Saturday, May 22, 2010

Announcing the Owl & Possum Help Nest

Greetings Grammophiles,

Beginning June 1st, this blog will become the new electronic home for the retiring print version of the Purdue OWL Help Nest. In the past, the Help Nest served as a forum for discussing difficult questions about grammar, style, and usage. But because the Help Nest appeared as a regular component of the monthly Purdue OWL Newsletter, it became increasingly difficult to address all of our users' questions in a timely fashion. In short, the Help Nest needs to move into the digital age.

Secondarily, the Help Nest's audience has largely been limited to newsletter subscribers. It is time for the Help Nest to expand its reach beyond what the OWL editorial team can fit into the newsletter's currently limited size and scope.
What better way to achieve both of these objectives than to move the Help Nest over to The Grammar Gang blog? Thanks to the Grammar Gang's international team of coordinators as well as its global audience, we believe the Help Nest will definitely be able to expand its reach. We also hope that the Help Nest will become more discussion-oriented and have less of a dictatorial, top-down feel (no more: this is the right answer because we said so!).

How will it all work? We invite any and all questions about grammar, style, or usage to this thread (or any other for that matter). In turn, the editorial team will select one or more questions for a more detailed biweekly "write-up." Particularly thorny questions will also be taken from the Purdue OWL's email service.

As we have noted in previous posts, we do not claim to have all the answers, and especially not the definitive right answer to grammatical dilemmas. We will, however, try to put these issues in some sort of rhetorical context. Grammar questions often do not hinge on "correct or incorrect" but rather "right time and wrong time." So the next time someone scolds you for splitting your infinitives, you can say, "Ah, yes but I read on the Help Nest that to never split infinitives is like never saying 'gonna.'" There's always an exception.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

The Owl and Possum Help Nest


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Rosaria Williams said...

Looking forward! Wait, are we still writing complete sentences?
Just testing/joking/ruffling some corners.

Anonymous said...

I'll be interested to see new developments. I always have enjoyed Grammar Gang.

Andrea Duff said...

Thank you, lakeviewer and Dedene! We love hearing from our followers.


Anonymous said...

Is it P's and Q's or Ps and Qs or p's and q's or ps and qs?

What about this one? Ben wanted to yell Help but he was ashamed. Is it Help, "help," help, or what?

camelgal said...

Love this site, thanks Grammar Gang! I'll use it myself and send my ailing students to it. One word I hate to hear is "learnings", as in, "Will you share the learnings of the case study with us?. What's wrong with "lessons"?? Grrr. Grammar Gang, do you have a comment?

Brady Spangenberg said...

Hi Camelgal,

I share your frustration with such faux plurals as "learnings." The same could be said for "homeworks" or "impacts" (though this one is technically correct and, I think, gaining in credibility). These types of constructions are often the result of word-to-word translations from other languages into English. An example would be the German word "Lekt├╝re," which means "lessons" but is often translated as "lectures" or (gasp) "learnings." It is quite possible that there are other languages out there that understand lessons as opportunities to learn--therefore "learnings." There is nothing wrong with "lessons," except that to some it doesn't quite capture the idea of something to be learned or read.


Anonymous said...

How about 'leanings' as in 'she has leftist leanings' or 'earnings'?

Julia Miller said...

In regard to 'learnings', there seem to be lots of new plurals creeping in, especially in the social science fields. Words which I traditionally taught as not having plural forms are increasingly being made plural, as in 'behaviours', 'understandings' and 'Englishes'. I think in most (all?) cases they refer to 'types of' something, such as 'types of behaviour'. They're certainly on the rise. Does that make them 'increasings'?!

Kevin said...

This my sound like a trivial question, but within my circle of friends it has been hotly debated for literally years. We have argued about it to the point where it has become an epic culture war between the northern and southern Californians among us. I would very much appreciate your objective answer in this dispute!

I grew up in southern California, where we when we discuss a highway we usually put the word "the" before its name. For example, if I were talking about the Interstate-5, I might say, "I will get in my car and take the 5 to get home." Note, "take the 5." I moved to northern California for school a few years ago, and noticed that natives here almost never use "the" in this way. Here they would say instead, "I will get in my car and take 5 to get home." Note, "take 5." Who is correct (or more correct) in this matter?


Julia Miller said...

Hi Kevin
What a tricky one. I'll attempt to answer, as an English person who doesn't have highways! In England, major roads have names, like 'A1' or 'M15', and we don't prefix that with 'motorway' or 'Interstate'. I think what the two sets of speakers in California are doing is viewing the name of the road differently. Some of you see it as 'the Insterstate 5' and some of you see it as '5'. In the first case, you can abbreviate it to 'the 5', but in the second you can't, so it stays as '5'. I think this second one without the 'the' is more unusual, as most roads seem to take 'the': the Prince's Highway (in Australia); the A1 or the M1 in England; l'autoroute du sud in France. I'd love to hear of any other examples of roads without the article. Please write in, bloggers!

Irshad Hadi said...

I have a comment about a blog by Brady Spangenberg on Wednesday, July 28, 2010, with the title "The Over-Adjectivalization of English?"
One of the sentences in this blog reads like this
"Race is one of those subjects that does not lend itself to simple explanations." I think it is incorrect and should instead be revised as:
"Race is one of those subjects that do not lend themselves to simple explanations."

If am wrong, please let me know with a brief explanation.
Irshad Hadi

Anonymous said...

how do I write a paper about teachers who influenced me without saying I?

Maria said...

How do I write a paper where I have to use I but can't use I?

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Maria (and I take it you were 'anonymous', as well)

This is a tricky one, isn't it?

Unlike my colleagues Susanna, Brady and Julia, I am a journalist not a grammarian. However, I have had to figure out ways of helping my students get rid of the first person 'I'.

Maybe I could model an example and explain the rules after.

'I was inspired by my teacher who instilled in me a love of the written word. This helped me to become a competent writer.'

'The teacher who instils a love of the written word can inspire students and make a real difference in their literacy.'

This sounds a bit stuffy, as I am reading it back to myself.

I would be seeking clarification from my lecturer about the purpose and genre of the writing. Perhaps (since the piece appears to be reflective) you are allowed to use
the first person 'I'? Reflective writing is certainly a genre which uses deep and personal reflections using 'I' and is one which (at least in Australia) is encouraged in teacher education.

Clinically speaking, I suppose you get rid of 'I' as the subject, and use 'the teacher' as the subject.

What do my colleagues think?

Julia Miller said...

Hi Maria
I agree with Andrea's comments. Since you're writing about a teacher who influenced you, this seems to be a personal piece of writing, and I would have thought the use of 'I' was acceptable. I'd definitely check with the lecturer.

Anonymous said...

How do you classify a number, such as '1953' indicating a year, as a part of speech? It would seem to be a noun (naming a year)? If so, is it proper because it names a specific year?

Rebecca Victor said...

Is it correct to say 'As ever boy or girls leaves the gates of this institution, they take with them memories of ..." or "As every boy or girl leaves the gates of this institution, he or she takes with him or her memories of ..."

Andrea Duff said...


I'm thinking both are probably right, but I will defer to Brady, Susanna or Julia on this one.

However, I can say that in academic writing, we usually maintain gender neutral language so I would throw into the mix:

As every student leaves the gates of this institution, they take with them memories...

Kelby said...

If you are using a source that is used in another work (your textbook), which becomes the primary and which is the secondary. Is your textbook the primary or secondary? Then, do you include both in the same reference at the end?

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Kelby

In Australian universities, the secondary source is the textbook, journal article etc, and the primary source is the data you gather or that someone else has gathered. If this data is presented in a journal article or book, then it becomes a secondary source.

Usually, we put secondary sources in a reference list at the end. The primary source would usually not appear in the reference list, unless it has been officially published by someone else.

Your textbook in, this instance, is a secondary source.

In Harvard Referencing, you might do something like this (and I am making up this example)

Smith, E. 2000 Teaching methodologies for the millenium primary school educator [usually in italics], Allen & Unwin, New York.

If you are citing someone who is cited by Smith (eg, Jones in Smith 2000 states...), you only put Smith in the reference list because the reader can go to Smith and look at his/her reference list for detail about Jones.

There are some excellent referencing resources linked to this blog, if you have a good look around.

I hope that all makes sense. Please don't hesitate to ask for clarification and good luck with your assignment.

Brady Spangenberg said...

Dear Rebecca,

Here is a short run-down of your sentence:

"every" is singular
"or" creates singular subjects (if both items in the phrase are singular)

So, "every boy or girl" would be singular and therefore "he or she takes" to keep the gender neutral aspect.

You could avoid this mess with a simple "As all students [or graduates] leave this institution, they take with them..."

Hope this helps,

Julia Miller said...

