Catherine Soanes

Catherine Soanes is an ex-lexicographer and EFL teacher.

Articles by Catherine Soanes


Is data plural or singular or both?

What is the plural of data?

Your data was corrupted… Wah! First thought: I’ve lost some work. Second thought: shouldn’t that be ‘…data were corrupted’? In the strictest sense, yes, because it’s all a question of ensuring that you match singular subjects with singular verbs, and ditto plural subjects and verbs, a process called agreement. Easy when it’s a straightforward case, such […]

Elicit vs. illicit: which one should it be?

Elicit vs. illicit

1. Such a question isn’t intended to elicit an answer. 2. VHF radio calls from the coastguard and other ships were illiciting no response. 3. He brazenly carried on an elicit affair with Bert’s wife. 4. She admitted to having been in possession of illicit drugs. 5. You can imagine the amount of booing this […]

Should, must, or ought to?

Must, should, or ought to?

A woman’s place is in the bosom of her family; her thoughts ought seldom to emerge from it. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, Volume 97, 1825 Those nineteenth-century moralists! Can you imagine what today’s world would have been like if women such as Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, or Harriet Beecher Stowe had confined their […]

Different than, different from, or different to. Which one is right?

Different than, different from, or different to?

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. F. Scott Fitzgerald 1926 It’s a situation that crops up all the time – you want to contrast people or things, describing how one is not the same as the other, so you use the adjective different, and decide to […]

Accept or except? Do you ever confuse them?

Accept or except?

 ? The British really are mad as hatters – present company accepted of course. Do you accept that the above sentence is good English (please disregard the sentiments expressed therein!)? How about these two examples – would you take exception to them? ? She excepts everyone for what they are and I think this is […]

Sisters-in-law or sister-in-laws?

Sisters-in-law or sister-in-laws?

If you had more than one sister-in-law, how would you talk about them? Think you know? How about if you wanted to refer to more than one right of way? Would you say rights of way or rights of ways? Here are a few more plural brain-teasers: Singular noun Plural A Plural B Plural C […]

Will or shall? Learn the difference.

What’s the difference between ‘will’ and ‘shall’?

Will or shall? These two verbs are the subject of my latest endeavour to shed some light on the use of modal verbs in English. As with can versus could and may as opposed to might, there are certain ‘rules’ in standard British English grammar regarding the distinction between will and shall which you should […]

Does this look like a triple or treble score?

Triple or treble?

Consider the following sentences: do they strike you as completely unexceptional, or would you prefer to change the instances of treble to triple, or vice versa? The proposals will treble the size of the tiny village. The company is set to triple its output in one year. Double or even treble rows of blast walls […]

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