February, 2020 Language Matters

“Theo is a friend of Jane’s.” This phrase is unremarkable to most English speakers. However, on closer inspection, the sentence actually contains a somewhat unusual feature. It contains two possessive markers, the preposition of and the enclitic ’s, which might seem redundant or unnecessary. The double genitive has had English grammarians scratching their heads for centuries. How did it enter the language? What are its functions and uses? This article will answer these questions and shed some light on this peculiar feature of the English language.

January, 2020 Word Stories

The festive season is drawing to a close. As in previous years, gifts were exchanged, cards were sent, and people were scolded for using the abbreviation Xmas. Criticisms of Xmas are manifold: some simply advise against using it in formal contexts, while others object more strongly, describing it as an attempt to secularize the holiday by replacing the name Christ with an “X”. Is there any truth to this last charge?

December, 2019 Language Matters

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of the construction try and followed by an infinitive. Grammarians have long debated whether it is correct or whether it is to be eschewed in favour of try to. In his 1926 work A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Henry W. Fowler says, “Try and is an...

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