QUESTION I have this sentence:When Stevenson was younger, he used to lead a double life, like Jekyll in the novel.Do I need both commas?
Or can the comma after younger go?
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Pottstown, Pennsylvania Sun, Feb 11, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE You definitely want both commas: the first to set off a beginning adverbial clause and the second to set off a parenthetical element. Can you change "used to lead" to "led"? And maybe you could begin with something like "Like the split persona of his most famous novel, the young Stevenson led a double life." (I'm not sure if you'd want persona or personae in that sentence.)
QUESTION The long held motto, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste", is still being used, even though it is incorrectly written. The correct version would be written: "It is a terrible thing to waste a mind." I have long known this, as have many who know proper English, but I would like to know the descriptive function for this, so as to explain it to others. Sadly of course, I know we'll never see it used in its corrected form, as that would now be "politically incorrect". Answer please? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Pasadena, Texas Tue, Feb 13, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The problem with the motto is that the word terrible is modifying the word mind (as a predicate adjective), which doesn't make sense (the mind, of course, is not a terrible thing at all); it should be modifying the action of wasting, instead, as you point out. I don't think that correcting it is a matter of political incorrectness, though. The motto has become a kind of shorthand for what's really intended. This is surely not the first time this kind of thing has happened, nor is it the last.
QUESTION I am a bit confused over the use of 'this', 'next' and 'last' in the time context. For example, when i say "I will go there this Monday." Do I mean that i will go the Monday of this week or the nearest Monday. (nearest Mon might not be this week's Mon if the statement is said on Saturday). What about if i use 'next Monday' or 'last Monday'. What do they mean respectively? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Singapore Tue, Feb 13, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE You wouldn't think that such simple, common expressions could cause so much difficulty, but they do, indeed. It has something to do with the chronological proximity to any given day, but that proximity seems to be a relative matter. If it's Tuesday or even Wednesday, for instance, last Monday could mean eight or nine days ago. If it's Sunday, next Monday would mean eight days from now. If you are anywhere in the previous week, though, next Monday would probably mean just that, the next day of that name (although I could see a problem for Saturday, maybe).
The expression this Wednesday (for example) causes even more difficulties, and even people in the same family will argue about which day is intended. (I know this from personal experience.) Usually, it can be determined from context whether the speaker/writer is referring to a Wednesday in the recent past or imminent future. If it were early in the week, I'd know exactly that this Wednesday refers to the next upcoming day of that name. After Wednesday, the phrase this Wednesday probably refers to the day of that name recently passed, but in some contexts it could refer to the upcoming day of that name.
I hope this helps, but I have to caution you that it's one person's opinion. Remember that referring to an actual date is always a wise option if communicating the exact day is truly important.
QUESTION Could you explain to me what the expression "must needs" can mean. I come across it quite often in the literature but haven't a slightest idea about what does it mean. Here is an example of such phrase from the "Alice in Wonderland":"...and just as I was thinking I should be free of them at last, they must needs come wriggling down from the sky..."Thank you in advance. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Minsk, Belarus Thu, Feb 15, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The word "needs" in that peculiar context is functioning as an adverb meaning "of necessity" or "necesssarily." You will also find the phrase reversed, as "needs must." In the sentence you quote from Carroll, it means that just when Alice thinks she's "free of them," they seem to come wriggling out of the sky as if they have to, as if it were inevitable that they do so.
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. (Under "needs")
QUESTION Do you say most rare or rarest? According to the rules I should say rarest because rare has only one syllable, but my grammar check brings it up as incorrect, that it should be most rare. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Somewhere, Ecuador Mon, Feb 19, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I would say most rare for the same reason that I say more clear (instead of clearer): because it sounds better to me. I believe that the "rules" regarding the formation of comparatives and superlatives are flexible enough to allow for that scope of judgment. At least I hope so. But those inflected forms are in the dictionary, so they are certainly acceptable. Ignore your spellchecker on this account.
QUESTION On the Spelling Test VII, I believe there is an error in the usage of "all right." The spoken clue is something along the lines of "It is alright to do something," but my spelling (as just typed here) turns up as wrong. I believe that the correct usage of the two homonyms is:
- It is alright to do something.
- The test had six questions and I got them all right.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Unknown Mon, Feb 19, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I gather there are many people who would agree with you among the subscribers to alt.english.usage, where this issue comes up frequently. Most dictionaries will describe these words as variant spellings of the same term, to be used interchangeably in terms of meaning. My Merriam-Webster's says that alright is used frequently in fictional dialogue and "occasionally" in other writing. Burchfield is less accommodating; he says that alright is "commonplace in private correspondence . . . among the moderately educated young." I would use all right in both your sentence, but I hold sacred your right to use alright if you wish.
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. (under "all right")
QUESTION Which is correct:the majority have left or the majority has left? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Middletown, Pennsylvania Mon, Feb 19, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE It depends on whether you're thinking of "the majority" has a group of individuals or as a singular entity. If I'm thinking of a majority of my colleagues, in a faculty meeting, say, I might observe that "a majority have left the room." But if I'm thinking of a majority of the voters in Florida as a singular entity (presuming that there is such a thing as a clear majority in Florida) I might say, "A majority has left the state."
QUESTION Open vs opened
Is the following sentence correct: "If the open document is already a French document, do not translate it" or should I say "if the opened document..." since I am talking about a document that is open(ed ?) and displayed on screen. ?
Thanks for your answer.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Montréal, Quebec, Canada Mon, Feb 19, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I would use opened in this context since the act (virtual though it may be) of unfolding and making accessible the document is important. The word open also means "accessible," of course, but also suggests something utterly free of concealment. You'll have to make a similar decision with the words welcome and welcomed.
QUESTION I have heard that the word "shall" can only be used with the subjects "I" and "we". Is this correct? If not, what is the rule concerning shall/we? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE San Antonio, Texas Wed, Feb 21, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE To answer this question, I have amplified our analysis of these auxiliaries. Click here.
QUESTION I am wondering how to use a comma with a possessive--as in:Athens, Ga.'s the B-52's will be playing in Florida this week.Should I still try to put the comma in after Georgia? (It is not an option to rewrite.) Thanks! SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Raleigh, North Carolina Wed, Feb 21, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE No, drop the comma (as you have already done. When the place noun has become attributive (by becoming a possessive), you don't set it off with a comma, as in "Nome, Alaska's weather is not as cold you might think."
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