QUESTION Is it appropriate to use "until" in the following sentence; it "sounds" awkward.We have a number of suggestions to shorten the time until you will be able to show positive earnings. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE New York, New York Sun, Jul 8, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Your instincts are right about this. With certain temporal subordinators after, as, before, once, until, whenever, as soon as it is better to use the simple present tense to express future meaning (instead of "will" or "shall").We have a number of suggestions to shorten the time until you are able to show positive earnings.
That's an improvement, but perhaps the notion of "shortening the time" is just too perplexing for most people. I know it is for me.
Generally, also, the subordinator "until" makes more sense when the verb in the main clause is negative: "We won't be able to close the deal until you arrive." (And don't use "until" when you mean "before.")
Authority: A Grammar of Contemporary English by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik. Longman Group: London. 1978. pages 744 and 780.
QUESTION When does inversion happen? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Alexandria, Egypt Sun, Jul 8, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The normal English order of subject-verb-completer is disturbed under several circumstances. Burchfield lists about ten situations in which the subject will come after the verb. The most important of these are as follows:
- In questions (routinely): "Have you eaten breakfast yet?" "Are you ready?"
- In attributing speech: "'Help me!' cried Farmer Brown."
- To give prominence to a particular word or phrase: "Most important is the chapter dealing with ordnance."
- After negatives: "I don't believe a word she says, nor does my brother. Come to think of it, neither does her father."
- After so: "I believe her; so does my brother."
- For emphasis and literary effect: "Into the valley of death rode the five hundred. . . ."
And there are others, but most of a strained or literary effect.
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 "inversion") Examples my own.
QUESTION I've got a great one for you. It's from Rascal by Sterling North (p. 33):Rascal felt [the lump of sugar], sniffed it, and then began his usual washing ceremony, swishing it back and forth through his bowl of milk.As I read this, I view swishing as a gerund, the primary noun in the appositive phrase that redefines the meaning of his usual washing ceremony.
But what if the sentence had been written like this:Rascal felt [the lump of sugar], sniffed it, and then began swishing it back and forth through his bowl of milkhis usual washing ceremony.In this case, it seems quite obvious that swishing is an active verb ... until you get to the appositive phrase his usual washing ceremony. Can an appositive phrase force us to view as a gerund what would otherwise be an active verb?
I had a similar question about a sentence on p. 26 in the same book:"It is hungry, the little one," she said, petting the small raccoon.As I look at this, it fulfills every function of a legitimate pronoun, so the quotation is NOT a cleft sentence. The question has to do with the phrase the little one: should we view that as "simply" the legitimate antecedent to the pronoun it? Or should we view it as a kind of delayed appositive? (Can we have delayed appositives?)
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Highlands Ranch, Colorado Sun, Jul 8, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I'm not convinced that "swishing it back and forth through his bowl of milk" (in the original sentence) is a gerund phrase. I think it's a participial phrase modifying the word "ceremony." In your rewrite, though, it is a gerund phrase, the object of what he "began." (The verb "begin" can be followed by either an infinitive or a gerund as object: "He began to wash. . . ." or "He began washing. . . " The verb form washing is not what you refer to as an "active verb," though (in the same sense as, say, "He was washing the shells" would be).
In "'It is hungry, the little one,' she said, petting the small raccoon," the phrase "the little one" is what Quirk and Greenbaum call an identification appositive, in which a nonspecific term is followed up by a more specific term that identifies or makes more clear the meaning of the first appositive. (Sometimes, you could insert the word "namely" when you're using this kind of appositive not that you'd want to in this sentence, but it demonstrates how the appositives are working.)
Authority: A Grammar of Contemporary English by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik. Longman Group: London. 1978. p. 629-30.
QUESTION What is the meaning of "recursive" in regards to grammar? I was told by someone that it is a grammar rule. I've never heard of it. Please give an example!
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Chicago, Illinois Mon, Jul 9, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Recursiveness refers to the principle that a syntactical pattern can repeat itself within a sentence: a sentence within a sentence, a clause within a clause, a phrase within a phrase, a series of embedded adjectives. A sentence such as "He worked in the sweatshops in the garment district by the river" contains a series of prepositional phrases each containing a noun phrase: "by the river" modifies "district," and "in the garment district" modifies "sweatshops" all in the same manner, and this is called recursiveness.
