In an earlier blog post we looked at compounds and and noted that some are written with one or two hyphens. Here are a few examples:
Brother-in-law (your sister’s husband or your wife’s or husband’s brother) Runner-up (one who finishes in second place) Cul-de-sac (a street that is closed at one end) Editor-in-chief (the manager of an editorial staff)
How should you write the plural form of such compounds? The answer is fairly logical: add the plural -s to the main part of the compound, the significant part.
Brothers-in-law Runners-up Editors-in-chief
Cul-de-sac has two plural forms: culs-de-sac or cul-de-sacs
When we write the genitive form, the -s comes at the end when we talk about people:
My brother-in-law’s new car The editor-in-chief’s wife
However, you can also write
The wife of the editor-in-chief
When we talk about things, we use the genitive form with of:
Was and were are past forms of the verb be, an irregular verb that is extremely common.
We use was in the first person singular (I) and the third person singular (he, she, it):
I was tired and sat down in my favorite armchair. She was in the kitchen when there was a knock on the door. It was the first Tuesday in April.
The other persons take the form were:
Were you happy with the result? We were together. They were down by the river.
Was and were are also auxiliary verbs, that is, they are followed by another verb:
I was having a nap when you called. Was he really doing that? I thought you were going to help her.
It is possible to use were also with I, he, she and it. We do so in situations that are not real. It can be a hypothetical situation (usually with the word if):
Even if he were my boss, I wouldn’t do it. If I were you, I would definitely accept the offer. If this were true, you could stay there for a whole month.
It can be wishful thinking:
I wish I were in Rome again. How I wish that she were here!
This form of the verb is called the subjunctive mood. The were form with you, we and they is also subjunctive in hypothetical or counterfactual statements, even if it does not differ from the indicative form used in ordinary sentences:
If they were younger, I would offer them a job (subjunctive). They were already there when I arrived (indicative).
You should avoid writing *I wish that she was here. (For the use of the asterisk, read at the end of this text.)
Many writers seem to be unsure of how to use the semicolon.
The semicolon looks like a combination of a full stop and a comma, and that is an indication of how it is used. Like the comma and the full stop, the semicolon separates clauses. The semicolon links two independent clauses that are closely related. In other words, we use a semicolon between two complete sentences to indicate that what they say is of equal importance. The semicolon can replace words such as and and but.
Finally, Tom found his bike behind the garage; it was rusty and the tires were flat. This method is based on many years of research; particularly important are the findings from four studies in the heavy vehicles industry. The potential variables are numerous; they include everything that might influence the evaluation criteria.
You cannot have a semicolon after a dependent clause beginning with words such as since, although, when, because, etc.
Since she had visited the city several times, she knew all the tourist spots. She had visited the city several times; she knew all the tourist spots.
To avoid confusion, use a semicolon to separate groups in an enumeration.
Among the cities in the study were Hamburg, Germany; Milan, Italy; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Helsinki, Finland.
Don’t use the semicolon where you must have a colon!
He had three main interests: vintage cars, whisky and antique furniture.
You cannot write *He had three main interests; vintage cars, whisky and antique furniture (For the use of the asterisk read at the end of this text). After a semicolon there must be a complete, independent, clause with a subject and a verb. So you could write: He had three main interests; they were vintage cars, whisky and antique furniture.
American English or British English? Or perhaps Oxford spelling? Does it matter which language you choose? Do your readers care?
Obviously, if you write for an American audience, you should write American English. And if you want to send a paper to a British journal, you should use UK English, which is another name for British English. Always check with the publisher or read the style guide of the journal. However, it is crucial that you are consistent and write your whole text in one and the same language.
When you write a doctoral thesis or a novel, the choice of language is yours. Only, as I said above, be consistent.
If you go for American English, use American spelling and write labor instead of labour, center instead of centre, catalog instead of catalogue, fulfill instead of fulfil, traveling instead of travelling, and so on. Use a z instead of an s in words like recognize and organization. (There are, however, some words that are always written with -ise or -yse – read more about them here.)
American English uses the serial comma, which is the comma that is placed before and or or in a series of words. An example: Horses, cows, and sheep are farm animals. British English does not use this comma.
There are also differences in vocabulary. The American apartment is a flat in Britain, Brits walk on the pavement, while Americans use the sidewalk. And when you are angry in Britain, you are mad in America – to a Brit mad means crazy. When something is quite good it is very good in America but only fairly good in Britain.
There are, of course, also differences in grammar. When a British speaker uses the perfect tense, I have already called him, an American would use the past tense, I already called him. The American a real good movie is in British a really good film.
Oxford spelling is a variant of British English. It prefers -ize in words like organize and recognize instead of the spelling -ise in British English. The spelling with -izeis actually the oldest; organize, for example, appeared in a text in England as early as around 1425. The Oxford spelling is used by publishers like Collins, Longman and Oxford University Press (but not Oxford University!) and some academic journals in Britain. The Oxford spelling uses the serial comma, which therefore is also called the Oxford comma.
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