163. Ways of Naming Properties

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Properties of things can be named in a variety of ways

PROPERTY-NAMING IN PROFESSIONAL WRITING

Physical properties are permanent distinguishing characteristics of things. They may be permanently observable, like the colour of gold, or a potential that is always reached under suitable circumstances, such as the boiling point of water or the top speed of a racing car. To name a property, it is very common to indicate both the general type of property in question (e.g. colour) and its detail in the thing possessing it (e.g. green).

When property language first became a common topic in English courses, it tended to be associated with science and technology, for the obvious reason that those areas have a particular interest in identifying and analysing properties. However, most types of professional writing are likely to need it sometimes, whether to describe demand curves or exchange rates in economics, sentences in linguistics, or poetry in literary analysis.

The language for naming properties is quite varied in English. Many coursebooks simply present it as a list. Here I wish to examine the possibilities in more depth, illustrating their surprising range and variety and suggesting some reasons for choosing one rather than another. Readers seeking more Guinlist posts about simple description are referred to 115. Surveying Numerical Data,  119. BE before a “to” Verb (on functions),  149. Saying how Things are Similar and 151. Ways of Using Compass Words.

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PROPERTY-NAMING WITH have

It would be surprising if HAVE was not usable for naming a property, given that properties are usually thought of as “belonging to” things, an idea that is centrally associated with HAVE (see 116. Rarer Uses of HAVE). The most common way in which HAVE seems to be used is as follows:

(a) The Earth has a diameter of 12,742 km.

Here, the property type diameter is written (with a) directly after has, and the detail 12,742 km is added next with of. Very many property types can be fitted into this structure, including acceleration, acidity (pH), angle, area, breadth, capacity, circumference, density, depth, fluctuation, force, frequency, gradient, height, length, mass, radius, rhythm, span, specific gravity, speed, thickness, value, velocity, volume, weight and width.

However, there are some properties that do not fit into this kind of sentence, but need to be expressed slightly differently with HAVE:

(b) Nitrogen dioxide has an acrid smell.

Here the property type smell is again the object of has, but the detail acrid is an adjective rather than a preposition phrase. There is a clear reason why: acrid is non-mathematical, expressing a quality rather than a quantity. Smells cannot be described in any other way. Other property kinds with the same limitation include appearance, colour, shape, taste and texture.

There is a slight problem, however, in naming shapes. The reason is that some shape adjectives are made by adding the suffix -shaped onto a noun, e.g. crescent-shaped, disc-shaped, egg-shaped, kidney-shaped, pear-shaped, star-shaped and wedge-shaped. Obviously, it would be unduly repetitive to say has a …-shaped shape with any of these. Instead one can use BE instead of HAVE (see below). However HAVE is perfectly acceptable with shape adjectives of other kinds, such as the so-called “geometrical” ones like circular, conical, cylindrical, spherical, square and triangular.

Properties that can be named in a mathematical way can often also be named in the way shown by (b) – though with less precision. For example, we can say that something has a steep gradient, a high frequency, sharp acceleration or a rapid rhythm. This kind of expression is particularly useful in interpretations of numerical data, where we might need to clarify for the reader whether a particular quantity is large or small (see 115. Surveying Numerical Data). Note the variability of the adjectives – they are often specific to the nouns (i.e. they form “collocations” – see 16. Ways of Distinguishing Similar Words, #2).

Sometimes, when an adjective is needed, it can be hard to think of one. In such cases, a preposition phrase is normally possible instead:

(c) The Spanish “j” has a sound like the English /h/.

(d) Sirius almost has the brightness of a planet.

The typical prepositions seem to be of and like. Note that the noun before of needs the rather than a.

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PROPERTY-NAMING WITH be

Most properties seem able to be named with BE. The easiest way is by starting the sentence with the property type, like this:

(e) The diameter of the Earth is 12,742 km.

(f) The colour of chlorophyll is mostly green.

It will be observed that the idea of possession, previously expressed by HAVE, is now in the preposition of. It can also be expressed by means of an apostrophe ending – The Earth’s diameter in (e) (see 58. Optional Apostrophe Endings).

Using BE in this way is an alternative to using HAVE, but not a complete equivalent. This is because the changed word order – illustrated by the difference between (e) and (a) – gives different importance to the different parts. For more on this link between word order and information importance in a sentence, see 27. How to Avoid Passive Verbs and 156. Mentioning What the Reader Knows Already.

BE is also possible sometimes if you begin with the owner of a property, as is done with HAVE. In most cases, the property will be non-mathematical:

(g) Chlorophyll is generally green in colour.

Here, the property detail (green) is again an adjective after the verb, but the property type needs to follow in at the end. This pattern is usable for all non-mathematical properties except those involving a -shaped adjective, which for obvious reasons drop the final in phrase. The other adjectives may also drop it if it seems to be stating the obvious.

Adjectives that can have a following in phrase like green above can also replace it with a suffix that looks similar to -shaped but is in fact slightly different. Thus, green in colour can become green-coloured. The difference is that -shaped is added to nouns, while suffixes like -coloured are added to adjectives. Other examples are flat-topped, many-sided, regular-patterned, rough-textured, sharp-edged, smooth-surfaced and soft-centred.

This use of -ed meaning “having” on nouns after adjectives is not confined to property-naming; it is also common in everyday English to describe both temporary and permanent characteristics of living things, as in long-haired, quick-witted and thick-skinned.

There are also some combinations of an adjective with an -ing word rather than an -ed one, such as rough-feeling, sour-tasting, yellow-looking and difficult-seeming. I would suggest that the need for -ing rather than -ed arises when a verb is involved (feel, taste etc.) rather than a noun. For more about participle suffixes, see 106. Word-Like Suffixes.

Even mathematical properties can be named with BE and a hyphenated word, though only in a non-precise, interpretational way, and mostly with the adjectives low/high. The -ed suffix also tends to be absent. Examples are low-strength, high-resistance, high-density and fast-travelling.

Some mathematical properties can also be named in a sentence like (g), where there is an in phrase at the end:

(h) Mount Kilimanjaro is roughly 5890 metres in height.

This kind of naming is possible with all of the dimension properties (breadth, depth, diameter, height, length, span, thickness and width), and also with circumference, mass, volume and weight.

In addition, dimensions can be named with an adjective instead of the in phrase – high instead of in height in (h). The adjectives corresponding to the dimensions listed above are broad, deep, across, high, long, across (again), thick and wide.

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PROPERTY-NAMING WITH OTHER VERBS

When HAVE and BE are used, the property type has to be an accompanying noun or adjective. However, many property types can also be expressed with a verb, like this:

(h) A litre of water weighs 1 kg.

