117 votes
Accepted

Is "I was had" standard English?

Oh, wow, that's a much more complex bit of word-play than it seemed in the title of the question. The expression "was had" is an idiom that means "was cheated or tricked", and is perfectly valid ...
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  • 8,221
60 votes

"Four is better" vs "Four are better". Which one is correct?

The answer depends on the exact wording. If you say exactly what you wrote, "One cake is good but four is/are better", then the correct answer is "are". There's an implied "...
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  • 57.2k
51 votes
Accepted

Does this make sense to a native speaker? "despite the real Jones is living in a cave!"

Most of the people just wanna keep up with the Joneses, despite the real Jones is living in a cave! This sentence is understandable to native speakers, but there is a grammar error. You may have ...
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  • 20.6k
44 votes
Accepted

Why is "He is the kind of person who, if he had lived ..., people would not have been able to categorise him." ungrammatical?

First, as others have pointed out in the comments, the sentence uses "who" when it should use "whom." Even native speakers fail to correctly distinguish between "who" and "whom". It is common for "who"...
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  • 7,170
43 votes
Accepted

Is "says you" grammatically correct?

It does not conform to standard grammar, but is fairly common in speech. Treat it as an idiom. It only works with "says", not other verbs.
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  • 64.1k
43 votes

"She need not worry" or "she needs to not worry"?

As Void says, need (at least for some speakers) is a semimodal, and can be used in both of those ways. But She need not worry has a very different meaning from She needs to not worry. She need not ...
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  • 64.1k
39 votes

In how many ways can something not be right?

There are a multitude of ways we can approach this. There are a lot of classifications and labels for things that can be reasonably marked as wrong in language. For instance, an error might happen in ...
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  • 7,357
37 votes
Accepted

What does this sentence in Harry Potter mean?

As was pointed out on that other question you linked, this is a surprisingly tricky sentence! Let's slowly build it up. It will take someone else. What is "it"? Stopping Voldemort again. Implied ...
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  • 6,593
36 votes

Meaning of 'What are they upto?'

"Upto" is not a word, but two separate words, "up to": What are they up to? To be up to something means to be doing something. It often (but not always) carries a connotation of mischief or ...
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  • 34.8k
35 votes
Accepted

Can things "grow smaller"?

Oxford lists three primary meanings for the word grow. The first two reflect what we often immediately think of when we think about growing: grow (v.) to undergo natural development by increasing ...
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  • 108k
35 votes

"Four is better" vs "Four are better". Which one is correct?

I would tend towards is in this case, because to me the underlying meaning of this sentence is "(having) One cake is good, but (having) 4 is better" Using are here sounds vaguely off to me ...
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34 votes
Accepted

When the Gentle Giant song "Black Cat" refers to a cat as "she", does that mean the cat is female?

In English, there is no grammatical gender that is different from biological gender. However, there is a tradition in what you call 'folk language' of referring to unknown cats as female and unknown ...
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  • 30.7k
32 votes

Is "motivate people's willingness" grammatically correct?

You are right that sentence 2 is better, since it is people not willingness which the site is attempting to motivate. Even so, I think it is still too verbose. The words motivation and willingness ...
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  • 2,651
32 votes

Can things "grow smaller"?

Grow and smaller aren't linked the way you are interpreting it. The sentence is saying that fish that used to reach a certain size in adulthood aren't growing that big in a warmer ocean, they are ...
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  • 1,674
31 votes
Accepted

"She need not worry" or "she needs to not worry"?

That is fine. Need in that sentence is used as a modal auxiliary and we use the bare infinitive1 after modal auxiliaries. It's called a 'semi-modal' because it can act as both a modal verb (like ...
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  • 17.7k
31 votes

What is the grammatical error in "Apart from Federer, I have not seen a stronger player"?

I don't think there's an error in that sentence. It's acceptable to start a sentence with a prepositional phrase, including ones like "except for" and "apart from". Here is a page ...
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  • 456
31 votes

What is the grammatical error in "Apart from Federer, I have not seen a stronger player"?

This sentence says clearly and grammatically correctly that you have just been watching the second strongest or possibly strongest player you’ve ever seen, and that you have also seen Federer, who is ...
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  • 3,568
31 votes

When the Gentle Giant song "Black Cat" refers to a cat as "she", does that mean the cat is female?

This cat is 100% a female. There are no arbitrarily gendered nouns in English. The personal pronouns "he/she/him/her..." are only used when referring to nouns that are gendered by definition,...
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  • 13.6k
30 votes
Accepted

Two consecutive gerunds? -ing -ing?

Yes. To native ears, the two consecutive gerunds don’t sound especially remarkable even though they both end with -ing. The construction is fairly common: The contractor is delaying building the ...
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  • 27.4k
30 votes

Why not use "casualties" in "Small shops have been a casualty of the recession."?

The reason for the use of the singular casualty is to imply that small shops (collectively) are one casualty among many other groups of entities. Another example: Private equity funds are a ...
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  • 87k
30 votes

"Too expensive for me to afford it" why ungrammatical?

As far as I can see, it is grammatical both with and without "it" at the end. I think I would usually say it with "it", but I'm not certain.
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  • 64.1k
29 votes

"In the 1970s, Viking space probes may have etc." - help for understanding

Your example is using probes as a noun. A probe is a scientific instrument for analysis and measurement, e.g. a surgical probe.
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  • 65.4k
28 votes

“I talk dog talk to the dog.”

These sentences are a bit confusing at first glance, and would be a lot more readable if the writer employed a hyphen or quotation marks: I talk dog-talk to the dog. I talk "baby talk" to ...
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  • 108k
28 votes
Accepted

"has not sold" vs. "didn't sell"

Has not sold suggests that product #55 is still available for sale. Here's a typical example: My house has been on the market for two months. Why hasn't it sold? This implies that the house is ...
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  • 27.4k
28 votes

Could 'a' and 'single' be used together?

Yes, your sentence is correct. How can a single photon be detected? The indefinite article "a" tells me you want to know how to detect a photon, any photon, not a specific one. If you ...
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  • 1,956
27 votes
Accepted

Is it wrong to hyphenate a phrasal verb like "log in" or is it a matter of style?

In formal English, adding the hyphen to log in makes your sample sentence grammatically incorrect. The hyphen has the effect of turning the phrasal verb into an adjective or a noun. For example, ...
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  • 7,594
27 votes

Is the sentence "This whiteboard won't erase" grammatically correct?

Merriam-Webster has already picked up this usage: erase: [intransitive verb]: to yield to erasure There are a smallish number of examples on the internet, for instance The new whiteboard erases ...
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26 votes

What's wrong with "Most people in the country would like to own their house some day."?

It's a bit pedantic (many if not most native speakers would cheerfully ignore this point), but from Grammar for Dummies... to be a star some day is incorrect ... some day as two words refers to a ...
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26 votes
Accepted

Been to America three times/for three times

You can go to America for three days, three weeks, three months, but you can't go for three times. I have been to America three times. Last time, I stayed for three weeks.
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25 votes

Is "The two men Savchenko, an Iraq war veteran, was convicted of helping to kill were . . . " grammatical?

The sentence is difficult to parse because it has a long relative clause with no wh-word. In addition, the relative clause has an extra phrase in the middle. It may help to think about the sentence ...
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