Category: Grammar and writing help

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 […]

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

shift

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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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 […]

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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 […]

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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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Can or could? In the noun form of 'can', it's pretty obvious.

Can or could?

Like may and might, can and could cause a lot of confusion. Understanding how all the modal verbs are used is vital to speaking and writing English effectively and idiomatically, so let’s explore the meanings and uses of can and could. Given that these are quite complex verbs, I’d like to focus on explaining some key points (otherwise […]

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Is it ance or ence that you add to 'differ'?

Is it -ance or -ence?

For those of you who’ve been following my occasional series about homophonous affixes (or, to put it another way, word-endings and -beginnings that sound the same when spoken!), you should now know your -ables from your -ibles and be proficient in fore- versus for- or four. There are plenty more similar-sounding affixes, though, so I thought […]

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What's the difference between may or might?

May or might?

May or might? Both words are part of a special set of verbs known as modal auxiliary verbs, which means that they’re used together with other verbs to talk about permission, possibility, suggestions, etc.  Over the years, the usage recommendations regarding might and may have become more flexible, but there are still points which you should […]

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