The verb here identifies the property type as “weight”, and the object of the verb (1 kg.) expresses the property’s detail. Other verbs like WEIGH include ACCELERATE, BOIL, COVER, EXTEND, FEEL, FREEZE, HOLD, LAST, LOOK, MEASURE, MELT, OCCUPY, STRETCH, TASTE and TRAVEL.

The grammar of these verbs is quite variable. Those that have the detail of the property as their object like WEIGH include only COVER (area), HOLD (capacity), MEASURE (dimensions) and OCCUPY (volume). Although these verbs are “transitive”, their property-naming use is not normally possible in the passive voice (see 113. Verbs that cannot be Passive).

By contrast, FEEL, LOOK and TASTE need a complement rather than an object, normally in adjective form (e.g. feels smooth, tastes bitter).The other verbs normally take an adverb or adverb phrase. EXTEND and STRETCH are likely to be followed by a distance expression like 10 m, with or without for. ACCELERATE, BOIL, FREEZE and TRAVEL typically need at.

162. Writing about Categories

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English has a wide variety of ways of naming general categories and their members

NATURE & IMPORTANCE OF CATEGORIES

Categories are groups of similar things. Recognising similarities and differences is thus an important part of making them. They are especially important in professional writing, on a par with examples, consequences, data sources and opinions.

Like these other topics, categories in English are associated with a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Some of these feature within this blog under other headings. However, bringing a more complete list of possibilities together in one place seems useful to do to facilitate comparison and highlight some interesting subtleties.

Category language can be divided into two main kinds: that for naming category members after first mentioning the category, and that for naming a category to which previously-mentioned items belong. Each of these is dealt with in turn below.

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NAMING CATEGORY MEMBERS

The language for this kind of naming varies according to whether it names all of the category members or just some of them. Compare:

(a) (NAMING SOME) Countries with a cool temperate climate include New Zealand (and Canada).

(b) (NAMING ALL) Animals comprise vertebrates and invertebrates.

The meanings of “all” and “some” are expressed by the underlined verbs. Note the absence of of after COMPRISE (see 42. Unnecessary Prepositions). The verb subjects (before them) are category names, the objects (after) are category members.

After INCLUDE, one or more category members may be mentioned, but not all of them. This means nouns after INCLUDE are usually examples (see 1. Simple Example-Giving). After COMPRISE, it is logically necessary to name at least two category members, creating what I have elsewhere called a “sentence list” (see 55. Sentence Lists 2: Main-Message).

The above verbs are not the only language for naming category members. Alternatives are as follows.

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1. Alternatives to INCLUDE

A common alternative is to combine a starting number word like one with the verb BE. However, there is a difference depending on the kind of category member being named. Compare:

(c) One country with a cool temperate climate is New Zealand.

(d) One (sub)group of animals is vertebrates.

In (c), the category member New Zealand is an individual – there is only one. In (d), however, the category member vertebrates is itself a category containing numerous members. As a result of this difference (c) has one by itself before the category name, whereas (d) has one (sub)group of (i.e. not *one animal). An alternative to one in both cases is a (for the difference, see 67. Numbers in Spoken English).

Instead of one in (c), you can also say one example of a. In (d) there are various substitutes for (sub)group, such as branch, category, class, division, group, kind, sort and type. The underlined ones can similarly have the prefix sub-.

Other number words become necessary if more than one category member is being named. For example, to mention Canada in (c) alongside New Zealand, you would start with two. You could also say some.

 

2. Alternatives to COMPRISE

A very common way of naming a full list of category members is by starting with there are and a number word:

(e) There are three primary colours: red, yellow and blue.

(f) There are two (sub)groups of animals: vertebrates and invertebrates.

Sentences like this are not at all informal (see 161. Presenting Information with “There”). If you are not sure about the accuracy of the number word, you can add a word meaning main after it (see 96. Hedging 2: Lists & Predictions). Note the need for a colon before the list of category members (see 55. Sentence Lists 2).

Once again, the wording after the number word depends on whether the category members are individuals or subgroups. Individuals usually require the class name to be mentioned immediately (primary colours in [e]), whereas subgroups need the extra words subgroups of (or similar), as in in (f).

An alternative to there are at the start of the sentence is the name of the category. This is when the verb can be COMPRISE, as in (b) above. However, other verbs are possible too. Before category members that are individuals you can simply say are:

(g) The (three) primary colours are red, yellow and blue.

For more on this way of using BE, see 117. Saying More Precisely What is Meant.

Before category members that are themselves categories, COMPRISE can be replaced by the passive form of verbs like BREAK, CATEGORISE, CLASSIFY, DIVIDE, GROUP, ORGANISE, SEPARATE, SPLIT and SORT. They usually need into after them – not in or to, which are common errors of writers not brought up speaking English. Here is sentence (b) rephrased with one such verb:

(h) Animals are divided into (two groups:) vertebrates and invertebrates.

The part in brackets illustrates another feature of sentences like (b) and (h), where the category members are themselves categories: you can add a number expression like two groups, plus a colon. Neither of these can stand alone: they must be both present or both absent. The reason why dropping two subgroups removes the need for the colon is that the preceding words then cease to be a possible complete sentence, thus failing to meet the conditions for a colon (see 17. Colons versus Semi-Colons).

When a number expression and colon are present before a subcategory, some active verb alternatives to COMPRISE also become possible. You can use fall into with classes, groups or divisions after the number word, and are of with types, sorts or kinds (e.g. animals are of two types).

There are some special benefits in using a passive classification verb in the way shown in (h). One is that writers can show whether or not the classification is their own. This is done by choosing between can be and are in front: can be says that the classification is the writer’s, while are shows it to be somebody else’s just being reported. For more on using can to show a personal perception, see 107. The Language of Opinions.

Another benefit of passive classification verbs is that they allow the writer to say how subcategories differ from each other. Consider this:

(i) Words were traditionally classified according to their meanings into eight “parts of speech”.

This says that meanings used to be how parts of speech were distinguished from each other – they were the “criterion” for the classification. According to is one common way of signalling a criterion; depending on, on the basis of or in terms of are also possible. All are examples of “multi-word” prepositions (see 84. Seven Things to Know about Prepositions).

The preposition nature of these phrases means that they have to be followed by a noun or equivalent (meanings above). Statements containing a verb can be converted into noun equivalents for this purpose, but not by the normal means of adding the fact that before them (see 153. Conjunction Uses of “that”). Instead, they need a question word (whether, how, where etc.) so that they become indirect questions (see 57. Indirect Questions in Formal Writing), e.g.:

(j) Words can be divided into various “word classes” according to how they are used.

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NAMING THE CATEGORY OF A GIVEN ITEM

The simplest way to name the category to which something belongs is with BE:

(k) Red is a primary colour.

(l) Mammals are vertebrates.

