Plural “S” vs. Possessive “S”

Dear Miss W____:

You wrote:

>>I have always believed that the following sentence should be written like this:

>>Lt. Worf, although large, has not got a head like Rikers.

>>However my word processor is telling me it should be as so:

>>Lt. Worf, although large, has not got a head like Riker’s.

>>Could you verify for me which is the correct way of writing this sentence?

>>Thank you!

The second sentence is correct. Adding an -s to most words make them plural. Adding an -‘s to most words makes them possessive. The second sentence tells us that the head belongs to Riker. The first sentence means the head does not look like the head that most Rikers have. That would work, for example, if Rikers were a group instead of an individual. “Seven of Nine does not have head markings like Klingons.” In your example, though, you are speaking of the head that belongs to someone named Riker and there is only one Riker, so this is clearly possessive and not plural.


Dear N___:

You wrote:

>>Are these sentences correct:

>>1-We were dancing as in the Fifties. (restrictive: in the same way they danced in the Fifties)
>>2-We were dancing, as in the Fifties.(non-restrictive: They danced in the Fifties and now we were dancing)

>>Can 2 be used to mean that we were dancing in the same way they danced in the Fifties?
In most speech, the meaning #1 you give would be understood by most people here, with or without the comma. Technically, your parenthetical interpretations are correct, but we do not speak with commas, so most people would understand either sentence to be what the first says. If you wanted to communicate meaning #2, the best solution is to say it differently such as the way you put it in the parentheses.

Colon Setting Off List

Dear J___ C___:

You wrote:

>>Is it ever correct to use a comma preceding a list (series) or must it always be a colon?

>>John and Mary had three children, Ronnie, Jackie, and Joy. OR

>>John and Mary had three children: Ronnie, Jackie, and Joy

If you want to be technical about it, in this case people sometimes use a comma because the list is actually an appositive. That is true in most cases with lists like this–they really are appositives at the end of a sentence.

The problem with such lists is that because there are more than two items in the list, the list itself has commas. Since the list itself uses commas, it can be confusing to the reader to use another comma to set off the list. Using a colon makes it cleaner looking and easier to understand. The purpose of punctuation, after all, is to help us understand what we read. Stick with the colon.

If there were just two items in the list so that you did not need to use any commas, then a comma separating the appositive would work and be clear enough, though a colon is still OK because it is setting off an appositive at the end of a sentence.

John and Mary had two children, Ronnie and Joy. OR
John and Mary had two children: Ronnie and Joy.

I hope this helps.

Modifier Set off by Commas?

Dear N__:

You wrote:

>>Which sentence is correct:
>>1-The silver crown, of great sentimental value to our family, has been stolen.
>>2-The silver crown of great sentimental value to our family has been stolen.

Technically, either could be correct. A nonessential modifier is set off by commas; an essential modifier is not.

#1 means the crown has been stolen. The family has only one silver crown. The speaker also mentions in passing that the crown has sentimental value.

#2 means that a silver crown has been stolen, and that among the silver crowns that the family owns, this is the crown that is known for its sentimental value.

In everyday speech, unless you were talking about a royal family that had a collection of crowns, #1 would be the more likely scenario. How many silver crowns do most people own? πŸ™‚

See “Commas with Nonrestrictive Modifiers” in Grammar Slammer or for more on this.

Delete Key and Error Message

Dear Mr. H___:

You wrote:

>>Just bought your Grammar Slammer Deluxe with Checkers software. Please tell me I did something wrong setting it up. I got problems.
>>1) My Delete key doesn’t do anything.

We recommend that you do most of your editing on the program that you got the text from simply because our edit box does not have many features for serious editing or word processing. Having said that, if you highlight text first, then the delete key works. It will not work if nothing is highlighted. The backspace key will delete without highlighting.

>>2) If I paste the revised text back into the program it came from, all formatting is lost.

This is a Windows issue, but you can work around it. We recommend keeping the text that you copied highlighted on your original document. When you paste back to the highlighted area, it should keep the formatting–pretty closely anyhow.

>>3) My very first sentence was “Neither the Senators nor the President . . . . IT’S TELLING ME THAT “SENATORS” IS NOT A WORD!!!!

We tried the same thing on Windows XP update 2 and had no problem. We tried capitalizing Senators and then putting it inlower case, but the checkers did not say there was anything wrong with either the grammar or the spelling. Senators is in the program dictionary, so it should not have flagged the word in the spell checker.

This is what probably happened. Sometimes the grammar checker may flag a word in a compound subject. If your sentence read “Neither the senators nor the president have done anything about it,” for example, the checker may have taken a look at “president have” and said “president conflicts with auxiliary verb have” because president is singular and have plural. Of course, the sentence is really OK because you also have the word senators making the subject plural. In that case, you can simply ignore the suggestion.

