QUESTION I am still confused about the proper use of commas around a name after the person's "role"--for example: "his brother, Bill" or "his brother Bill"? "my husband, Mark" or "my husband Mark"? "Microsoft's CEO, Bill Gates" or "Microsoft's CEO Bill Gates"? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Gainesville, Florida Sun, Feb 20, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Whether you use commas or not will be determined by whether or not the name you include is essential to the meaning of your sentence or not. Since Microsoft can have only one CEO, we don't need the name, so we do want a comma before "Bill Gates." Also, we assume you have only one husband, so his name becomes parenthetical, so we want a comma before "Mark."
On the other hand, the comma before "Bill" tells us that this person has only one brother, so we don't need the name; it's parenthetical. With the construction "his brother Bill," we know this person might have more than one brother because the writer tells us we need the name (to distinguish between Bill and another brother, Charlie). I hope this helps more than it confuses you.
QUESTION My company acts as an agent for another company and when I write letters on their behalf I always doubt about whether the following construction is correct:
Please help! No one seems to know (or care actually).
- We are pleased to submit our Principals', Glencore International A.G.'s, offer
or should it be,
- We are pleased to submit our Principals Glencore International A.G.'s offer
- We are pleased to submit our Principals', Glencore International A.G., offer
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Madrid, Spain Mon, Feb 21, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I know what I would do, coward that I am: I'd avoid the problem and write "the offer of our Principals, Glencore International A.G." If you absolutely had to use the name of the company as an appositive, I think the first version you offer would make the most sense. But I'm not really sure, and I will leave an e-mail icon here in case someone else has a better idea. I can find nothing in my writing reference manuals that helps.
ON SECOND THOUGHT. . .
Using the analogy of "My sister Sally's kitten," I would use your second option, although I'm not sure why "principals" is pluralized. The commas are best omitted in this construction.
QUESTION On a grammar quiz my students questioned this sentence:Steven told me last night I don't have to study English today.Does this sentence mean the same thing?Steven told me last night I didn't have to study English today.Which is more correct or are both right in different contexts? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia Mon, Feb 21, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Most of the verb tense sequence situations are covered at The Sequence of Verb Tenses. The situation in your sentence, however, is complicated by the use of that verb "told," which implies spoken language (like "said"). If the reporting verb (the main verb of the sentences [usually "said"] is in the past, the verb in the noun clause will usually be in a past form: "The president said she wanted to review the case." Logic, however can demand other tenses: "The president said the military will review the situation next week." In the sentence you give us, I think the choice of verb will depend on whether or not the day you announce in "today" is over or not. It might sound silly to say so, but in the morning I'd use "I don't"; in the evening, I'd use "I didn't." I will leave another e-mail icon here, though, in case others would like to weigh in on this one. It sounds like you've got an intelligent, challenging class there in Ulaan Baatar!
QUESTION Dear Grammar,
What is the proper verb tense for this type of sentence?
- Semantic and syntactic information is used to answer the question.
- Semantic and syntactic information are used to answer the question.
I initially thought these subjects were plural, but there has been a dispute! Thank you for your help.
- Brown and white sugar is a must for any kitchen.
- Brown and white sugar are a must for any kitchen.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Durham, North Carolina Tue, Feb 22, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Unless those two kinds of information can kind of glom together (like macaroni and cheese) to become one collection noun, you still have a plural subject: semantic information and syntactic information. It's just that we clip the noun in the first subject because it isn't necessary. The same thing happens in your second grouping except it's even more clear that the two kinds of sugar have not become one. This is called "ellipsis of the head in a noun phrase," in case you want a name for it. The example Quirk and Greenbaum give is "Old and young men were invited."
Authority: A University Grammar of English by Randolph Quirk and Sidney Greenbaum. Longman Group: Essex, England. 1993. p. 268. Used with permission.
QUESTION About misplaced and dangling modifiers in the sentences below:
- After travelling to the East Coast three times in the past month, our company's planned expansion into Newfoundland has been put on hold, despite my recommendation.
- "This bus has a seating capacity of 56 passengers with a maximum height of four metres."
