This tag is about how the grammar works: different grammatical usages, how they can be used, or what they mean.

learn more… | top users | synonyms (1)

105
votes
3answers
4k views

Where were “should”, “shall”, and “must” in the 18th Century?

According to the following Google Ngram, in the U.K. the modals should, shall, and must were virtually missing from English writing during the 18th Century (I've added will for a comparison modal ...
56
votes
9answers
2k views

Is it ever worth the time and effort to correct someone else's grating grammatical mistakes?

Whenever I hear statements like "It was a great deal for he and I" and "Call Karen and I in the morning," I die a little. Such solecisms, as Twain said in another context (Cooper's prose style), ...
52
votes
2answers
4k views

What is the first part of a joke called?

How does one refer to the first part of a joke? The follow up is often referred to as a punchline but I'm unsure how to refer to the first part. Is it a 'joke' or does a 'joke' include the punchline? ...
43
votes
8answers
13k views

Is there a reason the British omit the article when they “go to hospital”?

Why do British speakers omit the article in constructions like "go to hospital" or "go on holiday"? Pretty much all American speakers would rephrase those as "go to the hospital" and "go on a ...
37
votes
7answers
2k views

What exactly is an “adverb”?

From comments to “Weekdays” used as an adverb", I learn that The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary says "open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.", shows the word weekdays is an adverb. It seems to me ...
37
votes
4answers
76k views

What is the difference between “till” and “until”?

What is the difference between till and until? When to use till or until? Please explain with examples.
35
votes
7answers
5k views

Why use “of” in the phrase “delivered of a baby”?

With all the "Royal baby" craze comes something that really confuses me. All the news media used pretty much the same sentence to make the announcement: The Duchess of Cambridge has been ...
35
votes
8answers
3k views

Why is there no plural indefinite article?

The takes either a singular or a plural subject. A/an only takes the singular. When we pluralize a noun preceded by an indefinite article, we simply drop the article (sometimes replacing it with ...
33
votes
6answers
35k views

When do I use “I” instead of “me?”

From some comments in the answers for common English usage mistakes, there's confusion around the usage of I vs. me: While the sentence, "the other attendees are myself and Steve," is agreed to be ...
32
votes
5answers
3k views

Is “the girls are want to gossip” correct?

Is this the correct use and placement of want? The girls in the office are want to gossip. Does anyone have a reference citing this use?
30
votes
10answers
7k views

What does “it” refer to in “it's raining”?

I wanted to leave the question title as is so as not to take away from my amusement :). Anyway, It's raining. What is raining? Is it the sky? The clouds? The weather? The rain? What is "it"? ...
29
votes
5answers
8k views

Are there any simple rules for choosing the definite vs. indefinite (vs. none) article?

I can’t for the life of me figure out where to use a and where to use the — and where there is no article at all. Is there a simple rule of thumb to memorize? The standard rule you always hear: ...
27
votes
5answers
12k views

What's the negation of “I used to be”? Surely not “I didn't used to be”?

What is the negative form of "I used to be"? I often hear "I didn't used to be" but that sounds awfully wrong in my ears.
26
votes
4answers
12k views

How does the phrase “used to” work, grammatically?

It is common to hear people say "used to" to indicate that they did something in the past but no longer do; for example, "I used to play basketball." How would "used to," used in that context, fit ...
22
votes
4answers
2k views

How do the rules of English inform understanding of one of our language's most disputed sentences?

Yes, historical context is important, but forget it for a moment. Taken at face value, what does the text mean? A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right ...
22
votes
7answers
2k views

When did “while” and “whilst” become interchangeable?

