From the category archives:

linguistics and lexicography

  • Real Grammar Quiz, Question 8: can “like” be used as a conjunction?

    Posted by on April 21, 2015

    Real Grammar isn’t about the made-up or outdated “rules” which some people try to make us follow. As we said in the introduction to this new series from Macmillan Dictionary, Real Grammar is based on the evidence of language in use. In this series, we’ll be bringing you blog posts and videos that give evidence-based answers to frequently asked questions about grammar and usage. […]

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  • Ain’t nothin’ (grammatically) wrong with no double negatives

    Posted by on April 13, 2015

    When Mick Jagger sings that he ‘can’t get no satisfaction’, there’s no confusion over what he means – we know he’s not saying he can get some satisfaction. In a different context, ‘can’t get any satisfaction’ might be better, but we give singers poetic licence when it comes to grammar. We should, anyway. But we […]

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  • Grammar at cross purposes

    Posted by on March 30, 2015

    A recurring theme in Macmillan Dictionary’s Real Grammar series is the difference between actual rules in English grammar and misconceptions or ill-founded assumptions about what constitutes such a rule. Some of the issues addressed, like split infinitives and singular they, are familiar from decades or even centuries of usage debate; others, like bored of, are […]

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  • Real Grammar Quiz, Question 7: should I say “different from” or different to”?

    Posted by on March 24, 2015

    Real Grammar isn’t about the made-up or outdated “rules” which some people try to make us follow. As we said in the introduction to this new series from Macmillan Dictionary, Real Grammar is based on the evidence of language in use. In the coming months, we’ll be bringing you blog posts and videos that give evidence-based answers to frequently asked questions about grammar and […]

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  • Is ‘invite’ acceptable as a noun?

    Posted by on March 16, 2015

    Last week a friend told me to expect ‘an invite’ to something. This was unremarkable in the context, but I know people who would insist on saying invitation even when it might sound inappropriately formal. Invite is a word whose use as a noun seems destined to always raise hackles. For some people it depends […]

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  • Gwyneth Fox remembered

    Posted by on March 04, 2015

    Sad news for all of us who have worked on the Macmillan Dictionary: our former colleague Gwyneth Fox has died after a short illness. Gwyneth’s sudden death came as a tremendous shock to everyone who knew her. She had been retired for only five years and seemed to be full of energy and in excellent […]

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  • On behalf of this fossilised phrase

    Posted by on March 02, 2015

    We often refer to something being done on behalf of someone, but the word behalf appears only in this set phrase and variations on it. In other words it’s not linguistically productive, so it can be described as a fossil. But what is a behalf, and where does it come from? On someone’s behalf, etymologically […]

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  • Real Grammar Quiz, Question 6: Is it OK to use “they” when referring to a singular person?

    Posted by on February 18, 2015

    Real Grammar isn’t about the made-up or outdated “rules” which some people try to make us follow. As we said in the introduction to this new series from Macmillan Dictionary, Real Grammar is based on the evidence of language in use. In the coming months, we’ll be bringing you blog posts and videos that give evidence-based answers to frequently asked questions about grammar and […]

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  • Numb-headed numbnuts, ninnies and Numskulls

    Posted by on February 16, 2015

    Macmillan’s crowd-sourced Open Dictionary is a great place to keep an eye on new words and niche vocabulary. It has a marvellous variety of novel phrases, slang, specialist terms, vogue words, regionalisms and other items not used often enough or widely enough to be considered core vocabulary – though any that shift towards mainstream use […]

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  • Refuting allegations of incorrectness

    Posted by on February 02, 2015

    A common bugbear of language critics is the use of refute to mean ‘reject’. A politician might claim to refute allegations of wrongdoing, meaning reject or deny (but not disprove) them. Or a news organisation might phrase the politician’s denial that way; both are common sources of the usage. But because refute traditionally means ‘disprove’, […]

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