Category: Grammar and writing help


Data and media: two tricky Latin plurals and how to handle them

Your data was corrupted… Wah! First thought: I’ve lost some work. Second thought (typical grammar geek!): 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 […]

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question mark

Elicit or 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 […]

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Must should ought large

Must, should, or ought?

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 […]

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Mischievous or mischievious?

Our most recent poll asked our readers the following question: Which spelling would you have chosen? If you had gone with mischievious you would have been with the majority of our voters – 53% of people chose this spelling. However, the standard accepted spelling is in fact mischievous, chosen by 47% of our readers. Make […]

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Different from? Different than? 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 […]

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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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