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The Best of the Blog

Dicembre 2015
The Speak Up blog answers any questions 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!

“The clouds were gone”
In the July edition of Speak Up Rachel Roberts writes in her short story “the clouds were finally gone.” Considering it is a form of past perfect I would have written “the clouds had finally gone.” What changes the rule?

Here’s Rachel Roberts’ answer:
“As with most of English grammar, at a high level it becomes very idiomatic and subjective. In this particular case ‘The clouds were finally gone’ or ‘the clouds had finally gone’ would both be acceptable from a grammatical point of view. The difference is a question of emphasis.
There is a beautiful sentence in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Jane is at school and her best friend Helen Burns is dying of consumption. Jane goes to visit her one last time during the night and they fall asleep together. In the morning, we are told, the two girls are discovered. ‘I was asleep, and Helen was dead.’
‘Helen had died’ would not be nearly so emotional!
Or you might consider a mystery story where some children go missing.
When she came home, the children had gone.
When she came home, the children were gone.
In the first case the emphasis is more on the children leaving, of their own volition. Maybe they simply left to go to school.
In the second case, the emphasis is on the fact that the children were ‘gone’ or ‘absent’ or ‘missing.’ The second sentence is far more chilling and dramatic. Going back to our sentence about clouds: in the sentence ‘the clouds had finally gone’ I imagine the clouds disappearing slowly and in rather a mechanical way. If, on the other hand, we say ‘The clouds were finally gone,’ the emphasis is more on the absence of clouds, on blue skies etc. Again, it’s more dramatic.
As usual, it’s a very subjective case of how the words feel and sound, rather than what is the correct grammatical rule.”

No doubt!
Does ‘no doubt’ mean ‘senza dubbio’ or ‘probably’, as Michael Swan says in his book, Practical English Usage?

When it comes to grammar, Michael Swan is The Bible! Literally, “no doubt” means that a thing is 100 per cent certain, but its meaning is really 80-90 per cent certain, which is the same as “probably” or “most probably.” After all, not many things in life are ever 100 per cent certain!

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