I think most folk happily use either "while" or "whilst". I've a vague recollection that at one time "while" indicated the passing of time and "whilst" was essentially the same as "whereas" or ...
22
votes
4answers
4k views

Plural of an initialism that ends with the letter S [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What is the correct way to pluralize an acronym? I was answering something on Super User and wrote OSes as part of my normal flow without really thinking about it. On a ...
21
votes
4answers
3k views

“But” in the beginning of a sentence

Is "But" allowed in the beginning of a sentence as synonym to "Though" or "However"? You can afford it. But think twice before buying it. Won't using "But" instead of "However" mark me as non-native ...
21
votes
10answers
8k views

“May” & “Might”: What's the right context?

I may not be coming in tomorrow... I might not be coming in tomorrow... When could I use "may" & "might"?
20
votes
4answers
32k views

Is there a more common phrase that means “preponed”?

I was aware of this and this stackexchange post discuss the same. There is no prepone in English. Ok, then how do I say Our meeting is preponed in correct way? What is the correct word/phrase for ...
19
votes
6answers
2k views

How do I pluralize a name ending in “y”?

Frequently when I refer to or address a family, I do so by pluralizing their last name, e.g., The Smiths, or The Ramones. But suppose I want to address a family whose last name ends in a "y", e.g., ...
19
votes
2answers
70k views

Is there an apostrophe in a master's degree?

The question asks it all really. When referring to a master's degree, do you use an apostrophe or not? That is, is it "a master's" or "a masters"?
18
votes
8answers
2k views

Do you say “please yourself” in a non-sexual context?

In an English grammar textbook, I found this example sentence: Dinner's at 8 o'clock, but there's nothing planned for the afternoon, so you can all please yourself until then. I googled please ...
18
votes
5answers
1k views

What is the best way to explain how to choose between “its” and “it's”?

Probably one of the most frequent grammar mistakes in the English language is: The dog sat on it's mat. Since spelling checkers don't catch it, and it is even logical, since you would correctly ...
18
votes
8answers
15k views

Is there any difference between Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous?

I have studied "present perfect" and "present perfect continuous" for a week. I know forms, verb and helping verb I should use when I write them. For me, they have nearly same definition because I ...
18
votes
2answers
1k views

Plurality of numbers between -1 and 1

If I recall correctly, the Académie française states that, for French, quantities comprised within [-1,1] are singular, and anything else is plural. This means, for instance, that we should say (in ...
18
votes
5answers
2k views

How would you describe the semantic phenomenon that allows this joke?

Groucho Marx had a joke that's long been a favorite of mine: I've had a wonderful time; this wasn't it. I assume he's using the present perfect to say I've had a wonderful time. But, when he ...
18
votes
2answers
422 views

Pronunciation of 'host' in Shakespeare's time

Listening to the recent film production of Macbeth with Patrick Stewart, I noticed that Duncan says: Give me your hand. Conduct me to mine host. Obviously, it's in the text (Act 1, Scene 6). ...
18
votes
5answers
39k views

Is “there're” (similar to “there's”) a correct contraction?

Q: "Do you have any juice?" A: "Yes, there's some in the fridge." Sounds perfectly fine to me, but: Q: "Do you have any towels?" A: "Yes, there's some in the closet." Does not. I asked ...
18
votes
6answers
2k views

When can the -ing form of a verb be placed before a noun?

My native-speaker's grammatical intuition tells me that: There is a sleeping man under the tree. is fine but There is a fishing man by the river bank. is wrong. Why? I've thought about ...
17
votes
7answers
12k views

Where should the comma be placed in the salutation of a letter?

Sometimes I see a comma after the proper name: Hello Mr. Black, In order to give you.... But my native language is not English and I think that the comma in this phrase should be placed ...
17
votes
2answers
1k views

Omitting “and” in a sentence

He called her, emailed her, texted her, tweeted her—all to no use. Strictly speaking, I would need to write texted her and tweeted her, but I'm omitting and to convey a rhythm and sense of ...
17
votes
3answers
686 views

You don't want to answer this word-placement question, now do you?

Prompted by this question I got to thinking about the placement of the word now. If it's placed before the comma, it refers to an immediate condition: You don't want to answer this word-placement ...
16
votes
8answers
1k views

Why do we say “Japan earthquake” and not “Japanese earthquake”?