Dear Anonymous (15 September)
What an interesting question about years! I've asked around for advice, as I can't find it in any grammar books so far, and the consensus seems to be that it's a noun. For example, you could say '1953 was an excellent year', just as you might say 'last week was a good week'. In the first case, '1953' would be the noun; in the second case, 'week' would be the noun. They both work the same way.
I'm happy to be corrected on this though, if there are more views out there.

Anonymous said...

The term comes from pints and quarts, so, logically, as they are plural, not possessive, it ought to be ps and qs.

Anonymous said...

coordination or subordination to combine the sentences in each item. I need know how to put a coordination or subordination in sentence. cell pones offer everyone entertainment possibilities. The entertainment possibilities include game like solitaire and tic-tac-toe.

Andrea Duff said...

Thanks, anonymous, for your query regarding ps and qs or p's and q's.

Perhaps it should be 'peas' and 'queues'? :) However, that wouldn't work, because the saying seems to relate to the similarity of the two letters and the potential difficulty of getting the 'stems' on each letter the right way around. I can remember this struggle when I was about five years old in junior primary.

What do others think? Did we get it wrong?

Andrea Duff said...

Further...if the origin does come from pints and quarts, then wouldn't the apostrophe work the same as it does in a conjunction? That is to indicate where letters are left out?

An interesting quandry!!

Julia Miller said...

Going back to ps and qs, various origins have been suggested. There is a good list here:
I've always tended to think in terms of 'pleases and thank yous', but it looks like we have quite a choice.

Julia Miller said...

Thanks for your question about coordination and subordination. Coordination means that you give both parts of the sentence equal value; subordination means that one part is more important. For coordination you need a coordinating conjunction: and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so. For subordination you would use a subordinating conjunction such as 'after', 'even though' or 'unless'.

In your example, it looks as though you are using a relative clause, which needs the words 'which' or 'that'.
A relative clause can be defining or non-defining. If it is defining, then what comes after 'that' or 'which' is essential information. That means that you cannot leave it out without changing the meaning of the sentence. eg 'The chocolate that/which is in the fridge is mine.' This means that the chocolate in the fridge belongs to me, but the chocolate on the table might belong to someone else. The information about the location of the chocolate is essential, and so it is a defining relative clause and can take 'that' or 'which'. However, if I say 'The chocolate, which is in the fridge, belongs to me', then all the chocolate is mine and it happens to be in the fridge. This is extra information, and so it is a non-defining relative clause and can only be introduced by 'which' and needs a comma.
In your example, you wish to link two sentences:
'Cell phones offer everyone entertainment possibilities. The entertainment possibilities include games like solitaire and tic-tac-toe.' In order to avoid repeating the words 'entertainment possibilities' you can replace them with 'which' or 'that', but you have to decide if it is essential information or not.
'Cell phones offer everyone entertainment possibilities that/which include games like solitaire and tic-tac-toe.' In this case, you are defining the possibilities with examples, so it is a defining relative clause.
'Cell phones offer everyone entertainment possibilities, which include games like solitaire and tic-tac-toe.' In this case you are providing extra information, so it is a non-defining relative clause.
That probably all sounds more complicated than it really is. Remember, if your information is essential then you can use 'that/which' and do not include a comma. If your information is extra (almost like using brackets), then you use 'which' and you need to include a comma.

Unknown said...

Hi from Ukraine. I am explaining rules of modal verbs these days and my students find it difficult to understand the difference between "could" and "was able to" as it is explained in modern grammar books. I wonder if this is really a strict rule. I teach at the technical university so English here is not that crucial and i doubt if I should lower students' marks if they make mistakes misusing "could" and "was able to" What do you think? Is there really such a big difference in meaning and we have to say: "they did not want to go with us but we were able to persuade them" / not "we could persuade them". Looking forward to getting reply from you, thank you!

Unknown said...

How do I use all ready/already, every body/everybody, every one/ everyone, all right/alright, properly in a sentence? Also what is the different meaning of all the words? Thanks

Julia Miller said...

Hi Damian
Your question relates partly to the difference between an adjective (which describes a noun, or naming word) and an adverb (which describes a verb, or action word).
For example, we can say 'The cakes are all ready' = 'All of the cakes are cooked/decorated etc.' or 'The cakes are completely cooked/decorated'. However,
'The cakes are already burned' = 'Something has happened before now. It is too late. The cakes are burned.' Another example of 'already' is, 'I can't stop now. I'm already late.' You couldn't write this as 'all ready late'.
Similarly, there is the difference between 'every day' and 'everyday'. For example, 'The cakes burn every day' - this tells us how often the cakes burn, so 'every day' is an adverb which applies to 'burn'. You could replace it with a word like 'often'. However, in
'Burning the cakes is an everyday occurrence', the word 'everyday' is an adjective and describes the noun 'occurrence'. You could replace it with a word like 'frequent' or 'common'.
'All right' and 'alright' are both the same, but with two different spellings. They are both adjectives. So you could say, 'The cakes were all right/alright', meaning 'The cakes were ok'.
'Every body' and 'Every one' are different ways of saying 'Each body' or 'Each person'. I don't think you'd use these forms often. 'Every body' definitely refers to bodies, so if you were a forensics expert you might say, 'Every body [ie corpse] was lined up in the same direction in the police morgue'. The only example I can think of for 'every one' is from Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', when he says, 'God bless us, every one'.
'Everyone' and 'Everybody' written as single words are both pronouns, ie they stand in place of a name, or another word like 'they'. For example, you could say, 'Everyone/Everybody sat down' instead of 'The whole group/They all sat down'.
I hope that's not too complicated. Most of the distinctions are ones that you'd probably write naturally. The one which causes the most mistakes is 'every day' and 'everyday'.

Julia Miller said...

We recently had a question from Joe:
Grammatically, what is wrong with this sentence?

'Every person achieves in their own way, at their own pace.'
Joe also asked if there is a difference between 'each' and 'every'.

I don't actually think there is anything wrong with the sentence
'Every person achieves in their own way, at their own pace.'
I think what is bothering Joe is the contrast between 'every person' - singular, and 'their' - plural. 'Their' is often used to refer to singular pronouns in order to avoid constant repetition of 'his or her'. However, you might feel more comfortable writing 'Every person achieves in his or her own way, at his or her own pace', or, of course, 'Every person achieves in her or his own way, at her or his own pace'. Using 'their' avoids the repetition and the question of whether to put 'his' or 'her' first, and 'their' is an acceptable alternative. The Australian 'Style Manual' says, 'This type of construction has a long history dating back more than four hundred years, but it has acquired a special value recently in the context of seeking inclusive language.'
In regard to the second question, 'each' distinguishes people as different. 'Every' would make a more general point, about all people. There is a slight difference. I guess it depends what you want to stress.
The opening of Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina', in the English translation which I'm familiar with by Constance Garnett, starts: 'Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' This makes a generalisation about all happy and all unhappy families.
I hope that’s all helpful!

Kathy said...

Where did the term "used to" come from? The words themselves have no correlation to the meaning.

Anonymous said...

Can you suggest some research about the best ways / years to teach the parts of speech?

Julia Miller said...

Hi Kathy
Brady's done a great post on this on the main page, and I can't improve on it, but here are a few more comments.
I'm guessing you mean 'used to' as in 'accustomed to'. eg 'I am used to the Australian sunshine now.' I can offer some suggestions from the Oxford English Dictionary, but am happy for anyone else to add more comments!
The OED says 'use to', from Old French 'user', was commonly used from the fourteenth century, but is now mainly found with the past participle: 'used to'.
We seem to use the words in two ways in English: 'I am used to the sun, and it doesn't bother me'. 'I used to hate the sun, but now I like it.' I think the meaning is connected, but in one case we follow 'used to' with a noun or gerund and in the other we follow it with an infinitive.
Sorry if that's not very exact in terms of origins. Any other ideas out there?

Unknown said...

When viewing examples of MLA style, I notice two things that are seemingly at odds with each other:

1) When quoting in-text (i.e. 4 lines or less), the quote is typed in, then the close quotation mark, then the citation in brackets, and THEN the period (or full-stop, depending which you say) goes after the citation.

2) When using indented block text (i.e. more than 4 lines), the full stop goes in its normal place, i.e. after the last word in the quote, and BEFORE the citation. Then the citation goes in brackets with no punctuation after it.

Unless I've been looking at bad examples, is this correct, and why are these different?

Julia Miller said...

Hi Anon
Sorry to take so long to answer your question about the best age to teach different parts of speech. I've been mulling over it for a while, but I don't think any of our team has a real answer about research in this area. However, this article deals with language acquisition generally and may be helpful: 'Three Misconceptions about Age and L2 Learning' by Stefka H. Marinova-Todd, D. Bradford Marshall, Catherine E. Snow, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring, 2000), pp. 9-34.
Perhaps you could let us and other readers know if you come up with any other research?

