Category: Grammar and writing help


The formation of plurals, from sheep to minotaurs

It’s probably safe to say that most of us don’t give much thought to how plural nouns are formed in English. In fact, add –s or –es, whatever a word’s origin or meaning, might be one of the easiest grammatical rules in the language. So we have book / books, church / churches, hula / […]

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accept except

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 […]

Functional-shifty characters: what’s wrong with this verb?


Loathsome. Wretched. Horrible. These were the words used on a recent Twitter debate about a new usage. If it had gone on much longer, people would doubtless have weighed in with the other heavy hitters of language criticism: Clumsy! Infelicitous! Abomination! Why or how these new usages merit such opprobrium is never explained objectively. After […]

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Sister-in-laws, sisters-in-law, or sisters-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 […]

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will shall

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

Cinderella, you shall go to the ball! The story of Cinderella is decidedly appealing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a fairy godmother? She’d magic you away from your humdrum existence, ensure that you’re the belle of the ball, and make all your wishes come true. Even better (for the purposes of this blog post), […]

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Poll results: fount or font of knowledge?

fount of knowledge

There are few things more likely to cause fierce argument between language-lovers than variant spellings of everyday expressions, especially if one is celebrated by language traditionalists and the other by the linguistic vanguard. You may remember the heated arguments that arose over the topic of pronouncing scone (some friendships have never truly recovered) – well, […]

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Treble / triple trouble?

Darts in dartboard

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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can could

Can or could?

My recent post about may and might generated quite a buzz: many of you seemed to find it helpful, some picked up on my intentionally split infinitives, while other readers raised queries about two other modal auxiliary verbs, can and could. Understanding how all the modal verbs are used is vital to speaking and writing […]

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