Caxton

Mostly language, but not always

Baz’s Quotes

Disappearing

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a wrack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (William Shakespeare)

Caxton’s Third Law

The ability to write effective English declines as a function of the strength of the writer’s conviction, as expressed in social media, that the language is deteriorating.

(See also Caxton’s First and Second Laws.)

Is Your Vocabulary Greater Than Shakespeare’s?

Barrie:

‘An ultracrepidarian is someone who gives opinions on things they know nothing about.’ A useful word in the context of the discussion of language.

Originally posted on Interesting Literature:

We came across a nice site that tests your vocabulary in a short ‘quiz’ (of sorts) that takes only a few minutes to complete. It’s an interesting little test, because it will calculate (by which we really mean ‘estimate’) your vocabulary, or total number of words which you could practically use in conversation or writing.

This got us thinking about interesting words, especially rare ones, found in literature. It is commonly said that Shakespeare had a vocabulary of 17,000-20,000 words, but most modern English speakers use many more than this. That said, there are many rare old words which are sadly underused today, but which writers of times past would have been familiar with. Here are a few of them:

Shakespeare2A bellibone is an old word for (we’re quoting Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary here) ‘a woman excelling in both beauty and goodness’; it appears in Edmund Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar in the…

View original 205 more words

Baz’s Quotes

Hating

I hate bainting, and boetry too! Neither the one nor the other ever did any good. (George II)

Caxton’s Second Law

Where, in any discussion, a point of grammar arises incidental to that which was the purpose of the discussion, the former will always take precedence over the latter. (See also Caxton’s First Law)

Grammar Basics: Relative Clauses

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A relative clause can be introduced by the relative pronouns who, whom, which or whose, by the subordinator that and by the relative adverbs where, why and when. In some cases the relative pronoun can be omitted, and in some cases it is preceded by a preposition. For the sake of simplicity, in this post I ignore clauses beginning with relative adverbs.

English relative clauses are of two kinds, known traditionally as defining and non-defining or restrictive and non-restrictive, but I use here the terms given in ‘The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language’, integrated and supplementary.

An integrated relative clause is an essential part of the meaning of a sentence. This is the house that Jack built is an example. It is true that This is the house on its own is a grammatical sentence and that it has a meaning. But if what we have in mind is a particular house and we want to relate it to its builder, we have to add the words that Jack built. Those words define the kind of house it is. An integrated relative clause can be introduced by both that and which. As well as This is the house that Jack built we can say This is the house which Jack built. Some argue that an integrated relative clause must be introduced only by that and not by which, but they  do so in the face of the evidence. We can also leave out the relative pronoun altogether and say This is the house Jack built.

By contrast, in the sentence Jack, whom my sister married three years ago, built that house, the relative clause, whom my sister married three years ago, is supplementary. The information which it provides is incidental to the matter of who built the house. In writing, it is the convention to place a supplementary relative clause between commas, and that can provide a ready way of identifying it as such.  That is not normally used to introduce a supplementary relative clause, so we wouldn’t say or write *Jack, that my sister married three years ago, built that house. And we can’t omit the relative pronoun in a supplementary relative clause, so we can’t say or write *Jack, my sister married three years ago, built that house.

In an integrated relative clause in which the relative pronoun is the subject of the clause, the relative pronoun must be used. It’s who for a human referent, which for a non-human referent, but that can also be used for both instead. When it is the object of the clause, the relative pronoun may, as we have seen, be omitted, but, if it is used, it is whom for a human referent, which for a non-human referent and that for either, with the provision that who can be, and in practice usually is, used for human referents in all but the most formal contexts. Some commentators think that a clause introduced by that cannot have a human referent. They are wrong. Irving Berlin wrote:

The girl that I marry will have to be
As soft and as pink as a nursery

and Shakespeare had Hamlet say:

By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me

In a supplementary relative clause, the relative pronoun is always present, whether it is the subject or the object of the relative clause. When it’s the subject, it’s who for a human referent, which for a non-human referent. When it’s the object of the clause, it’s who for human referents, with whom again being used in formal contexts, and which for non-human referents.

It follows that these sentences are all permissible.

INTEGRATED

I. Relative pronoun as subject

Human Referent

1a. He’s the journalist who spoke to me last week.
1b. He’s the journalist that spoke to me last week.

Non-human Referent

1c. That’s the tree which was blown down in the storm.
1d. That’s the tree that was blown down in the storm.

