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  • Is is just me, or are there vast seas of difference between its/it's confusion and arbitrary latin-derived strictures about future tense and passive voice? The former is just a spelling error, and one way (whichever one its;) is misspelled. The latter are violations of rules that help with formal writing, but are rarely heard of otherwise, and are routinely violated in speech. The guy on the street has no idea what you're talking about (or no idea of what about which you are talking?) -- although he probably appreciates it.


    • Almost every "rule" is violated in spoken language (and anyway, who can hear the difference between "its" and "it's"? :-).

      That's okay for most people (less okay for professional orators such as politicians, not that I'm thinking of a particular jackass with his finger on the nukular button). In case it wasn't clear, I was talking about writing that I have to edit for publication.

      When you're writing, you have only the words to communicate with. And printed words are a very clumsy way to communicate (th

      • I guess I don't understand mistaking its for it's, because once you unpack it, the mistake's right there -- "X rain" is either "it is rain" (it's) or "the rain belonging to it" (its). So while it may be easy to misspell, there's a straightforward way to bring language intuitions to bear on the problem. Plus, I thought it was "good style" to avoid contractions in formal writing. Maybe this is why...

        On the other hand, if asked whether I should say "the book which I like" or "the book that I like", it's d

        • "which" tends to be more often right in English than in American English. I wonder how an editor penalises us brits ;-)
          • Perhaps in spoken English, but in written English the rule is the same for every culture. That helps you identify something, whereas which gives you more information. Consider ...

            Matt kicked the dog that barked.

            There may have been several dogs. One barked. Matt kicked it.

            Compare that to this ...

            Matt kicked the dog, which barked.

            There was one dog. Matt kicked it. It then barked.

            Gwammaticians call the former a defining or restricting clause, whereas the latter is a non-restrictive. The non-

        • Um... in the 'that'/'which' example you give, what's wrong with "the book I like"?

          I always get mixed up with shall and will. But I gather the US rule on that is 'You shall always use will.'

          • There's an implicit "that" in "the book I like". I write sentences like that--strategic omission of implied words can make sentences easier to read, I feel. I did this when editing TorgoX's chapters, and the next draft I got from him had all the "that"s put back in! Apparently he didn't feel the same way :-)

            He won, by the way. It's a stupid person who argues against a linguist about language.


            ("stupid person" can also be read as "another linguist", which I ain't :-)

          • As for shall and will, it's a very English thing. The grammar books waffle about shades of meaning (shall implying "obligation, necessity, or permission" and will implying "resolve or determination") but nobody has ever convinced me that anybody who uses those words knows this rule or consistently employs it.

            Torgo? Can you prove me wrong?


            • There is a difference, Gill always quotes the pair: "I shall drown! No one will save me." and "I will drown! No one shall save me."

              One implies intent on the part of the drowner (the latter I think), and the other implies the inevitable workings of a natural process.

              And, on googling for those phrases I find that my gut feeling was right.

              However, note that it's one of those irregular verbs... "I shall, you will, he will" implies 'Inevitable, no intent involved'. "I will, you shall, he shall" implies 'obli
        • I think "its" and "it's" confusion arises because of possessives. Other words use "'s" to indicate possession: "I kicked the dog's bollocks". So you assume a pattern and apply the pattern: "I kicked it's bollocks". BZZZT.

          "It's" used to be possessive in English, but that changed. "Its" is the possessive form, and "it's" is a contraction for "it is". So now when you have to kick a dog you aim for "its bollocks", and when you listen to "the Bush doctrine" you think "it's bollocks".

          This would probably

        • if you know of one, please let us know!

          Here's the rule I always use: I recite to myself, "Dogs which bite" and "Dogs that bite". Nat's right about the comma, as in the first example I'd rather have "Dogs, which bite." That's the way it flows for me (punctuation-foo).

          Anyway, when I recite these two phrases, I hear their meaning. The first implies that "all dogs bite," and I'm talking about all dogs, while the latter implies that "some doges bite," and I'm just talking about those particular dogs. Then

      • ++ on everything you said about the importance of correct writing.

        I come from the same state as President Bush. I remember my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Tanner, teaching us to say "nuclear," not "nucular." She had everyone in the class, even some particularly ditzy girls, say it properly. It has stayed with me since then. [Although I remember in sixth grade all the students in the fifth grade enriched math class saying they didn't remember fractions, so maybe I'm the only one who ever retained something

        J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
        • I think Bush is a jackass because all evidence I see points toward him being a brainless puppet for the Washington insiders who form his cabinet. He can't speak or think on his feet at all. The man's the public face of our nation at a time when international relationships are critically important to our future, and there are thirteen year olds taking public speaking classes who can do better.

          The Daily Show this week had an amazing clip, where he was just plain embarrassing trying to do the "fool me once