This tag is not for questions on whether something is grammatical. It's for questions about how the grammar actually works: different grammatical usages, how they can be used, or what they mean.

learn more… | top users | synonyms (1)

122
votes
3answers
5k 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 ...
60
votes
3answers
186k 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.
59
votes
9answers
3k views

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

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), ...
55
votes
2answers
5k 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? ...
52
votes
14answers
17k views

One of us is wrong, aren't we?

I have just learned from what I consider a reliable source, that the following sentence is correct: One of us is wrong, aren't we? I would never in my life have written this, but I am assured ...
51
votes
10answers
8k views

Grammatically correct sentence where “you're” and “your” can be interchanged? [closed]

Most grammar checkers are capable of detecting the the misuse of "your" and "you're"; providing the necessary correction. I'm curious though, is there any sentence that can be constructed where ...
51
votes
8answers
24k 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 ...
44
votes
7answers
3k 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 ...
44
votes
7answers
77k 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 ...
37
votes
7answers
8k 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 ...
37
votes
8answers
5k 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 ...
36
votes
5answers
4k 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?
35
votes
7answers
12k 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: ...
34
votes
5answers
23k 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.
31
votes
9answers
3k views

“Too much pills and liquor” or “Too many pills and liquor”?

When you mix a mass noun with a plural, do you use "much" or "many"? My apologies if the answer to this is readily available, I haven't been able to find anything
31
votes
10answers
12k 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"? ...
28
votes
5answers
10k 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 ...
27
votes
14answers
5k views

Sentence in which “its” and “it's” can be interchanged without changing the meaning? [closed]

A friend posed the following word puzzle to me: Can you think of a sentence that keeps the same meaning whether you use "it's" or "its"? He asserted that this puzzle does in fact have a ...
27
votes
4answers
21k 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 ...
26
votes
5answers
17k views

Difference between “I am really sorry” and “I really am sorry”

I know they are slightly different, but I can't tell how. I've read about the usage of the word "really" in a negative sentence. But it didn't tell me about how the position of the word "really" can ...
26
votes
13answers
3k 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 ...
26
votes
1answer
57k 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? ...
25
votes
7answers
3k views

Can a person happen? Is “Zodanga happened” correct?

I was watching movie John Carter where there was some dialogue like this: — What happened here? — Zodanga happened. Here Zodanga was a bad guy in the movie. I don't understand how a guy ...
25
votes
4answers
13k views

When should a verb be followed by a gerund instead of an infinitive?

Some verbs are followed by ing, e.g. I enjoy swimming. We can't say I enjoy to swim. Likewise, some verbs are followed by to, e.g. I decided to make a plan. Which particular verbs are followed by ...
25
votes
11answers
14k 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"?
25
votes
5answers
45k views

Is “either” only used with two options?

Does “either . . . or” apply to only two options? For example, can I say, “It can provide either 100, 150, or 400 amps of power”? Or should it just be “It can provide 100, 150, or 400 amps of ...
25
votes
4answers
7k 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 ...
24
votes
7answers
5k views

Is it possible to start a grammatically-correct English sentence with the word “Than”?

Question: Is it possible to start a grammatically-correct English sentence with the word "Than"? If no, what other English words share this property? Background: Trevor claimed that it is ...
24
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 ...
24
votes
6answers
67k 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 ...
24
votes
2answers
148k 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"?
23
votes
7answers
34k 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?
23
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
5answers
129k 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?
21
votes
4answers
54k 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 ...
20
votes
8answers
5k views

What’s wrong with “After roasting the deer, the hunter extinguished the fire and then searched for a tree to hang it from”?

A question from my GMAT class, which I was told is wrong and it was left for me to figure it out. After roasting the deer, the hunter extinguished the fire and then searched for a tree to hang it ...
20
votes
6answers
2k 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 ...
20
votes
4answers
3k views

Is “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” a common or respectable English expression?

Today’s edition of the New York Times (December 16, 2014) carries an article written by Mark Bittman under the headline “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” It begins with the following passage: “What’s ...
20
votes
7answers
232k views

“I use to”, or “I used to”

Which is the correct way of saying the following sentence (if there is a correct version)? "I use to be a hitman" "I used to be a hitman" I've read the 2nd recently in a book, but was sure it ...
20
votes
5answers
116k views

“It worths it”, “it worth it” or “it is worth it”?

Which one is correct and why? I think "worth it" is an adjective phrase. So what is "worth" then? Example: You should try spending money on her. It worths it. You should try spending money ...
20
votes
7answers
25k 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 ...
20
votes
3answers
2k 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 ...
20
votes
6answers
1k views

We say “U.S. citizen”, but why can't we say “China citizen”? Or can we?

Is the word "U.S." an adjective or a noun modifier in this case? It seems to me that it is an adjective that goes before citizen, because we say "Russian citizen", "Chinese citizen", etc. But if it's ...
19
votes
8answers
3k 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 ...
19
votes
6answers
94k 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 ...
19
votes
8answers
22k 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 ...
19
votes
6answers
4k 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
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 ...
19
votes
5answers
74k views

“Fill out a form” or “fill in a form”

Does one fill out a form or does one fill in a form? I've gotten different answers from the people I've asked. Google search results: fill in a form — 14,200,000 fill out a form — ...
19
votes
3answers
4k views

Is there an EBNF that covers all of English

This almost feels like a SO question. Is there an EBNF that covers all of English, and if so, what is it?