Julia Miller said...

PS As to the best ways to teach parts of speech, try looking in 'TESOL Quarterly' for some research articles. eg 'Current Issues in the Teaching of Grammar: An SLA Perspective',by Rod Ellis, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Mar., 2006), pp. 83-107.
I hope this helps.

Julia Miller said...

Thanks for the MLA question, Becky. I think the examples you've seen are both correct. As far as I know, the reason the full stop comes after the bracket in the in-text reference is that the quote has become part of the sentence, and so the whole sentence has to end with a full stop. With the indented text the quote has complete sentences by itself.
eg Quote in a sentence:
There is no end to "the huge variety of chocolate we eat" (Chocoholic 101).
Indented quote:
It is an indisputable fact that nearly all people love many kinds of chocolate. This can be judged by the limitless quantity of the huge variety of chocolate we eat.(Chocoholic 101)
I hope that's helpful. The indented quote should of course be indented, but my blogging skills are insufficient to allow me to do that!

Homayoon said...

Hello everyone! I am new user in this blog. I heard about this blog from Ms. Linda Bergman, director of OWL. I read questions and answers which are really, really useful for me. Thanks for all of those providing comprehensive answers. Wish I could follow and learn more. Please accept my membership and I want to be one of your fan and friend.
Angel, Kabul, Afghanistan

Andrea Duff said...

Welcome, Angel and thank you Linda for your recommendation and continued support of our beloved Grammar Gang!

Anonymous said...

Is it necessary to use "the" with an acronym that is pronounced as a word as opposed to individual letters:
"The KYTC (Kentucky Transportation Cabinet) controls the price."

"The INDOT (Idiana Department of Transportation)will not allow it."

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Anonymous

The Australian Government Style Manual suggests an article does not need to be used before an acronym. However, it is important to have given the acronym's full name prior to its use further in a document.

An example is the Royal Society for the Blind (RSB).

RSB provides services to more than 10,000 blind and vision impaired South Australians each year.

You might also choose to make future references to 'the department' or 'the corporation'.

Darren Mitchell said...

I need to know what are the function for proper sentence patterns and what are they?

Thank you From Darren

Susanna Carter said...

Hi Darren
Not sure what you mean about the function of proper sentence patterns.

The order of English sentences is Subject/Verb/Object. The subject goes first like in the example: 'I like to ride my bike.' 'I' is the subject, 'like to ride' - is the verb, and 'my bike' is the object of the verb.

Does this answer your question?
If not please send an example of what you mean. Happy to help!


Anonymous said...

How is the following sentence diagrammed?

You smell like a rose.

Julia Miller said...

Hi Anonymous
Sorry for the late response to the question on 'You smell like a rose'. Can you provide any context for the sentence, or what system you're using (eg SFL, Chomskyan Phrase Structure, etc)? I don't think I can put a diagram in the blog, but we can try and analyse the sentence. Any context you can provide would help.

Julia Miller said...

Hello again Anonymous.
We've had another think about 'You smell like a rose' and think that you have a verb phrase (you=pronoun + smell=verb) followed by a prepositional phrase which describes an attribute of the subject of the relational or copular verb 'smell'. 'Like' is not a preposition in the normal sense but is doing the job of a preposition here by linking 'you' and 'rose'. I hope that all makes sense!

Kru Weena said...

I am not sure what the mark is needed in the blank, pls help me.
Thank you.
A : Which you do prefer....milk or coffee?

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Ween

I'm not sure quite what you mean here so I'm going to give it my best shot.

If you are referring to leaving out words in a quote, then you would use three dots (elipsis points). For example:

Miller (2011) points out the critical aspects of essay writing as being 'planning, research...and proofreading or editing'.

The obvious thing left out is probably drafting or writing and I probably shouldn't have left this out. However, I want to make the point that you can leave a 'gap' or blank in a sentence when words are superfluous to meaning.

This can be handy when you have a word limit in an essay. However, it can also function as a way to make your writing more succinct.

Watch this:

' a way to make your writing more succinct' (Duff, 2011)

Hope this helps :)

Anonymous said...

If I am using a verse from the Bible for the opening of my essay, do I indent the paragraph when I use the verse or do I indent when I begin my paragraph that refers to the verse

Andrea Duff said...

The treatment of quoting something directly from a text (book, journal article, website) is different depending on the referencing system you use.

If you are starting with the quote to make a big statement, I would indent the whole thing (right and left) and then start my paragraph directly underneath it (indenting, if this is what is expected).

If the passage is coming after some explanatory/introductory words, then begin with the indent and indent (left and right) underneath so that it is clear that it is coming from another source.

However, if you are only using a few words, then (in the Harvard System) 'you would use single inverted commas followed by a reference' (Passage, The Holy Bible).

This is a most interesting question, as we don't often see quotes from the bible in essays, although it would depend very much on your field of study (theology, for example versus computer science)

Please refer to the blog for more information about referencing.

Best of luck

Anonymous said...

I want to know how to correctly cite lines from Shakespeare's Macbeth. I do not know whether to put "Macbeth" or Shakespeare after the lines quoted in the research paper. Can you help please?

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Anonymous!

I would tend to do something like this:

Shakespeare, highlights the tenuous nature of recollection when Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 7) declares 'memory' as the 'warder of the brain'.

When citing directly from a passage, I would put the act and scene after it, rather than Shakespeare or Macbeth. If you are writing about Macbeth, then it does not need to be stated over and over again.

However, if you are citing several of his works then you might use (Macbeth, Scene 1, Act 7) to differentiate play, scene and act.

Stephen said...

When writing a paper, how important is it to write in the active tense, rather than the passive tense?

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Stephen

The rule of thumb for essay writing is to use an objective tone - that is, to leave subjectivity (first person) out. I am not wedded to active or passive, but you will find some disciplines have a preference for one over the other.

I think that good, punchy writing which engages the reader should tend toward the active.

Cathy said...

I'm from western Nebraska in the U.S. The words "high tea" aren't even used around here. Iced tea sure, even sweet tea now thanks to Paula Deen's cooking show, but "high tea". As a long time fan of Masterpiece Theater, I know what it is of course. P.S. I have just finished watching McCleod's Daughters.

Cathy said...

Like your site.

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Cathy

McLeod's Daughters was made right here in South Australia.

Anonymous said...

would a "jewish moneylender" be considered an archetypal character?

Andrea Duff said...

What an interesting question!

The immediate character springing to mind is Shylock from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. He is, in a sense, an 'archetypal' character. So, too, the pick-pocketing Fagin from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

It would appear to be an anti-semitic stereotype which is replicated (I daresay) through other forms of literature and popular culture.

Often (as the Wikipedia link suggests) the stereotyping relates to one culture's dominance over another. We see this replicated time and time again in stories which stereotype women and people with a different skin color to the dominant culture. These days, we find great offense in a character like 'Little Black Sambo' who once was an endearing and playful child.

As a child who grew up with Crocodile Dundee (and enjoyed it at the time), I shudder to think others in world might view we Aussies as the knife wielding, cattle hypnotizing Mick Dundee. However, Dundee has (I suppose) become an archetypal character. Now he throws prawns on the barbie.

If I were writing about the Jewish Money Lender scenario, I would say:

'Shylock has become symbolic of the archetypal 'Jewish moneylender' with all of its negative racist connotations. Some readings, however, are sympathetic and suggest Shakespeare was exploiting the stereotype in order to draw attention to its unfairness'.

Katiebrarian said...

Help! My friend and I are arguing over contentious commas!

Could you tell us which of the following are correct?

"Well, hello friend!"

"Well hello, friend!"

"Well, hello, friend!"

Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

When listing keywords in the Methods section of an abstract, is it appropriate to use quotations (double or single) or italics? If it is appropriate to use quotes, do the commas go inside or outside the quotes?

Julia Miller said...

Dear Anonymous
No, I've never seen quotations or quotation marks (' ', " ") used around keywords in abstracts. Sometimes you might be asked to write the keywords in italics, but the journal submission guidelines should tell you if this is the case. If you are unsure about any of these details, the best thing is to contact whoever requested the abstract.
Good luck!

Julia Miller said...

Dear Katie
I think all three versions of your comma expressions are okay, depending on the emphasis you want to give the individual words. We usually make a short pause after a comma, so try saying each of your sentences aloud, with a pause after each comma, and see which one you prefer!

Samantha Bennett said...

Hello ladies! I would like to know if it is appropriate to use imperative/conditional verbs (should, might, may, and could) in a third-person narrative. Example: "The man spoke so harshly. She shouldn't care, but she did." Thank you!

Samantha Bennett said...

*Addition: The narrative is past tense, third-person. Forgot to include that detail!

Julia Miller said...