This is a different kind of BE from that in (g) above: it means “belong to” rather than “equate to”. Indeed, BELONG TO is a possible alternative, with or without a phrase like the class of. There is also a passive equivalent: BE INCLUDED IN. In both cases the subsequent category name must be plural (primary colours in [k]).

Another possibility is the passive form of CATEGORISE or CLASSIFY, which once again allows the special choice between are and can be. This meaning of these verbs rather than the earlier-described one after a category name – as in (j) – is signalled by a change of following preposition from into to as. Thus, instead of are in (l) we could say can be (or are) classified as. The same verbs could also be used in the active form (Scientists classify … as …), in which case the category name after as is an “object complement” (see 92. Complement-Showing “As”).

The idea of “belonging” can also be expressed with nouns. After single category members, one can say is/are a member/example of (+ plural). Example can also have the singular form of the category name, like this:

(m) Red is an example of a primary colour (primary colours).

Using example after a category member (red) that is not the main or “new” information in the sentence does not seem to be “true” example-giving (see 1. Simple Example-Giving).

After category members that are themselves categories, use are a … of (+ plural), inserting any of the synonyms of subgroup listed above, or say are members of the class of. Note that kind of, sort of and type of can go before singular as well as plural nouns, but without a (… a type of vertebrate) – a rare case of a singular countable noun used without an article or equivalent in front (see 110. Nouns without “the” or “a”).

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PRACTICE EXERCISE: CLASSIFICATION LANGUAGE

To assist understanding and memorization of the vocabulary in this post, below are some sentences with blank spaces. Each of the spaces represents one of the words discussed above. The task is to identify the words, using the diagram to help you, and put them into the appropriate grammatical form (singular, plural, etc.). Alternative possibilities may sometimes exist. Suggested answers are given afterwards.

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1. Cold-blooded vertebrates ….. reptiles and fish.

2. Mammals ….. to the ….. of warm-blooded vertebrates.

3. Crocodiles are a …… …… amphibian.

4. Warm-blooded vertebrates …… …… into mammals and birds.

5. Reptiles are …… of the …… of cold-blooded vertebrates.

6. Dolphins …… …… as mammals.

7. …… …… of fish …… sharks and tuna.

8. …… …… …… main …… of ……-……  ……: reptiles, fish and amphibians.

9. Warm-blooded animals …… …… …… …… vertebrates.

10. Vertebrates …… mammals, birds, ……, ……  and …… .

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Possible Answers

1. Cold-blooded vertebrates INCLUDE reptiles and fish.

2. Mammals BELONG to the CLASS of warm-blooded vertebrates.

3. Crocodiles are a KIND/TYPE/SPORT OF amphibian.

4. Warm-blooded vertebrates ARE DIVIDED (etc.) into mammals and birds.

5. Reptiles are MEMBERS of the CLASS of cold-blooded vertebrates.

6. Dolphins ARE CLASSIFIED as mammals.

7. TWO SUBGROUPS of fish ARE sharks and tuna.

8. THERE ARE THREE main GROUPS of COLD-BLOODED VERTEBRATES: reptiles, fish and amphibians.

9. Warm-blooded animals ARE A SUBGROUP OF vertebrates.

10. Vertebrates COMPRISE mammals, birds, REPTILES, FISH and AMPHIBIANS.

161. Presenting Information with “There”

Certain types of information in professional writing very commonly follow an introductory “there”

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TYPES OF “THERE” AT THE START OF A SENTENCE

Most people are familiar with two quite different ways of using there at the start of a sentence. Sometimes it is an ordinary place adverb, similar to here and pronounced with the stressed vowel /eƏ/ (for details of “stress”, see 125. Stress & Emphasis). At other times it is what grammar books call “existential”, pronounced with the unstressed vowel /Ə/ and normally followed by BE and an “indefinite” noun (one without the), like this:

(a) There are several factors able to influence demand.

This kind of there sentence usually features at a fairly elementary level in English Language courses, but the full variety of its forms and uses, especially in professional writing, is rarely appreciated (see 88. Exotic Grammar Structures 1, #4). I hope in this post to make several observations about this variety that are not common in English coursebooks.

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DETAILED FEATURES OF EXISTENTIAL “THERE”

The unstressed there at the start of sentences like (a) is not usually considered to be an adverb like the stressed form. Rather, it is an “empty” subject of the verb after it, similar to the “empty” use of it (see 103. Using “it” for a Subsequent Verb). The verb, however, agrees not with there, but with the noun or pronoun after it (its “complement”). Sentence (a), for example, needs there are, not there is, because of the plurality of factors. For the normal rules of verb agreement, see 12. Singular and Plural Verb Choices.

Existential there does not have to be the very first word in a sentence. Quite often it can follow an adverb-like expression, e.g.:

(b) At the end there is a list of references.

If the adverb expression names a place, as here, there can be left out (At the end is …).

Existential there is generally said to be desirable in sentences where the verb is BE (or one of a small group of alternatives, such as ARISE and SEEM) and the first word(s) would, without there, be an indefinite noun. Thus, there in sentence (a) prevents the first words being Several factors are able …, and in (b) prevents beginning A list … .

The term “existential” is given to this kind of there because sentences with it are considered to express the existence of something. However, I feel that the term is confusing because the idea of “existence-expressing” can be understood in different ways. The most basic sense is the denial of non-existence: an assertion of the existence of something made for anyone who believes the opposite. In speech, the verb BE would be emphasised, like this:

(c) There IS a way to travel forwards in time.

Any subsequent elaboration of such a statement is likely to try and prove the assertion of existence.

An alternative kind of existence-expressing, however, is not a denial of non-existence, but is rather just information-giving. The existence is one that the reader is expected to be ignorant of rather than unsure about. Sentence (a) above is likely to be expressing existence of this kind. Any subsequent elaboration is likely to give details of the mentioned factors able to influence demand. Similarly, sentence (b) is giving information about a list of references.

Rather than calling this second use of there “existential”, I prefer the term “presentational”. In the rest of this post, it is this meaning of “existence” that is involved.

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SOME SPECIAL USES OF PRESENTATIONAL “THERE”

Often the need for a presentational there can be identified from the sort of information that is going to be supplied. An example from everyday English is the first mention of the main character in a story, which frequently follows the words Once there was … . In formal writing, the following are some common kinds of information associated with presentational there.

1. General Characterizations

It is quite often necessary to mention something in a general way before identifying it more specifically. Here is an example from the Guinlist post 117. Saying More Precisely What is Meant:

(d) There is a workable strategy for reducing traffic: road charges.

In this case, the more specific information road charges is a single thing, but quite often it will be a list instead (see 55. Sentence Lists 2: Main-Message and 162. Writing about Categories). In either case, beginning with there are is not the only way of writing the general characterization, but it is very common. Contrary to the beliefs of some writers who are not very familiar with English, it is not informal in any way.

