FAQs on Style

This article, by Philip B. Corbett, originally appeared on the After Deadline blog on the NYTimes.com site on 4/18/10.

Notes from the newsroom on grammar, usage and style.

Many topics come up repeatedly in reader comments and e-mail messages to After Deadline. Unfortunately I’m not able to offer a direct response to each comment (truth be told, After Deadline is a sideline for me). But one thoughtful reader suggested that I compile answers for some of the most common questions.

Here’s a start in that effort. I’ll add other topics as they come up, and I’ll link to this item from each week’s column so readers can find it easily.

[UPDATED on Dec. 28, 2010; newest item on top.]


‘None’: Singular or Plural?

Should “none” be used with a singular or a plural verb?

Some readers of The Times and After Deadline insist that “none” must always take a singular verb. They argue that “none” means “not one,” and so is inherently singular.

But as I’ve pointed out before, most authorities, including The Times’s stylebook, disagree. Here’s our entry:

none. Despite a widespread assumption that it stands for not one, the word has been construed as a plural (not any) in most contexts for centuries. H. W. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) endorsed the plural use. Make none plural except when emphasizing the idea of not one or no one — and then consider using those phrases instead.

‘Like’ or ‘Such As’?

After a discussion about the use of “like” as a conjunction, several commenters took issue with a different use of “like,” including instances from The Times’s stylebook.

These readers object to the use of “like” as a preposition to mean “including” or “as for example”: Anyone else with an earned doctorate, like a Ph.D. degree, may request the title …

The objectors contend that “like” in this construction should mean “similar to” — so that this example, strictly speaking, would be referring to doctorates similar to a Ph.D. but not including a Ph.D. They would change this phrase to “such as a Ph.D. degree.”

Editors have long been divided on this point. But “like” is widely used, and recognized in all dictionaries, in the sense of “as for example.” Many writers find it more natural and less stilted than “such as,” at least in some contexts.

Both versions seem acceptable to me; The Times’s stylebook tends to favor “like.”

Are Split Infinitives Acceptable?



Read the rest of the article on NYTimes.com.

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