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“Body” or “bodily” fluids?

Q: With all the attention on Ebola, there is increased use of the term “bodily fluids.” I keep muttering at the TV screen whenever I hear this pretentious phrase. My gut says it should be “body fluids.” What is your opinion? A: Both phrases are OK, so use whichever one sounds best to your ear—or... ? Read More: “Body” or “bodily” fluids?

The compleat dangler

Q: I searched your website for info on dangling participles, but nothing came up. Am I doing something wrong, or has no one yet asked about this? A: Aside from a couple of passing mentions, we haven’t gone into this topic on our blog, so what better time? Here’s what a dangling participle looks like:... ? Read More: The compleat dangler

The imperative’s new clothes?

Q: I’ve searched all over the Internet for an explanation of the third-person imperative, but everybody seems to have a different opinion. I’m thoroughly confused. If you can help, I’ll be forever thankful. A: Strictly speaking, there...Show More Summary

The genitive wars

Q: I question the use of an apostrophe in “Seven Years’ War.” I assume that “Seven Years” is simply an adjectival phrase modifying the noun “War.” However, your “Sui Genitive!” post supports the apostrophe. I have a book on the subject due for publication next year, and I want the correct punctuation on the cover!... ? Read More: The genitive wars

The “worse” case

Q: I’m puzzled by the grammar of this sentence: “Worse, the huge sums spent on subsidizing kerosene make a mockery of government health spending.” What part of speech is the word “worse” here? A: “Worse” has many functions in English—it can be an adverb, an adjective, or a noun. When it introduces a sentence or... ? Read More: The “worse” case

Ongoing concerns

Q: I may be wrong, but I am irked by people saying “the investigation is ongoing.” I would say “there is an ongoing investigation” or “the investigation is going on,” but not “the investigation is ongoing.” Am I just plain wrong? A: “Ongoing” is a legitimate adjective, and typically adjectives can be used either before... ? Read More: Ongoing concerns

The rise and fall of capital letters

Q: In rereading Emily Dickinson’s poems, I’m impressed by her use of midline capitals. Can you shed some light on the capitalization of common nouns in 19th-century America? Is it intended for emphasis? A: When William Caxton introduced...Show More Summary

a sweet old etcetera birthday

Here’s a trio of literary treats to celebrate today, the birthday of E. E. Cummings. 1. Seems like today is as good a day as any to tackle that old “e. e. cummings” thing. Read this pair of articles by Norman Friedman (here and here) to for the case against lowercasing “E. E. Cummings.” 2. […]

The product in your hair

Product lines Q: I had my hair cut the other day and as usual the stylist asked me whether I wanted her to use any product. When did “product” enter our vocabulary as something you buy at a salon? A: The noun “product,” which first showed up in English in the 15th century as a... ? Read More: The product in your hair

A hydra-headed question

Q: Why do so many people say “I can’t get my head around” a problem? I always thought the expression was “I can’t get my arms around” it. You’d have to be a Hydra to get your head around a problem. A: For dozens of years, people have been trying to get or wrap their... ? Read More: A hydra-headed question

A hoax upon both your houses!

So there was a bit of a kerfuffle (oh, how I love that word!) the other week when the article “Actress Betty White, 92, Dyes Peacefully In Her Los Angeles Home” hit the airwaves. I first spotted the headline when a friend posted the article on Facebook with the comment “RIP.” ’Cause I’m a word […]

Dont feed the animal’s

My eye’s! My eye’s! It might hurt the tummies of the livestock if you feed them. It certainly hurts word nerds to see this unwanted apostrophe in Tummy’s (to say nothing of the mysterious capitalization).           Overseen at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts.  

Grammar term limits

Q: What part of speech is “here” in the sentence “It is here”? In your post about “Here it is,” you say “here” is an adverb. But my understanding is that “to be” is a linking verb that takes an adjective or a noun as a complement, not an adverb. Yours confusedly. A: You’ve put... ? Read More: Grammar term limits

Getting involved

Q: Which preposition should follow “involve”—“in” or “with”? I must be using the “wrong” preposition in casual conversations, because I seem to use the two interchangeably. Is there an easy rule to follow? A: We have a hunch that you’re mostly concerned with the use of “involve” in the passive (“to be involved”) or as... ? Read More: Getting involved

Do fish have tongues?

Q: I recently returned from a vacation in Newfoundland, where I enjoyed the regional dish of “cod tongue.” Or should it be “cod’s tongue”? Or maybe “cods’ tongues”? I suspect that “cod” in “cod tongue” is an adjective (telling us what kind of tongue), not a noun (telling us whose tongue). A: The word “cod”... ? Read More: Do fish have tongues?

A hoax upon both your houses!

So there was a bit of a kerfuffle the other week when the article “Actress Betty White, 92, Dyes Peacefully In Her Los Angeles Home” hit the airwaves. I first spotted the headline when a friend posted the article on Facebook with the comment “RIP.” ’Cause I’m a word nerd like that, the first thing […]

If grammar be the food of love

Q: A couple of friends insist on using the subjunctive in a conditional clause like this: “Say hello to my brother if he be there when you arrive.” To me, it sounds ungrammatical, never mind this example from Shakespeare: “If music be the food of love, play on.” What do you say? A: The sentence... ? Read More: If grammar be the food of love

A medieval mystery

Q: I’m enjoying Mel Starr’s Hugh de Singleton series of medieval mysteries. I take notes when he mentions unfamiliar dishes and I look up the terms later. I’ve finally come across one I can’t track down. It’s cevy, which seems to be a broth or herb or flavoring for cooking fish or rabbit. Can you... ? Read More: A medieval mystery

How do you say “long-lived”?

Q: Should “long-lived” and “short-lived” be pronounced with a long or a short “i”? I have always wondered about that and I would appreciate your consideration of this issue. A: The traditional pronunciation of “-lived” in a compound is with a long “i,” but current dictionaries say the vowel can now be either long (as... ? Read More: How do you say “long-lived”?

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