QUESTION Is the following a proper usage of the word "languished"?"I was languished because I had not eaten in a long time."
Please explain why it is, or is not. Thank you very much
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Unknown Thu, Feb 14, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Languish doesn't work as a passive verb because it's intransitive in nature. In other words, you can languish because you're in love and you haven't eaten in two weeks, but you can't be languished.
QUESTION Is it proper grammar to say"consensus of opinion"? If yes or no, why... SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Lapeer, Michigan Mon, Feb 18, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The word consensus means how people "feel together," so the phrase "consensus of opinion" is usually regarded as redundant. The word "consensus," all by itself, will nicely suffice.
QUESTION How do I address (greeting or salutation section) a Catholic Bishop in a letter? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Oil City, Pennsylvania Mon, Feb 18, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The envelope would look like:The Most Reverend [full name]And the inside salutation would look like
Archbishop (or Bishop) of [place]
Dear Archbishop (or Bishop) [last name]:
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. 549.
QUESTION Is it correct to write 'the majority of written language...'? I was told I shouldn't use majority with a mass noun. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Cambridge, England Mon, Feb 18, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Generally, your advisor is correct: it's not wise to use "majority" with a non-count noun. We often use "majority" with a mass noun that could, in other contexts, be broken down into countable items, as in "the majority of the electorate" or "the majority of the student body." But with most non-count nouns, like "furniture," "experience," "the written language," etc., you're better off with "most of . . . ".
QUESTION I'm not sure if one phrasing is better than the other.
- I'm usually closer to my mother than my father.
- I'm usually closer to my mother than to my father.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Yonkers, New York Tue, Feb 19, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The problem with the first sentence is that we don't know whether you mean that your father might be closer to your mother than you are or that you are closer to your mother than you are to your father. The second sentence tries to resolve that ambiguity, but you'd be better off withI'm usually closer to my mother than I am to my father.
We have to careful of that word than.
QUESTION I have a question about your definition of extemporaneous (in the confusables section). I always thought this word came from the verb to extemporis(z)e, often used in music. For example:Bach extemporised an entire Fugue from a single melody.In the copy of the UK Collins dictionary I have, it's defined as a synonym of impromptu and extempore, from the latin ex tempore, certainly nothing to do with careful initial preparation. In music the point of extemporisation is to make something up on the spot. http://www.webster.com/ seems to agree with this, though they have a second usage listed for the word extemporaneous, after the initial definition. Perhaps this is a US/UK thing. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE London, UK Tue, Feb 19, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The distinction between an impromptu speech (one given without any preparation at all, entirely off the cuff) and an extemporaneous speech (a speech prepared for but given without notes) is probably useful only to people like teachers of public speaking. Merriam-Webster's will also use "extemporaneous" as a definition of "impromptu," so the distinction is surely more often ignored than honored.
QUESTION In the translation of one of the Polish legal acts recently promulgated, the word 'approximate' was used as follows:The aim of this law is to approximate the Polish legislation to the EU standards.I have never seen the word used that way. Is it correct or should it be replaced with 'bring [sth] closer'? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Wroclaw, Poland Tue, Feb 19, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE My Merriam-Webster's seems to allow for a transitive use of this verb, "to bring things closer together," but I'm not convinced that its usage here is very clear. We usually use "approximate" in the sense that the language of the Polish legislation approximates (comes close to) that of the EU standards. Perhaps the intent of the law is to make [something] more closely conform to EU standards.
QUESTION This phrase, "At first", seems to be quite beloved by the Japanese authors I work with. In many cases it is clearly wrong, and in every case I can recall, it could be replaced with a simple "First." They often seem to use "Firstly" in the same peculiar way, so I'm pretty sure that the cause is a Japanese source, probably "Hajime ni," though I can't translate it well because of the complexity of "ni."
First, is there a good explanation of why "At first" and "Firstly" don't work.
Second, if such an explanation is already on your Web site, I couldn't find it. The word "first" is quite common, producing hundreds of apparently unrelated hits. There was a plague warning against "Firstly," and a couple of related hits, but nothing that really explained the why... The "at" is apparently ignored by your search engine, which is unfortunate given its frequency and influence in English.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Somewhere, Japan Tue, Feb 19, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE In the context of numbering points or arguments, the adverb "First" might be useful. We recommend that writers avoid "firstly" because the word is being used simply to enumerate and we don't really need an adverb form to modify the sentence that follows (i.e., we would use "first," "second," "third," etc., not "firstly," "secondly," "thirdly"). One reason for this is that, quite soon, the adverb form starts to sound quite silly: fifthly, sixthly, seventhly. The phrase "at first," on the other hand, means something quite different from "first" (as a device used to enumerate). "At first" means "initially," as in "The inventors of the Internet were at first quite unaware of the implications of their work."
Search engines are problematic devices for a Website devoted to language. Many students of English as a second language are interested in the uses of a word like "and" or the prepositions "in" versus "into," for example. Yet plugging those words into a search engine, any search engine, will not yield useful results (and perhaps not any). If the artificial intelligence exists to make a search engine behave usefully for such queries, I haven't seen it yet.
QUESTION Would you say "Does any of you have a tape recorder?" or "Do any of you have a tape recorder?" Please explain why. Thank you. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Fort Worth, Texas Tue, Feb 19, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The indefinite pronoun "any" can be either singular or plural, but you will rarely see it used as a singular. If you tried to "translate" the "any" to mean "any one of you," you might want to use a singular, but it's perfectly acceptable and commonplace to think of the "any" in your sentence as a group of individuals and to use the plural verb, "do."
Authority: The Careful Writer by Theodore Bernstein. The Free Press: New York. 1998.
QUESTION Should the word "french" be capitalized when using the phrase "french toast"? I know that french is not capitalized in french fry, but it is capitalized in French dressing. Why or why not in french toast? Please respond as soon as possible. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Girard, Pennsylvania Wed, Feb 20, 2002 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Generally, we capitalize national words in such terms: English horn, French dressing, Spanish flu. My dictionary says we should capitalize "French" in French toast, but not in french fries. The reason for this is probably one of the great mysteries of our time, but it may have something to do with the French wanting nothing to do with the term.
Authority: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Electronic Edition, Version 1.5. 1996. Used with permission.
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