Any language has areas where the usage is uncertain. English, it seems to me, has a lot of uncertain areas. Just to give two examples:

none, singular or plural?

dice, noun, singular and plural form?

I discovered such things a long time ago and created a name for me "grey zones", but I never had time to collect such things in a more systematic way. I'm only just now beginning with such a collection. Grey zones are grammar points were grammars have difficulties and tell long and complicated stories instead of saying first of all: It's a grey zone.

My question: Is there a name in English grammar or linguistics for my personal term grey zone? And are there studies about such uncertainties? I think they would fill a small dictionary, especially if one considers different usage of BrE and AmE.

  • I think the reasons for uncertainty can be a source of names. E.g. semantic drift in the case of dice and many others. For none, it's possibly from differences in philosophical starting points: a choice of defining singular as exactly one and plural as not singular, or plural as more than one, and singular as not plural.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 6:27
  • Are you only interested in individual lexical variation? See almost any publication on dialect geography. Obviously there can be no general term for those areas where what you know of grammar provides no explanation satisfactory to you. This is a function of your knowledge and satisfiability, both of which are unique and unquantifiable, just like everybody else's. The real answer is that there are phenomena that vary and others that don't, and that's what makes sociolinguistics so interesting. Commented Jul 3, 2016 at 19:17

1 Answer 1


"Grammar's gray areas" appears to be an acceptable definition:

  • You probably have learned in language that sometimes the rules aren’t always clearly defined. The same can certainly be said of language usage in the TOEFL. Sometimes there are what we call “Gray Areas,” meaning the rules aren’t as clearly defined as you’d like. Below are what I’d say those areas are


  • Well, I see my term grey zones isn't far from the term "gray areas (American spelling)". But my concept are areas where grammar can't give rules, simply because speakers have a lot of variants and there isn't one common use.
    – rogermue
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 13:34
  • @rogermue - wouldn't that be a gray area/zone, too?
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 13:35

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