All posts by jbair

Punctuation around Quotation Marks

I did not see any mention of differences in punctuation. In American English, the comma and the period are always inside quotes regardless of logic. In British English, the comma and the full stop follow wherever the sentence dictates: inside the quote marks if it belongs to the quote, outside if it belongs to the sentence. e.g., Carefree means “free from care or anxiety”.

Also you may want to mention the differences in meaning of certain words. I embarrassed myself royally when I first arrived in the US and, in my search for school supplies, asked for “rubbers”!

Dear YSM:

Yes, this punctuation is not universal, but it is commonly practiced in Commonwealth countries. We should make clearer mention of it.

Also the grammar checker in Grammar Slammer Deluxe with Checkers gives users the option of checking grammar one way or the other.

We made a decision to stick with grammar, spelling, and usage, rather than vocabulary in our programs and web pages–but not this blog. That would open up a whole new paradigm. I have not checked, but I am sure that there are publications that deal with differences in vocabulary between the two sides of the pond. I have noted visitors to the USA have some difficulty with the use of the word “pants” when they go the UK.

Who, Which, or That for a Team?

Dear Mr. S___:

You wrote:

>>Can I say “… interdisciplinary teams, who work together with customers …”
>>or should it be “… interdisciplinary teams, which work together with customers …”?

Either is acceptable. In modern usage, “who” normally applies to people and “which” to things, with “that” working for either. However, in this case it does depend on your emphasis.

If you want to emphasize that the teams are made up of individual people, then you would probably want to use “who.” If you are emphasizing the function of the team rather than the makeup (or if, for example, the team were a team of horses…), then “which” would be fine.

You might do better using “who” because it would be less likely to cause offense to someone. I have seen all three–who, which, and that–used in the sports pages to describe teams.

Legal Brief?

Dear English Plus:

Acting on behalf of my father’s law firm ([firm named here]), I was looking for some grammar authorities on adjectives modifying nouns in a series. Opposing counsel has tried to argue that only the first noun is understood to be modified by the adjective, a position which I, as a writer and sometime tutor and teacher, found absurd when my father asked me about it.

I found this page on a Google search:

and quoted the following passage to my Dad in an e-mail:

“In a series of nouns in English, if there is an article or adjective before the first item only, the article or adjective is understood to be modifying all the nouns in the series.”

He wants to cite your website in his legal brief (or whatever the document’s proper name is…I’m no lawyer) responding to the opposing counsel, and he’s wondering how to do that. I know of some rules for citing websites in research, but before I looked into those I thought I’d try to contact you: specifically, to see if you’re willing to have your work cited in this fashion, and to give your name(s) for proper recognition, etc.

Thanks for your grammatical help — even if you don’t want to be cited, I can tell you you’re in good company with Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, Svartvik, and the American Heritage Book of English Usage — and for running such an informative site. Cheers.

Dear Mr. B___:

You are welcome to cite the page if you need to.

May all your anguish be vaquished.

Which Windows OS for Grammar Slammer?

Dear Mr. M___:

You wrote:

>>Does your Grammar Slammer with Checkers work with Windows XP?

Yes. It works with all versions of Windows from 95 up. As of this date that includes Windows 7.

>>How does this program compare to checkers in Word or Grammatik?

All use slightly different patterns. The grammar checker in Grammar Slammer gives the user many easy options. Probably the best thing for you to do is download a trial copy from our download site at and see how you like it.

Be sure to read the file that comes with it, “What to Expect from a Grammar Checker.” This will give you an idea of what anyone’s grammar program can and cannot do. You can also read this online at

Delete Key in Grammar Slammer

Dear Mr. T___:

You wrote:

>>I like your software that I’m trying out, except I found that I cannot delete any of the characters. The only way that I can remove a letter is to cursor to the end of the word and then use the back-space key to remove unwanted text. Delete key does not work.
We have been aware of this. This is a “feature” of the Windows system that we can do nothing about without turning the checker into another word processor. We recommend using another text editor or word processor that has more capability and just copying and pasting. We want to keep the actual text box as simple as possible so that it will be compatible with as many Windows programs as possible. That means some extraneous things will be sacrificed.

Having said that, the delete key does work on anything that is highlighted first. So if you highlight any letters or words, you can use the delete key.

Double Negatives

Dear A___:

You wrote:

>a. I didn’t tell it to my mother and neither to my father.
>b. I didn’t tell it to my mother and nor to my father.
>c. I didn’t tell it to my mother, neither to my father.
>d. I didn’t tell it to my mother, nor to my father.

>Which of the above sentences are acceptable?

They all have problems.
B is awful, two conjunctions in a row? (“And nor”)
A is understandable, but a native speaker would say “and not to my father either,” if he used “and.”
C is understandable, but you would seldom hear a native speaker say it because of the double negative.
D is also understandable, but normally one would say “or to my father” since the verb is modified by “not.” It is another double negative.

Better than any of the above:
I didn’t tell it to my mother or my father.
I didn’t tell it to either my mother or my father.
(The second “to” in both sentences is optional.)

It you wanted to use “neither” rather than “not,” you could say:
I told neither my mother nor my father.

Is English German or French in Origin?

Dear A___:

You wrote:

>>Would you write something about the origin of English language?
>>Did it come from French or German?

The English language has a long history, but basically English is one of the Germanic languages. The Angles were a tribe in what is today Northern Germany who settled on the island of Great Britain. Their country the name England comes from the Angles (“Angle-land”).

Even today 39 of the 40 most common words in English come from the language of the Angles and the Saxons.

However, it is very different from modern German even though it shares many roots with German. This is partly because of pronunciation, but mainly because in 1066 England was conquered by the French-speaking Normans. The Normans brought many French words to English and English became distinctly different from the other Germanic languages. Today about 40% of the words in English have a French origin. It was not until nearly 1400, for example, that the English Parliament government quit using French in its deliberations.

English is a Germanic language historically, but it has been largely influenced by French as well.

I hope this helps.

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.