Hello Samantha
I think the conditional use is fine in fiction: "The man spoke so harshly. She shouldn't care, but she did."
American usage seems to differ from British English (BrE) in regard to the conditional. As a BrE speaker, now living in Australia, I would probably say: "She shouldn't have cared, but she did." But I think your version is fine, especially as it's in a narrative.
As another example, in BrE we tend to (or maybe used to? I could be out of date here)say, "If he had known, he would have gone", but Australian usage is now following American usage, with "If he knew, he would have gone".
What are other people's experiences here?

Samantha Bennett said...

Thank you so much, Julia! I really appreciate your input.

rajagond said...

When to use "to" before "you" and when not?

Andrea Duff said...

Sorry for the lapse in answering you, Rajagond. We were a little unclear aboout your question.

Could you give us some examples please?

The use of a preposition (in this case 'to') depends very much on which verb is used and what the following word is, as well.

Please send us some specific examples.

tall paul said...

which is correct of the following:

1. the people who are playing are Frank and me.
2. the people who are playing are Frank and I.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me how to apply MLA in my Essays. Is there a universal form for using MLA or are there variations? Thank You, Lid

Anonymous said...

Is it "help us make our goal ...." or "help us to make our goal ..."?

mahesh said...

i find the phrases "i am thinking" and "i was thinking" annoying. the former can be expressed with "i think." the latter is a bit more confusing. near as i can tell, it would be a past perfect subjunctive tense. any ideas?

mahesh said...

@olga, one difference between "could" and "was able to" is that the former may imply a decision not yet made, such as "i could go to the market." this means that i have the option of going to the market. in contrast, "i was able to go to the market" means that there was some question as to whether i could go to the market, but in the end, i DID go there.

i hope this helps.

mahesh said...

@Julia Miller and @Kevin, it should be "take 5".

let's take a look at other road names. "take Pennsylvania Avenue to go to the White House." you wouldn't say "take the Pennsylvania Avenue..."

you can say "take the interstate", but you should say "take interstate 5." this is like saying "talk to the person" vs. "talk to Kevin." you wouldn't say "talk to the Kevin."

in other words, "Interstate 5" is the NAME of a specific road. same thing with "Kevin" or "Julia," names of specific people. don't use "the".

for "Interstate" or "person," use "the".

a final note: i use quote-period, period-quote order as how i see fit, old rules be blowed.

mahesh said...

@Julia Miller and @Kevin, it should be "take 5".

let's take a look at other road names. "take Pennsylvania Avenue to go to the White House." you wouldn't say "take the Pennsylvania Avenue..."

you can say "take the interstate", but you should say "take interstate 5." this is like saying "talk to the person" vs. "talk to Kevin." you wouldn't say "talk to the Kevin."

in other words, "Interstate 5" is the NAME of a specific road. same thing with "Kevin" or "Julia," names of specific people. don't use "the".

for "Interstate" or "person," use "the".

a final note: i use quote-period, period-quote order as how i see fit, old rules be blowed.

mahesh said...

to make it simpler, use "as students leave the gates ... they take with them..."

"As every student leaves the gates of this institution, they take with them memories..." is incorrect. it should be "as every student... he or she takes with him or her..."

mahesh said...

@tall paul, "the people who are playing are Frank and I" is correct.

I am playing.
Frank is playing.
Frank and I are playing.
thus, "the people who are playing are frank and i."

you wouldn't say "me are playing" or "Frank and me are playing."

mahesh said...

i think that "help us to make our goal" and "help us IN MAKING our goal" are correct.

"help us make our goal" is just a contraction of the former.

Julia Miller said...

Thank you for your question, tall paul.
This is a question often asked by native speakers of English, but not so often by non-native speakers. The correct answer is your second option:
the people who are playing are Frank and I.
If you're not sure, try turning the sentence round and reducing it. You end up with 'I am playing'.

Julia Miller said...

MLA style
This is a set style, based in a written manual. As far as I know, there are no variations.
There is a helpful guide available at Purdue:

Julia Miller said...

Anonymous asks,
Is it "help us make our goal ...." or "help us to make our goal ..."?

Interesting question. Both are correct. We tend to drop the 'to' in speech more than writing and the use of 'to' here feels more formal to me. I'm afraid I don't know the grammatical reason why both forms are acceptble, though. Does anyone else know?


Julia Miller said...

Mahesh asks about 'I am thinking' and 'I was thinking'.
The use of the present continuous/progressive in the first example gives a feeling of something which is happening as you speak, i.e. 'I'm thinking about it, or considering it, right now.' The continous aspect is used for a temporary or changing situation. It's therefore more accurate than 'I think' in certain situations. Compare, 'I'm thinking of buying a new bicycle' and 'I think bicycles are great'. In the first example, the person is considering a decision to be made, and in the second they are expressing an opinion.
'I was thinking' is a past continuous/progressive tense. It is used in the same way as 'I am thinking', but refers to an action in the past.
I hope that helps, but do let us know if you need further clarification.

Andrea Duff said...

Mahesh - many thanks for your great posts. It's great to see others (besides the Grammar Gang regulars - Andrea, Julia, Susanna, Lisa and Linda) making contributions and suggesting solutions.

Andrea - on a cool spring Sunday in Adelaide.

mahesh said...

thanks, andrea and julia! i now know why "i am thinking" and "i was thinking" annoy me. there are two reasons. one, both denote things being considered, with no action taken, i.e. no commitment made to any thought. i view this in poor light.

two, "i am thinking" feeds right into my distaste for incessant twitter and facebook updates that tell us exactly what moribund activity is happening in someone's life. including what they are thinking and have no desire to follow through with. ta-da. off soapbox.

Andrea Duff said...

'Moribund' is a great word. It made me smile and I think I will make it my word of the day tomorrow!

Thank you, Maheesh :-)

Ankita said...

Hi, I am a research editor. I want to ask should numbers less than 9 be written as numerals in case of years, hours, months, etc. For example, which is correct: 5 years or five years, 2 hours or two hours, 8 months or eight months?


Andrea Duff said...

Hi Ankita, the rule-of-thumb is that single digits are written in full (two hours) and double digits are written numerically (12 hours).

Anonymous said...

What is the correct wording of this sentence? Under these circumstances, I would not want to be she/her?

Andrea Duff said...

Under these circumstances I would not want to be her.

Susanna Carter said...

Hi there anonymous

I just want to add an explanation to Andrea's answer.

There are six pronouns in English that change when they are used as an object or a subject and her/she is one of them.

For example: She is very sick - the pronoun as subject is she. I wouldn't want to be her - the pronoun as object is her.

The other pronouns that are used like this are:
I - me
he - him
we - us
they - them
who - whom

I hope this helps with further sentences.

Rick Sirko said...


I would like to launch a campaign of some sort to minimize the grating sound of broadcasters saying things like "between him and _ _ _ _ _ . I know that the objective case is the proper use, but so many people use the subjective case incorrectly (between he and _ _ _ _ _ ). This is just one example.

Are you able to help me provide proof of my claim? Thank you very much.

Linda said...

In response to Rick's query: The objective case is used when the pronoun is the object of a preposition or of a verb. Thus, it is appropriate to say "between him and me."

However, it is very common, at least amond American English speakers, to use the subjective case when the object is plural. One would never say "This is a picture of I," but might say "This is a picture of my grandmother and I." Even more grating is using "me" as the subject of a sentence, as in "Me and John are going to the movies." But this is a losing battle, I'm afraid. Everyone under the age of thirty seems to do this, even my own son--and I've been correcting him for two decades at least!

Anonymous said...

There are supposed to be different ways of fronting ,but can we move verb and its objects to the front ? which verbs ?

A B said...

I am a high school English teacher in Toronto, Canada. I have a question about INFINITIVE CLAUSES. Please see the two examples below. Would these be classified as ADVERB clauses or NOUN clauses?

"I hope to get a better paying job one day." (Noun - direct object of the verb "hope", or adverb - clause modifying "hope"?)

I expect to see you at the play. (Noun clause, answering "what?" do you expect, or adverb cause, answering "under what conditions do you expect?")

Thank you,

Susanna Carter said...

Hi Anonymous
I am not familiar with the term fronting when applied to grammar but you definately do not usually put the verb and object first in a sentence. The subject goes first in a normal declaritive sentence and then the verb and the object. English sentences are divided into subject and predicate and the subject almost always goes first with the predicate being the verb and the object in second place.
Thanks for your question.

Julia Miller said...

Dear AB
Sorry it took us a while to answer your question; it took us some time to work out the issues involved.

Linking verbs such as 'get' can only take predicate nominatives (noun or pronoun), predicate adjectives or predicate infinitives. There is a good explanation here:

The answer to both your questions is that these are both infinitive clauses, as you correctly mentioned, and not noun or adverbial clauses.

