The (Norse) Epic of the English Plural S

April, 2021 Language Matters

At first glance, pluralizing words in English might look trivially easy. All you need to do is add -s: one word, two words. There are plenty of irregular plural forms too, though, like one child, two children and one mouse, two mice. This Language Matters instalment asks why the final -s is the dominant way to mark plural nouns, but not the only one.

How Do New Words Enter the Dictionary?

February, 2021 Language Matters

Neologisms (new words, senses or expressions) are added to living languages all the time, through coinages, borrowings or revivals, and many do not stay relevant for long. Faced with the near-infinite potential of lexical creativity, lexicographers (the people tasked with creating dictionaries) can include only a selection of new words.

Like, What’s up with Like?

December, 2020 Language Matters

The use of like is widespread in colloquial speech, yet it is still viewed negatively, even by those who use it. How then, is like used in everyday language? And why do so many people dislike it?

Is the Year an Argument for Change?

October, 2020 Language Matters

Invoking the year is a punchy, concise way to advocate for improvement, but despite its frequent use, it is sometimes criticized for promoting a nonuniversal belief that progress is inevitable and for being a lazy substitute for more rigorous argumentation. So, is it time to move on from it?

Regarding Irregardless

July, 2020 Language Matters

The use of irregardless to mean “regardless” is frequently condemned, even though it appears in most dictionaries. This article examines whether there is an argument to be made in favour of its use.

There’s Always Next Week

June, 2020 Language Matters

Next Thursday has two possible interpretations: the soonest Thursday in time, or the one after that. This article will look at this conundrum and suggest how to avoid confusion.

Is Is Is an Issue?

April, 2020 Language Matters

“Double is” is widely regarded as non-standard, meaning that it should be avoided in formal contexts. Still, since its usage is so widespread, it is worth examining how it came to be in the first place. How did this needless doubling of a word entrench itself so firmly into our spoken language?

Double Trouble

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.

Let’s Try and Understand Try and

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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