QUESTION Is it always wrong to say "People like Joe..."? Conversely, is it mandatory to say "People such as Joe..."? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Park City, Utah Thu, Jul 13, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE It depends. I'll give you an example. I used to say that our college had neighbors like St. Francis Hospital, the Mark Twain House, the UConn Law School, etc., until someone pointed that these places weren't like St. Francis Hospital, the Mark Twain House, . . . at all; they were these places. I should have used such as, instead. The word like can be ambiguous: it can mean "for example" and it can mean "resembling." When you mean resembling, you can use "like"; otherwise, use "such as."
QUESTION I am an editor and teach writing to colleagues. In a workshop last week, I was explaining how singular nouns ending in 's' are now commonly made possessive by adding 's. Later we looked at a sentence for correction, which included the word s 'Bayside Trains's goals ...'. I explained that the 's should be removed from 'Trains's' because it is a plural noun ending in 's'. But someone in the workshop felt that because the company 'Bayside Trains' is a singular entity, it should take the 's just like 'Mr Jones's tie'. What do you think? I have looked in numerous authories and on your page and no one discusses this particular issue. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Brisbane, Queensland, Australia Thu, Jul 13, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE You could avoid the problem by talking about the "goals of Bayside Trains." Generally, you want to add an 's to form a possessive, one way or the other. There are a few exceptions to this, though, and one of them is for multi-syllabic words (especially proper nouns) that already end in a z sound. I would write "Mr. Jones's paper," but I would write "Mrs. Chambers' paper." And that decision is based solely on sound for me. "Chambers's," with the resulting "zuz" ending, sounds awkward to me, so I don't add the additional s. I think I am otherwise consistent and add the 's to form the possessive, even to words that end in two s's, such as "the boss's memo." I'd leave off the final s when I'm talking about Bayside Trains' goals. However, I would not regard Bayside Trains's goals as incorrect; I just think it looks and sounds awkward. I'll go back to my original position and say that "the goals of Bayside Trains" is an improvement over either.
If you use a noun to modify a word, then change the same sentence by adding apostrophe s, will you get the same meanng? Take for example the sentences above?
- "It depends on an individual user's taste."
- "It depends on an individual user taste."
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Taipei City, Taiwan Fri, Jul 14, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Without contesting your general principle (I think you will get the same meaning), I don't think "individual user taste" is appropriate. You can have "individual's taste" or "user's taste" or "individual user's taste," but you can't have "individual user taste." The possessive is always going to be appropriate there, whether it's modified by an attributive noun or not.
QUESTION We are presenting items in a church bulletin and one of the procedures is: "Platform party enter'." Should one write "Platform party enter" or "enters"? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Somewhere, Canada Fri, Jul 14, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Usually, that party is going to be acting as a singular entity, and you'll want a singular verb such as "enters." However, there will be occasions when the party acts as a group of individuals and then you'll want the plural. The party take their seats. The same kind of thing happens with a staff or a jury: a jury renders its verdict, but sit in their chairs. I hope I haven't only confused the issue for you.
QUESTION Use of conceive (of):"As inventors, it is our job to conceive solutions to difficult mechanical problems."Should "conceive" be followed by "of"?
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE West Newton, Massachusetts Mon, Jul 17, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE When the word "conceive" means "to have a conception/understanding of," it's invariably followed by the word "of." When it means "to originate," though, it will not be followed by the word "of."
Authority for this note: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Electronic Edition. 1994. Used with permission.
QUESTION Which of the following statements describes/describe your home computer?
I wasn't sure whether the verb would agree with the object of the preposition, "statements."
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Rochester, New York Tue, Jul 18, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The statement probably uses "which" as in "which one of," and you will want the singular verb "describes" here. It's possible, though, that you're asking for a number of options to be selected from the choices available, and in that case, you'll want a plural verb.
QUESTION What is the past tense of sing? Sang or sung? In the dictionary it states both, but "I sung" seems wrong to me. I thought sung was the past participle only.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Salt Lake City, Utah Tue, Jul 18, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE According to Burchfield, the past tense of sing as late as the nineteenth century was sung. The corrrect simple past of sing nowadays is sang.
Authority: The New Fowler's Modern English Usage edited by R.W. Burchfield. Clarendon Press: Oxford, England. 1996. Used with the permission of Oxford University Press.
QUESTION I was having a debate with my friend about the usage of "pretty many." He used this phrase in conversation, and we started arguing about whether or not it was correct usage. I maintained that even though you can use an adverb to modify an adjective (e.g. "very many"), "pretty" didn't fit this case, even though it is used as such in common usage (e.g. "pretty full", "pretty tall", etc.) Thus my view is that it falls into the category of slang, with words such as "ain't" - words that may be part of common usage in the english language, but are not correct usage.
He argued that "pretty many" is indeed correct usage.
Can you help me settle this argument?
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE St. Louis, Missouri Tue, Jul 18, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE "Pretty" can be used as an ironic adjective, as in "a pretty mess," and it can be used as a colloquial adverb, as you point out. I don't know if I'd put it in the same category as "ain't," but it's definitely a casual use of language and it would have no place in academic or formal text. I wouldn't use it at all to modify "many"; its definitions of "considerable" and "moderately large" don't seem to fit with "many."
QUESTION Which is correct?
- Graduates of boys schools are comfortable with gender equality.
- Graduates of boys' schools are comfortable with gender equality.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE San Francisco, California Tue, Jul 18, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE In this case, the word "boys" is acting as an attributive noun, as in "He attended an all-boys school." (It somehow seems easier with the singular school.) Or "He went to the Boys Club after school." The schools, in your sentence, don't really belong to the boys, so the possessive is out of place.
QUESTION There is a debate in my office over the correct use of "lesser" and "least" in a sentence. Take for example the following sentence: "The loan amount will be the lesser of 80% of the purchase price or 75% of appraised value." I say it is correct to use lesser. My boss says instead of lesser, we should use least: "The loan amount will be the least of 80% of the purchase price or 75% of appraised value." What do you think? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Spokane, Washington Tue, Jul 18, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Well, she or he's your boss, so. . . Since your boss is not my boss, I wouldn't hesitate to use lesser when comparing two things like that. I'd use "the least of/the smallest of" if more than two things were involved.
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