Sometimes there is a colon after the general statement with there, as in (d), and sometimes a full stop. A colon is necessary if the more specific information is a single noun expression, like road charges in (d), or a short list. A choice between a colon and a full stop exists when the more specific information is able to stand alone as a single sentence. A full stop becomes necessary when the specific information needs to be given in more than one sentence. For an example, see 122. Signpost Words in Multi-Sentence Lists.

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2. Comments on an Action or Situation

An example of this use of presentational there is:

(e) There is a benefit in travelling widely.

The “comment” here is expressed by benefit, and travelling widely is an action being commented on. In general, the comment word will be the noun after there is, and the associated action or situation will be an -ing verb (and any other words it necessitates) placed after a preposition that is typically in. Here is another example:

(f) There is danger in riding a motorbike.

Sentences like this are very similar in meaning to the kind analysed in the Guinlist post 103. Using “it” for a Subsequent Verb. Indeed (e) and (f) can both be paraphrased as one of those:

(e1) It is beneficial to travel widely.

(f1) It is dangerous to ride a motorbike.

It will be observed here that after it is there is commonly an adjective instead of a noun (though this is not compulsory), and that no preposition comes next. The verb at the end will have either to or -ing depending on meaning (see the relevant post for an explanation).

My intuition as an experienced English speaker is that it beginnings are more frequently used for commenting than there ones. One possible reason for the there option might be the fact that it at the start of a sentence has a very common alternative use – back-referring instead of forward-referring – which might confuse the reader when there is a preceding noun which it could be understood as referring to. Choosing the there option in such situations can guard against misinterpretation.

Not every adjective after it has a related noun that can be used after there. No equivalent, for example, seems to exist of advisable, obvious or possible. Other adjectives with an equivalent include advantageous (advantage), appealing (appeal), attractive (attraction), challenging (a challenge), difficult (difficulty), harmful (harm), hazardous (a hazard), pointless (no point), problematic (a problem), profitable (profit), promising (promise), rewarding (reward), risky (risk), satisfying (satisfaction), useful, (usefulness), value (valuable) and worth (worth).

In addition, there are some special expressions that typically follow there is, such as great potential and little/much to be gained (+ from). Moreover, adjectives with no corresponding noun can often be combined with something, as in something special and something sickening.

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3. Components

The verb that is most obviously used for naming components is HAVE (see 116. Rarer Uses of HAVE). However, there sentences seem equally common, as in this example:

(g) In many churches there is a tower (above the main structure).

As this shows, there may or may not be extra information after the named component (tower), often indicating a position or location. The added words are likely to begin with either a preposition, as above, or a participle such as dominating or located. Note that an ordinary (non-participle) verb form is not possible directly after there is and a noun: which or that must go in between (see 52. Participles Placed Just after Their Noun).

There seems to be very little difference between using there is in (g) and HAVE (Many churches have …). However, it may be that there is is a means of overcoming the inability of possession-meaning HAVE to be used in the passive voice (see 113. Verbs that cannot be Passive).

Passive verbs generally enable the subject of their corresponding active form either to be dropped or to exchange places with the object. Both of these effects can be achieved by using there are instead of HAVE. In (g), using HAVE would necessitate mentioning many churches because it would be its subject, whereas using there are allows those words to be dropped because they are no longer a subject but are in a preposition phrase (after in).

Moreover, this same transfer to a preposition phrase also allows the subject of HAVE to be placed later in the sentence, for example after tower in (g). The reason is that the preposition phrase is adverb-like, and hence offers more freedom concerning its sentence position (see 120. Six Things to Know about Adverbs, #3). A later sentence position is often desirable when a word conveys the main information in the sentence (see 156. Mentioning What the Reader Knows Already, #10).

An alternative to the verb HAVE is POSSESS. This does have a passive form (is possessed by), but it is rather clumsy. The there wording hence has the extra value of enabling an undesirable passive to be avoided, rather like the options considered in this blog under the heading 27. How to Avoid Passive Verbs.

160. Uses of “of”

 

“Of” and a partner noun can combine with nouns, verbs or adjectives to express widely varying meanings

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THE VERSATILITY OF “of”

Of is quite an unusual word. In one respect, its use is rather restricted. Where most other prepositions and their following noun are equally able to act like either an adjective or an adverb (see 84. Seven Things to Know about Prepositions, #2), combinations with of seem less able to act adverbially (for some rare exceptions, see 85. Preposition Phrases and Corresponding Adverbs, list #8). Moreover, of is one of only a few prepositions that cannot also be used alone as an adverb (see 120. Six Things to Know about Adverbs, #5).

In another respect, however, of has an exceptionally wide range of uses: practically every Guinlist post on English preposition usage makes reference to it. In this post I wish to gather together a wide variety of of uses, in order both to reinforce what I have said elsewhere about this small preposition, and also perhaps to help some more general appreciation of it. The uses can be classified into those with a noun, those with a verb and those with an adjective.

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USAGE WITH NOUNS

When of and its partner noun give information about another noun (usually placed just before), they are acting like an adjective. In a few cases, what makes of the right choice of preposition is its own partner noun after it: the two typically appear together in what is often called a “collocation” (see 111. Words with their Own Preposition). Examples are of concern, of interest and of + (number) + sorts/types/kinds.

More often, however, the following noun is not what determines the choice of of: instead it is either the earlier noun or a need to express a particular meaning. The earlier noun seems the determinant in phrases like source of confusion and the possibility of success. Meaning takes over when we say, for example, the movement of animals, preferring of to the equally possible by, for or with.

Of between two nouns is capable of expressing many different meanings. The most obvious is perhaps that of “possession” or “ownership”, often paraphrasable with an apostrophe ending (see 58. Optional Apostrophe Endings). Apart from this, the following seem especially notable.

1. Showing the Object of a Noun Action

In grammar, an “object” is a noun or equivalent placed usually after an active verb and naming something affected by what the verb expresses (for more details, see 8. Object-Dropping Errors). However, the concept of something affected by what verbs express can also be extended to situations that do not involve a verb, where verb-like meaning is expressed by a noun instead.

Nouns that express a verb-like meaning are elsewhere in this blog called “action” nouns (see 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns). Most are made by adding an ending (-tion, -ment, -al, -age), or even no ending at all, to a verb. Examples are creation, improvement, removal, storage and change (see 14. Action Outcomes). Such nouns are just as able to link with an object-like noun as verbs are, but they need a preposition to do it. Of is the normal object-showing preposition, as in this example:

(a) Growth depends on the creation of demand.

Here, if creation was an active verb instead of a noun, demand would be its object, and of would be absent.