There is more information on clauses here:

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Can you please help break down this sentence into something a little more palatable?

"Furthermore, my desire to minor in Spanish was done so with the primary goal of using it to help provide better medicine to an otherwise unreachable demographic."

Andrea Duff said...

Hmmm -I'll give it my best shot. There are many ways you can approach this. Here's yours:

Furthermore, my desire to minor in Spanish was done so with the primary goal of using it to help provide better medicine to an otherwise unreachable demographic."

Here's mine:

Undertaking a minor in Spanish would help me to provide better medicine to an unreachable demographic.


Doing a minor in Spanish would help me to reach a difficult demographic and provide better medicine.


I chose to minor in Spanish so that I could provide better medicine to an inaccessible group.

Anyone else?

Scotty_D said...

Need some help. I am trying to express this number in some text. The number is $500,000,000, but I prefer to express it as a half billion. What is most proper or what is exactly correct…
(1) "a half of a billion dollars" or (2) "a half billion dollars" or
(3) "a half a billion dollars" or
(4) "a half of billion dollars".

I have referred to a couple style guides, but have come up empty.

Any help is appreciated.

Andrea Duff said...

Scotty - this is a fascinating question and one which I can't give you a definative answer to! The only thing I would say is that my tendency would be to say 'half a billion' on the grounds that it it is easier for the reader to grasp quickly than using the numbers in text.

As a journalist, the rule-of-thumb is to express single digits as words (one, two etc) and anything from 10 upward as digits.

However, the benefit of this diminishes when there are lots of 000s involved.

As a writer, it is important to help the reader as much as possible so I be guided by this principle.

If anyone has a different view, or has found something in a style guide, please help Scotty.

Headbanger said...

I have apiece of ceramics I named "The Sisters Diary's"
i want to indicate several diaries for several sisters. Please help me . If possible email me at

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Beryl Z

If there are SEVERAL sisters and several diaries, the apostrophe goes after the s. If there are SEVERAL sisters sharing one diary, again, the apostrophe goes after the s. The number of diaries in this case (one or more) is irrelevant.


'The sisters' diaries showed remarkable similarity when looking at life in a convent in 1891'.

However, if there is ONE sister with one or more diaries, then the apostrophe goes before the s.


'The sister's diaries showed that very little altered from year-to year in the life of a nun in nineteenth century England.'

'The sister's diary showed a typical year in the life of a nun in the late nineteenth century'.

I hope this helps.

Andrea Duff said...

Self correction:

The apostrophe should be after the full stop in each of the examples. :-)

'The sisters' diaries showed remarkable similarity when looking at life in a convent in 1891.'

'The sister's diary showed a typical year in the life of a nun in the late nineteenth century.'

Anonymous said...

I don't understand about subject-verb agreements. May you please help me?

Anonymous said...

I have a comma question. Do I insert a comma in the following sentence? "We will meet at 3 p.m. at the bank" Mr. Sutton informed us.

Julia Miller said...

Comma question
Hello, Anon. The answer to your question is yes, you do need a comma:
"We will meet at 3 p.m. at the bank," Mr. Sutton informed us.
The comma comes before the last speech marks.

Julia Miller said...

Subject/verb agreement.
In English, subjects and verbs always agree. Unlike many languages, however, there is not much variation in verb endings. Basically, the third person singular (he/she/it)takes an 's' in the present tense, but the other verb endings in the present tense are the same as the infinitive form. e.g. I run, you run, he/she/it runs, we run, they run. In the past simple tense, the verb endings are all the same, and often end in 'ed'. e.g. I/you/he/she/it/we/they jumped.
If you'd like more information, there is a free study guide at
Just scroll down the page until you come to the guide on subject-verb agreement under 'English language skills'.
I hope this is helpful. Do get back to us if you have any more questions.

hdm said...

can this blog settle a disagreement between my professer and I? She wants me to change a sentence in one of my papers that I know is correct. If I do change it, it will become incorrect. I even took it to an english professor who agrees with me. Can I post the sentence here?

Anonymous said...

Fascinating read. I’ve bookmarked your blog. I stumbled on it while looking for help with the following sentences (effect vs. affect):
"Other choices grew from prosperity in America, its changing social expectations, and increased faith in the ability of the purchaser to effect change."
"The war began additional public expenditures, including plans that effected huge changes in economics."
I think they are okay, but in case I'm wrong, would anyone care to enlighten me?

Anonymous said...

Do you ever put a comma before the word "because"?

Andrea Duff said...


Sorry about the time delay in response. We have been on holidays in the Southern Hemisphere. By all means, post your sentence. :-) We will try not to get you into trouble!

Lisa said...

Hi Unknown: I love questions about affect/effect! Your sentences are correct. When you're dealing with verbs, remember that affect = influenced while effect = caused. So, if you're unsure, check to see whether the word you want is influenced or caused. Like this:

The rise in interest rates affected (influenced)house prices.
The rise in interest rates effected (caused)a drop in house prices.


Unknown said...


I am about to start writing my thesis and I would like to purchase a grammar refresher book. Is there one that you can recommend? I have to use APA format. Would the Chicago Manual of Style be appropriate? I use Diana Hacker's for reference, but want something more extensive.

Julia Miller said...

Hello Unknown
For thesis writing, I can recommend 'Academic writing for graduate students' by Swales and Feak. The Chicago Manual of Style does not address APA style, but the APA's own Manual would be helpful, and there is also a workbook called 'Mastering APA style'. I can recommend lots of English grammar books, for example Michael Swan's 'Practical English Usage', but maybe you're looking more for something about style than about English grammar? Do let us know if we can help more.

Anonymous said...

What's the Purdue English Dept. philosophy about the use of ask/aks and that/dat? When to use each?

Anonymous said...

What's an easy way to know when you have a run-on, fragment, or grammar issues?

Julia Miller said...

Run-ons and fragments? Hm. The first thing is to make sure you have a complete sentence, which means you need a subject and a verb. e.g. John (subject) ran (verb).
If you add a joining word like 'although' or 'but', then you need to join to another sentence: 'Although John ran, the dog chased him.' 'John ran, but the dog chased him.'
If you don't have a joining word like 'but' or 'although', be careful not to join two complete sentences with a comma. e.g. 'John ran, the dog chased him' is a run-on sentence - the comma is not as strong as a full stop and does not effectively separate two sentences.
(I've tried to keep this simple, but if you'd like to know more, look up information about clauses and conjunctions.)
I don't know about a simple way to check for grammar issues, but looking for fragments and run-on sentences is a good start. MS Word will give you some indication of grammar errors, if you have the proofing tool turned on under 'Word options', but it won't pick up everything.

Anonymous said...

Did I punctuate this sentence correctly?

Miami Herald columnist Joseph Goodman’s statement--“Does Harvard even have a football team? I wouldn’t know. Their names don’t appear on arrest reports.”-- was both discriminatory and irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Please help me correct the following:

1. "My mother watched me play with my friends."

2. "I walked to school yesterday. It was fun."

Anonymous said...


First I greatly admire the online Purdue Writing Lab. I teach and tutor grammar and writing and find your lab clear, thorough and user-friendly. I am employed at Captial Community College and at Farmington Continuing Education in Farmington, Connecticut.

I would appreciate your clarifying how one should punctuate a television program such as Law and Order. Should the name of the program be italicized and the episodes place in quotations? Thank you very much.

Lydia Vine,

treatw said...

What's the difference between a predicate nominative and a subject complement?

treatw said...

Can anyone clear up my fog on the following? What's the difference between a subject complement and a predicate nominative? Thanks.

Andrea Duff said...

To Anonymous (April 4)

So sorry about the delay in responding to your post. A couple of us have been quite unwell so we are trying to catch up.

Let's have a look at your punctuation:

Miami Herald columnist Joseph Goodman’s statement--“Does Harvard even have a football team? I wouldn’t know. Their names don’t appear on arrest reports.”-- was both discriminatory and irresponsible.

I would approach it like this (and this is only one way):

Miami Herald columnist, Joseph Goodman, recently made the statement, 'Does Harvard even have a football team? I wouldn't know. Their names don't appear on arrest reports'. This was both discriminatory and irresponsible.

Let me say a couple of things about this.

I have made two sentences out of your one for clarity's sake. Also, I have used single quotation marks (in keeping with Australian style). If you are submitting a paper in the US, do check whether double quotations are more acceptable. (My colleague, Linda, from Purdue would suggest double quotation marks.)

Secondly, if you decide to keep it as one sentence, remove the double hyphen. I am not entirely sure whether you would leave the full stop mid-sentence. Perhaps other bloggers would have some ideas?

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Anonymous (April 5)

Both of your sentences ('I walked to school yesterday. It was fun.' and 'My mother watched me play with my friends.') are fine.

