1. Education
Richard Nordquist

Language Notes

By August 21, 2013

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If you prefer to learn about language in small doses (bulleted lists of quips and quotes), take a look at our growing collection of notes on the English language.

  • Notes on Nouns
    One way to multiply nouns is to string two or three together, as in "precipitation event" or "interrogation enhancement techniques." Such nounism, says William Zinsser, is "a new American disease" (though it appears to have spread overseas as well). . . . Read more

  • Notes on Second-Person Pronouns
    Pronouns make up a closed word-class, which simply means that it's hard for a new pronoun to break into the language. But now and then a fresh one does emerge, while some older items--like the second-person pronouns thou, thee, and thine--just fade away. . . . Read more

  • Notes on Verbs
    In most cases, fly is an irregular verb: fly, flew, flown. But in the jargon of baseball, fly is a regular verb: fly, flied, flied. So we say that "David Ortiz flied out to center to end the inning." If Ortiz ever "flew out to center," we'd have quite a different story. . . . Read more

  • Notes on Do
    As an auxiliary (or helping verb), do is sometimes called an "empty" verb or a "dummy operator" because it has no meaning of its own. But do have some respect for this dummy. As we'll see, do stays busy, and we'd have a tough time communicating without it. . . . Read more

  • Notes on Ain't
    Though frequently heard in casual speech, ain't has been described as "the most stigmatized word in English." Dictionaries usually label it dialectal or nonstandard, while some purists even deny its right to exist. However you look at it, ain't is a word that ain't had it easy. . . . Read more

  • Notes on Contractions
    Americans love to clip and contract, specially in everyday speech. A sure way of identifying bad guys, space aliens, and college professors (in the movies, at least) is by their reluctance to use contractions. . . . Read more

  • Notes on Prepositions
    As long ago as 1926, Henry Fowler dismissed the rule about "preposition stranding" as "a cherished superstition" ignored by major writers from Shakespeare to Thackeray. In fact, he said, "the remarkable freedom enjoyed by English in putting its prepositions late and omitting its relatives is an important element in the flexibility of the language." . . . Read more

  • Notes on THE Definite Article
    Is there a simple, dependable rule for determining when to use the definite article (the) and when to use the indefinite article (a or an)? Not really. (The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language devotes more than five pages to the differences between a and the.) . . . Read more

  • Notes on Interjections
    The 18th-century philologist Rowland Jones observed that "interjections make up a considerable part of our language." Nevertheless, interjections are commonly treated as the outlaws of English grammar. The term itself, derived from Latin, means "something thrown in between." . . . Read more

  • Notes on Exclamation Points
    Since it first popped up in the 14th century, the exclamation point has generally been regarded as the hot-headed punk in the school of punctuation. Favored by advertisers, preteens, and writers of ransom notes, the exclamation point is less a mark of punctuation than an oratorical cue or a typographical shriek--in newspaper slang, a "screamer." . . . Read more

  • Notes on Parentheses
    British novelist Neil Gaiman really likes parentheses: "Suddenly the author would address a private aside to you, the reader. It was just you and him. I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.'" . . . Read more

  • Notes on English as a Global Language
    English has official or special status in at least 75 countries with a combined population of two billion people. It's estimated that one out of four people worldwide speak English with some degree of competence. . . . Read more


August 27, 2013 at 5:53 am
(1) K.D. Adams says:

I will share your site with other resources, during an upcoming Memoir Writing Workshop. Thanks for broadening horizons, particularly with those of us who live in isolated areas. – K.D.

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