Modal auxiliary verbs can be used to convey a wide range of meanings. The table below illustrates some of the commonest, but it is by no means exhaustive.
I need interpreters in my surgery who can speak Punjabi, Urdu, and Gujarati.
can, could, might, ought to, should, will, would
A suitable satellite in high orbit should do it nicely.
can, could, may, might
Candidates may enter for both examinations, if desired.
Requests and invitations
can, could, may, might, will, would
Will you come with me?
Offers, promises, threats
can, could, shall, should
The Company will keep a copy of all material delivered to the Publisher.
could, may, might, should, will
It could be dangerous for anybody who knows.
must, ought to, should
No matter what else they do within the group, every volunteer must do at least one shift on the phones every fortnight.
could, might, must, ought to, should
‘Perhaps you could try waders,’ suggested Preston.
might, will, would
Every afternoon she would wake from her afternoon sleep and cry pitifully, sometimes for as long as two hours.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Saturday, June 11, 2011
A type of adverbial used to show the connection between a sentence and an earlier sentence. Common conjuncts include:
Friday, June 10, 2011
The subject and the verb of a clause have to agree in number and person.
he, she, it
Writers sometimes fail to make the verb of a sentence agree with the subject. This usually happens when the subject of the sentence is a lengthy noun phrase. For example:
The advent of digitization and electronic media make speedy cooperation between us even more necessary.
This should be:
The advent of digitization and electronic media makes speedy cooperation between us even more necessary.
The rule is that the verb should agree with the main word in the subject, the headword of the phrase. If in doubt, you should try to boil the subject down to a single noun or pronoun. In this case the subject boils down to advent, which is singular.
Friday, June 3, 2011
The suffix -ess has been used since the Middle Ages to form nouns denoting female persons, using a neutral or male form as the base (such as hostess from host or actress from actor). In the late 20th century many of these feminine forms came to be seen as old-fashioned, sexist, and patronizing, and the ‘male’ form is increasingly being used as the ‘neutral’ form, where the gender of the person concerned is simply unspecified because irrelevant. Some -ess forms have all but vanished (e.g. poetess, authoress, editress), but some persist in varying degrees, many falling into these categories:
■ they denote someone very different from the the male ‘equivalent’ (e.g. mayoress, the wife of a mayor, not a female mayor; governess, not a female governor; countess if she is the wife of an earl; manageress, who might manage a restaurant but not a football team, or hostess, who could not be the presenter of a television programme)
■ they are fixed titles (e.g. princess)
■ the male equivalent word is rather different in form (e.g. abbess, duchess, mistress)
■ in a few cases where there has been a completely different expression for the male equivalent, both have given way to new neutral forms; for instance, air hostesses and stewards are now generally both called flight attendants.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Folk etymology is the name given to the process by which people modify a strange or unfamiliar word or phrase so that they can relate it to a word or phrase they already know. It is has produced the modern forms of many words we now take for granted and is still a dynamic process in the development of English, as can be seen from the modern examples below.
There are three main reasons for the modification of the word to take place.
1 The form is foreign, and so is altered to resemble a more familiar or natural-sounding English word or root. Examples of this are: crayfish, from the Middle English and Old French form crevice, where the second syllable has been interpreted as ‘fish’; chaise lounge, the very common form, especially in the US, of the chaise longue; and cockroach, which used two English words, cock and roach, to turn the odd-sounding cacarootch into something more native.
2 Part of the word or phrase has dropped out of use altogether, or has become rather rare, so its meaning is not understood. It is then replaced by a more familiar word which sounds or looks similar.
This happened, for instance, to bridegroom, in which ‘groom’ has nothing to do with horses. The Old English term was brideguma, meaning ‘bride-man’, and over time the second part was re-interpreted. Current examples of this process are the replacement of moot point by mute point, and damp squib by damp squid. A related process, which is not strictly speaking folk etymology, is when the spelling of a word or phrase changes because the words are divided differently from their original form. Classic examples of this are an adder from a naddre, and a newt from an ewt. A modern example of this process in operation is the phrase to all intensive purposes for to all intents and purposes.
3 One element of the word or phrase is interpreted as a different word which sounds exactly the same. Examples of this are free reign for free rein and just desserts for just deserts.
Some modern folk etymologies are now so widespread that they are likely to become the dominant and accepted form. The list below shows some of the most frequent, and how often they occur relative to their traditional forms in the Oxford English Corpus.
sleight of hand
slight of hand
home in on
hone in on
fount of knowledge
font of knowledge
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Two (or more) words which look or sound the same, but have distinct and unrelated meanings. These fall into three groups:
■ Words which are written and pronounced in the same way:
seal tackle last swallow
■ Words which are written in the same way but pronounced differently:
These are also referred to as homographs.
■ Words which sound the same but are written differently:
These are also referred to as homophones.