The Grammar Logs
#526

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Question

Can you have a subject or verb in a prepositional phrases? If so, could you give an example.

Source of Question, Date of Response
Humboldt, Kansas # Tue, Oct 22, 2002
Grammar's Response

It's possible to have a noun clause as the object of a preposition, as in "He was really worried about what you told him last week," where the entire clause (which contains, by definition, a subject and a verb) is the object of "about."


Question

Is there anything wrong with this sentence?

"Containers that fail the leak test or weld criteria are returned to the cabinet, cut open, and the process is repeated."
Source of Question, Date of Response
Aiken, South Carolina # Tue, Oct 22, 2002
Grammar's Response

We have a bit of a problem in parallel form here. The two main verbs — "are returned" and "cut open" — are in the passive voice, and then we switch to another clause with another subject, which kind of surprises the reader. I would recommend another sentence:

Containers that fail the leak test or weld criteria are returned to the cabinet and cut open. The process is then repeated."

Question

We would like to know what part of speech "as" is in the following sentence:

"In 1928, she was chosen by publisher G.P. Putman to take part in a transatlantic flight as passenger and standby pilot."

Thanks!

Source of Question, Date of Response
Indianapolis, Indiana # Tue, Oct 22, 2002
Grammar's Response

It's a preposition, with a compounded object, "passenger and pilot." The prepositional phrase thus created is acting as an adverb, modifying the infinitive phrase "to take part."


Question

I would like to know if the adjective "ill" has a irregular comparison or if it can be included in the normal grammar rules. How could I use the comparative form of ill? Ex: iller, illest? or more ill, the most ill?

Thanks

Source of Question, Date of Response
So Francisco do Sul, Santa Catarina, Brasil # Wed, Oct 23, 2002
Grammar's Response

The comparative and superlative forms of ill are worse and worst. Yesterday he was ill, but today he's worse. Merriam-Webster's allows for iller, but Merriam-Webster's also provides for funner, so ignore that estimable dictionary on this one. Also, don't use illy as an adverb form: ill will suffice, as in "He was ill suited for the job."


Question

"Each" is singular. "Every" is also singular. However, the conjuction "and" links one singular item to another to create plurality. That said, what do I do in the following sentence?

Each and every one of them [knows/know].
Source of Question, Date of Response
Brooklyn, New York # Wed, Oct 23, 2002
Grammar's Response

In that case, the conjunction "and" is not combining things into a plurality. It is simply modifying the word "one," first with one word and then with another (just as "a colorful and affectionate man" is still one person). So you still want the singular "knows." The phrase "each and every one" can often be boiled down to "each one" or just "each" or "every one," with more appetizing results.


Question

The following sentence is driving me crazy: "Neither Joe nor Fred, nor Alfred, nor John, nor Allen, nor Ted, nor George brought their costumes to the Halloween Party." The immediate question is a subject-verb agreement one: Because neither/nor is singular, should "brought their costumes" be "brought his costume"? If so, it really looks and sounds wierd. The second question is whether it is correct to string together a series of options through the use of neither/nor. Other issues? Maybe. I'm just frustrated. I would appreciate your input.

Source of Question, Date of Response
Sebastapol, California # Wed, Oct 23, 2002
Grammar's Response

If Matthew Arnold can use this device in "Dover Beach," then we can use it writing about Halloween:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain . . . .

But it will always have a rather literary and hifalutin air about it. You're right, too, about the singular verb and the singular pronoun that should follow: "brought his costume" would be an improvement (unless each of them had more than one costume, and then you'd want the plural "costumes").


Question

Why does sentence 1 take commas and sentence 2 does not?

  1. His most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, has been read by millions of schoolchildren.
  2. P. Roth's novel American Pastoral won the prize.
Source of Question, Date of Response
Englewood, New Jersey # Thu, Oct 24, 2002
Grammar's Response

In the context of a paragraph about Nathaniel Hawthorne, we would know what "His most famous novel has been read. . . ." means; it can refer to only one novel, "his most famous" one. Therefore the title of the novel becomes a parenthetical element, added information, and we set it off with a pair of commas.

In the second sentence, on the other hand, if we take out the title, American Pastoral, we're left with "P. Roth's novel won the prize," and we don't know which novel you're talking about (and we can assume he wrote more than one). The novel's title is essential to the meaning of the sentence; we can't set it off with commas.


Question

The sentence:

Neither the package nor the letters had reached their destination.

Question: Is "neither" a conjunction used with "nor," or is it a pronoun with the antecedent of package? Is it still a pronoun when used as a conjunction? Also, "their" agrees with the nearer antedecent "letters," but does it also refer to package? Thank you.

Source of Question, Date of Response
Richmond, Virginia # Mon, Oct 28, 2002
Grammar's Response

When "neither-nor" is used as a correlative conjunction, the word "neither" is not regarded as a pronoun: it's a conjunction. You have to watch out for ambiguous reference of pronouns in a sentence using neither-nor. People will assume, quite rightly, that it refers to both "package" and "letters."


Question

Is decision making hypenated?

Source of Question, Date of Response
Stamford, Connecticut # Tue, Oct 29, 2002
Grammar's Response

I just did a search on atlantic.com and found that there are some cases of "decision making" (no hyphen), but most cases, by far, used the hyphen, which I would recommend. Garner recommends the hyphen, also, and says to avoid the cliché "decision-making process," which he calls sociological cant.

From The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Styleby Bryan Garner. Copyright 1995 by Bryan A. Garner. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc., www.oup-usa.org. and used with the gracious consent of Oxford University Press.


Question

"He is expert in his field." A co-worker is questioning whether this sentence is grammatically correct. He says he has never seen this grammatical structure and believes it is missing the article before "expert." I believe this sentence needs no article but cannot explain why. Indeed my intention in writing this sentence is to avoid limiting the subject to being either the only expert or one of many.

Can you explain this sentence in grammatical terms and/or provide another example of this usage? What part of speech is "expert" in this sentence?

Source of Question, Date of Response
Manitowoc, Wisconsin # Tue, Oct 29, 2002
Grammar's Response

In "He is expert in his field," we have used the word "expert" as an adjective, which is acceptable. I think that most writers would still wonder why you didn't write "an expert," but the use of the adjective can also describe a person who is skilled, talented, etc. Another example might be something like "He practiced his carpentry skills until he became quite expert at building coffee tables." The adjective will sometimes (but not always) receive the stress on the second syllable.


 


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