# 452

I'd like to ask about the usage of "there + be + a noun..." pattern. Would you take a look at the following?
  1. There are some books on the table.
  2. There are three books on the table.
  3. There are the books on the table.
I've learned that #1 and #2 are correct, but #3 is not. The reason for this, I was told, is that #3 refers to the specified noun and the sentence pattern cannot be used with a specified noun.

However, I've found the following examples:

  1. As far as the eye could see, there was only the clear blue sky above my head.
  2. As far as I could see, there was nothing but the clear blue sky overhead.
They are the model translations of a Japanese sentence in the answer book of translation exercises. If #4 and #5 are correct, then do they violate the rule above? I'd really appreciate your help on this.

Great thanks in advance.

Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan Sun, Aug 26, 2001
As a general rule, the notion that we can't use "there ____ " with a specific, concrete noun is a good one. We can say "There is a coffe cup on the table" but not "There is the coffee cup on the table." The expletive construction doesn't work very well that way. But the "only" and the "nothing but" serves to modify the specific noun into a more abstract quality, and the expletive construction will work, as sentences 4 and 5 demonstrate. We realize, of course, that sentences like those two are rather rare.

I've heard the following sentence on TV: If you answer this question correctly, you have won. And I can't understand why you have won is correct, because I regard you will have won as correct. Could you explain that to me? Or is both you have won and will have won correct?
Seaham, UK Sun, Aug 26, 2001
I'm not sure whether this is a grammatical question or a question in logic or both. "You will have won" is obviously correct. The problem with "you have won" is the possible implication that the winning might have taken place prior to answering the question, which is not what the speaker intended.

I would like to know whether the phrase "means of transportation" takes singualr or plural form like in:
What means of tranporation is/are faster?
If it takes both forms, then what is the difference?

Thanks a lot

Somewhere, Israel Mon, Aug 27, 2001
The word "means" is plural in construction, but it can be either singular or plural, depending on how you're using it. (There is only one means of transportation in this country. There are several means of transportation in neighboring countries.) If you had in mind a single means of transportation that might be faster, you'd use the singular "is." (But in that case you'd probably change "What" to "Which.") If you had in mind the possibility of more than one means of transportation being faster, you'd use "are."

Are the words "precise" and "accurate" interchangeable? My feeling is that they are not because something can be stated precisely but not necessarily accurately.
Barrington, Illinois Tue, Aug 28, 2001
They're close, obviously, but to say they're the same would be neither accurate nor precise. "Accurate" describes something that is free from error usually because of extreme care, as in an accurate diagnosis, or something that conforms exactly to some standard, as in getting an accurate color on your television set. "Precise," on the other hand, describes something exactly or sharply defined, as in the precise outline of a pattern; something distinguished from every other, as in the precise moment of departure; and something minutely exact, as in the precise measurement of a substance. I suppose that's where these words touch upon one another: you must be accurate in your precise measure of a medication.

Authority: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Electronic Edition, Version 1.5. 1996. Used with permission.

When listing three items or more, where does one place the comma? Is there a comma before an or and or and?
example: I like pens, pencils, and chalk.
(or) I like pens, pencils and chalk.

example: I would like to go shopping, see a movie or stay home.
(or) I would like to go shopping, see a movie, or stay home.

When typing:

  • Borrow a dog... cute of course! (is that right) or
  • Borrow a dog ... cute of course! (or)
  • Borrow a dog ...cute of course!
Please help ASAP.
Deerfield Beach, Florida Tue, Aug 28, 2001
Regarding the commas, you're referring to the so-called serial comma. Some writers insist on it, others don't. All writers should use it when it helps to sort out the list. I think it's more important in the second list, but I'd use it in both.

As for the use of ellipsis points, I have to assume that "Borrow a dog" is not really a complete sentence; you're simply trying to suggest that you're suspending thought for a second before you add "cute, of course." (I'd add a comma after "cute," myself.) In this situation, you don't use a terminal mark (a period) after the "Borrow a dog," but you ought to capitalize the "Cute," as in

Borrow a dog . . . Cute, of course!

I hope you don't look for conformity to this rule in the Guide to Grammar and Writing!

Authority for the point on ellipsis marks: The Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin. 9th Edition. McGraw-Hill: New York. 2001. Used with the consent of Glencoe/McGraw-Hill. p. 80.

