QUESTION Uncivil Wars, David Horowitz's carefully reasoned argument against reparations for slavery, contains the following sentence:"In the spring of 2001, I attempted to place an ad in college newspapers opposing the idea of paying reparations for slavery 136 years after the fact."The book demonstrates that his thinking is more lucid than his prose.
The ad, not the newspapers, opposes paying reparations. And that phrase, "136 years after the fact," is supposed to refer to the institution of slavery, but does so in an ambiguous way. Comment on this sentence and suggest how it might have been improved.
On the same page, this sentence appears:"It was a breathtaking display of intolerance for an academic community."The display of intolerance was BY that academic community, but the wording suggests that someone might have shown intolerance FOR that community. Explain exactly what is wrong with the two sentences cited and show how careful writers can avoid such errors.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Kew Gardens, New York Mon, Feb 4, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Horowitz's errors are matters of modifier placement. In the second sentence you give us, we can eliminate ambiguity by putting the modifying prepositional phrase at the beginning of the sentence:For an academic community, it was a breathtaking display of intolerance.In the first sentence, he might have used what is a called a resumptive modifier to good effect:"In the spring of 2001, I attempted to place an ad in college newspapers, an ad opposing the idea of paying reparations for slavery 136 years after the fact."Notice how we let pass, unremarked, the phrase "carefully reasoned argument."
QUESTION Please help! This is driving me crazy! Is thefollowing sentence grammatically correct? It is not uncommon for he and I to sit and talk.
I tend to hear people trying to avoid ever using the pronoun me as it is so often misused. What is the correct statement?
I've been to many web sites, but am unable to find more complex sentences used in examples.
Thank you for any help.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Unknown Mon, Feb 4, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE If, instead of the choice between he and I and him and me, you had, simply, a choice between we and us, there wouldn't be a problem, would there? Without pause, we would say, "It is not uncommon for us to sit and talk." Choosing the object form of the pronoun is fairly intuitive and correct, because we need an object for the preposition for in this sentence. The infinitive phrase, "to sit and talk," is modifying the "him and me," but it's not looking for a subject form.
QUESTION When using p.s. do you capitalized the P and the S? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE San Francisco, California Tue, Feb 5, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Write it with all caps and no period after the "P." It can be followed by either a period or a colon and one or two spaces.
Authority: The Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin. 9th Edition. McGraw-Hill: New York. 2001. Used with the consent of Glencoe/McGraw-Hill. p. 385.
QUESTION "I don't want you sitting around, staring at TV..." (US News and World Report). " Does Mother Nature want you eating half a cup of oats coated..." (Nutrition Action) I have been a teacher of English in France for nearly 30 years and I have always told my students to use an infinitive structure with verbs like want, expect, etc. Could you let me know the most correct structure? Isn't it more correct to say "I don't want you to sit around"?
Thanks a lot
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Beaulieu sous La Roche, France Tue, Feb 5, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I don't know about levels of acceptability, nor do I know if the construction "sitting around" is more American than British, but "I don't want you sitting around" is certainly a common and acceptable construction. There's a slight difference in meaning: "I don't want you to sit around" means that to sit around is a choice you're about to make and the speaker would dissuade you from that action. "I don't want you sitting around" emphasizes more the habitual process of sitting there, not doing anything. "Sitting around" feels more passive to me than "to sit around."
QUESTION I would like to know the proper usage of words like older, elder, younger in sentences. I would appreciate if you could illustrate with examples. I don't understand which one is correct in the following sentences.
- I have an older sister and a younger sister .
- I have an elder sister and a younger sister
- I am the older of the two
- I am the elder of the two.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Sachumburg, Illinois Tue, Feb 5, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Elder seems to be on its way out, but it can still be used to express the relative age of two family families. Note that a one-day-old twin can be the elder of two infants, so it's strictly a matter of relative age. Only people can be elder, though; everything else is older or younger, as the case may be.