With adjectives, we see the recursive process at work in "She was the tall, elderly woman." This indicates that among elderly women, she was the tall one. In other words, the order in which one modifier comes after (is tucked into) another is not without consequence.
Authority: Understanding English Grammar by Martha Kolln. 4rth Edition. MacMillan Publishing Company: New York. 1994. p. 181.
QUESTION Which of the following is correct:
I know that without the parenthesis, you would use "have" but is "has" the correct verb because of the parentheses? Thanks!
- Congress (and some states) has passed laws on gun control.
- Congress (and some states) have passed laws on gun control.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Greenville, South Carolina Mon, Jul 9, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The plural within the parentheses does not affect the fact that the subject, "Congress," is singular. So you want "has passed." Because it does sound odd, though, you'd be better off rewording the entire sentence something like "Some states have followed the model of the U.S. Congress and have passed . . . . ."
QUESTION I recently read the following headline in the New York Times:"How Many Poor Children Is Too Many?"
Is this correct? Or should it be "How Many Poor Children Are Too Many?" or is it saying that even one poor child is too many? Confusing! Thanks for your thoughts.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Boston, Massachusetts Mon, Jul 9, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The subject "how many poor children" refers to a singular quanity, a "sum" of poor children (i.e., what level of poverty do we reach before we have to do something?). Therefore, the singular "is" is appropriate. It's conceivable, though, that that same construction would require a plural verb, when you're thinking of the children as countable individuals, as in "How many poor children are sleeping on the streets?"
QUESTION Headline in local paper"A slew of ex-Wizards has gone on to bigger and better teams"I question the "has." I know slew is the subject, but is it considered a collective singular, or can it be an "either or"? Thank you for your help. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Fort Wayne, Indiana Mon, Jul 9, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE That's an interesting headline! First of all, I doubt if the other teams are actually "bigger," but they could certainly be better. Second, I'm trying hard, now, to erase the mental picture of a rude "slew" of pointy-capped, long-gowned, grotesquely bejewelled and tattooed giants roaming the countryside in search of happier homes.
"Slew" like group, gang, class, throng, crowd would always be regarded as a plural in British English. In American English, it is apt to be singular, but it can be either, depending on whether you're thinking of the individuals within the slew as discrete individuals or as one unit. I rather imagine given what I know of the behavior of professional athletes, wizardly or not that they're looking out for themselves individually, selfishly, atomistically, and pluralistically and I would therefore lean toward the plural verb, "have gone on to. . . . " But the headline as written is not wrong if the writer is thinking of the "slew" as a group acting as one thing (which is hard to believe considering the fact that those Wizards couldn't behave as a unit when they were on the same team, which is one reason, among many, that they are now ex-Wizards).
QUESTION Use of commas and periods in
I think the two above are correct but what about this form Smith, Jr., M.D., John or Smith, III, M.D., John? Thanks
- John Smith, Jr., M.D.
- John Smith, III, M.D.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Tucson, Arizona Mon, Jul 9, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Most writing manuals nowadays are urging writers to drop the comma before the Jr. and III unless they know that the individual Junior in question wants to keep the comma. In an index, we drop the academic and professional degrees, and the rest of the name would look like the following:Smith, John, Jr.
Smith, John B., III
Authority: Chicago Manual of Style 14th ed. U of Chicago P: Chicago. 1993. p. 735.
QUESTION Is it correct to say "there is more than one way to do something," or should we say "there are...?" in the idiom "there is more than one way to skin a cat"? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Isfahan, Iran Tue, Jul 10, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I don't quite grasp the logic of this, but the construction "more than one _____ " invariably uses a singular verb. You want "is" in your sentence. If the number is greater than one, you want a plural verb: "There are more than two ways to skin a cat."
QUESTION In the sentence:Mr. Brown is one of the commuters who take the train to work.Should "take" be "takes?" It would seem that the verb would NOT refer back to commuters (object of the preposition), but to either "one" or "who." The PSAT folks say it is "take," I say it is "takes."
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Portland, Oregon Tue, Jul 10, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I hate to side with the PSAT people, but I have to in this case. The best way to figure out the correct verb choice in a sentence like this is to break it down a bit. We would write "Of the commuters who take the train to work, Mr. Brown is one." I realize we would never actually write the sentence that way, but it does help demonstrate what noun or pronoun is actually the subject of a particular verb. It is possible to draw attention to a word outside the clause in such a way that a singular verb will be called for: "Mr. Brown is the only one of those commuters who takes a train to work."
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