Reports

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...

These Kinds of Words are Kind of Tricky

October, 2019 Language Matters

Kind, type and sort are three common words in English that denote category membership. They are useful words for our pattern-seeking brains. This article will address some tricky questions about grammatical agreement in type-noun expressions and examine how these expressions have extended their usage to convey a variety of notions.  

The Difference Between People, Persons and Peoples

August, 2019 Language Matters

English plurals can be puzzling. The plural of goose is geese, but a snake needs to be on the lookout for mongooses. The plural of fish is fish, unless you’re speaking about different species of fish, in which case fishes is also correct. 

And/or: The Janus-Faced Conjunction?

June, 2019 Language Matters

And/or is a common term in written English, particularly in legal, technical and journalistic texts. It is also widely criticized: the Chicago Manuel of Style warns writers to “Avoid this Janus-faced term.” Meanwhile, it has been described in courts of law as a “grammatical monstrosity”, a “bastard conjunction”, and worse. So why is and/or so controversial? And how did the term come about in the first place? 

A Curious-Minded Look at Nouns With-ed

April, 2019 Language Matters

Words like talented and glossy-paged represent a curious feature of English: adjectives that seemingly take the past participle verbal ending -ed, but that do not derive from verbs. Why can you say talented when there is no lexicalized verb to talent? Why does a glossy-paged book sound natural but a paged book, a concreted wall or a five-houred drive sound strange?  

Conflicting Data

February, 2019 Language Matters

Although Latin is a dead language, it has a funny way of coming back to haunt us from beyond the grave. Complex declensions and deponent verbs aside, aspects of Latin grammar and vocabulary continue to affect the English language today. One such linguistic haunting is the question of whether the Latin-derived word data should be treated as a plural or a singular. So which is it, data is or data are

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