A problem in this area for learners of English is that sometimes other prepositions have to be used instead of of. For advice on which ones and when, see 31. Prepositions after Action Nouns 1. It is also worth noting that the noun after object-showing of can often, like nouns after other prepositions, drop of and move directly in front of another noun – e.g. demand creation in (b) – and still express a similar meaning  (see 136. Types of Description by Nouns). Sometimes the relocated noun even has -’s (see 58. Optional Apostrophe Endings).

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2. Showing the Subject of a Noun Action

The normal preposition for showing the subject of a noun action is by:

(b) Information storage by the brain is now better understood.

However, as pointed out in the Guinlist post 49. Prepositions after Action Nouns 2, of is likely to show the subject instead of by when no object noun (like information in [b]) is visible or understood, like this:

(c) The appearance of the sun changes everything.

If the verb APPEAR was used here instead of the noun appearance, the sun would be its subject, and there would be no object.

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3. Showing Other Kinds of Inter-Noun Relation

Most of the other kinds of relation that of can show between two nouns are listed elsewhere within this blog in the post 136. Types of Description by Nouns. For example, “component-holder”, as in a table leg, equates to a leg of a table, “measurement”, as in a six-page essay, equates to an essay of six pages, and “material” as in copper piping, equates to piping of copper. A different post (78. Infinitive versus Preposition after Nouns) illustrates the way an of phrase can say what something is, as in the difficulty of crime prevention.

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4. Clarifying a Quantity Word

Quantity words – whether exact like one, two etc. or vague like a few, some, many, most, any and all – can be used either alone or with a following noun. With a following noun, of is sometimes needed in between and sometimes not. The rule is essentially that, if the noun needs the (or a similar “definite” word like his), of must also be included (e.g. many of the books), but otherwise it must not (many books). For details, see 133. Confusions of Similar Structures (#1) and 138. Test your Command of Grammar (#24).

Quantity words used before a noun without of the are like adjectives (more precisely, they are “determiners” – see 110. Nouns without “the” or “a”). With of the present, however, they become pronouns, and hence are noun-like in the way they combine with of.
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USAGE WITH VERBS

It is less common for of to link its following noun with a verb. This is because usually, when a preposition links its noun to a verb, the whole preposition phrase is being used like an adverb, a possibility not normally associated with of phrases. However, there is one exceptional way of linking of with a verb: through the use of so-called “prepositional” verbs, like this:

(d) Water consists of hydrogen and oxygen.

The special feature of prepositional verbs is that the preposition they need is deemed to be a part of them rather than of any following phrase, so that the noun after the preposition (hydrogen and oxygen above) is not helping to make an adverbial phrase, but is instead acting by itself as an ordinary object (see 44. Troublesome Prepositional Verbs). Thus, the verb in (d) is consists of, not just consists.

Not all prepositional verbs have the verb and preposition next to each other as in (d). Many need a noun or pronoun in between (see 123. Prepositional Verbs Containing a Noun). Here is an example with of:

(e) Teachers should remind LEARNERS of past lessons.

Of is fairly rare with verbs like CONSIST; other examples include CONCEIVE OF, KNOW OF and APPROVE OF. However, verbs like REMIND have of more frequently, examples being ACCUSE … OF, APPRAISE … OF, CONVINCE … OF, DEPRIVE … OF, ROB … OF and KEEP TRACK OF (see as well 141. Ways of Using MAKE, #4). If such verbs are used in the passive voice, the middle noun becomes the subject and of comes immediately after the verb:

(f) Chalk rocks are made of animal skeletons.

A third group, so-called “phrasal-prepositional” verbs (see 139. Phrasal Verbs, #5), also contribute one or two examples, e.g. BACK OUT OF and GET OUT OF.

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USAGE WITH ADJECTIVES

Adjectives quite often have a partner of phrase. There are at least two different types of such phrase. In one, the possibility of of depends on which adjective is chosen: change the adjective and of may have to change to another preposition. This kind of partnership is thus another one of “collocation” (see 111. Words with their Own Preposition).

Adjectives that make collocations with of may express particular types of meaning. One group – devoid, empty, full, short – indicates how much of the thing named after of is present (however, many other adjectives do this with with – e.g. complete, crammed, crowded, filled, full up and packed – and lacking needs in).

Of adjectives may also express emotions. Examples are afraid, ashamed, confident, fearful, fond, glad, hopeful, jealous, nervous, proud, scared, sure, terrified and tired. However, once again there is much unreliability: interested takes in, surprised takes at, and many like pleased vary their preposition to express different meanings (see 134. Words with a Variable Preposition).

Other of adjectives include aware, capable, characteristic, conscious, guilty, reminiscent, typical and worthy.

A rather different use of of with adjectives helps to express a comparison:

(g) Of all the aids to language learning, dictionaries are the best.

Of here means “within the group of”. The word all is not compulsory but adds emphasis. The idea of comparison, of course, is expressed by the superlative adjective best. The of phrase could be placed straight after it. Comparative forms of adjectives and adverbs can also be used with of in this way. Even base adjectives are possible, but they perhaps need a new noun after them – a good choice for the best in (g). Note that of is not the only preposition possible with comparison words: best, for example, can also combine with at to express a different meaning.

159. Exotic Grammar Structures 2

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Some grammar structures are rarely found in English language coursebooks

THE NATURE OF “EXOTIC” STRUCTURES

Grammar descriptions for learners of English do not include every structure in the language. Some structures may be left out because they have not been clearly identified or understood by grammarians. Many others are absent because they are quite rare in English: coursebooks tend not to have enough space for everything, and they give priority to the most common structures in the belief that knowing those will maximise learners’ success in future communication.

However, structures that are not commonly found in language-learning coursebooks can still be useful to know, especially for English users with a more advanced competence, who are the target audience of this blog. It is in this belief that the present post is offered. Six structures are described below. Readers seeking more are referred to the Guinlist post 88. Exotic Grammar Structures 1.

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LIST OF LESS FAMILIAR GRAMMAR STRUCTURES

1. “As” + Lone Auxiliary Verb

Auxiliary verbs usually combine with another verb to help show a meaning like tense or negativity. They include BE, HAVE, DO and the “modals” (will, can, should etc.). If an auxiliary verb is used by itself, it is normally understood to be repeating an earlier combination of itself and one or more partner verbs. After the conjunction as, it will be in the same sentence as these earlier verbs, like this:

(a) The Rocky Mountains have been formed recently, as have The Himalayas.

The second mention of have here is an abbreviation of have been formed recently. This way of using as shows a similarity. Thus, the message of (a) is that The Rocky Mountains and The Himalayas have similarly recent origins. A further implication is that the point after as is not expected to be known already by the reader. In other words, as have resembles and so have, but not like (see 149. Saying How Things are Similar).

