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Here we go

Just a few hours since this morning’s post about time-wasting distinctions, and comments are beginning to arrive.

I’ll respond as I have time — I’m at home at the moment but will be taking the tiller at the copy desk this evening. (For budgetary reasons, we had to let go the man in the leather vest who beats cadence for the oarsmen, so I’m stepping in.) And once we have a fair store of submissions, I’ll repeat the original post, incorporating all the additions.

From Andy Bechtel:

Because vs. since? Interchangeable?


From Loretta:

After reading your column for nearly two years and countless other explanations over at least that time, I still don't understand the difference between "none is" and "none are." In your example, "None of the candlesticks is broken; none of the candlesticks have been polished," it's clear that "not one is broken" and "not any have been polished." But how would it be different to say "not any are broken" or "not one has been polished"? Is it merely a difference in emphasis? Thanks for any additional light (candle or otherwise) you can shed.

You have, in fact, grasped the distinction perfectly. The choice between singular and plural senses depends entirely on the meaning the speaker/writer intends, and your paraphrase shows that you have no difficulty in interpreting it.

Try this example. It’s a crisp October morning. I have my coffee. I’ve finished reading The Sun (long may it wave) and have taken up my book, when Kathleen comes into the room and says, “The neighbors’ oaks are dropping leaves by the bushel into your yard, and none have been raked yet.” Not any leaves have been raked. I murmur something polite and open my book.

Repeat the setting, two days later. As I reach for my book, Kathleen comes into the living room and says, “I told you about those leaves two days ago, and none has been touched.” Not a single one has been touched. With a gentle sigh, I put down my book and get my jacket from the closet. Next fall I’m hiring somebody. The gutters are clogged, too.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:45 AM | | Comments (5)


Because vs since ... the latter can sub for the former, but not always the reverse. Example:

Since you're just standing there, why don't you help me move this table?


Because you're just standing there, (etc.)

John, you are a brave man for wading into the pit of vipers that constitutes usage rules these days. Yay for you. :-)

Hire the guy in the leather vest to rake your leaves. Sounds like he needs the work.

The guy (vir) in the vest (probably a short tunic) doesn't work (labor): he encourages others (alteri) to work, by means of loud noise and threats of disembowelment.Most effective. (Optimum est.)

Here's one for you:

Closings vs. closures?

When a school district talks about closing schools, is it synonymous to refer to them as "proposed school closures"? Or is "proposed school closings" more accurate? Or is the distinction so fine as to not be worth the bother of thinkering with it?

Here's a book from the early years of the last century that addresses questions of English usage by actually studying the practices of respected writers of English prose. It's a good antidote to excessive prescriptivism. See, for example, pp. 187 ff. for a discussion of the placement of "only," for those who are fastidious about such matters.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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