Mustn’t Have Done and Couldn’t Have Done

A reader has asked for a post on the difference between “mustn’t have + past participle” and “couldn’t have + past participle.” He gives these examples: a) Ahmed failed the exam. He mustn’t have studied hard. b) Ahmed failed the exam. He couldn’t have studied hard. Before writing to me, the reader queried native English … Read more

Converting Direct Speech into Reported Speech

This post is in response to a recent reader request: I would be grateful if you could write about these two topics: Reported Speech and Indirect Speech. To clarify, “Reported Speech” and “Indirect Speech” are the same thing. I’ll assume that the reader intended to ask about the difference between Reported Speech and Direct Speech. … Read more

A Tin Ear for Pronouns

Another of my certainties has been shattered. Like anyone who has tried to explain why we do not say “Jack and me went to France” or “They invited my wife and I to the party,” I have always used the same approach. Incorrect use of object pronoun form as subject Person says: Jack and me … Read more

Shakespeare, Pronouns, and the New World Order

One of my favorite go-to news sources is the BBC Daily News. Reading an account of a shooting in Norway not long ago, I came to this sentence: King Harald, Norway’s monarch, said him and his family were horrified. The BBC is an institution I have long admired. During the seven years I lived in … Read more

Biased and Prejudiced Against

In a recent post about confusion between the words precedent and precedence, a reader commented on a similar confusion between noun-adjective distinctions like bias/biased and prejudice/prejudiced. Thereby hangs this post. bias (noun): Tendency to favor or dislike a person or thing, especially as a result of a preconceived opinion; partiality, prejudice. biased (adjective): Influenced by … Read more

No More Grammatical Dummies

Common terms used in teaching the expletive use of it and there are “dummy it, ” “dummy there,” and “dummy subject.” expletive: Of a word or phrase: serving merely to fill out a sentence or a metrical line without adding anything to the sense. Dummy A derivative of dumb (“unable to speak), dummy boasts twenty-one … Read more

“Forecast” and “Broadcast” Never Need -ed

My telephone weather app really mashes on my grammar nerve when it tells me that “rain is forecasted.” Likewise, I find it disturbing when a state supreme court judge, ruling on a misinformation case, begins a sentence with “Even assuming that Fox News did not intentionally allow this false narrative to be broadcasted….” The verb … Read more

May or Might—Does It Matter Which?

The verb may is one of the oldest in English. Through the centuries, it has been used with a variety of meanings that need not trouble modern English speakers. Only two forms survive: may and might. The words are often used interchangeably, but a few distinctions still matter Mother, May I? I’m old enough to … Read more

Is “Myself” a Polite Way To Say “Me”?

A reader commenting on “TV’s War on Me and I” asks, Is it your opinion that when a speaker refers to him/herself as “myself” (instead of “I”) that it is an attempt to avoid sounding conceited? Short answer: No. Speakers of Irish English often use myself where standard usage calls for I or me and … Read more

Apposition and Anarthrous Premodifiers

A reader wonders if this sentence containing nouns in apposition has enough commas: As a club, we must extend our thoughts and deepest sympathies to John’s wife Hazel, and his children Matthew and Julia. Commas with appositives An appositive is a noun or noun element that follows another noun and serves to identify it further. … Read more

Does Past Tense “Turnt” Have a Future?

A reader, commenting on one of my posts about the -ed past ending, suggests that turnt for turned may have a future: Where I live, more and more I’m hearing the word “turnt” used as a past tense version of “turned.” It’s a slang usage, obviously, and is used to describe food or drink that … Read more

Data Is and Media Are

Some speakers continue to insist that the noun data must be used only as a plural, but the consensus is in. Although the singular of data is datum, in nonspecialized contexts, using data as a singular noun is acceptable. Both usages continue to occur, often in the same publications. When this data is directly accessible … Read more