If the verb before this use of as is a single word, the auxiliary after as will be either BE or DO: BE repeats itself, DO repeats any other verb, like this:

(b) Motor vehicles emit harmful gases, as does coal.

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2. “BE + all very well”

This strange expression (we would normally expect very good after BE, not very well) is typically a preface to a criticism, like this:

(c) Parking charges are all very well, but they will not reduce traffic.

We understand here that the writer sees some good in what is called all very well, but not enough to overcome a major disadvantage, which is going to be described next after an introductory but or equivalent (yet, however etc.).

This structure is very similar to the combination of may and but that is examined in detail in the Guinlist post 51. Making Concessions with “May”. Compare the following example with (c):

(d) Cycling may promote good health, but it can be dangerous.

Again, there is recognition of benefit in what the writer is about to condemn. The difference is perhaps grammatical: that may (and its synonyms) goes with statements of benefit (subject + verb), while all very well accompanies nouns or their equivalents. Sentence (d) could begin Cycling is all very well … , but only by dropping the words may promote good health.

In (c), the object of criticism starts the sentence. Often, however, a starting it is will be preferred, like this:

(e) It is all very well to charge for parking, but this will not reduce traffic.

This structure makes it possible for a verb (to charge for …) to be the object of criticism instead of a noun. Its normal way of becoming more noun-like will be by having the to (infinitive) form, but sometimes it will have -ing instead. Guidelines on choosing one rather than the other are in the Guinlist post 103. Using “it” for a Subsequent Verb.

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3. Add-On Adjectives

Adjectives normally need a partner noun (see 6. Adjectives with No Noun 1). Their position relative to this noun is mostly either just before it or some way after with a link verb like BE in between. In special cases, they can also go immediately after (see 109. Placing an Adjective after its Noun).

In a more exotic use, adjectives can be placed after their noun in a separate phrase at the end of a sentence, rather as participles can (see 101. Add-On Participles). Consider these:

(f) The virus spreads easily, deadly to all who contract it.

(g) Consumers make careful choices, always keen to save money.

Here, the adjectives deadly and always keen come a long way after their partner nouns virus and consumers, the subjects of the sentences. For an adjective to do this at the end of a sentence, it must meet three conditions: [1] be the first word(s) after the comma, [2] have some following words that make its meaning more precise (i.e. it must be “postmodified” – see 15. Half-Read Sentences), and [3] express something that is particularly true during the main event in the sentence – the virus in (f) is understood as being deadly while it spreads easily.

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4. Subject Complements without a Verb

Subject complements are mostly nouns or adjectives that identify or describe the subject of an intervening link verb like BE (see 8. Object-Dropping Errors). An absent link verb tends to be seen in sentences like the following (complements in capitals):

(h) These bacteria spread easily, their effects … INVISIBLE.

(i) Curried food is popular in Britain, its attraction … partly DUE TO the mystique of its ingredients.

(j) Napoleon became Emperor, his dreams … A REALITY.

In each case here the complement and the noun it is linked with are added on to the end of a possible complete sentence. The first two of the complements are adjectives, the third a noun. Due to seems to be a particularly common adjective complement in such situations.

It is possible to add BE in the indicated spaces, either with -ing at the end or and earlier on in order to link it grammatically with the main verb in the sentence (see 30. When to Write a Full Stop).

Like add-on adjectives, a verbless complement can only be used if it expresses something co-occurring with the main event in the sentence. The noun before it, moreover, seems to need a possessive word like their or its.

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5. “as ADJ a(n) NOUN as …”

This structure may be illustrated as follows:

(j) Electricity has as HIGH a VELOCITY as light.

The value of as … as … constructions can be read about within this blog in 149. Saying How Things are Similar. They typically contain an adjective or adverb after the first as. When there is an adjective, such as high above, the sentence also has to contain a partner noun (velocity). In (j), this noun is positioned inside the as … as phrase, but it can also be positioned outside, like this:

(k) Electricity has a VELOCITY (that is) as HIGH as light’s.

English language coursebooks rarely seem to mention the possibility shown by (j). Perhaps this is because it is not possible in some contexts, such as when the noun is the subject rather than object or complement of the verb, like this:

(l) *As HIGH a VELOCITY as light’s is possessed by electricity.

A further requirement for placing a noun inside as … as is that it must usually be countable with a or an. Uncountable nouns, like transport in the following, generally have to come in front:

(m) The town provides transport as cheap as any.

However, this constraint can be overcome by placing the uncountable noun into a suitable countable phrase, e.g. as cheap a form (or system) of transport as … .

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6. “if it was/were not for”

This expression helps to show an obstacle preventing something from happening or being done, like this:

(n) If it were not for the climate, more people would live in Greenland.

We understand here that the climate of Greenland prevents more people from living there. This is the same meaning that would be expressed by starting with but for (see 88. Exotic Grammar Structures 1, #1).

Two notable aspects of (n) are the possibility of were after the singular subject it, and the need for would before live. The reason for the first is that it is not the plural form of BE in the ordinary past simple tense, but instead a singular of a rare use called the “subjunctive”, which occurs only in very specific grammar structures like the one being considered here. Subjunctive verbs in English do not have separate singular and plural forms (for other examples, see 88. Exotic Grammar Structures 1, #6, and 118. Problems with Conditional “If”, #6). The reason for would is that the meaning is “unreal” present, a consequence prevented from occurring in the present.

In (n), the climate (of Greenland) is a present-time obstacle. Past-time obstacles – no longer existing today – can also be referred to: you just replace were not with had not been. Prevented past-time consequences need would have, prevented current ones keep would:

(o) If it had not been for a meteor impact, the dinosaurs would have survived (would be living today).

158. Abbreviated Sentences

It is useful to know the kinds of word that can be left out of a sentence to save time

THE NATURE AND IMPORTANCE OF ABBREVIATED SENTENCES

Abbreviation can be of both words and sentences. While abbreviated words lack some of their letters (see 130. Formal Abbreviations), abbreviated sentences lack some of their words, even ones that grammar would normally require. A well-known use of abbreviated sentences is in newspaper headlines. In the following example, three small words are missing:

(a) Queen to visit leading car manufacturer.

In most situations, the rules of English grammar would require this sentence to begin with a word like the, to include is or is going alongside to visit (because in full sentences a lone verb with to usually needs another verb with it – see 30. When to Write a Full Stop), and to add the or a before leading.

The reason for leaving out words that English grammar normally requires is to save space – newspaper headlines nearly always have to be brief. There are other places too where such abbreviation is common. Historically, telegrams – which cost a certain amount of money for every word in them – were one (I once sent my parents the message girl Emily born 22 June 01.30). In technical writing, wording on diagrams tends to be minimal. And of course notes taken in college lectures, which have to be written quickly so that none of the lecture is lost, are a source of abbreviated sentences that students are especially likely to be familiar with.

