Next Question, Please . . .

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People often ask me grammar questions. They either contact me through my website, or if they know me they post on Facebook or send me a message. And yes, I always answer. Here are some of the questions people ask me.

  1. “How do I make a name that ends in s possessive? In school, I learned to add just an apostrophe to make possessives of words ending in s.”  I spell it the way I pronounce it. For example, I would write James’s that way because I pronounce it that way. I don’t say, “That is James’ toy.”  On the other hand, I might say, “That is Miles’ toy, so I would write it that way. But then, I probably would say Miles’s! I recommend adding the apostrophe and the s.
  2. “Does the question mark go inside or outside of quotes?” It depends. If the question mark goes with just the part of the sentence in quotes, it goes inside. If it goes with the whole sentence, it goes outside. If both the quote and the sentence are questions, it goes in the default position of inside.  Here are some examples: He asked, “Are we there yet?”  Did he say, “We are almost there”? Did he ask, “Are we there yet?”
  3. “Why would you use an em (long) dash at the end of a sentence?” A long dash is used at the end of a sentence in dialogue when the next person speaking interrupts. It is not used for trailing off at the end of a piece of dialogue. The ellipsis is used for that (…)
  4. “My daughter, Audrey, is going to Harvard. That sentence just looks too busy with those commas. Do I need them?” It depends. If you put the commas in, it implies that you have only one daughter; thus you could leave her name out. If you leave out the commas, the sentence implies that you have more than one daughter and you need to identify which daughter you are talking about. Either way,  you would never just put in one of the commas. It is all or nothing.
  5. Is it “Who have you worked for” or “Whom have you worked for”? It is whom. Grammatically, it is the object of the preposition for, so it is in the objective case. If you don’t want to get into the grammar, answer the question: I worked for him. Him and whom are both objective case. (Who goes with he, not him.)
  6. “Are collective nouns singular or plural?” A collective noun is one that represents a group, for example, band, crowd, audience, class. No one will care if you generally use a singular verb with them, but technically, they can be either singular or plural. If you are talking about the group as a whole, it is singular and takes a singular verb; if you are talking about the individuals in the group, it is plural and takes a plural verb:  My family are from all over Europe. My family is going on a picnic next weekend. 
  7. “You must be as weary as I or me?” Put in the missing word, and you have your answer: You must be as weary as I am.
  8. “Do you graduate high school or do you graduate from high school?” You graduate from high school.
  9. “Explain the difference between everyday and every day.” Everyday is an adjective that describes some noun: We are everyday people. I talk to him every day.
  10.  “Is it valid to put a comma in the sentence, “He is baking, a cake and some cookies”? Well, we don’t generally put commas after the verb in a sentence. I guess it could be used to indicate we are saying what he is baking as an aside. But there is really no reason to make it an aside. I suppose if you wanted to make it an aside, you could use a dash instead  – or even parentheses. Best to just leave out the comma and write it the way it is.
  11. “Is it other than you and I or other than you and me?”  I would use me. Other than is a preposition, so me is the object of a preposition.
  12. They can now be used as a singular pronoun. Does it then take a singular verb?” No. It always takes a plural verb: they are. When you think about it, the singular you also takes a plural verb (you are). 
  13. Why do people say At the end of the day? It has six syllables, whereas ultimately means the same thing and has only four syllables.” Who knows? But it has become quite a common expression. Here is the apparent history: This expression comes from an autobiographical sketch written in 1889 by the scientist Thomas H. Huxley: “The last thing that it would be proper for me to do would be to speak of the work of my life, or to say at the end of the day whether I think I have earned my wages or not.”
  14. “What’s with starting sentences with so?” Well, we can now begin sentences with conjunctions, used wisely. If it actually is the result of what the previous sentence said, so can serve as a transition to the next sentence. I wouldn’t use it in formal English. And please don’t use this lazy, meaningless sentence: So, ya.