December 3, 2010
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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.
have a knowledge of
- August 10, 2015, 4:52am
I found this on a WordReference forum:
"Besides bringing out a certain aspect of the notion denoted by the noun the indefinite article also has a stylistic effect making a description more vivid. Therefore the use of the indefinite article with abstract nouns is characteristic of the belles lettres style:
He was filled with a loathing he had never known.
He scanned her face: it expressed a dramatic eagerness.
Looking back upon that luncheon now it is invested for me with a curious glamour."
Learning to use articles by L. Barmina
I don't think this is so rare really. Other (perhasp less literary) examples from a couple of other websites:
There was a certain coldness in her attitude towards me.
I feel a certain reluctance to tell her the news.
Some children suffer from a fear of the dark.
Incidentally, 'a knowledge of' seems to have been much more common in the past, according to Ngram peaking arund the middle of the 19th century. As for justification, would 'he has knowledge of Latin' sound any better. Not for me it wouldn't (but I would be much more likely to say 'he knows some Latin' or 'his knowledge of Latin is quite extensive' or some such - the phrase as put sounds somewhat old-fashioned to me). What's more, the use of that indefinite article often goes hand-in-hand with an adjective, for example, 'a thorough knowledge of', where the article would, I think, be necessary. Other adjectives used like this include 'certain, good' etc.
Why do we have “formal” English?
- August 10, 2015, 4:28am
No doubt most languages have differences between their written and spoken forms. This partly goes with the medium. Written language tends to be more 'careful' and we have a body of precedents to go by. Spoken language, meanwhile, is more spontaneous, friendlier perhaps. And remember it goes both ways: formal language often sounds inappropriate in an informal context. So most of us don't use 'much' and 'many' in positive statements in smonepoken language. We rarely say things like 'I have many ideas' or 'Much time and money has been wasted' in normal spoken language.
What HS says was certainly true in the past but I'm not so sure today. What's more, partly due to email, correspondence for one is getting less formal.
Compared with romance languages, I think English has actually less differences between formal and informal language. Both French and Italian have tenses (especially past simple) that are rarely used in spoken language. Spanish and Italian have 3rd person formal forms while French has 'vous'.
I don't mind so much when the 'caste system' refers to words rather than people. It doesn't particularly bother me using 'many' in more formal writing rather than 'lots of'; while I often use 'lots of' and 'get 'in spoken English, there are times when they don't seem to sound right in more formal language. As with much in language, isn't it simply a case of 'horses for courses'?
But then there are those words like the adverb 'pretty', which I find no problem with, but some others object to in a formal setting.
English can do perfectly well without “Tenses”
- August 10, 2015, 4:06am
There are basically two ways of defining tense: morphological and functional. Linguists tend to use the former, and therefore see only two tenses, past and present (as the main verb itself only has these two different forms). In EFL we usually use a twelve tense system. This consists of three times: past , present, future. Each is combined with four aspects: simple, continuous, perfect, perfect continuous. So 'I'll have been waiting' is Future Perfect Continuous (the most exotic tense). There are also a couple of forms that don't fit into this system: 'going to' and 'used to'.
This makes more sense to me, as in English it is the auxiliary verbs, rather than morphological change., that do most of the tense work. And it also reflects closely how we use verb forms. And I rather agree with Leonid on that one.
Whether you call them tenses or forms or whatever, the terms such as 'present simple', 'past continuous', 'future perfect' are widely used, and are very useful. And as jayles says, we have to call them something. It always amuses me that those who say 'there is no future tense' often have no problem talking about 'future continuous' or 'future perfect'.
The worst thing for foreign learners, I think, is when we switch systems. One well-known brand of English language books happily talks in terms of narrative tenses (i.e. the four past tenses) and present tenses, until Advanced level, when they suddenly announce that 'there are two tenses - past and present'. Now that is confusing.
Incidentally, some time ago I wrote a blog piece 'A brief history of tense', looking at how the idea of tense has been treated from the earliest English grammar books until today. At various times grammarians have seen 2, 3, 6, 9 and 12 tenses. I've even seen one suggestion of 32 tenses (he assigns different tenses to different modals).
Obj of Prep + Gerund
- August 5, 2015, 5:58am
@jayles - I don't have it to hand, but I seem to remember that in the 3rd edition of Fowler, Burchfield suggests that in sentences like 'She doesn't like him/his smoking in the house', use of the object pronoun is more common than use of the possessive (at least in British English), and most course books seem to agree that the former is more normal in spoken English, while the latter is more formal.