Speakers whose mother tongue is not English are likely to find abbreviated sentences problematic in both reading and writing. Readers need to recognise not just that a word is absent, but also what it is. Writers need to know which words can be left out and which cannot – to in (a) above, for example, is not normally omissible. It is on these two questions that the present post offers guidelines.

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WORDS COMMONLY OMITTED FROM ABBREVIATED SENTENCES

In general, any word can be omitted whose meaning can be understood without it. In most cases, dropping such words will leave an ungrammatical sentence. However, this will not be a problem in contexts where abbreviated language is expected. Omissible words can be divided into various types. They include the following.

1. Words that can be Omitted Grammatically

Some words can be absent but “understood” without breaking any grammar rule. Their omission is technically called “ellipsis”. The following example comes from the Guinlist post 68. How Computers Get Grammar Wrong 1:

(b) One of these housed the chapel, another (housed) a library.

Dropping the second mention of housed here does not stop its meaning being recognised (except by computers), and breaks no grammar rule. For other examples of ellipsis, see 36. Words Left Out to Avoid Repetition.

Note that obvious verb objects often do not fit into this category of grammatically omissible words – though they can still be dropped when abbreviation is the main concern (see #6 below). In the following sentence from the Guinlist post 8. Object-Dropping Errors, him is an object of this kind:

(c) However bad a man may be, his relatives will not completely reject him.

Another kind of word that can be omitted grammatically is more related to the grammar of sentences than their meaning. One of the most common is that (pronounced with /Ə/ rather than /æ/), which can be either a conjunction or a relative pronoun (see 153. Conjunction Uses of “that”). Readers will be familiar with the possibility of leaving out this word when it either introduces indirect speech or represents the object of a so-called “defining” relative clause, as in this example from the Guinlist post 34. Relative Pronouns and Commas:

(d) Reforms (that) Napoleon introduced were long lasting.

Other words of this kind include in order before to, and as before the object complement of a few verbs like ELECT (see 92. Complement-Showing “As”). Also worth mentioning are preposition phrases that can be paraphrased by a shorter structure, such as an adverb (e.g. with ease/easily – see 85. Preposition Phrases and Corresponding Adverbs) or placement of their noun directly before another (see 136. Types of Description by Nouns).

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2. Articles

The and a(n) are routinely absent from abbreviated sentences. The can be dropped even from people-naming adjective expressions like the poor and from “proper” nouns that normally have it, such as The West Indies or The Eiffel Tower (see 6. Adjectives with no Noun 1 and 47. Article Errors with Proper Nouns).

A possible exception might be where the article influences the meaning of the noun, as in the people (= the non-governing citizens) versus people (= human beings), went to the prison (= visited) versus went to prison (= was imprisoned), and (from the post 48. Tricky Word Contrasts 1) in the future (= predicting) versus in future (= warning).

Articles are also commonly absent from labels on diagrams. This can give a special problem when they are being referred to in an accompanying text (see 104. Naming Data Sources with “As”): in order to restore the articles correctly, the writer has to recognise which labels lack one and which do not.

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3. Possessive Adjectives

Words like my, our, your and her are alternatives to the before a noun (all belong to the wider class of so-called “determiners” – see 110. Nouns without “the” or “a”). They are equally omissible:

(e) Hannibal walked (his) elephants across (the) Pyrenees.

It is obvious that the elephants here belong to Hannibal, even when his is dropped. Possessive adjectives should only be kept in abbreviated sentences when ownership is unclear.

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4. The Verb BE

It is normal to drop this verb regardless of whether it has its “auxiliary” or main-verb use (see 3. Multi-Use Words). In (a) above, it is a main verb helping to express an arrangement (see 119. BE before a “to” Verb). It is an absent auxiliary in the following:

(f) “Alien” airship (is) seen by thousands.

When BE is combined with a forward-looking it at the start of a sentence (see 103. Using “it” for a Subsequent Verb), the it is normally dropped as well, like this:

(g) (It is) rare to find (an) adjective without (a) noun.

The same happens with what I call “presentational” there (see 161. Presenting Information with “There”), which also typically accompanies BE at the start of a sentence:

(h) (There are) numerous ways to learn a language.

The a is not dropped here before language because language and a language mean different things (see 23. Noun Countability Clues 3).

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5. Prepositions

If a preposition cannot be avoided by using a shorter alternative structure (see above), it might simply be omissible, like this:

(i) Ancient Egyptians wrote (on) papyrus.

Without on here, we would still probably understand that papyrus was where Ancient Egyptians wrote rather than what. In general, prepositions seem omissible if their meaning is obvious from the context. On many occasions, however, they will need to be kept. The preposition of is perhaps one of the most omissible (see 160. Uses of “of”).

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6. Personal Pronouns

These comprise I, you, he, she, it and the plurals we and they. Again, there is not 100% omissibility. It seems most likely when the pronoun is repeating an earlier mention of the same idea, in either the same or an earlier sentence, like this:

(j) When hydrogen nuclei (are) fused together, (they) form helium.

(k) Caesar conquered (the) Britons. Then (he) returned (to) Rome.

Note that the above pronouns could not be left out in ordinary writing – the verbs after them need a grammatical “subject”. Some other languages allow a repeating pronoun to be left out of sentences like (j), where there is a conjunction (when). However, English only allows this after a few conjunctions, excluding when. For details, see 36. Words Left Out to Avoid Repetition.

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PRACTICE EXERCISE: NOTE-FORM ENGLISH

To assist appreciation and memorization of the above points, readers are invited to put the following sentences into “note” form, using both sentence and word abbreviation. Suggested answers are given below.

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1. A microscope is an instrument that magnifies small objects.

2. There is a subject that communicates more by means of short symbols than through words: it is of course Mathematics.

3. If the price of a good increases, demand for it falls (except in the case of luxury items).

4. The ancient Athenians invented drama and it possessed great importance within their democratic system.

5. It is expected that vehicles able to function without a driver will not be able to go faster than the speed limit.

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Possible Answers

1. Microscope: instrum. magnifies small objects.

2. Subj. where symbols > words = maths.

3. Price increases ⇒ demand falls (except lux. items).

4. Ancient Athenians invented drama; v. important within their democracy. (Note the need for their)

5. Expected vehicles without driver can’t break speed limit.

157. Tricky Word Contrasts 5

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It can be useful to analyse similar-looking English expressions in order to prevent or stop their confusion

THE PROBLEM OF TRICKY WORD CONTRASTS

Most users of English have encountered expressions that are easily confused because they resemble each other in spelling and/or meaning. A well-known example – often explained in English language coursebooks – is principle versus principal. The problem is that many of these expressions are never highlighted and can remain completely unrecognised, or at least not fully differentiated.