II. Relative pronoun as object

Human Referent

2a. He’s the journalist whom I met last week.
2b. He’s the journalist who I met last week.
2c. He’s the journalist that I met last week.
2d. He’s the journalist I met last week.

Non-human Referent

2e. That’s the tree which the storm blew down.
2f. That’s the tree that the storm blew down.
2g. That’s the tree the storm blew down.

III. Relative pronoun as possessive

Human Referent

3a. A president whose record in office is unblemished will not necessarily be remembered for it.

Non-human Referent

3b. A tree whose branches are frequently cut will produce more growth.
3c. A tree of which the branches are frequently cut will produce more growth.

IV. Relative pronoun as a preposition complement

Human Referent

4a. Those to whom we normally look for guidance have failed us.
4b. Those who we normally look to for guidance have failed us.
4c. Those that we normally look to for guidance have failed us.
4d. Those we normally look to for guidance have failed us.

Non-human Referent

4e. The tree about which I’m talking about has been blown over.
4f. The tree that I’m talking about has been blown over.
4g. The tree I’m talking about has been blown over.

SUPPLEMENTARY

V. Relative pronoun as subject

 Human Referent

5a. John, who was a brilliant rugby player, has now turned to cricket.

Non-human Referent

5b. That box, which just contains a lot of old junk, should be thrown out.

VI. Relative pronoun as object

 Human Referent

6a. The president, whom I had last seen in 1992, had aged considerably.
6b. The president, who I had last seen in 1992, had aged considerably.

Non-human Referent

6c. The old oak tree, which the storm had blown down ten years previously, was starting to decay.

VII. Relative pronoun as possessive

 Human Referent

7a. The president, whose term of office has now ended, will be retiring to his home in the country.

 Non-human Referent

7b. The tree, of which the branches need cutting, gives too much shade.
7c. The tree, whose branches need cutting, gives too much shade.

VIII. Relative pronoun as a preposition complement

Human Referent

8a. The client, for whom we have worked for three years, has thanked us for our dedication to his account.
8b. The client, who we have worked for for three years, has thanked us for our dedication to his account.
8c. The client, whom we have worked for for three years, has thanked us for our dedication to his account.

Non-human Referent

8d. The tree, for which we had a great deal of irrational affection, was finally dying.
8e. The tree, which we had a great deal of irrational affetion for, was finally dying.

Baz’s Quotes

Betting

Show me a woman wearing red patent-leather stiletto-heeled shoes and I’ll show you a racing certainty. (Jeffrey Bernard)

Baz’s Quotes

Regretting

There is no man, however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory. (Marcel Proust)

Baz’s Quotes

Listening

I totally am listening…what it is is, you guys aren’t saying the right stuff. (Siobhan Sharpe, W1A)

Grammar Basics: Conditional Sentences

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The last post looked at the different kinds of subjunctive. The subjunctive mood of the verb is sometimes confused with conditional sentences. That may be because English can use the were subjunctive in a conditional sentence such as If I were you, I’d ask for your money back, where were expresses ‘unreal meaning’. This use of were is discussed more fully in the earlier post.

The main types of conditional sentence as taught to foreign learners are called the first, second and third conditional.

The first conditional is seen in a sentence such as If you run you will catch the train. The verb in the if clause is in the present tense, while the main clause has the modal verb will followed by the plain form of the main verb. This form of the conditional is used in situations where the action envisaged is quite likely to happen.

In the second conditional, events are far less certain. If we doubt the commitment and perhaps physical state of the person we’re talking to, we might say If you ran, you would catch the train. Here the verb in the if clause is in the past tense, while the main clause has would followed again by the plain form of the main verb. It can also occur more formally as If you were to run you would catch the train, and this can be inverted, without if, as Were you to run you would catch the train.

The third conditional is used in a situation where all hope of catching the train is lost, because it has left the station at the time of speaking. In those circumstances, we might say If you had run, you would have caught the train. To form that conditional sentence we use the past tense of have followed by the plain form of the main verb in the if clause. In the main clause we again use the modal verb would as in the second conditional, but follow it with have and the past participle of the main verb. This, too, can be inverted without if: Had you run, you would have caught the train.

This framework of three conditionals may be helpful to foreign learners, but more advanced students will want to know that it does not entirely reflect the reality, and that several other conditional sentences are also possible. One, sometimes known as the ‘zero conditional’, is used for a statement of what is generally believed to be a fact. For example, If water reaches 100 degrees, it boils. Here both verbs are in the present tense. Several other conditional sentences using combinations of verb phrases are also possible.

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