Isn’t earthquake a noun and the preceding word an adjective? Isn’t “Japanese” the adjectival form of “Japan”?
16
votes
6answers
54k views

Which is correct: “special thanks go to” or “special thanks goes to”?

what is grammatically correct: Special thanks go to Tom... Special thanks goes to Tom... IMHO I'd say thanks is one of those plural nouns which implies it requires go but I'm not sure. It's for ...
16
votes
3answers
527 views

''Honey'' Usage Question

my friend (he's from Europe, white in his 20s) was in the U.S. a while ago and went to a diner a few times. A woman there (in her late 40s, most likely), kept calling him ''honey'' and ''sweetie'' ...
16
votes
4answers
43k views

Difference between “I have got” and “I have gotten”

I see these two expressions are used almost identically in different contexts. Is there a difference between I have got and I have gotten?
16
votes
3answers
1k views

Americans can eat Chinese, but Chinese can't eat Americans?

No offence!! Please take it just for knowledge. I heard one of my friends saying Americans can eat Chinese but Chinese can't eat Americans. He said so for fun, and everybody was just laughing. But I ...
15
votes
5answers
1k views

Is there a name for how the Irish use so, so?

There is an Irish English structural usage of the word so, that is I think unique to Ireland. Are we going to the cinema, so? Where is the dog, so? The word so is unneeded and seems to mean ...
15
votes
6answers
704 views

Lists Without “And”

I just came across this sentence: Everyone has lost his country, his home, his equilibrium. I've seen such structure used numerous times but I'm not sure how this works. What effect does it have ...
15
votes
9answers
1k views

How can I reliably and accurately identify the passive voice in writing or speech?

How can I reliably and accurately identify the passive voice in writing or speech? I'm not interested in advice about whether or not to use it yet... I just want to know for sure what it is, so that I ...
15
votes
6answers
2k views

Using “so” and “very” for ungradable adjectives

We generally use modifiers such as "so" and "very" for gradable/normal adjectives (water can be quite/so/very HOT, but not quite/so/very BOILING (an ungradable/extreme adjective). Yet would you say ...
15
votes
4answers
2k views

Is “very crucial” redundant?

This came up as a multiple-choice question in an exam. Is using "very crucial" redundant?. . . or tautology?
15
votes
5answers
2k views

I think him to be about 50 or I think he is about 50?

I have two options. Which one is correct? a) I think him to be about 50. b) I think he is about 50 If both are correct, should I avoid one or the other?
15
votes
6answers
16k views

Why “go off”, as in “alarm went off”?

I was wondering why does something goes off, when it in fact does the opposite bomb goes off - it blows up alarm goes off - it turns on Why not goes on?
15
votes
2answers
641 views

What is the correct spelling of “buyer* remorse”?

Apostrophical query: a) Buyers Remorse b) Buyer Remorse c) Buyer's Remorse d) Buyers' Remorse My guess is b or c, as it seems like any example is talking about the remorse of one specific buyer, ...
15
votes
4answers
5k views

What part of speech is “on” in “on fire”?

A while ago, there was an answer on Jeopardy! along the following lines: In the sentence he was on fire, the word on is this part of speech. The judges ruled that it was a preposition. But I ...
15
votes
1answer
26k views

Why use “need not” instead of “do not need to”?

The header of psyco.sourceforge.net states: High-level languages need not be slower than low-level ones. Why use need not instead of do not need? What does it mean? Also, why no to before be? ...
15
votes
6answers
886 views

What are the principles that make certain lists sound euphonious?

Has this ever happened to you: You write a question, include a list or two in the discussion, and then come back to edit that list because the order doesn't sound "right"? Off the top of my head, I ...
15
votes
3answers
778 views

“Without that” clause

I'm reading Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe. He keeps using a sentence construction that I have never seen before: "...my poor pineal gland has all but forgotten how to do its job without ...