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The Best of the Blog

Marzo 2014
The Speak Up blog answers any questions or queries you may have either about the English language or our articles. Write to us (preferably in English) at: http://blog.speakuponline.it. The most interesting questions will be published on this page. A word of warning, though: our blog is not a translation or homework service!

No or Any?
Can you use the word “no” in questions? For example: “Are there no tomatoes left?” Emanuelle

Yes, you can, even if it’s a bit colloquial. It would be better to say: “Aren’t there any tomatoes left?” or “Are there any tomatoes left?”

My Way
In the song “My Way”  Frank Sinatra sings: “I ate it up and spit it out.” “Ate” is in the simple past, while “spit” is in the present tense. Shouldn’t it be “ate” and “spat?”

You’re absolutely right! This is probably why Frank Sinatra was known as “The Voice” and not “The Grammar Expert!”

Adjective order
What’s the correct adjective order? Anna

The answer is:
1) general opinion 2) specific opinion 3) size 4) shape 5) age 6) colour 7) nationality 8) material. An example? A film title: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

In Dracula  Bram Stoker uses the infinitive without  “to” both for the present tense and the simple past (for example, “When Madam said those words that arrest both our understanding, an inspiration come to me. [...] He learn then that we are here; for she have more to tell....” Is this a construction that I don’t know, or is it deliberately bad grammar? Thanks.

Don’t worry, it’s deliberately bad grammar! Stoker is imitating the speech pattern of a foreigner.

If vs. whether
What is the difference between “if” and “whether”?

That’s a difficult question! Generally speaking, if it’s a simple phrase (or a conditional) you use “if”: “If you want to save money, you need to spend less,” “If you say that again, I will kill you,” but when it’s proceeded by a verb like “to know”, then “whether” is better. For example, many people say, “I don’t know if you heard the news” but it’s grammatically correct to say, “I don’t know whether you heard the news.” In speech this error is almost acceptable but:
“If you wrote something like that on a job or university application, then it wouldn’t look very good!”
“I don’t know whether you wrote something like that on a job or university application, but I hope you didn’t!”

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