Our church has been running Sunday and weekday services online for some time. Last week, one prayer leader introduced the prayers with a formula something like “For the world/particular people, we intercess”. I really shouldn’t be thinking about linguistics when I really should be praying, but obviously intercess piqued my interest. 

Without doubt, intercede is the ‘correct’ word here, but intercess is clear and makes perfect sense. It’s in Wiktionary, but not any other dictionary I searched. A general Google search takes me to intercede, intercession or intercessor, but using “intercess” in quotation marks finds a scattering of uses in the relevant sense. Also, Google Ngrams shows a flat line rather than ‘no results’, meaning some use, but close to zero compared with intercede. Pages for Mac changes intercess to internees and intercessing to interceding and red-underlines then when I change them back.  

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A document referred to someone applying for an Australian carer visa in order to care for a relative who was referred to by name and as the sponsor, the Australian relative requiring care and 

the caree

Caree, as the reciprocal of carer, makes sense and uses an established pattern of English words, and it it is difficult to think of any other suitable word, but it looks and sounds very strange, and is very, very rare. Google first asked me if I meant carer, then career, and Pages for Mac changed it to career (even though that doesn’t make sense in any likely context). 

One of the few official sources in which I found it used is the Australian government’s Social Security Guide (which was not the provision in question in the document I was editing). It simply says that a caree is “a person receiving a substantial level of care” and a carer or care provider is “a person who is providing a substantial level of care to a caree”.

Not surprisingly, Google Ngrams shows that the usage of caree is minimal. Surprisingly, it shows that carer has been widely used only since the late 1970s. I don’t know what people providing care were called before that. 

I can’t recommend or not recommend caree. I doubt if any writers of government guides are going to check my blog before they use it.

vegetarian and non-vegetarian

A local kebab and burger shop is advertising:

Special vegetarian and non-vegetarian menus

The default kebab or burger contains meat. In fact the default main course food, whether at a café, restaurant or home, contains meat, so much so that English doesn’t have a word for food containing meat. A kebab or burger containing meat is hardly “special”, any more than a vegetarian salad is. 

I am also pondering the use of menus in that way. includes the dishes served (at a meal) as its second definition, behind, a list of of the dishes served at a meal, but “vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes” doesn’t quite suit a (mainly takeaway) kebab and burger shop. A dish is not only the container, but the also the food served on/in it. (Also a plate, as in “Bring a plate” to a community gathering and meal.)

last writes

A document mentioned that someone was unable to return to his home country to perform “last rights” for a dying or dead parent. 

Rights are legal or moral; rites are religious or social (compare rituals). Overall, rights is far more common, but last rites is far more common than last rights (“This government is taking our last rights away from us!”). There is very rarely a last rite, and a last right is almost non-existent. (Compare last right, as is “This party will last right through the night!”.)

One type of rite is a rite of passage, which term was coined by Arnold van Gennep in 1909, but didn’t become popular until the 1960s. A right of passage is a term from maritime law, but may also refer to an easement on land (also referred to as a right-of-way).

Shall I compare thee?

Person A has $20 million. Person B has $19 million.

1) A is rich
2) A is not poor
3) A is richer than B
4) A is more poor than B
5) A is less poor than B
6) A is not poorer than B
7) A is no poorer than B
8) A is not as poor as B
9) B is rich
10) B is not poor
11) B is poorer than A
12) B is more poor than A
13) B is less rich than A
14) B is not richer than A
15) B is no richer than A
16) B is not as rich as A 

(PS I later thought of A is the richer of the two, and I’m sure there’s more.)

At this point my brain started asploding. I have little chance of explaining the nuances of all these, but as a native speaker I instantly understand them when I hear or read them, and have no hesitation in using the right one in the right context. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has sections on ‘Equivalences and entailments’ and ‘Relative infrequency of comparisons of inferiority’, which cover some of this ground. Clearly, 1), 3), 9), 11) and 16) are the most standard. All the others are recorded, but Google Ngrams doesn’t give any context.

Similar comments apply to old/young and tall/short. 

Things are even more complicated with hot/warm/cool/cold, even taking just -er and -est. 

Location A is 35 degrees (centigrade). Location B is 25 degrees. Location C is 15 degrees. Location D is 5 degrees.

A is hot, hotter than the other places and the hottest place of the four.
B is warm. It is warmer than C and D, but also hotter than C and D. It is cooler than A, might be colder than A but it’s not *warmer than A. It’s not *the warmest place of the four.
C is cool. It is warmer than D, but it sounds strange to say that it’s hotter than D, and it’s not *cooler than D. It’s cooler and colder than B, and ?cooler and colder than A. It’s not the coolest place of the four. 
D is cold. It is colder than the other places and might be cooler than C, but it sounds strange to say that it’s cooler than A or B. It’s the coldest place of the four. 

less cold

A new fridge from a major appliance manufacturer features a panel in the door which is mostly opaque but which turns transparent when tapped, so that the owner/user can see what’s inside without opening the door. The manufacturer promises

less cold air loss

Unfortunately, the four words are placed two-by-two, and it results in 

less cold (    and    ) air loss

neither of which is a good selling point for a fridge.   

