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My workplace has presented me with the opportunity this month to attend a "grammar" webinar that is suppose to help me enhance my grammar skills. I thought they were good already...

I don't have time to attend so will probably miss it, but I feel I should attend because of what was in the email for registration we received.

It gives a list of sentences and asks what's wrong with them, and that if they look correct you should attend!

Could someone explain what is fundamentally wrong with the following sentences?

  1. The firm is proud to have served our clients for fifty years.
  2. Martin and Deborah's reports were both submitted on time.
  3. If you don't feel well, go and lay down.
  4. This is a very unique situation.
  5. I felt badly when my friend lost her job.

They look fine to me and that worries me. The only reason I can think of to attempt corrections is because the email suggests that they are wrong!

My corrections:

For example, in the first sentence are they using "served" in the wrong tense so they're saying they don't serve clients anymore?

In the second sentence is the apostrophe 's' suggesting that Deborah owns both the reports like a possessive (I think that's what it's called)?

I've always followed a rule (I know...) that if I could switch the sentence parts where the comma is and it sounds normal then the comma is OK like in the third sentence. "Go lay down if you don't feel well" sounds normal to me.

Does the badly in sentence five need to be replaced with "bad" because of the trailing -ly?

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Jun 7 '14 at 17:32

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  • 1
    Some people think unique is true or false and so cannot be intensified. – Henry Sep 19 '12 at 23:28
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    I think (1) is uber-pedantry, and do not believe the average speaker makes or apprehends the distinction. The rest are nit-picky points that would probably all have been closed as General Reference or Not Constructive if asked about in isolation. – FumbleFingers Sep 20 '12 at 0:08
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers I thought we were (collectively) the Esteemed Knights and Ladies of Nit-Picky? If we fail to take up the cudgel (halberd?) in a stalwart defense of the Realm, who shall? – bib Sep 20 '12 at 0:18
  • 3
    I think (1) is just silly. (2) duplicate, (3) another duplicate, (4) another duplicate, (5) yet another duplicate – FumbleFingers Sep 20 '12 at 1:38
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    @FumbleFingers: Agree that the purpose of ELU isn't "to help poor high school English teachers inculcate strict rules of grammar into their charges." Communication, however, is inherently difficult, especially in writing (few nonverbal clues & no body language, tone, stress, etc). The point to inculcate should be something like Say what you mean & mean what you say. To do that, one must understand language better than most native speakers understand their native language. What do I want my expression to accomplish? is always a good question to ask oneself. Does it work? is another. – user21497 Sep 20 '12 at 2:09
  1. The firm is proud to have served our clients for fifty years.

    Should be: its clients or We are proud.

  2. Martin and Deborah's reports were both submitted on time.

    Should be: Martin's and Deborah's reports.

  3. If you don't feel well, go and lay down.

    Should be: go (and) lie down.

  4. This is a very unique situation.

    Should be: a unique situation.

  5. I felt badly when my friend lost her job.

    Should be: I felt bad.

Everyone else has #2–5 right, but I disagree with everyone on #1, which is a Present Perfect and could just as easily be saying that the firm has served its clients for 50 years and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. To imply that the firm is closed, it should be in the Simple Past or Past Perfect:

  • The firm is proud that it served its clients for fifty years (before being forced close).
  • The firm is proud that it had served its clients for fifty years (before it was forced close).

And to be absolutely clear about what is meant in #1 (we have no context, so whether the firm is now closed or merely celebrating a 50th anniversary is debatable), the status of the firm has to be clearly stated or readily inferable from context.

  • 1
    I seriously don't rate this question, but +1 for that first point. Not that I necessarily agree OP's version is "wrong", but it's an interesting point. All the more interesting because no-one thought to even mention that it/our disjunct when I raised a similar issue myself last year. – FumbleFingers Sep 20 '12 at 1:50
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    But on #1 there's nothing to say that "we" have some clients and we also hired an outside firm 50 years ago to serve all of our clients- perhaps we are lawyers and we contracted with a catering firm to serve our clients while they are visiting our offices. So, "The [catering] firm is proud to have served our clients for the past 50 years." – Jim Sep 20 '12 at 4:28
  • @Jim: True enough. One could play Ptolemy link for any contextless sentence and justify any specific expression. The bigger and more active one's imagination, the more possibilities one can fabricate. But that's not the point of commenting on English usage and grammar, is it? The point's to evaluate something in context: Meaningful? Understandable? Grammatical? Idiomatic? Natural? Typical? Right register? Good word choice? Does it work? Etc. But not Who's to say this isn't Jabba the Caterer Hutt on Tatooine? Also sprach Copernicus (哥白尼). – user21497 Sep 20 '12 at 9:03
  • Should not the first one use "for"? The firm is proud for having served... – Anixx Sep 20 '12 at 13:55
  • @ЯegDwight♦: Thank you for the edit. It looks much better! – user21497 Sep 20 '12 at 14:50
  1. That is saying that the firm is now out of business, or at least is no longer serving customers.

  2. That says that the reports were both jointly authored by both of those two people, not that one was one’s and the other the other’s. Both parts need to be possessive if they are not shared.

  3. That is the wrong verb altogether; one lays eggs, but one lies down. Any dictionary will explain this difference in transitivity: to lay something is to place it; to lie is to recline.

  4. That is suggesting that this situation is somehow more one-of-a-kind than some other one, which is nonsense. Either there is one of it, or there are more than one. It cannot be more one-ish. Unique does not mean unusual.

  5. People with damaged nerve endings may feel badly, but the rest of us feel bad. Similarly with the other sense verbs, like looking bad vs badly, sounding bad vs badly, smelling bad vs badly, and tasting bad vs badly.

  • Even though your grammar skills are excellent, these examples are designed to catch you out. – Robin Michael Sep 19 '12 at 23:51
  • @RobinMichael: Maybe it's more about reading comprehension skills than grammar skills. Maybe it's more about knowing how to use the language skillfully rather than being able to parse a sentence perfectly. And maybe it's more about asking oneself "Does it say what I want it to say?" and "Does it work (i.e., do what I want it to do)?" Only pedants believe that grammar is all: I don't. Clarity is primary in expository prose; style is primary everywhere else: my priorities, but yours may differ. – user21497 Sep 20 '12 at 2:20
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    I don't get #1. How does that imply that the firm is no longer serving customers? – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 20 '12 at 3:31
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 It doesn't. Our friend tchrist has made a rare error. – user16269 Sep 20 '12 at 3:59
  1. changing for to since might also alleviate the wrong notion that the firm is out of business.
  2. The correct sentence may be Both Martin and Deborah's reports were submitted on time.
  3. lie instead of lay as mentioned in the previous answer.
  4. unique means one of a kind. Hence there is nothing like very unique
  5. As you mentioned in the corrections part of the question, "badly" must be corrected to bad.

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