Best wishes

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Lydia

In applying the logic of the Harvard Referencing Style (which is the one I am most familiar with), you would have the episode in single inverted quotations and the program, itself, in italics.

UniSA has a handy referencing guide and page 11 will give you the citation:

However, there are many different referencing styles and Purdue has many of them listed here:

We are glad you love Purdue and the OWL resources - we do, too!

I hope this helps.

Julia Miller said...

Hello treatw
Sorry to take a while to answer your question.
The answer is that a complement is what comes after the verb 'to be' or after a stative verb (also called a linking verb), such as 'look', 'feel', 'become' or 'seem'. A predicate nominative is one type of complement, and consists of either a noun or a pronoun.
e.g. Jim is a baker.
e.g. It is I.
I hope that helps.

Anonymous said...


I plan to take the GRE exam this summer, my question is in regards to Graduate/Doctoral level papers versus undergraduate. I understand that the content and understanding of the material may play a role but what else makes it different? The reason I ask this question is there is a analytical writing portion to the exam, I am not sure I understand how it is graded, when I think of Masters/Doctoral I am thinking the level of writing has to do with the research.



Anonymous said...

I am confused about this vs next.If I say next weekend most people think I mean it as this weekend. What is the proper word when you are talking about the weekend comming up?

Anonymous said...

Can you advise me on this grammar question? Is it correct to say, "It is up to we who can solve it," or "It is up to us who can solve it"? I feel it is the latter but cannot find the answer in any grammar text. Thank you.

Julia Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia Miller said...

I have a lot of sympathy with the 'this weekend' 'next weekend' question and don't think there is a simple answer. If I say 'this weekend', I am thinking closer in time. If I say 'next weekend', I am thinking further away in time. Therefore, to clarify, I'd probably say 'the weekend after next' or 'a week on Saturday' if I'm not thinking about the immediate weekend coming up. Others may disagree with this explanation though, as I think it might change in different countries. Any other ideas, everyone? To be on the safe side, when in doubt, use a date!

Julia Miller said...

Anonymous asks,
Is it correct to say, "It is up to we who can solve it," or "It is up to us who can solve it"?
The answer is, "It is up to us who can solve it". That is because the word "us" is the object of the preposition "to". You couldn't say "it is up to we".
If you're not sure about similar sentences, see what goes with the preposition. e.g. "It's been a busy year for Jack and me". You couldn't say, "It's been a busy year for I." That is the test.

Julia Miller said...

Hello Paul
You ask about the GRE exam, and I'm afraid none of us knows much about it. Is it this one?
Generally, the higher the degree, the more individual research will be involved. Thus, at an undergraduate level, you may spend more time writing about other people's ideas, while at Masters or Doctoral level you will be making an original contribution to knowledge and will be expected to demonstrate greater critical and analytical thinking skills. There may not be one right answer; instead, your ability to reason and choose the best answer, based on evidence, is important.
I had a look at the GRE website, and there seems to be some useful practice material there, with graded examples: I hope that will help you if you haven't seen it before.
Good luck with the exam!

Anonymous said...

Should I use:

Monte-Carlo simulation or Monte Carlo simulation?

Roche-lobe radius or Roche lobe radius?

post-common envelope or post common envelope?

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Judit

I would leave the hyphen out of the first two and perhaps leave it in for the third. (Post-Common)

The third is interesting as a quick search revealed it is used in the field of astrophysics - a discipline with which I am not familiar.

However, if we were to use the term 'postmodern' there is no hyphen.

Others feel free to chip in - but this is my observation and advice.


Anonymous said...

Help on this nagging question, please:


"Am I Here," He Asks, as City Goes Wild with Frenzy of Joy

My question on the secondary headline: By using the word "asks," does that eliminate the need for a question mark withing "Am I Here,"

Ravi said...

It has been forty years since I last opened a grammar book.

The greatest problem I am facing right now is in the correct application of the simple little comma.

I have read the rules.

One rule states that two independent clauses can be connected by a comma only if it is followed by a coordinating conjunction.

Which of the following is structurally better?

1) Apples and plums are usually red, although I have seen some that are green.

2) Apples or and plums are usually red, yet I have seen some which are green.

Also, I have become acutely aware of the fact that a pause does not necessarily justify the use of a comma.

In the following sentence, should there be a comma after “hour”?

Tommy, my son, hiccupped for an hour, before finally calming down.

Ravi said...

Please folks, I am eagerly awaiting your response.

BTW, I have subscribed to the Grammar Gang.

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Anonymous and Ravi

I am so sorry for the delay in responding. We have just had a huge couple of weeks with the start of the study period and our beloved blog has had to wait :( Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day!

I will try and answer each of your questions as best as possible. Strictly speaking, I believe there should be a question mark within the quotations ie "Am I here?", he asks.

However, from a journalist's point-of-view truncation is common in headlines. We often see the omission of articles ('a' and 'the') in the interests of keeping a headline short and punchy. So why not punctuation as well?

Andrea Duff said...

Now to you, Ravi.

I cannot explain the 'science' behind the grammar here, being a mere journalist (or at least one schooled in the art). I can, however, tell you my preference and defer to one of my colleagues. I would go for the 'although' option, although I think both would be technically correct.

Tommy definitely does not need so many pauses to stop hiccuping! No comma after 'hour', Ravi.

I hope this is useful for you but would also like to refer you to an earlier and very popular Grammar Gang post written by our colleague Brady from Purdue.

Isn't it great that it is the last month of winter - at least in Australia. It has been very chilly down here!

Take care, readers, and keep posting :)

Ravi said...

Thank you Andrea,

And, thank you for the link to “The Five Minute Comma Lesson.”


Julia Miller said...

Hi Ravi
I agree with Andrea - my preference is for 'although'. I never used to think it was correct to start a sentence with 'Yet, . . .' but I've seen this in plenty of academic journal articles now, so either I'm wrong or usage is changing. Either way, 'yet' is fine in your example, but my (British?) preference is for 'although'!

Ravi said...

Hi Julia,

Thank you very much.

First, I must admit that having been exposed to both UK & US English, my English has become a hybrid of the two forms.

With respect to my first question, I was considering the sentence as being formed by the joining two independent (defining) clauses:

1) Apples and plums are usually red.
2) I have seen some (apples and plums) that/which are green.

From what I understand, the standard methods of combining two independent clauses are as follows:

a) Use a colon (without any conjunction) when the second clause restates, emphasizes, or explains the first.

b) Use a semicolon (without any conjunction) when the two clauses are closely related and well balanced.

c) Use a coordinating conjunction (BOYSFAN) preceded by a comma

d) Subordinate one of the two independent clauses, and join the main and the subordinate clause using one of these two patterns:

1) Subordinate Clause + , + Main Clause
2) Main Clause + Subordinate Clause

In case 2), normally no comma is required unless the subordinated clause is considered parenthetical.

The two statements being considered were

1) Apples and plums are usually red, although I have seen some that are green.

2) Apples or and plums are usually red, yet I have seen some which are green.

The first statement would require the subordinate clause to be considered parenthetical, and I wasn’t sure if that was the case.

The second statement follows the standard format listed above as item c).

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Hi - is this where I can ask a question? If so mine concerns the punctuation within the following sentence:

Not by, “this is the way it went, so this must be God’s Will” but rather “God told Me to do this in this manner, Amen.”

Do I need any punctuation either before the but rather or after it?

Thank you for your help, Chris

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Chris

You could put a comma either side of rather (ie but, rather, God...)

However, I would remove the 'but' or the 'rather' because I think having the two words together is a bit of a tautology. Both suggest 'either/or'.

I'm all for shorter sentences if they add clarity to a point.

Best wishes

Ravi said...

To maintain parallelism, shouldn't "Not by" be paired with "but by"?

Anonymous said...

I am attempting to paraphrase a reference within a reference so that I can avoid formally citing the reference within the original reference and only cite the original reference.

Ex: As noted by Smith (2009), culturally diverse clients are well-suited for this approach (McNamera, 2000, p. 66).

I don't see anything on the website. Can this be done?

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Anonymous

Usually you would say McNamara in Smith (p.x 2009). There is a logic to this approach and that is you can go to Smith's reference list to find the original McNamara source - if so motivated.

I think you need to indicate clearly that this source has been referred to by another. Another reason for this is that Smith is giving his/her own particular interpretation and you are acknowledging this.

I hope this helps - please let me know if I have answered your question.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with saying
"Please contact me today".

Andrea Duff said...

Hi Anonymous

The truth is, I'm not really sure.

I suppose we could say that 'today' is redundant, as 'Please contact me' is in the present tense.

However, you could also argue that 'today' positions the time at which the author wishes to be contacted (ie 'today' and not tomorrow or next month).

