Monday, July 29, 2013

Begging the question - why all the fuss?

There are some words and expressions that over time, take on new meanings, either in addition to their old meanings, or more or less replacing their old meanings altogether. An example of the first is awesome, which now has a rather different meaning to the one I was brought up with, but still coexists with the old meaning. While gay is an example of the latter, where the current meaning has pretty well replaced its old meaning of "happy, jolly".

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Place names - the or zero article?

Whether to use the definite article the before place names or not can be a little confusing. Try these three quizzes first, and then read about some of the general principles involved.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Indefinite articles - a or an?

A quick quiz to test your understanding of when to use a and when to use an as the indefinite article. Do the quiz before you read the notes which follow it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Google search results: treat with a large pinch of salt

When deciding whether a certain construction or phrase is natural English or not, it makes sense to check how it is actually used. One way of doing this is to use corpora, but they can be quite complicated for laymen like me to use.
And as we have this wondeful 'corpus' that is the Internet, it is tempting to use search result counts, as well as web-based tools like Ngram Viewer, to make comparative assessments as to how language is used.
What's more, it's not only non-specialists like me who do this; Google search counts are not infrequently used by professional linguists at the linguistics blog Language Log, for example. But it turns out we need to be very careful.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Some random thoughts on a wide range of + is or are

Recently I came across this sentence in an article in the Guardian newspaper, by one of my favourite journalists :
A wide range of activists, both African and European, is furious about the New Alliance
This didn’t sound quite right to me; I’m pretty sure I would have written are furious, not is furious, and if you take away the extra bit in the middle and substitute people for activists, it sounds even weirder:
A wide range of people is furious ….
So which is "correct" - is or are, or perhaps either? I've already posted about a couple of similar expressions, a number of and a succession of, so I decided to investigate.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Verbs with two objects

Some verbs can take two objects. The first one is usually a person or group of people, and the second one a thing or things. Learn all about them with these exercises.
At the end of the post there's also a table of the different patterns that can be found with these verbs.