When intonation affects word order

Can intonation constrain how syntax determines word order?  Jackendoff (2002) suggests that it can. As examples, he cites sentences (1), (1a), (2) and (2a). Normally, English syntax insists that the direct object precedes a time adverb, as in (1). The reverse order, as in (1a) is unacceptable. (1) John bought a computer yesterday.(1a) *John bought…… Continue reading When intonation affects word order

Don’t write ‘different’ if you mean ‘various’

In reviewing draft documents, I often used to come across cases where someone had written different where they really meant various. Although this was particularly common for people who learnt English as a 2nd language, people with English as 1st language often make the same mistake as well. Let me give an example: (1) translations…… Continue reading Don’t write ‘different’ if you mean ‘various’

Cross-language blues’

I found this week an odd blend of English pronunciation and spelling with French pronunciation and spelling. Writing about last Saturday’s Football World Cup match between England and France, a journalist wrote the following:   Philippe Auclair, the French writer, calls him Les Bleus’ “beat-giver”. The Times, 12 December 2022(‘him’ refers to the French footballer…… Continue reading Cross-language blues’

Don’t put one relative clause inside another

Readers and listeners can find it very difficult to process sentences that embed one clause in the middle of a 2nd clause and then embed that 2nd clause in the middle of a 3rd clause. In this post, I review an example that embeds one relative clause inside another. Sentence with no embedding Let’s start…… Continue reading Don’t put one relative clause inside another

Are all pre-bookings just bookings?

Some commentators hate hearing people say that they ‘pre-booked’ something, for example, a taxi or a ticket. These commentators argue that the prefix pre- is redundant. In their view, the word book already necessarily includes the meaning that the action occurred in advance. Is the prefix pre- always redundant? I agree that the prefix is…… Continue reading Are all pre-bookings just bookings?

Writing English to help second-language readers

I’ve spent much of the last 28 years writing or editing documents for a readership that includes many readers who didn’t learn English from birth. In this post, I give some tips on writing more clearly to help readers with English as a second language.  General advice on writing plain English is not enough to…… Continue reading Writing English to help second-language readers

‘must not’ in English and German

The English modal verb must and its German counterpart muss are cognates—they share the same origin and similar meanings. But when they are negated, they behave in different ways. English Barbara must not go means that it is required that Barbara does not go.On the other hand, German Barbara muss nicht gehen means that Barbara…… Continue reading ‘must not’ in English and German

You need not understand

In English, auxiliary verbs (have and be) and modal verbs behave differently from all other verbs. For example, they combine differently with negatives, as shown in the following table for auxiliaries (have and be), a modal verb (can) and another verb (go). TypePositiveNegativeAux (have)You have goneYou have not goneAux (be)You are goingYou are not goingModalYou…… Continue reading You need not understand