This question has to to with tense. I scanned the archives, but was unable to find exactly what I'm looking for. Here's the sentence:
Ultimately, it is these many years of living and working abroad, plus my experience of overcoming a troubled family background, that have led to my decision.
Should that be "has led to my decision?" I originally wrote it this way, but then someone pointed out that the verb is governed by the plural "many years" plus "experience"...together, he claims, these force one to use "have" rather than "has."

Is he right?

Tokyo, Japan Tue, Aug 28, 2001
The word "plus" does not compound subjects in the same way that "and" does. The phrase that begins with "plus" modifies the "many years," but it does not add another subject. So the subject that determines the number of "that have/has led" must be "these many years of living and working abroad." And the question is whether or not that is a singular or plural idea. In this case, I believe you're thinking of those years as a singular quantity, a sum of years, a total, singular experience, and I would go with the singular verb, "has," that you started with. Your instincts were quite correct.

How do you properly punctuate the following two sentences together? I realize the first sentence is only a fragment, but I can't decide if it needs a comma or something else.
Finally, a word about settlements. It is always prudent when making any settlements around the end of the year to ensure that adequate time exists for getting checks.
Thanks for your help.
Frederick, Maryland Tue, Aug 28, 2001
Substitute a colon for that period and you'll have a perfectly happy sentence. (Keep the capital on "It" in this case.) There's something awfully vaguish about "to ensure that adequate time exists for getting checks." Maybe "to allow adequate time for [another word besides "getting"?] checks."

My third-grade daughter's language textbook says that all commands must end in periods. She was given a choice between "Come to the art show on Tuesday." and "Come to the art show on Tuesday!" and those students who marked the sentence ending in the exclamation point were told it was incorrect. I think both answers are equally correct. Isn't it the author's choice as to which ending punctuation to use?
Richmond, Texas Tue, Aug 28, 2001
As a general rule, a period will suffice to end a command, and it is especially true that you will rarely find an exclamation mark in formal or academic prose. However, I think your daughter's textbook overstates the case if it really says that all commands must end in periods. Surely a case can be made for using the exclamation mark if that same sentence appeared by itself, say, on a poster. Within the framework of a normal paragraph, an exclamation mark is a bit of a stretch for that sentence, but in a context where the writer is trying to generate some excitement, I don't think the exclamation mark would be wrong. It's like the difference between
  • In case of fire, leave the building at once.
  • Get out of here!
Perhaps the point of the textbook is to suggest to students that overworking exclamation marks is definitely not a good idea. It leads to a kind of inflation, a comic-book world where exclamation marks no longer generate feeling.

I have a question regarding double punctuation and quotation marks. Example - I have a series of Christmas carols. One of the carols contains an exclamation mark as part of the title. The carols are all individually enclosed within quotation marks ("Jingle Bells"). I need to use a comma to separate the series of carols within the sentence. Where do I place the comma? After the exclamation mark within the quotes, or would I place the comma outside the end quotation mark? Sentence: She sang "Jingle Bells," "O Christmas Tree!", and "Silent Night" during the church service. Or, if the series includes, instead of titles, exclamatory phrases: The talking doll says: "Here I am," "Don't do that!", "Eat my beans?", and "What do you want?". Are you able to help with this question? I would much appreciate it, and it would help us in the advertising field to ensure our copy is as correct as possible when we publish it. Thank you!
Bannockburn, Illinois Tue, Aug 28, 2001
You have typed the lists above as though you were British. American typography provides for periods and commas inside quotation marks, whether that makes sense or not. So your lists would look like
  • She sang "Jingle Bells," "O Christmas Tree!," and "Silent Night" during the church service.
  • The talking doll says: "Here I am," "Don't do that!," "Eat my beans?," and "What do you want?" (The final question mark suffices to end the sentence.)
Because the combination of three marks in a row — exclamation mark + comma + quotation mark — looks so odd and busy, it would be better if you could somehow write these lists vertically, as in     The talking doll says
        "Here I am."
        "Don't do that!"
        "Eat my beans?" and
        "What do you want?"

Is it grammatically correct to say that a particular football player is "the most tenured player on the team"? My coworker says it is grammatically incorrect, that someone can't be more tenured than someone else. I say it is o.k. Who is right?
Baltimore, Maryland Wed, Aug 29, 2001
As someone used to using the term tenure as it's understood in the academic world, it seems bizarre, if not downright oxymoronic, to hear it applied to a football player. We do speak, sometimes, of one academic having more tenure than another, but I don't think I've ever heard it said that one is "more tenured" than another. Tenure is something you either have or you don't; I doubt that it's gradable, although having tenure at some places is certainly more valuable than it is at other places. I'm with your coworker, sorry to say.

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