QUESTION This question concerns capitalization and punctuation. It is best asked by first giving an example.Example:Question:
"The offsets may be determined as follows: (a) Determine the z offset, (b)Adjust the two data files to correct for any z offset, (c) Determine the roll offset, (d) Adjust the first data file to account for any roll offset, (e) Perform x,y registration, and (f) Determine the pitch and the yaw offsets."
- Should the first word in each item (a-f) of this list be capitalized or left as a lower case?
- Is the comma placement correct? Since each item could stand alone as a complete sentence, I wasn't sure if instead there should be periods in place of the commas.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Madison, Wisconsin Mon, Jun 7, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE In terms of complexity, your list is beyond the proper limits of a list that can be contained within the flow of text. You're much better off using what is called a vertical list or display list. (See the section on Using Numbers and Making Lists.) Just about anything goes in terms of punctuating a vertical list: you can use bullets or numbers or letters, you can end each item with a period or a semicolonas long as you're consistent within your document, from list to list.
Authority: New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage HarperCollins: New York. 1994. p. 318-319. Cited with permission.
QUESTION Should the word "couple" be considered a plural or singular noun? For instance, which verb is correct:
- The couple live in Nebraska.
- The couple lives in Nebraska.
I appreciate your help!
- The couple have four children.
- The couple has four children.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Columbus, Nebraska Wed, Jun 9, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE When you use "couple" the way you do above, the word is usually regarded as a collective noun, a singular entity, as in "That couple is cute," and it takes a singular verb. When it falls into the pattern of "a couple of [plural noun]," however, it will take a plural verb (at least in the U.S., this is true): "A couple of birds are building a nest in the garage."
QUESTION Which is correct?Attached IS a sample of a spreadsheet that will be used to track revenue for the ZIP Codes that were projected for increased revenue potential if an "Eagle" were used in these areas, and a spreadsheet with FY 99 actual revenue and volume figures.ORAttached are a sample of a spreadsheet that will be used to track revenue for the ZIP Codes that were projected for increased revenue potential if an "Eagle" were used in these areas, and a spreadsheet with FY 99 actual revenue and volume figures. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE New Orleans, Louisiana Wed, Jun 9, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Technically the answer is "are" because two things are attached. Still, it's a very hard sentence to read that way. I would recommend avoiding the problem by changing the "and a spreadsheet" to "as well as a spreadsheet. . . ." and thus keep the singular verb, "is." Or you might actually number your attachments: (1) and (2).
QUESTION What organization determines English grammar standards? Do they just evolve over time? If so, who determines what usage is "common usage"? Is there an International Grammatical Standards Organization?
I ask this question because of an argument I had with a really irritating know-it-all in my department who asked me whether the school subject economics should be capitalized. When I told him, he then wanted to know how the determination for capitalization schemes is decided.
His argument, that there really are no standards; that's it's just common usage that determines the format.
My argument, that there ARE standards, and that they are administered by some academic body somewhere.
If you know the answer to these questions, I would be forever in your debt (whether or not I am right). Thank you for you time.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Boston, Massachusetts Wed, Jun 9, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I like it when I can say that you are both right. There certainly are standards, but there is no single body (academic or otherwise) that determines such matters. Correct grammar, what is acceptable in Standard American English, is, in a rather loose and fuzzy way, what is regarded as acceptable by the most influential journals and periodicals and by those textbooks and dictionaries that are used in the academic world. The standards change over time, of course. Fifteen years ago, we rigidly pronounced that "Someone left their shoes on the bus" was wrong. Now we're not so sure, and the word "their" is often accepted as a non-gender-specific third-person pronoun. The American Oxford Dictionary recently wrote that restrictions about using the split infinitive were based on bad history and faulty logic and that we needn't worry our heads about that issue anymore. Thus your friend is right in suggesting that widespread usage does (eventually) greatly influence what comes to be regarded as acceptable. The first English dictionaries were, in fact, an effort to standardize the language, to stop it from shifting about so much. It didn't work.
QUESTION Please clarify for me whether or not the words 'to be' are required for proper sentence structure in the following example.The lawn needs mowed.Is the sentence above less correct or less clear than the next one?The lawn needs to be mowed.Your answer can help settle a friendly difference of opinion between my manager and myself. I thank you in advance for any help you can offer. Thank you, SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Louisville, Colorado Wed, Jun 9, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I can only hope that I'm not coming down on the side of your manager when I say that the "to be" is very helpful in that sentence. I have heard "The lawn needs mowing," but not "the lawn needs mowed."
QUESTION Can you please explain complements to me? In high school level, that is. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Lancaster, California Wed, Jun 9, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE A complement is a word or phrase that completes the meaning of a verb or a subject or an object:
I hope this helps.
- Subject complement: The professor is talkative. It feels clammy in here.
- Verb complement (direct or indirect object): He shot the albatross. He gave her a million dollars.
- Object complement: The committee named Josephine its first chairwoman. This made Josephine happy.
QUESTION Which of the following is correct and why?
Is there a rule about when to use WHETHER, rather than IF?
- First, determine if the computer is on.
- First, determine whether the computer is on.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Burlington, Vermont Wed, Jun 9, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I don't think there's a rule, exactly, but generally, when you're introducing a noun clause (and here you have a noun clause, the thing you are determining), you want to introduce it with whether, as opposed to if. I am not sure why. I will leave an e-mail icon here in case someone else can explain this more fully.
Authority: The New Fowler's Modern English Usage edited by R.W. Burchfield. Clarendon Press: Oxford, England. 1996.
QUESTION In describing a computer function, I want to express that neither of two possible choices occur.Ex: Neither the Novell Login window nor the Novell Results window display(s).In this instance, is it correct to use the verb in the singular or plural form?
Thank you for your time.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Northbrook, Illinois Wed, Jun 9, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE When subjects are joined by "neither-nor," the subject closer to the verb ("Novell Results window," which is singular, right?) determines the number of the verb, "displays." Note, too, that in your first statement, "neither" (which is always singular) is the subject, so your verb wants to be "occurs."
QUESTION Is the following correct?Each of us has our own idea of financial independence.Thanks SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Cincinnati, Ohio Thu, Jun 10, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE In formal, academic prose, that "our" wouldn't do. The subject of the sentence is "each" (as we note in the use of a singular verb, "has"), and the pronoun that refers to each has to be singular. Instead of "our," you could use "his" or "her" or "his or her." In informal writing or speech, you could probably get away with "our" without raising too many eyebrows.
QUESTION In a memo I wrote: "This will make it easier for us to obtain the information you need in a MORE TIMELY manner." I ran this through a spell/grammar check, and it said to substitute the phrase with TIMELIER. Everyone at work say this is not grammatically correct. Is it? If yes, which is the preferred phrase: "MORE TIMELY" or "TIMELIER"? Incidentally, I looked up "timelier" and it IS in the dictionary. Thank you. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Lowell, Massachusetts Thu, Jun 10, 1999 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE "In a more timely manner" is a bit of a tired phrase, isn't it? Your sentence is hugely improved just by leaving it out: "This will make it easier for us to obtain the information you need." Yes, "timelier" is in the dictionary, but that doesn't mean we have to like it.
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