agree with your classifications here. I know we say things like 'What would you do if you were me?', but in this case 'who' is more natural - 'whom' is hardly ever used in restrictive relative clauses, even with non-copular verbs - 'He's the person who you should see' is much more natural then 'He's the person whom you should see'.

Actually the most natural thing is to leave the relative pronoun out altogether, which you can always do in restrictive relative clauses when it refers to the object - 'I am the person you should be.', 'He's the person you should see.' - problem solved!

As jayles says 'It is I who am (the boss around here)' is standard (or more likely - 'It's me who's the boss around here'). But it's not anything to do with coming after the copular verb: it's because 'who' is the subject of the following verb.

The need for a second verb to have a subject overrides everything else. Here's a common error (according to traditional grammar) - 'Whom shall I say is calling?' - take away 'shall I say' and the real question is 'Who is calling?' - the need for 'calling' to have a subject overrides the need for 'say' to have an object.

In - 'Who am I to be?' (again, rather a strange sentence) 'who' is simply the subject of 'am', not the subject complement / object of 'to be'. Perhaps a more natural example using exactly the same construction - 'OK. Who's it to be? Mandy or Sandy?' - Nobody would ever say 'Whom is it to be?'

There seems to be some confusion over subject complements and subjects here. When 'who' comes at the beginning of an interrogative sentence before 'be', it is always the subject. Even the most purist grammarian can only use 'whom' when another word appears before the verb as a subject, as in your example - 'Whom did he want to meet?'

But life's so much easier when you forget about 'whom' altogether.

Warsaw Will July 17, 2014, 7:30pm

1 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Jasper - on Ngram, 'count your chickens' is soaring, and 'your eggs in one basket' is holding steady, if fluctuating a bit -

Warsaw Will July 4, 2014, 8:09pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@jayles (the un-nothing this time) - Ngram links with asterisks don't work on PITE.

@HS - Re kettle, that would have been my hunch too, but it doesn't even show up in the Ngram British books selection.

Warsaw Will July 4, 2014, 8:04pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

"A watched pot never boils" is still pretty active on Ngram, especially if you shorten it to "A watched pot". Milton Friedman may have used "There's no such thing as a free lunch" for the title of one of his books, but the expression goes back at least to 1943. It may have been used by the ultra-free-market right, but it had never occurred to me to have any particular political meaning before I read your comment, just common sense; a case of the devil having the best tunes, perhaps.

There are many proverbs where we often only use part of the proverb, for example "When in Rome" or "the last (or final) straw" (when did you last hear anyone mention the poor camel?). But you need to try the right short version (comments refer to Ngram) -

"Birds of a feather" shows double that of "Birds of a feather flock" - relatively stable
"When the going gets tough" shows ten times that of "the tough get going" - soaring
"Two wrongs" nearly double "Two wrongs don't make" - pretty stable
"two many cooks" more than double "two many cooks spoil" - long term gradual increase

"Every cloud has a silver lining is a case in point" - "silver lining" has by far replaced "every cloud" as the most popular form, and has been on the up since 1960 or so. The full proverb is relatively rare.

I'd be interested to know how they judge these to be "the fifty most important" proverbs. There are a couple I've never heard of, such as "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" and "Fortune favours the bold" (American, perhaps?)

Why no "last (or final) straw", I wonder, which according to Ngram has soared since 1960, as have "a book by its cover" (Ngram max 5 words) and "better safe than sorry". (Actually, these are in their next fifty).

In fact, when I try most of the ones I know, Ngram shows a healthy increase in use, so I think the answer to your original question is: not at all, they are "alive and kicking" (also on the up), but usually (where possible) in their abbreviated forms.

"When the going gets tough the tough get going" - this is pretty recent

Only three hits at Google Books for "when the going gets tough" before 1925, the earliest from 1883, but none with "the tough get going", so this seems to have started as the simple expression "when the going gets tough".

Especially associated with JFK and later Richard Nixon (he was apparently rather fond of the phrase), some of the earliest uses of the full proverb may have come from American football. A notice "prominently posted in the Michigan training room all during the week before the Minnesota game" in 1955 is the earliest example at Google Books, but coach Frank Leahy from the is quoted using it the year before, in the Charleston Daily Mail. Plenty of places attribute it to Joseph P Kennedy, JFK's father, and Wikipedia mentions another coach, Knute Rockne (1888-1931) - but nobody gives any dates for the these two.

It possibly had a precursor, though - "The tougher the going the tougher we get", from 1945.

Warsaw Will July 3, 2014, 4:23pm

1 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

One small thought: You'll find a lot more for "beggars can't be choosers" than "beggars can not be choosers".

Both seem quite popular on Facebook and Twitter - actual counts (front-page figure in brackets):

"beggars can't be choosers" - Facebook - 564 (19,900) Twitter - 499 (20,100)

"actions speak louder than words"- Facebook 541 (60,000) Twitter - 561 (61,900)

I imagine these are used more in spoken language than written, so it would be quite difficult to come up with a definitive answer. But Ngram shows an interesting difference in BrE and AmE - in BrE, "beggars can't be choosers"is at the same level as 1920, not much less than 75% of its peak level in in the late 30's and mid 40s. But in AmE, it's at it highest ever level. And according to Ngram, the use of "action speaks louder than words" has more than doubled since around 1970, in both AmE and BrE.

Warsaw Will July 2, 2014, 2:49pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse