Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
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May 11, 2011

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  • June 24, 2012, 8:08am


It really depends on your view of grammar. If you think of grammar as a set of rules to follow (known as prescriptive grammar), using "their" in place of "his or her" is wrong.

If you see grammar as describing the way people actually speak (known as descriptive grammar), "their" is widely used as a genderless third-person singular, and has been, if I'm not mistaken, for quite some time.

It's worth mentioning that in "live local" (like in "think different"), "local" is an adjective that's being used as an adverb, ie "live locally", "think differently."

in other words

  • June 22, 2012, 8:42pm

"In other words" is a perfectly valid transition used to introduce a reformulation of something previously stated, either to specify or clarify. As a rhetorical tool it can be useful to restate a point "in other words" in order to address a different audience or a different detail.

"In other words" does *not* mean "in better words"!

Had he breakfast this morning?

  • November 20, 2011, 8:25am

Another, more awkward but no less correct option is "Had he had breakfast this morning?", where the first "had" is auxiliary and the second is a main active verb.

What happened to who, whom and whose?

  • September 7, 2011, 6:59pm

Languages evolve, normalize, and simplify. Best resign yourself.

Use of “he” for your father

  • July 9, 2011, 8:26am

I'm not sure that you'll find a grammatical rule that will explain why something is considered disrespectful…that's a nuance that grammar doesn't really account for. I think the reason we say "Dad is on the phone" rather than "He is on the phone" is because we're beginning a new conversation with a new person (Mom), and in that conversation "he" lacks a referent —he who?— until we specify that we're talking about Dad.

Common vs. Commonplace

  • May 11, 2011, 5:33pm

I think Aleksandra might be referring to the fact that "commonplace" (one word) has the meaning "ordinary" with the connotation "trite," "overused," and "uninteresting." Something makes me think that "common place" (two words) became a synonym for "common" by analogy. I can't think of any situation in which you can't use "common place" as a replacement for "common," but I prefer the concision and precision of "common."

Is “nevermore” a real word?

  • May 11, 2011, 5:26pm

Ultimately, "real words" are words that enough people use and understand for it to hold some currency. So if "nevermore" wasn't a word before Edgar Allan Poe, it certainly is now.

Usage rules for adverbs

  • May 11, 2011, 5:24pm

The original sentence is fine, and splitting infinitives is quite common, though there will always be pedants who insist that it's "not allowed." (It's not even *possible* in most of the languages English descends from, so the genealogy of the rule is pretty suspect) I dislike the new version of the sentence ("to address proactively the issues") because it separates the verb from its object which, though not incorrect, sounds awkward. "To proactively address the issues" or "to address the issues proactively" keep the verb and object together, and both versions sound, I think, much better.

On splitting infinitives, it might be wise to consider the quote usually attributed to Winston Churchill on ending sentences with prepositions —"This is the sort of errant criticism up with which I will not put!"— and prefer grace over strict adherence to unwieldy rules.