The original question concerns an object pronoun or possessive after a preposition, but I don't think there's any real difference. Both 'doesn't like' and 'of' theoretically demand an object, and therefore a noun phrase, which I think is Jennifer2's argument. However, real language doesn't always follow theory, and in this case I would agree with you. (It should really be the other way round - theory should be based on real language).
Incidentally, although it doesn't remove the 'problem', I think I'd get rid of that preposition, and simply say 'I envy him (his) getting rich'.
Another interesting aspect is when the -ing form is the subject rather than the object, where the object form can seem just too informal for many:
His smoking in the house annoys her.
Him smoking in the house annoys her.
Is “leverage” a verb?
- July 28, 2015, 9:56am
@DaveBoltman - "verbing weirds language":
so, off the top of my head, here are some examples of weirding:
to park a car
to book a room
to leg it
to rain, snow etc
to light a fire
to plough / plow a field
to be floored by a question
to be hedged in / 'Don't fence me in'
to log an entry
to date something (or somebody - different meanings)
to bar somebody from something
to post / mail a letter
to water the plants
to auction a painting
to table a motion
to chair a meeting
to referree a game
to ship the goods
to house a museum
As far as I can see (with a little checking at Online Etymology Dictionary), in all these cases the noun came first. And what about phrasal and prepositional verbs:
to eye up the girls
to leaf through a book
to elbow someone aside
to ring something up
And then there's your "sums up". "To sum" appears to be a 13th century example of verbing, with the noun just beating the verb into the language. And in your meaning, seems to come from the Latin noun summa.
Stephen Pinker reckons that one fifth of English verbs come from nouns, and says that "in fact, easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that make English English" (The Language Instict - from about.grammar.com)
And if making nouns from verbs is OK (call, shout, paint), why should making verbs from nouns be so dreadful ? And what about all those verb / noun pairs which can cause stressing problems for foreign learners:
import, export, discount, permit, insult, protest, rebel, project, compound, conduct
No doubt in most cases the verb came first, but in some it seems to have been a pretty close run thing. The word stress itself, incidentally, seems to have appeared in each class about the same time, c.1300.
There's much about corporate speak I don't like, but usually when it's meaningless (going forward) , euphemistic (downsizing) , and especially when it's incomprehensible to those not in the know, and for which perfectlt good alternatives already exist (low hanging fruit, bring your A game, keep me in the loop). I notice that none of those involve verbing, which is usually only a problem when the word is new to us. Some people (me included) still have a problem with incentivise, and perhaps prioritise, while not batting an eyelid at nationalise or harmonise. What a difference a hundred years or so makes.
“I’ve lived many years in Kentucky.”
- July 21, 2015, 11:54am
@jayles - I agree with point no 2 when it comes to two indepent clauses, but strangely neither of your sources seem to specifically mention dependent clauses. However I think the principle outlined above is fairly well standard. It's taught in British English course books, for instance when talking about conditionals, and on American university websites. This is pretty typical, from Towson University:
"Comma use with adverbial clauses depends upon placement of the adverbial clause. If the adverbial clause introduces the sentence, place a comma between it and the main clause. If the adverbial clause follows the main clause in a sentence, do not place a comma between the two."
And this from DailyWritingTips:
"The simple rule is this: If a subordinate clause precedes the main clause, separate the two with a comma:
Unless you have a lot of money, steer clear of Rodeo Drive.
If the subordinate clause follows the main clause, no comma is usually needed:
Steer clear of Rodeo Drive unless you have a lot of money."
But no doubt there are always exceptions. This rule, I think, makes good sense. This is because it largely follows speech patterns, as can be demonstrated by reading the examples above out loud. Incidentally, in both the examples with 'because' at Bristol, the main clause comes first, so I wouldn't have been tempted to use a comma in any case. But if the because clause had come first I would have used a comma, which reflects the pause we'd probably make in speaking. To reverse the clauses in the Bristol examples:
"Because the floodwaters were rising quickly, we all had to move to higher ground."
"Because she had already eaten a hearty lunch, she really didn't feel hungry."
As for the Oxford (or serial, or Harvard) comma, that probably depends on your educational tradition. I was taught not to use it (except where there is ambiguity), as I think were most Brits, but many American style guides advocate its use. It is, of course, the house style of the O.U.P. But just as I ignore them on the use of z in randomise/randomize, I pretty well ignore them on this one too.
“I’ve lived many years in Kentucky.”
- July 20, 2015, 10:24am
@jayles - I don't think even an inveterate pedant would have any grounds for insisting on commas in the second one. As far as I know, the accepted (and traditional) rule is that when the subordinate clause comes first, we use a comma - "If I have time, I will give you a call", but when the main clause comes first, we don't use a comma, or to put it another way, we don't use a comma when the main clause comes first.
Your second one I'm not so sure about. If admittedly had come at the beginning of the sentence, yes convention would suggest a comma. But used as in your example, commas seem rather to be optional. In the first twenty entries of "was admittedly" at Google Books, only two use commas, and the picture's much the same if you restrict the search to the 19th century, which are mainly from official or legal reports, but also include comma-less versions in literary magazines, etc. So you can find both in legal reports:
"nothing turned upon the notice, and it was, admittedly, binding upon both the landlord end the tenant." 1826
"That case is deserving of some notice, for the contract there was admittedly binding between the parties" 1847
and comma-less versions in more literary magazines:
"First, as to the sanity of her mind, or rather as to the extent of that one delusion, for she was admittedly sound upon all other subjects." The Annual Register, 1839
It's not that old a word, apparently first appearing in 1780 (it's not in Johnson).
“my” vs. “mine” in multiple owner possessive
- July 20, 2015, 9:40am
@HS - and there lies part of the problem: it's ambiguous independent of whether we use 'my' or 'mine'. (I see that in my first comment I had assumed they were talking of one child,but on second glance I might well think two were being referred to.
What's more it seems to me unnatural for reasons I mentioned earlier. The person had already taken the child/children to school, so presumably knew their name(s) - so why not just use their names instead of this somewhat awkward construction?
Incidentally I can't agree with Ashley:) - as far as I know, we virtually never use possessive pronouns before the person or thing has been mentioned (except perhaps in book titles). "Greg's child and mine" might just work, if there two children, or more, but "Mine and Greg's child"? I think not.
This is largely because it's mixing two different grammatical forms. The original sentence was "My/mine and Gregg's child", but Ashley:) has broken this down to "The child is Greg's", which is grammatically completely different.
"My" is a possessive determiner (or possessive adjective, if you prefer), whereas "mine" is a possessive pronoun. When we use a possessive noun before another noun it also acts as a determiner - "Sandra's new car" = "Her new car", not "hers new car" (which is ungrammatical). And when we use it after the verb "be", as in "This car is Sandra's", it is a possessive pronoun. And I'm afraid that Ashley:) is confusing these two forms.
So we can say "David and Sandra's new car" or at a pinch "David's and her new car", but certainly not "David's and and hers new car", or "Hers and David's new car" - they are simply ungrammatical. And I can't see how "Mine and Greg's child" is any different
Sure enough if you sustitute me for Greg in "The child is Greg's", you get "mine",but if you do the same with the original "Greg's child", you get "my child". So by Ashley:) 's own substitution rule it should be "my", And preferably "Greg's and my child". Which I would take to mean "our child", but ambuguity still remains.
Unusual use of “infringed”?
- July 17, 2015, 11:31am
Judging by the results of googling "will be infringed with" it's not so much unusual as probably unique, apparently being limited to this one health centre, which accounts for half the entries on the first page (of four) . PITE is there too, of course, but all the rest are all to do with copyright, freedom etc.
Perhaps they meant to say "issued". But to mistake the same mistake on five different pages? Perhaps it was deliberate.
|When “one of” many things is itself plural||November 27, 2011|
|You’ve got another think/thing coming||September 29, 2012|
|Fit as a butcher’s dog||May 22, 2013|
|“reach out”||May 25, 2013|
|Tell About||October 18, 2013|
|tonne vs ton||January 25, 2014|
|apostrophe with expressions of distance or time||February 2, 2014|
|Natural as an adverb||April 13, 2014|
|fewer / less||May 3, 2014|
|Opposition to “pretty”||March 7, 2015|
When is the “-wise” suffix okay?
As soon as we use the word 'indiscriminate' we are in the area of subjectivity, and the use of the word itself suggests a certain attitude. Me, I prefer 'the creative use of suffixes', which of course also suggests a certain attitude.
And as HS rightly says, register has a lot to do with it. These expressions usually sound better in an informal register. By the way, the only '-age' example I can think of is 'signage' - which I would suggest is not usually used as a plural, but indeed as a collective term, and more (the whole system). Are there others?
As for suffixes themselves, they have been a long-accepted way of creating new words: in HS's short comment I can see at least three.
Perhaps it's all a matter of time: there is often resistance to new words, which with time may begin to sound more familiar.