Category: Grammar and writing help


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 […]

Read more »
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), […]

Read more »

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, […]

Read more »

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 […]

Read more »
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 […]

Read more »

Who’s confident [confidant?] about using -ance, -ence, and similar suffixes?

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 […]

Read more »
may might

May or might: what’s the difference?

I’ve mentioned before that the grammatical ‘rules’ about which many of us care most passionately often differ from person to person (and, of course, they also change over time). We all have our own particular pain threshold:  I get inordinately ratty when apostrophes are misused, as evidenced by the fact that I can’t even resist […]

Read more »
who or whom

Who or whom? The great debate…

When I blogged last year about relative pronouns, I promised to return to the distinction between who and whom another time. Ta-da! That time has arrived! Reading the title above, some of you may ask: what debate? Many folk live their lives quite happily without hardly ever letting a ‘whom’ pass their lips, while others […]

Read more »