In advertising 'contact us today' would be a ploy to create a sense of urgency - wouldn't it?

Is 'please contact me today' incorrect? Not really - unless we want to argue the point about redundancy.

Best wishes

Julia Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia Miller said...

Hi Ravi
Sorry to take so long to reply to your 2 August question. I've been busy grammar filming!
You asked an interesting question. You often don't need a comma between a main clause and a subordinate clause, but if you're adding a thought that is not central to the main idea (I guess we could call that a parenthetical idea) then you do need a comma.
A good way to check examples is with a concordancing program, such as this one: You just enter a word such as 'although' in the 'Search string' 'equal to' box, and choose the LOB corpus (a good sample of academic texts) in the 'Select corpus' box. You'll then get 388 English native speaker sentences with the word 'although', and can examine the punctuation.
I have to admit I've never considered when to put the comma before a subordinate clause, as it's something I do instinctively, but if I can find or work out any more guidelines I'll post them.
As an aside, I would say 'Apples and/or plums' rather than 'Apples or and plums'. The 'and/or' pattern is the more common one, as far as I'm aware. It might be different in other countries, though. What do readers think?
Best wishes

Julia Miller said...

Hi Ravi
Yes, I agree. It should be 'not by' and then 'but by', or 'but rather by'.
Best wishes

Ravi said...

Hi Julie,

Thank you for the wonderful link!

I think I have my answer.

1) Apples and plums are usually red, although I have seen some that are green.

Here ‘although’ is used for contrast, not for an afterthought .

The comma is not called for.

Thanks again,

Best Regards,


Ravi said...

I have a question on capitalization.

Different sites and style guides have different takes on this.

Which of the two statements is suggested?

1. The President congratulated the White House staff on a job well done.
2. The president congratulated the White House staff on a job well done.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, sentence 1 is correct.

However, according to Towson University (and some others), sentence 2 is correct.

The Towson University OWS site states the following:
Capitalize very high ranking government officials' titles even when not followed by a name or used in direct address when a specific individual is referred to.

Best regards,


Andrea Duff said...

Ravi - if it is clear that the president you were referring to is the President of the United States of America (as implied by the use of White House), I would use a capital. In Australia, we would say:

'The Prime Minister attended a function at Parliament House.'

If you were talking about presidents, generally, you would use lower case.

'It is the duty of a president to officiate at public ceremonies.'

Without confirming this (as I don't have it handy) I think this would be a recommendation of the Australian Government Style Guide - which is a highly regarded source in Australia.

Of course, you might find cross cultural differences here and there.

Best wishes

Ravi said...

Thank you, Andrea.

A big oops!.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, sentence 2 is correct.

However, according to Towson University (and some others), sentence 1 is correct.

Best regards,


Prof Whetstone said...

APA citation re: author usage in the same paragraph. I know the first would be (Stover, 2005), but subsequent citations of the same author would be just (Stover). Right?

Andrea Duff said...

Prof Whetstone

Sorry for the delay in getting back and no doubt you've submitted your paper by now.

The OWL APA style guide says you do not have to reference the date twice in one paragraph - unless the reader could confuse the citation with a different study.

However, you DO need to include the date in subsequent paragraphs.

Here is a link to the OWL FAQS for your information.


Ravi said...

Thank you, Julia and Andrea, for all your valuable help and advice.

I have made good progress but still have some grey areas.

1) Can we use the adjective ‘ignorant’ to qualify thoughts and ideas?

Is the following sentence correct?
Though he is smart, his ideas are ignorant.

2) Consider the sentence: That is the city where we spent our summer in Illinois.

How would we classify the clause ‘where we spent our summer in Illinois’?

Is it an adjective clause modifying ‘city’, or is it an adverb clause answering the question 'where’?

3) Consider the sentence: That girl doing a fling in the park is my daughter. (As in the ‘Highland fling’.)

How would we classify the phrase ‘doing a fling’?

Is it a participial phrase modifying ‘girl’?
Or, is it a gerund phrase with the implication: That girl who is doing a fling in the park is my daughter.

4) Consider the sentence: Trying to teach that idiot of a boy has left me in tears.

How would we classify the phrase ‘Trying to teach that idiot of a boy’?

Is it a gerund phrase acting as the subject, or is it a noun phrase acting act a subject?

5) Consider the sentence: My uncle chased a cow in his shorts.

How would we classify the phrase ‘in his shorts’?

Is it a squinting/ambiguous modifier or is it a misplaced modifier?

5) It seems to me that following two sentences are equivalent, and both use parallelism correctly.

a) Mary has no clue how to use a calculator, write a letter, or even add two numbers correctly.
b) Mary has no clue how to use a calculator, how to write a letter, or even how to add two numbers correctly.

Would you agree?

Best regards,


Julia Miller said...

Hello Ravi
Many apologies for the delay in answering your questions. We hadn't forgotten, but we had to have a good think about them!

1) This is to do with semantics and collocation. 'Ignorant' implies that someone doesn't know something, and to me it usually requires a human agent. It therefore sounds funny to say that ideas or thoughts are ignorant. I did an academic corpus search and couldn't find any examples, but an Internet search revealed over 60,000 results, so 'ignorant' and 'idea' are obviously becoming more popular collocations.

2)We can rule out an adverbial clause, since, although it answers the question ‘where?’ (which, among other questions, adverbial clauses do), as an adverb equivalent, it does not qualify a verb, adjective or other adverb.

We would be tempted to rule out an adjectival clause as they are predominately introduced by one of the relative pronouns (who, whom, which, that, whoever and etc.) and are, on that account, also called relative clauses.

Occasionally, however, an adjectival clause is introduced by the relative adverbs 'where', 'when', or 'why' and this is the case here (qualifying the noun 'city') – see Wilson & Locke, Concise Handbook of Grammar, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1969, p. 70.
e.g. - This is a country where everyone is happy. (modifies the noun country)

3) This is an adjectival phrase in which the relative pronoun has been omitted. It could also be called a reduced relative clause.

4) It depends whether you want to focus on form (a gerund phrase) or function (a noun phrase).

5) I'm not familiar with the terms you use, though from an Internet search I think this is a squinting/ambiguous modifier, but that also seems to be called a misplaced modifier on other sites. I think I'd call this a dangling modifer. All the examples I've seen online seem to be based around participles rather than prepositions, but the phrase 'in his shorts' certainly modifies what precedes it, so I think any of those terms would be ok. You might be able to advise us on that one!

6) Yes, both sentences are correct and sound fine. I suppose there is a small stylistic difference, with the second sentence emphasising each point, but the meaning is the same.

You have certainly kept us on our toes with these questions! Thanks very much for your contribution.

Perhaps you or others would like to comment on our answers?

All the best

Ravi said...

Thank you very much, Julia!

Julia Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia Miller said...

Hello again Ravi
Just to clarify something related to your second question:
2)We can rule out an adverbial clause, since, although it answers the question ‘where?’ (which, among other questions, adverbial clauses do), as an adverb equivalent, in this case, which refers to a noun, it does not qualify a verb, adjective or other adverb.

And here's a Christmas joke:
What do grammarians call Santa's little helpers? Subordinate Clauses.

As always, it's good to hear from you, and we really appreciate your questions!

Ravi said...

Nice joke, Julia!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and very happy New Year,


mahesh said...

madoff is in prison. madoff is in jail. madoff is in the prison. madoff is in the jail. why are the first two sentences right and the other two wrong? a well-thought out reason, please. a friend asked me this question and i know what the answer is, but not why. thanks!!!!


Julia Miller said...

Dear Mahesh
That's a good question. If we said 'Madoff is in the prison/the jail' we would be referring to a particular example of that place. e.g. the jail in the centre of town. If we just say 'Madoff is in prison/jail', then we are not specifying a particular jail, just saying that Madoff has been put in prison (arrested, charged etc.) for some reason.
'In prison' also implies that Madoff is a prisoner. You might be 'in the prison' because you were visiting your friend, but that would not make you a prisoner, and you would not be 'in prison'.
The same is true of 'in hospital' and 'at school'. We would only add 'the' if we were talking about a particular location known to both the hearer and the speaker, or wanted to specify that the person was not a patient, student or teacher.
I hope that makes sense. If not, please feel free to ask again.
Let's hope Madoff is released soon!

mahesh said...

hi julia,

i should have been clearer -- i know how the phrase is used. the question is as to what _specific_ grammatical rules or parts of speech allow for this, i.e. using "in prison"/"in school"/"in hospital." i need to explain this to a non-native english speaker.



Julia Miller said...

