The Grammar Factor – November 2011 (first edition)

Irregular verbs

Last month, I wrote that the past participle of forecast could be forecast or forecasted and some readers objected to forecasted as an option even though the -ed ending is regular.

Many irregular verbs have vanished over the centuries, for example, holp used to be the past tense of help. There are now fewer than 200 irregular verbs in the language and some regular and irregular usages co-exist. Do you use learnt or learned, dreamt or dreamed, and smelt or smelled?

I imagined that the trend to regularise verbs would be relentless, but research by mathematician Erez Lieberman, Harvard University, has shown that the more an irregular verb is used, the longer it will remain irregular.

Semicolons and conjunctions

Reader’s question: Which sentence is correct?

I am not happy about it, so I’m going to do something about it.
I am not happy about it. So I’m going to do something about it.
I am not happy about it; so I am going to do something about it. 

Answer: The first two are fine. The third one does not need a semicolon. We use semicolons when we join two independent clauses without a conjunction. So you could say:

I’m not happy about it; I’m going to do something about it.

Is this the future of punctuation!?

A reader sent me a link to an interesting article by Henry Hitchings on the evolution of punctuation.

He comments: ‘Although colons were common as early as the 14th century, the semicolon was rare in English books before the 17th century. It has always been regarded as a useful hybrid—a separator that’s also a connector—but it’s a trinket beloved of people who want to show that they went to the right school.

‘More surprising is the eclipse of the hyphen. Traditionally, it has been used to link two halves of a compound noun and has suggested that a new coinage is on probation. But now the noun is split (fig leaf, hobby horse) or rendered without a hyphen (crybaby, bumblebee). It may be that the hyphen’s last outpost will be in emoticons, where it plays a leading role.’

Read Henry Hitching’s full article at

In my opinion, the semicolon and hyphen are still useful punctuation marks. An example of a hyphen in an emoticon is -.-, which means frustration. That sums up my feelings about emoticons!

ESL question

Reader’s question: How can I say the second sentence better?

I’ve just finished an awesome book. I would recommend everyone to read it if you haven’t already.

Answer: The problem in this sentence stems from mixing ‘everyone’ with ‘you’.

If you want to use ‘you’, you could say: I recommend that you read it if you haven’t already.

If you want to use ‘everyone’, you could say: I recommend that everyone should read it if they haven’t already. Or: I recommend that everyone read it if they haven’t already. 

If you choose the latter, you are using what is known as the mandatory subjunctive, which is why the verb ‘read’ does not take an ‘s’. You can read about the mandatory subjunctive at

I am also using the singular ‘they’ in this sentence, which I cover at


A couple of readers responded to what I wrote about copyright.

First response:

‘There is no ‘register’ of copyrighted material, unlike other intellectual property, such as trademarks. Copyright is an invisible, statutory protection that falls upon all written works (by ‘written’ I mean photos, scripts, film, etc). Therefore, regardless of whether a (c) exists or not, the work is still protected. The point of placing the (c), or other reference to copyright, is simply to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the work is protected but not having such a mark does not reduce the work’s protection.’

Second response:

‘I attended a legal seminar a few years ago and was told that the correct form of the copyright notice was:

Copyright © 2011, Brain in a Box Pty Ltd

i.e. “Copyright” + copyright symbol + Year + Legal name of the entity claiming the copyright.’

Word of the month


A combination of an exclamation mark and a question mark.

View an interrobang at

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