The Grammar Factor – MOOCs, learnt/learned, truncated sentences

The future of MOOCs?

I was interested to read in an article in The New York Times ( that Georgia Tech, which has one of the top computer science programs in the US, plans to offer a MOOC-based online master’s degree that will be much cheaper than the campus course.

Free MOOCs (massive open online courses) started in the US in 2011 and the three leading MOOC providers are Udacity, Coursera and edX.

I attempted two Coursera courses this year, but have not tried the other providers yet. The first one I enrolled in collapsed – ironically, it was about developing online programs. The second one was slow to gain momentum, so I lost interest.

What’s your experience of MOOCs? Email

Some courses that may interest you:
Udacity ( The design of everyday things
Coursera (
• Reason and persuasion: Thinking through three dialogues by Plato
• Understanding media by understanding Google
• Introduction to communication science
edX (
• Ideas of the twentieth century
• Shakespeare: On the page and in performance


Learnt or learned?

Reader’s question: What is the difference between learned and learnt?

My response: Both are acceptable and mean the same thing. Traditionally, British English used learnt and American English learned, but many irregular verbs (verbs that change their form in the past tense) tend to become regular over time and I wonder if this cultural distinction is as clear-cut today.

Irregular: I learn, I learnt, I have learnt
Regular: I learn, I learned, I have learned

Short and truncated questions

Reader’s question: What is the correct definition of a truncated sentence? I find students refer to short sentences, e.g. I like reading, as truncated. In my book, this is not a truncated sentence. I believe that a truncated sentence is one that has been cut short (truncated) causing ambiguity as to its meaning. For example: I like reading more than John [does].

My response: This isn’t a term I use, but I agree with your distinction between short and truncated sentences, except I am not sure that a truncated sentence is always ambiguous. For example: The visitors were knocking [at the door].


How great leaders inspire action
A TED talk by Simon Sinek suggests that inspirational leadership always starts with the golden circle: why, how, what. His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright brothers.

Style guides
If you want information about what style guides are worth buying, provides an overview of some of the best in the market.

My favourite is: Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers, 6th edn, John Wiley & Sons Australia, 2002.

What’s your favourite? Email


Language jokes
Some you have probably seen before, but a few were new to me. For example:

Q: What’s another name for Santa’s elves?
A: Subordinate clauses

When I was a kid my teacher looked my way and said, ‘Name two pronouns.’
I said, ‘Who, me?’

Read the rest at

More international word differences
Section, block, lot or plot?
• New Zealand – section
• Australian – block
• USA – lot
• UK – plot has a British–American converter for some more words at


‘The art of writing is immensely more difficult than the beginning writer may at first believe but in the end can be mastered by anyone willing to do the work.’
John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist


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