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I've come across this construct on Stack Overflow, in the title of the question "What use is lambda in PHP?"

To me this was an error, so I edited the question changing the title to "What is lambda used for in PHP?" and corrected some other stuff on the question.

Later the original poster changed the title back saying it was not an error and that it changed the voice of the phrase.

I'm not a native English speaker but consider myself pretty fluent in the language, and I have never seen this construct. Not that I remember, at least.

What does it mean?

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Welcome to ELU! As for the question, you could try thinking of the question What day is it?, and you will see what he means. –  Damkerng T. Nov 27 '13 at 16:08
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It means Of what use is it or put another way, What good is it? Why do we need it? –  Jim Nov 27 '13 at 16:25
    
The original is the equivalent of asking "Is it useful?" and may indicate the asker thinks that it is not. Your edit is the equivalent of asking, "What is it for?" and may indicate the asker doesn't know what it is. To the asker, the difference in wording is significant. +1'd Frazer –  Lee Kowalkowski Nov 27 '13 at 17:02
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5 Answers 5

The meaning doesn't change, but there is a subtle difference in the nuance, or "voice of the phrase".

What use is lambda in PHP?

Sounds to me like the speaker is skeptical of the benefits of using lambda in PHP. They probably know how to create solutions using different methods and don't need to use it, but they are curious about why others would use it instead of something else, or perhaps in a blunt manner, the speaker wants to know why anyone would use lambda instead of using whatever the speaker uses. "What use is..." sounds somewhat negative/pessimistic.

What is lambda used for in PHP?

Sounds more neutral and suggests the speaker is looking for a general run-down of everything that lambda can be used for in PHP. Not necessarily pros or cons, just what parts of PHP it is generally used for. It doesn't suggest that they use alternatives, or that they know of alternatives to using lambda.

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After reading your answer it seems so trivial to me. The construct still sounds strange, but at least now I know it's right. Thanks! –  7hi4g0 Nov 28 '13 at 21:21
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In this case, 'use' is a noun meaning the value or advantage of something (not a verb, as you thought in your correction). So essentially: "what's the usefulness of lambda in PHP?"

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One of the definitions in Oxford for use as a noun is

the value or advantage of something:

it was no use trying to persuade her

what’s the use of crying?

A related definition in the same source is

a purpose for or way in which something can be used:

the herb has various culinary uses

Its use in that sentence is perfectly fine.

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I've actually seen the forms you presented. The problem I had is that construct in specific was new to me. If the question was "What's the use of lambda in PHP?", then I wouldn't have thought it was wrong. –  7hi4g0 Nov 28 '13 at 21:19
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One thing that nobody's mentioned before is that, while
the verb use is pronounced /yuz/, with a /z/, in all its verbal forms,
the noun use is pronounced /yus/, with an /s/, in all its nominal forms.

So the clause What use is lambda is pronounced /wət 'yusəz 'læmdə/
and not /wət 'yuzəz 'læmdə/, which would be What uses lambda.

If your mind's ear hears the consonants, there isn't a problem.
Rather like the rule for a ~ an or /ðə ~ ði/

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To provide some context: lambda is concept in programming theory, (seldom discussed in php, not that it cannot be used in php) and 'a lambda' would be a short form for 'a lambda enclosure', so better rewrites would be 'How is lambda used in PHP?' or 'What is a lambda used for in PHP?' Many programmers would try to answer your original rewrite by looking for a lambda keyword, when php does not have one. Don't you just love domain specific jargon (especially in the intersection)?

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One of your "better rewrites" is the exact same as the rewrite whose rejection prompted this question and, as other answers have pointed out, does strongly change the stance of the questioner. –  Jon Hanna Nov 28 '13 at 0:22
    
@JonHanna. no, it has an article, and yes it changes stance as noted by the other answers. I was not disagreeing with them, just asserting that in this context the jargon imposed additional constraints on changes with out changing meaning. –  hildred Nov 28 '13 at 0:27
    
A yes, I see the article now, though I'd say that as a count noun it is short for "lambda expression", and as a non-count noun it is short for "lambda calculus" and the use of lambda expressions in PHP involves the use of lambda calculus, and vice-versa, so there's little to choose between them. –  Jon Hanna Nov 28 '13 at 0:35
    
I sincerely didn't understand a thing you said. But it was a fun read nonetheless. :) –  7hi4g0 Nov 28 '13 at 21:26
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