It is expressions of this kind, especially ones that are likely to occur in professional writing, that are the focus of the present post, just as they are of various others with a similar title (see 48. Tricky Word Contrasts 1 for a complete list). Other Guinlist posts about vocabulary confusions include 16. Ways of Distinguishing Similar Words,  44. Troublesome Prepositional Verbs,  94. Essay Instruction Words and 129. Differences between Necessity Verbs. For some grammar confusions, see 133. Confusions of Similar Structures, and for some pronunciation ones 144. Words that are Often Heard Wrongly.

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LIST OF CONTRASTS

1. “No Doubt” versus “There is No Doubt”

Either of these expressions could begin a sentence, as in this example:

(a) No doubt flood victims take years to recover.

Paradoxically, dropping there is before no doubt like this suggests the absence of certainty: that the speaker has no proof of the accompanying statement’s truth and is merely making a guess. The words I have could be added at the start without changing the meaning. This opinion-showing feature means no doubt is quite similar to undoubtedly (see 121. Sentence-Spanning Adverbs and 107. The Language of Opinions).

Beginning with there is, on the other hand, does establish the accompanying statement as a fact. It means “proof has been obtained”. It needs a following that, either explicit or implicit (see 153. Conjunction Uses of “that”).

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2. “At the Moment”, “Nowadays”, “Today” and “Now”

These look like synonyms but are not. At the moment suggests an ongoing temporary situation, often in contrast with the future, like this:

(b) At the moment exchange rates are favourable.

The implication here is that exchange rates may be different tomorrow.

Nowadays, on the other hand, contrasts a current situation with one in the historical past, like this:

(c) Nowadays tobacco smoking is out of fashion.

The suggestion here is that tobacco smoking was more fashionable historically.

Today could be used in both (b) and (c) instead of the underlined words: it makes no contrast with any particular other time.

Now could also be used like today, but it has other uses too. One is to suggest that a current situation has come about very recently, like this:

(d) The plane has now landed.

Now can also be used with brief present-time actions, for example in sports commentaries (Now Jones passes …) and as a “signpost” expression to indicate a new topic:

(e) Now it is necessary to consider the consequences.

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3. “Emergency” versus “Emergence”

The first of these tends to be the more familiar to learners of English, no doubt because it is more common in both English as a whole and everyday usage. It refers, of course, to a situation that needs an urgent response, such as a sudden serious illness or an imminent disaster.

Emergence, on the other hand, is an “action” noun derived from the verb EMERGE (see 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns). It just means “appearing”, as in this example:

(f) Measles are confirmed by the emergence of a rash.

It quite often happens that emergence is understood as emergency. The reason may be more than just unequal familiarity. The fact that the single different letter is the very last one could be significant. Moreover, the multi-consonant ending of emergence is likely to be a problem for speakers of languages that rarely have consonant combinations, such as Swahili, Japanese or Italian: they may be tempted to imagine that there is a spoken vowel at the end, so that they are even more likely to think the word is emergency (for more on this kind of error, see 144. Words that are Often Heard Wrongly).

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4. “In the First Place” versus “In First Place”

In the first place is an adverb-like expression normally associated with the whole of its sentence rather than any part (see 121. Sentence-Spanning Adverbs). It has the “signpost” function of introducing the first item in a multi-sentence list (see 122. Signpost Words in Multi-Sentence Lists). It is similar in meaning to firstly or to begin with (but not to first – see 20. Problem Connectors).

In first place, on the other hand, can be used like either an adverb or an adjective, in the manner of most preposition phrases (see 84. Seven Things to Know about Prepositions). It means “in the first position in a competition”. Here is a verb-partnering adverb use:

(g) Candidates who finish in first place will be selected.

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5. “Energy”, “Power” and “Strength”

I was alerted to the confusion potential of these words on hearing a Scandinavian acquaintance incorrectly say they had no “power” to walk beyond 20km, when energy or strength would have been more appropriate. In general, power cannot be associated with human physical activity, except metaphorically in sports contexts to mean “exceptional energy/strength”. More often, it means “electricity” or “control”.

The difference between energy and strength in the context of human activity is that the former refers to an amount of physical activity (an energetic person is active for longer than the average), the latter a level (a strong person can perform tasks that average people cannot). It is often the case that strength allows people to be energetic, but not always. The contrast between efficient and effective (114. Tricky Word Contrasts 3) is a similar physics-related one.

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6. “By all Means” versus “By Every Means”

The first of these is sometimes used where only the second is correct, such as the following:

(h) The Government aims to alleviate poverty by every means.

The message here is that the Government will use every possible means (= “way”) of alleviating poverty. The word possible is often present just before means.

By all means, on the other hand, is more likely to be found in speech than writing. It says nothing about how something is done, but instead expresses the speaker’s happiness with a requested or suggested course of action. A typical sentence might be:

(i) By all means use the library.

This means “I am very happy for you to use the library”.

The two expressions differ in grammar as well as meaning. By all means is a “sentence” adverb, relating to the whole of the rest of its sentence (see 121. Sentence-Spanning Adverbs), while by every means is a “means” adverb, relating just to the verb (see 73. Saying “How” with “By” and “With”).

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7. “In the End” versus “At the End”

As with the two previous expressions, the first of these is more likely to be a sentence adverb than the second.  However, both can have this use, and that is where I wish to distinguish them. Consider this:

(j) Rome and Carthage fought for supremacy. In the end, Rome was victorious.

The suggestion here is that the end did not come easily: it followed numerous twists and turns or a great deal of effort. A suitable synonym might be eventually. A point to note is that no suggestion of happiness is made about the end being reached – at last is more suitable for that (see 20. Problem Connectors, problem #7).

By contrast, at the end just signals a final action or situation, without any suggestion of preceding struggle. Here is a sentence where only it is possible:

(k) The exhibition was held in Seville. At the end, the site became a business park.

Note how at the end must be followed by an event or situation. If you are merely naming the last item in a list, you should use lastly or finally instead (see 122. Signpost Words in Multi-Sentence Lists).

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8. “Wrong” versus “Wrongful”

The adjective Wrongful is particularly used in legal and religious texts. It usually means “intentionally illegal” or “intentionally immoral”. Accompanying nouns tend to be of the “action” kind (see 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns, use #1). Typical examples are act, behaviour, conduct, dismissal, entry, interference, neglect, omission and removal.

Wrong, on the other hand, is more neutral about intentions.  It just communicates the undesirability or incorrectness of what it is describing. It will sometimes describe a noun that wrongful can also describe, but not very often. Consider this:

(l) It was a wrong decision to carry a weapon.

Wrongful here would suggest law-breaking, while wrong merely indicates an error of judgement. Nouns that could only have wrong include answer, diet, turning, understanding and way.