Gotta love english

Posted in: Pythian Life


I do love to write, and have always enjoyed the idiosyncrasies of this wonderful language. One of my favourite features of English is how I struggle with the following items almost daily:

  1. I am doing a few things to alleviate the need to worry about something. Do I write There is a handful of things … or There are a handful of things …? I recently asked a handful of colleagues their feelings on the above and the results are in … 5-5. I guess the jury is still out on that one, but I still maintain there is a handful of questions as yet unanswered.
  2. I hope my decision does not affect (or is that effect) others’ opinion of my writing skills. Even though classically I use affect as a verb and effect as a noun … hold on … wait a sec … maybe it’s the other way around. I will still struggle and every time hope when I use one of them wrong, the effect of that mistake will not affect my feelings for the wonders of this fine language.
  3. It’s time for me to take its advice. I am not sure if it stands on its own with respect to ownership. Most words in this insane language use the ‘s to show possession but alas not all. Needless to say, it’s not obvious and I pause for a moment of thought every time I use this word, with or without the s on the end and/or the ‘s.
  4. That pesky ing ending to so many words. I saw him walking into a store. Is this a gerund or a present participle? I am not sure if anyone cares maybe except me :). Google says that  a gerund is “is a noun made from a verb by adding “-ing.” Thus, I believe walking, in the context of the above statement, is a gerund, being a verb behaving like a noun. Pencil is a noun and, when someone loses one, we say Have you seen his pencil not Have you seen him pencil. If this is the case, why would one say I saw him walking rather than I saw his walking? A noun is a noun.

To sum up this musing, suffice to say, a handful of questions has its effect on my studying more about this quirky language we all love.


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2 Comments. Leave new

Read the delightful “Eats Shoot & Leaves” if you haven’t yet.

1. I suppose it depends on how many handfuls (handsful?) you have. If it’s only one handful, then you need a singular verb.
4. Looks like a verb phrase to me: “I saw him [when he was] walking into the store.”


You may find of help with these sorts of questions.

1. Both forms are generally accepted in normal speech, it is a technicality to only accept the singular form in this case.

2. This confuses a lot of people. Google “affect vs. effect” for a number of good resources.
You can affect someone’s opinion (i.e. you do or say something that persuades someone to change their opinion), you certainly cannot effect anyone’s opinion (that would require mind control).
Affect is never a noun, effect is usually a noun but can be a verb (many nouns can be verbed!)

3. The apostrophe+s suffix can mean either the possessive form or it can indicate the shortened form of “xxx is”. For “it”, “it’s” always means “it is”, and so “its” always means the possessive form. “It’s raining” means “It is raining”. “Its head was big” means that whatever “it” is, it had a big head.

4. “I saw him walking into a store” – in this sentence, the verb is “saw”. The object (that you saw) was “him”. This object is further described by a present participle phrase – “walking into a store” which indicates an action you observed.
Consider instead: “I saw his walking was unsteady” – in this sentence, the verb “saw” has a different object – a subclause “his walking was unsteady”, which has as its own subject the gerund phrase “his walking”. In this case, “walking” is used as part of a noun.


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