Authority: The Careful Writer by Theodore Bernstein. The Free Press: New York. 1998.
QUESTION Does this sentence sound natural?"She fell asleep directly she got into bed."Some people around me say that using "directly" as a conjunction meaning "as soon as" is current usage in British English, but an Englishman I know denies it, saying that "directly after she got into bed" is correct, but not "directly she got."
What do you think?
Incidentally, "She fell asleep directly she got into bed." is found in the New Oxford American Dictionary if you look up "directly" as a conjunction.
Thank you very much for your help.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Fukuoka, Japan Wed, Feb 6, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE My Merrriam-Webster's 10th also lists "directly" as a conjunction, chiefly British, meaning "as soon as." It gives, as an example, "Directly I received it, I rang up the shipping department." I can hardly blame your British friend for being in denial of this construction; perhaps if he denies it thrice, it will go away. I would much prefer "directly after" or, better yet, "soon after."
The word directly has enough problems of its own without foisting new meanings upon it. As in "We're driving to Dallas directly," it's often hard to tell whether it means in a direct manner or immediately.
QUESTION My teacher tells me that the following statement shows correct grammer:"I resented Bob's kissing my girl at the party."
Can you please tell me why "Bob's" is used? I'm confused as to why it is possessive.
Thanks for the advice!
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Charleston, South Carolina Wed, Feb 6, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE We almost always use a possessive in front of a gerund in a construction like this. The issue is discussed in our section on gerunds. This particular sentence, however, is a good example of a situation in which the non-possessive form would work better. What is it that you resent? Is it the kissing of your girlfriend (an act that has been carried out by Bob, and thus the act belongs to Bob, and we want to use the possessive "Bob's")? Or is it actually Bob himself whom we resent (Bob who happens to be kissing your girlfriend)? If we don't make Bob possessive, note that it leaves open the possibility that we would not have resented so much the notion of Ted kissing your girlfriend. Your teacher is right: the possessive "Bob's" is correct (and you will almost always use the possessive in a construction like this), but I think you could argue that the non-possessive form might also be correct and even more accurate.
QUESTION Several dictionaries define the word "can" as permissible when discussing ability or asking permission. One specific entry uses the example sentence: Can I go to the park?
Yet, elementary school teachers insist the word "may" is the only correct option for asking permission. Please help clarify this issue for me. Is it or is it not permissible and/or correct to say, "Can I use the restroom?"
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Marianna, Florida Wed, Feb 6, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The answer depends on the level of formality of your text or situation. As Theodore Bernstein puts it in The Careful Writer, "a writer who is attentive to the proprieties will preserve the traditional distinction: can for ability or power to do something, may for permission to do it.
The question is at what level can you safely ignore the "proprieties." Merriam-Webster's says the battle is over and "can" can be used in virtually any situation to express or ask for permission. I wouldn't go that far, myself.
Authority: The Careful Writer by Theodore Bernstein. The Free Press: New York. 1998. p. 87.
QUESTION When using the term Bachelor's Degrees as in "Now offering Bachelor's Degrees" should the apostrophe go before the "s" as above or after the "s" as follows: "Now offering Bachelors' Degrees." On a billboard announcing three new degrees should it read "Bachelor's Degrees in Education, Nursing..." or "Bachelors' Degrees?" SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE St. Petersburg, Florida Thu, Feb 7, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE You pluralize the word "degrees" but you don't change the nature of the word that modifies "degrees." It's still the singular possessive: "Now offering bachelor's degrees" would do the trick.
QUESTION Re the "then" construction: such as "in 1998 then President Clinton issued a memorandum...." should there be a hyphen after "then"? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Alexandria, Virginia Thu, Feb 7, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Lots of people don't like that "then" construction, but it's been around for hundreds of years and is widely accepted. It becomes klutzy when it's used with a hyphen, especially when it's combined with another modifier as in "then-executive producer Joey Schmarz . . . " So, no, skip the hyphen.
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.
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