If you want to check this out, note what the error message was. If you reverse the order of the figures in the subject so it reads “president and senators,” I suspect you would get no error message, just as I got no error message with most verbs unless they were present tense or past to be (was/were). I suspect the problem was with the subject-verb agreement and not with the word Senators. If there is no problem, then click the “ignore” button.

Capitalizing “French”

Dear Mr. B___:

You wrote:

>>I’ve read the rule about capitalizing adjectives based upon proper nouns, but what about verbs so constructed?

>>My dictionary has “Anglicizing” capitalized, same for the grotesque “to French-fry”. Are these proper? I am especially concerned with “French kissing”, most notably whether the slang shorthand “Frenching” has any proper form. (Sorry, but that one pays the bills, sad to say.)
The standard in most cases is to keep the capital. I certainly would with “French kissing” and probably “Frenching” as well, though it might be advisable to put that in quotation marks to indicate slang unless you were using it in a quotation.

Having said that, some words which began as proper adjectives or proper nouns sometimes have taken on a special meaning that has so little to do with the origin that they are often no longer capitalized. The best example today is probably “bourbon,” which comes from the name of the French royal family. Occasionally you do see “teddy bear” and “french fries” because some no longer consider these proper names any more; however, most authorities still capitalize them.

I do agree that “French frying” is somewhat grotesque. I would encourage you to come up with a different expression for that one, e.g. “making French fries.” Still, in most places not capitalizing “French” would stand out. Unless you wanted to call attention to your grammar, I would advise sticking with the capital letter.

Aggravate or Irritate?

>>I like your definition for the term aggravate.

>>But, many dictionaries state that the secondary meaning of the Latin root, is β€œto irritate, annoy, burden…” hence that to say: ‘You aggravate me’ is a correct usage. I agree with your definition; it makes good sense that the word be used as you explain… no matter the old meaning. i.e.: a situation, condition, state, etc can be aggravated NOT a person! But I am confused about the confusion of those in authority of setting it straight?

Grammar Slammer says:

Aggravate or Irritate?
Aggravate mean “to make worse.” The root is grave, in the sense of “serious.” Remember this root when spelling the word.
Irritate means “to exasperate” or “to inflame.”

Incorrect: His teasing aggravated me.
Correct: His teasing irritated me.
Incorrect: That meal irritated my condition.
Correct: That meal aggravated my condition.

Dear Mr. D___,

Take a look at our newsletter about dictionaries Most dictionaries these days are descriptive, that is, they simply describe what people say and write. A few are prescriptive, they analyze words and comment on usage. You are no doubt referring to a descriptive dictionary. Yes, people do sometimes say “aggravate” when they mean “irritate.” The dictionary is recording that. However, if you want to be precise, especially in your writing, do not confuse the two words or your readers may be confused as well.

Adverb Phrase Placement

Dear N___:

You wrote:

>Can’t sentences 1 and 2 each have two meanings:

>1-I made the table in the kitchen.

>First meaning: I made the table that is in the kitchen.

>Second meaning: In the kitchen, I made the table (that we are talking about).

Yes, you are correct. This could have two different meanings. It all depends on context. In virtually any case we would understand that the table located in the kitchen was made by you because normally people do not do woodworking in a kitchen! However, it could possibly mean that the kitchen was the place where you constructed it.

>2-They’ll kill your friend in Germany.

>First meaning: They’ll kill your friend who is now in Germany (but maybe they’ll kill him in France).

>Second meaning: In Germany, they’ll kill your friend (who might now be in Italy).

Again, you are correct. This is completely context-driven.

First meaning: “Do you know about my friend in Germany?”
“Yes, they’ll kill your friend in Germany.”

Second meaning: “My friend is going to Germany.”
“Germany? They’ll kill your friend in Germany.”

In English, adverbial prepositional phrases can go at the beginning or end of a sentence. In these cases, one meaning is adverbial (modifies the verb), the other is adjectival (modifies the direct object). To make it clearer, put the adverbial phrase at the beginning. You did that with sentence number one, meaning two. You could do the same in sentence two, meaning two–“In Germany, they’ll kill your friend.” If the phrase is adverbial, putting it at the beginning resolves the ambiguity.

Another Verb?

Dear Mrs. H___:

>>Sentence: “Children have access to toys, resources and equipment which are approriate to their age and development and regularly checked, cleaned, and replaced.”
>>Question: Do I need to put another “are” after “development and”?

That is a style question. It is optional. The question is whether you want a compound verb or a compound predicate adjective. The sentence says the same thing either way.

Initial Adverb

Dear Mrs. H___:

You wrote:

>Sentence: “Generally, policies and procedures support staff’s good practice.”
>Question: Is it all right to use a comma after Generally?

Yes, you should use a comma. The adverb actually modifies the verb. When we have an introductory adverb that is modifying a non-adjacent word or phrase, we set off that adverb with a comma. For more on this see “Commas and Introductory Words or Phrases” in Grammar Slammer or online.

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