# 406

Is "Canadian jazz pianists" a compound noun? Is "Los Angeles" a compound noun? Is "television variety show" a compound noun? Is "capital letters" a compound noun?

How do you identify a compound noun when they are not hyphenated nor are they joined together as a single word?

Toronto, Scarborough, Canada Fri, Sep 29, 2000
With the exception of "Los Angeles, which is simply a proper noun made up of more than one word, those are not compound words. The concept is rather hard to define in English. "Escapement," for instance, is a compound word made up of the word "escape" and the noun-making morpheme, "ment." "Daughter-in-law" is a compound word made up of hyphenated parts. "Hummingbird" is a closed compound word (like "bookcase," "sidewalk," "blackboard" and a million others). Those examples you gave us, though, are simply nouns (pianists, show, letters), and their accompanying modifiers.

Some words remain open, but are nonetheless "compound" in nature, as if there were some kind of animal or magnetic attraction between them (an attraction that might never manifest itself in a hyphen). "Post office" comes to mind and "income tax" (God help us!). We don't add hyphens with those words, even when they become modifiers: post office box and income tax preparation. So they can function as a unit even though they are separate words. I don't know if that's possible to explain to someone learning English as a second language. For instance, I would regard variety show as a kind of compound, but not television show, though I'm hard pressed to say why. The glue that holds the two words together in each case is different.

In other languages — German comes to mind — those words and phrases might, in fact, be compounded into one, but in English there are more subtle levels of compoundedness. (Those levels might change in time, of course, but that's another matter.) The historical process of a word being "open," then hyphenated, and finally closed does not help when it comes to spelling, that's for sure. (Why is spaceship one word but moon rocket two? because we use spaceship a lot and never use the word moon rocket anymore?)

The following writing manual does a very good of describing compound words.

New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage HarperCollins: New York. 1994. 410 – 423. Cited with permission.
and the Chicago Manual of Style has an extensive chapter or two on the art of compounding.
Chicago Manual of Style 14th ed. U of Chicago P: Chicago. 1993.

The sentence in question:
"And I could not be more pleased that it has found a home along the way at the SCI FI Channel, for however long that hospitality obtains."
I believe that the author probably meant to use the word "pertains" instead of "obtains". However, it has been pointed out (and I concur) that "obtains" may be valid, albeit rather ambiguous. (Obtains what? A home? Hospitality? Pleasure? Additional time?)

My question is: Would you consider the latter explanation reasonable? Or is the ambiguity strong enough that you would consider the use of "obtains" in this context to be incorrect?

Berkeley, California Fri, Sep 29, 2000
I don't think there's anything ambiguous about the use of the word obtains in that context. I don't own a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, so I can't give you an exact history of the word obtain, but it has long meant prevail (along with its other meanings), and your writer means just that: for as long as that level of hospitality prevails (or remains well established) at that place.

Could you tell me if the following sentences are correct, incorrect, or technically incorrect but acceptable due to idiomatic usage?
  • "When you're finished, put your pencil down."
  • "When you're finished taking the test, put your pencil down."
I vote for incorrect in both cases, and that "you're" should be "you've" — although I'm not quite sure how to defend my position, particularly with regard to the first sentence.


Portland, Oregon Mon, Oct 2, 2000
When we connect to "finished" with a linking verb, the verb means "terminated" or "completed": The job is finished. Saying "you're finished" makes about as much sense as saying "you're completed." When the verb is used as a transitive verb and an auxiliary is required, "have" is a much better choice: "When you have [you've] finished/completed the test . . . ." I don't know if it's "acceptable due to idiomatic usage."

What is the term for the phrase in a sentence that contains a "not" description. Here's an example: "She was not an unkind person." It usually is used in a rather unflattering way without being out and out rude. I'd only heard this term once before, and it escapes me, amazingly enough! Many thanks.
Woodstock, Illinois Mon, Oct 2, 2000
[E-Mail Icon]There's probably a term for this rhetorical device, but I don't know what it is. It's not a double negative, exactly, but it's close. It's also close to being a euphemism: it is kinder to say that "This is the least beautiful city in the state." than it is to say that "This is the ugliest city in the state." (It also has a slightly different meaning, just as "She was not an unkind person" is not quite the same as saying "She was kind.") I'll leave an e-mail icon here in case someone can come up with the name of it.

Here's the example:
The questions and their associated responses store in AR System forms. When a visitor answers a question, their response also stores in an AR System form.
Aside from "a visitor...their," I'm wondering about the use of the word "store" is this way. I keep marking them to say "are stored," which is technically accurate. But is "responses store" also correct? I'm not sure what the problem is so I don't know how to look it up.

Can you help? Thanks!