Less cold sounds slightly strange. We wouldn’t say more cold – we’d say colder, but there’s no immediate equivalent for the opposite. Warmer is not always appropriate. After several sub-zero mornings in a row, a zero-degree morning is hardly warmer. And imagine that the person who always gives you a frosty reception actually smiles one morning. Your reception may be less cold, but it’s hardly warmer

between you and I

Several weeks ago at the gym I heard a song which begins:

There’s a thousand miles between you and I. 

Two years ago (to the day, coincidentally), I posted about the usage of the equivalent of you and I/me as subject, direct object and object of a preposition, so I wasn’t going to post just about that. (I seem to remember that the next song correctly had you and me after a verb or preposition.)

Yesterday I posted about the song Yesterday, and Batchman, who has been my number 1 commenter recently, said, among other things:

In general, using pop songs to illustrate grammar treads on risky ground. Think about all the songs with some variant of “for you and I” in them.

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Every cloud possesses a silver lining

Writing about David Essex yesterday reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write about another song of his, “Hold me close“.

Twice, he sings:

Every cloud’s got a silver lining

But the final time, he sings:

Every cloud has a silver lining

I was going to write at length about ‘ve/’s got v have/has (note that very few people say/write have/has got in full), but I got very confused very quickly and don’t want to confuse you. I thought more about I’ve got and I have because we talk more about I than we do about every cloud. As well as I’ve got and I have, there’s also I got and I’ve gotten, as well as have as a main verb and have as the auxiliary of the perfect. I’ve got a is slightly more associated with British English, but even there I have a is by far the most common.

But I got thinking: do people say or write Every cloud’s got a silver lining or Every cloud has a silver lining? Google Ngrams shows absolutely no results for Every cloud’s got a silver lining, which means that its dataset does not include 1970s English pop songs. A general Google search shows about 1,050,000 results for “every cloud has a silver lining” (in quotation marks, for an exact match) and about 1,040 for “every cloud’s got a silver lining”, most of which are references to this song. Worryingly, Google suggests every clouds got a silver lining, for which there are 935 results, most of which are references to this song. I’m not surprised that people who create websites of song lyrics don’t how to use apostrophes, but I’m worried that Google doesn’t. 

Many proverbs circulate in slightly different forms, but this one is remarkably stable (and also Every dog has its day, which sprang to mind).

(I thought I’d written a previous post about I’ve got and I have in pop songs, but I can’t find it.)

Coming home

There are multiple songs titled “Coming home” or “Going home”. Wikipedia lists 61 songs titled “(I’m) Comin(g) home” and 31 titled “(I’m) Goin(g) home”, as well as albums, books and movies.

I mixed up two of them. The song I remembered clearly (“I’m coming home”) was written and sung by Australian duo Beeb Birtles and Graeham Goble. The name I remembered was English singer David Essex (who sang, and probably wrote, “Coming home”). Either one (and many others with the same title) illustrate an interesting point about English grammar. Usually, we go from ‘here’ to ‘there’, or come from ‘there’ to ‘here’. In each song, the singer is somewhere other than ‘home’, so would usually sing about going ‘home’; that is, from ‘here’ to ‘there’. But each sings about coming ‘there’. The Birtles and Goble song begins:

I’m coming home
So take my picture off the wall
I’ve had enough of being alone

The Essex song includes:

There’s no question in my mind that I’m coming home tonight

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take a look v look

Today I consciously realised something that I have unconsciously known since primary school at the very latest, and that is that while ‘take a look’ basically means ‘look’, ‘take a seat’ doesn’t mean ‘seat’ – it means ‘sit’. This is because look is both a noun and verb, while seat is a noun (usually) and sit is a verb. The longer form with ‘take a’ has to be followed by a noun (I’m kicking myself now how obvious that is), while the short form by itself has to be a verb.  

There are subtle differences in usage. Saying ‘After work this afternoon, I walked’ sounds strange, while ‘After work this afternoon, I took a walk’ sounds usual/natural. (Following it with ‘the dog/to the station/(for) one hour/(for) five kilometres’ all add to the possibilities.) Being asked to ‘Sit’ would sound far too abrupt (‘Sit, please’ is just possible), while being asked to ‘Take a seat’ sounds usual/natural. The only other noun/verb pair I can think of which we would use here is bath/bathe. Saying ‘Have a bath’ sounds usual/natural, but saying ‘Bathe’ by itself sounds really strange, and it’s not helped by adding ‘please’. 

Google Ngrams shows that the things we most often take are a look, a step, a seat, a walk, a chance, a turn, a position, a part, a view and a recess. Not all of those are interchangeable with the relevant imperative verb. There’s also ‘have a’, which is most often followed by lot, chance, look, right, place, tendency, number, mind, copy and bearing, which list raises even more questions. The only word on both lists is look. Historically, ‘have a look’ was more common in British English, but this has now been overtaken by ‘take a look’, which was previously often seen as an Americanism.

Slightly related: when I was at primary school I noticed that teachers often said ‘Sit up (straight)’, ‘Sit down’ and ‘Stand up’, and commented on this to a teacher, who explained it is possible to ‘stand down’ from an important position (which I hadn’t encountered at that point of my schooling). But this phrasal verb doesn’t necessarily involve standing at all. One can stand down while staying seated.