Hi Mahesh
It depends on whether you are referring to a specific example of the noun.
Generic - in prison
Specific - in the prison (we know which one)
Unspecifed - in a prison (we don't know which one)

I can't give you a grammatical rule, such as 'after prepositions do xxx', because it's a complicated area. All I can say is that a zero usage ‘calls into play all the potential values [of the noun] together’ (John A Hawkins, Definiteness and Indefiniteness: A study in reference and grammaticality prediction, Croom Helm Ltd, London, 1978, p 78)

You could try referring your friend to the material on the website

I hope that's some help!

Anonymous said...

'Why isn't Martian spelt Marsian? You know? A being from Mars? Surely that would make sense.'

A friend posted this question on FB recently. After a small amount of research I was able to find that 'tion' and 'sion' have the same route, are effectively the same.
As language is as much contextual as structural or standardised (you may disagree with the previous statement) I would say that by feel 'tion' is as the classic suffix meaning; of, a product of, where as 'sion' would be a similie. So, to give some meaning, a Martion is a being from Mars where as a Marsian would be a being with views or traits seen to be like Mars.


Andrea Duff said...

Sorry, Autoeclectic, for the delay in responding. I think what you propose sounds very well-considered and plausible. Notation (a product of notes?); Aggravation (the act of aggravating, according to the Merriam-Webster online). How about, though, 'immersion' (the act of immersing?).

I am going to throw this one over to my Grammar Gang mates. Julia? Helen? Linda? Lisa? :)

Or perhaps over to our other regulars...Ravi?

Julia Miller said...

Hello Autoeclectic
What an interesting question and an interesting suggestion you've given.
I think the answer actually depends on etymology of the word.
'Martian' is derived from Latin 'martius', which is probably where the 't' comes from.
The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) says that the suffix 'an' is used to mean 'belonging to a place'.
Many words end in 'sion' and are not necessarily similes: immersion, conclusion, fusion, confusion, precision. Again, much depends on the Latin root of the word, and I think all these words have 's' in the Latin suffix.
Nowadays though, if we are coining a new word, I think we would use 'ian' to mean 'having traits similar to', so 'Marsian' would probably mean 'like Mars'. We're adding 'ian' here, not 'an'. Therefore, I think your simile idea is a good one for new words, but not necessarily for older words.
Thanks for stimulating our brain cells at the end of the week!

Anonymous said...

Marvellous stuff. I will pass your answer on to my friend.

Thank you.



Prof Bailey said...

Which is correct--Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apples or (lowercase) red delicious and golden delicious apples?

Julia Miller said...

Dear Prof Bailey
Our apologies for this very late reply.
I think the answer is that 'Golden Delicious' should take capital letters. It is a variety of apple, and is written with capitals in the Oxford English Dictionary.
I'm not a plant biologist, so I'm a bit hazy about this, but cultivars (cultivated varieties) are written with capital letters, and I think Golden Delicious is a cultivar (I hope someone will correct me if I'm wrong).
You can find more on cultivars at and more on plant nomenclature at
Thank you for your interesting question!

Anonymous said...


52 yrs later I am trying to get my degree...I have one class left and it is my worst...English

I have about six grammer questions that I know are simple, but are killing there someone that could assist me if I send the question sto them

Julia Miller said...

Dear Anonymous
Yes, please send us your grammar questions. We'll do what we can to help!

Anonymous said...

The blog is quite interesting; I have several questions but do not know where to post them. Please help me.

Anonymous said...

The questions and answers are very interesting.

Julia Miller said...

Dear Anonymous
If you have questions, you can post them in the "Leave your comment" box on the top right of the page. We look forward to helping if we can.

Anonymous said...

My son's 5th grade teacher is insisting that "all around competition" be capitalized in the following sentence, "Ms. Johnson practices many hours a day for the gymnastics all around competition." Her reasoning is that it is a "specific type of competition". I cannot find a good rule on this anywhere. To me, what is missing is a hypen between "all around".


Anonymous said...

Is "homeworks" incorrect?

JMM said...

Dear Owl and Possum,
Question--in the following sentence, is the phrase "designed by an architect" passive voice or a prepositional phrase acting as an adjective?

"The hall sat behind buildings designed by an architect."

Would love some feedback on this question.

Julia Miller said...

Thanks for your comment.
No, 'homeworks' is not correct. 'Homework' is an uncountable noun, which means it cannot be made plural. You can have several pieces of homework, or you can have a lot of homework, but you can't have homeworks.

Julia Miller said...

Hello Anonymous
I checked 'all-around' in the Merriam-Webster dictionary (, and the entry there suggests that you do need a hyphen but you don't need capital letters.
If your son's teacher is trying to emphasise the name of the competition rather than the type of competition, though, which your sentence suggests, I'd probably put: Ms. Johnson practices many hours a day for the Gymnastics All-Around Competition. It's a bit like the Under 15 Hurdles, where you're naming the actual race and so use capital letters, maybe to make it stand out more in the sentence. Please ask again, though, if this is not clear!

Julia Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia Miller said...

Dear JMM
Thanks for your question:
is the phrase "designed by an architect" passive voice or a prepositional phrase acting as an adjective?

"The hall sat behind buildings designed by an architect."

By function, it is an adjectival phrase qualifying the noun 'buildings'.
By form, it is a participial phrase.

However, I have to admit that I prefer to see it as a shortened relative clause: "(which were/had been) designed by an architect". In that clause, "designed" is the past participle, and the clause uses the passive voice.

I hope that answers your question, but if it doesn't then please feel free to write again!


Anonymous said...

In the following sentence:
In Toomey, the Law Court construed the precursor to section 327, which contained nearly identical language, to establish two expressed and one implied prerequisites for application of the presumption.

Should the word prerequisite be plural as written above or should it be singular to correspond to "one implied" which is closer to prerequisite in the sentence.

thank you

Anonymous said...

texas is West of louisiana sayed mr hernadez who knows witch state is east of louisiana
what is wrong with this sentence i have not been in school in to long and my daughter has this sentence and is suppose to use editor keys and correct the sentence. Im lost help!!!!!

Julia Miller said...

That Law Court question is an interesting one. I would say that the sentence is correct, as two and one make three, so that's a total of three prerequisites. I agree it could sound a bit funny though, and it could be rewritten as 'two expressed prerequisites and one implied prerequisite' to make it sound less clumsy.
Does anyone else have a suggestion here? I'm happy to be corrected!

Julia Miller said...

Dear Anonymous
This might be a bit late to help with your daughter's homework, but there are three things wrong with the sentence:

texas is West of louisiana sayed mr hernadez who knows witch state is east of louisiana

The things to fix are spelling, punctuation and use of capital letters. I wonder what the teacher said?

Feel free to let us know.

Suzanne said...

A colleague and I are debating about the use of "in" vs. "on" when describing someone's participation (in/on) a team. As a native speaker, I don't always know *why* I use certain grammar - for instance you serve *in* the military, but serve *on* a board. Is there a rule that determines the difference, or is it more idiomatic?

Could you help us settle the debate - do you participate (in or on) a team?

Julia Miller said...

Hi Suzanne
The use of prepositions (words like 'on' and 'in') is really interesting and really hard to explain. I'm doing some research on it at the moment, but the results won't be ready for a few months. I'll certainly do a post on this when the material is available.
It often depends whether you're thinking about the word before or after the preposition. For example, we 'participate in' something, but we are 'on a team'. I don't know if there's a rule to say which takes precedence, but if something sounds strange and I'm not sure why then I'd probably reword it and say 'I participate in team activities' or 'I am on a team', so that there is no clash.
There is a cognitive linguistic approach to this which suggests that there is an underlying meaning to our use of prepositions, and I want to investigate this further!

Unknown said...

I want to apologize in advance for this question, but I have never received a good explanation from anyone on the proper way of saying this: "Peter and I went to the game." Should I be saying "Peter and me"?? I hear the "and me" a lot these days but was always raised to say "and I". Can anyone help me with this? I just found your site as a new student, and look forward to learning from it. Thanks -

Julia Miller said...

Dear Dutch
That's an important question. We often mistakenly say 'Peter and me' went, but if you think about it, you couldn't say 'Me went'. When in doubt, therefore, remove the other subjects of the sentence (in this case Peter) and see how it sounds. The opposite case would be, 'This is for Peter and me'. In that case you need 'me', because you couldn't say 'This is for I'. I hope that's clear, but please ask us again if it isn't!

Anonymous said...

Which is more correct--you helping us paint will mean a great deal, or your helping us paint will mean a great deal?

Julia Miller said...

That's a good question, and in fact both versions are correct:

a) You helping us paint will mean a great deal.

b) Your helping us paint will mean a great deal.

a) could be rewritten as:
It means a great deal that you are helping us to paint.

The second could be rewritten as:
b) Your help in the job of painting means a great deal.

In (b) 'helping' is a gerund, which means it is a verb used as a noun, and the word 'your' is a possessive.

I'll try and find a good explanation for (a) but I don't have one immediately to hand!

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