Pleasanton, California Wed, Oct 4, 2000
I don't see any evidence that "stored" can be used that way, but I don't have a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, either. I'd stick with "is/are stored." We can say that something "stores well," which means that it's well preserved, but that's not what is intended here. Perhaps this is a bit of new lingo emerging from computerese that we'll all have to learn and deal with eventually. Thank you for trying to head it off at the pass.

One of our librarians sent you a question about the use of "both" in a sentence. Since Glenda was doing it from memory, it turned out differently than my actual question. So, here is my question. How would you diagram the sentence,
John Cheevers and John Updike have both written short stories.
I am looking forward to your reply.
Unknown Wed, Oct 11, 2000
I don't normally answer questions about diagramming because of the graphics-heavy nature of the endeavor, but this is an interesting question. Quirk and Greenbaum describe "both" in a sentence like this as a segregatory marker. It works with the conjunction "and" to separate, in a sense, Cheevers and Updike. (This is more clear in a sentence such as "John and Mary both have a cold," which is different from "John and Mary have a cold," an oddly ambiguous sentence in that it suggests the possibility that they share a cold. My dictionary refers to "both" as a function word in this context. Usually this means they don't know what to call it. If I had to diagram it, I would put "both" and "and" on the same line — in this case, on a vertical line connecting the two compound subjects. I'm afraid I don't have a resource on diagramming that gives us an authoritative example to work from.

Authority: A University Grammar of English by Randolph Quirk and Sidney Greenbaum. Longman Group: Essex, England. 1993. Used with permission.

A friend of mine was editing some advertising copy when she got stuck on this phrase:
"A series of Global Effectiveness programs that addresses the challenges inherent to cross-cultural workforces and helps leaders build the skills they need to effectively compete in the global marketplace."
She couldn't decide if she should use "address/help" or "addresses/helps". I thought that the question depended on whether the clause beginning with "that" modified "series" or "programs".

I finally couldn't decide which noun the clause modified, although I was leaning towards using "address/help". How do you determine if a clause modifies the subject or the parenthetical phrase, thereby determining the subject/verb agreement? Even if I have no idea what a "global effectiveness program" is, I can make it agree with the verb.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Wed, Oct 11, 2000
You've done a very good job of describing the problem. When a relative pronoun ("that" in this case) is the subject of a dependent clause, you have to determine what "that" refers to before you know the appropriate number of the verb. Usually, it will refer to the "headword" of the clause and not the object of the prepositional phrase that intervenes, but that's not always so. In your sentence, it's the plural "programs" that help and address, I would argue. Similarly, "He wrote a book about the principles that govern hydraulics." On the other hand, "He wrote a book about hydraulic principles that is selling very well." In your friend's sentence, it's a bit harder to say whether the "that" refers to the word "series" or "programs," but (to me, anyway), it's fairly clear that it's the programs that help.

"You haven't seen nothing yet" is wrong because of double negatives. What about "I'm not going there to do nothing. I am going to bring my cd player." I'm pretty sure that this is correct, but is that also a double negative? Is this kind of sentence the only exception?
El Monte, California Sun, Oct 15, 2000
It's probably an exception (although rules against double negatives are shaky at best) because that second negative, "nothing," gets wrapped up in an infinitive phrase, "to do nothing." It's definitely not the same thing as "I'm going there to do something." I doubt very much if this is the only exception to a double negative rule.

David Eason writes. . . .
This is a case where a double negative does not negate the intended meaning of the sentence. The words in "You haven't seen nothing yet" actually mean, "You will see something." The words in "I'm not going there to do nothing" actually mean "I'm going there to do something," which is the real intended meaning of the sentence—confirmed by the following sentence that identifies what the something is.

Is this correct?
This is to advise you that a search is being initiated for the birth relative with whom you requested contact.
Nashville, Tennessee Sun, Oct 15, 2000
I'm not sure what, in that sentence, you might be worried about. The "whom" is OK, if that troubles you. We might try making the expression a bit less passive in nature, by saying "We have initiated (begun?) a search for the birth relative. . . ." And the phrase "This is to advise you" is a bit portentous, isn't it? Maybe we can just eliminate it?

In a sentence like this:
The dishes are in the cupboard.
Is are a linking verb? If so, what is it linking?

Thanks for any enlightening on this topic.

Somewhere, Pennsylvania Mon, Oct 16, 2000
According to Quirk and Greenbaum, the only copula (linking verb) that allows an adverbial as complement is the verb "to be." The adverbials, termed predicative adjuncts in this function, are mainly place adjuncts:
  • The children are at the zoo
  • The dishes are in the cupboard.
But time adjuncts ("The party is at nine o'clock."), recipient adjuncts ("This is for you."), purpose adjuncts ("The dishes are for tomorrow's wedding."), etc. also can happen.

Authority: A University Grammar of English by Randolph Quirk and Sidney Greenbaum. Longman Group: Essex, England. 1993. p. 354. Used with permission.

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