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Somewhere, Canada Tue, Feb 22, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE In the first sentence, your "planned expansion" has not traveled to the east coast, you have (or someone who put the expansion on hold). In the second sentence, we can pack as many passengers who happen to be under four meters tall (which could make for a very good basketball team!) onto this bus as we please. In the first sentence, just make sure that the beginning modifying phrase modifies the real subject (the person or people who plan the expansion). I trust that the four meters is supposed to modify the bus, not the passengers.
QUESTION I've heard these sentences in conversations:
The word 'way' intensifies what it is being said. Right? What part of speech is 'way' in this kind of sentence? Can it be used in formal communication? Would you recommend its use? Thanks in advance for your assistance.
- He's said that word way more times.
- Those women are way into nutrition.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Lima, Peru Tue, Feb 22, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I think this use of the word "way" comes about as a reversal of the colloquial expression "no way," (meaning "impossible"). It's thus a kind of adverbial intensifier. Yes, one will hear it in informal conversation, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it and its use in formal writing would be perilous, indeed. (Without the intonation of speech, it's rather hard to tell what it means, for one thing.)
QUESTION Is it 'asymmetric' information or 'asymmetrical' information, and similarly 'symmetric' or symmetrical information? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Bonn, Germany Tue, Feb 22, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE My dictionary lists "symmetric" as a variant of "symmetrical" and seems to prefer "symmetrical" in all its definitions and examples. That's what I'd go with.
Authority for this note: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Electronic Edition. 1994. Used with permission.
QUESTION I am writing a proposal, asking that a class be offered that has not been offered in five years. How best to state that? "One course that I would like to have taken, which has not been offered in five years... OR "One course that I would have like to have taken, but which has not been offered in five years..." OR something else? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Omaha, Nebraska Tue, Feb 22, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE That "which" clause is a pretty good sign that this sentence is headed for perdition. Also, we're not sure if you want to take the course or if your potential students should take it. I'd recommend starting over again and breaking up your ideas.Yeats and Dental Hygiene has not been offered in five years. I recommend reinstating this course next semester.Your enthusiasm for the course can then follow.
QUESTION Thisis an easy one, but I need a little help.
You can say, "It is is a very big house." You cannot say, "It is a too big house."
I know it has to do with the modifier "too" not being able to be in a noun phrase, but I cannot find the rule that explains why. Could you tell me.
Thank you very much.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Saltillo, Cohuila, Mexico Wed, Feb 23, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I don't know why. I'll leave an e-mail icon here in case someone else can explain, but I think it comes down to a matter of usage. We can use the construction in a predicate: "That house is too big." And when the noun is gradable, we can construct something like "He too much of a nerd" (there being degrees of "nerdness"). Interestingly, in this situation, "too" is unlike "very," a similar intensifier: we can say "It is a very big house."
QUESTION I am a transcriptionist and must type what is said verbatim. How do I punctuate the following?
Specifically, should there be a comma between the double you and that?
- Has anyone ever told you you have diabetes?
- The doctor did conclude that that would be a problem.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE San Antonio, Texas Wed, Feb 23, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE You can insert a comma between identical words if it helps make the sentence more readable. In the first sentence, a comma would definitely be helpful; in the second sentence, it's not necessary: "that that" happens often enough that people aren't discombobulated when they see it in the middle of a sentence.
Authority: New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage HarperCollins: New York. 1994. p. 250. Cited with permission.
QUESTION I am an English teacher and in one of my classes I read the expression below:"I will do something simple LIKE BLOW up the balloons."My question is: Isn't the word like here a preposition? If so, why isn't the verb written in the ~ing form? I mean, why isn't the sentence like this:I will do something simple like blowing up the balloons?I have already gone through a lot of grammar books and couldn't find an answer. I hope you can help me. I look forward to your reply. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Porto Velho, Rondônia, Brazil Wed, Feb 23, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE In conversation and informal prose you will hear or read a verb phrase used in that way: "He was about to do something crazy like jump off a bridge," as if the verb phrase could serve as the object of the preposition "like." As you point out, though, a gerund phrase would serve us much better in that position.
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