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This Students’ Sounding Board is a section created especially for college and high school students. On request, it will provide informal advice and entertain discussions on specific questions, concerns, doubts, and problems about English grammar and usage as taught or taken up in class. If a particular rule or aspect of English confuses you or remains fuzzy to you, the Students’ Sounding Board can help clarify it. Please keep in mind, though, that this section isn’t meant to be an editing facility, research resource, or clearing house for student essays, class reports, term papers, or dissertations. Submissions shouldn’t be longer than 100-150 words.

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Is a professor’s use of the word “anyways” acceptable in class?

Questions e-mailed by forces20, Forum member (July 23, 2011):

1. I often hear my professor saying “Anyways, let’s proceed to the topic...” Is her usage of “anyways” instead of “anyway” correct?

2. What do you think is the best substitute for the expression “at the end of the day”? It is the favorite tail end phrase in our classroom, but sometimes it gets so repetitive and awkward-sounding.

3. What is the meaning of “cutting edge” as used in this phrase: “Cutting Edge: The Politics of Reform in the Philippines.”

My reply to forces20:

Here are my thoughts regarding your three questions:

1. The usage of “anyways” instead of “anyway”

The expression “anyways” is nonstandard usage for “anyway” in the United States and Canada. That means it’s a dialect or informal speech, or what may be considered a colloquialism. For this reason, I think it's bad form for your professor to be bandying that word in class. I suspect he or she just wants to show off that he or she had lived for some time or had been educated in North America. Or, if your professor isn’t even aware that this usage of “anyways” is very unseemly, he or she had probably acquired it unconsciously from watching too many Hollywood movies on cable TV or video. This is because “anyways” is part of the American slang commonly used in movie dialogue involving not very well educated characters. In any case, in the context of the classroom situation you described, “anyways” sounds to me a tasteless affectation.

2. The best substitute for the expression “at the end of the day”   

I’m glad that you feel the same way as I do about “at the end of the day.” What’s the best substitute for this deceptively flamboyant but empty-headed expression? Well, that idiom really means “when everything else has been taken into consideration,” so, depending on the drift of the statement that comes with it, that expression can be said more simply as “ultimately,” “in the end,” or “after all.” 

Did you know that in 2004, “at the end of the day” was voted as “the most irritating phrase in the English language” in a worldwide survey conducted by the London-based Plain English Campaign? I’ve been fighting the overuse of this unnerving cliché for almost eight years now, and have written no less than six columns against it and a few other dreadful clichés. I thought I had made at least a small dent in the propensity of Filipinos to use those clichés (“Doing battle with the most irritating phrases in English”). This past year or so, however, there has been a frightening resurgence of “at the end of the day” in the airwaves and public forums because of the habitual use of it by some people in high places. Alas, now we also have to contend with the power of incorrigible bad example!

3. The meaning of the idiom “cutting edge”

Strictly speaking, the title “Cutting Edge: The Politics of Reform in the Philippines” is using the words “cutting edge” in the sense of a metaphor for “the vanguard” or “foremost part” of something. When “cutting edge” is used in the phrase “on the cutting edge,” however, it becomes an idiomatic expression that means “to be trendy and very up-to-date” in something, as in this example: “The equipment installed in the new hospital is on the cutting edge of medical technology.” At any rate, I have a feeling that whoever came up with the “cutting edge” kicker for that title had also intended to make this idiomatic meaning rub off on that title for effect—and successfully at that, I must say!

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Is “spending much of their time” a gerund phrase?

Question posted as a private message by Pipes, Forum member (June 30, 2011):

Good day!

I would just like to bring up with you a grammar question I am currently dealing with.

Am I right that “spending much of their time” is a gerund phrase?

Does the verb “spend” only take a gerund? For example: “I usually spend my day off watching T.V.”

I look forward to hearing from you.

My reply to Pipes:

You are not necessarily right in calling “spending much of their time” a gerund phrase.

By definition, a gerund is an English verbal ending in “-ing” that functions as a noun in a sentence; as such, it can take on the role of subject, object, or object of the preposition. By extension, a gerund phrase is a gerund followed by its object or any modifier that pertains to that gerund, as in this sentence: “Holding two jobs simultaneously requires a lot of discipline.” Here, the gerund is “holding” and the gerund phrase is “holding two jobs simultaneously,” and the role of that gerund phrase is as subject—and doer of the action—of the  sentence.

Based on this definition, we could be sure that a phrase like “spending much of their time” is functioning as a gerund phrase only if is actually used in a sentence. It will be a gerund phrase in this sentence, “Spending much of their time on Facebook is a preoccupation of many teenagers these days,” where “spending much of their time”—modified by the phrase “on Facebook”—serves as the subject of the sentence. It will also be a gerund phrase in this other sentence, “Many teenagers these days find themselves spending much of their time on Facebook,” where “spending much of their time”—modified by the phrase “on Facebook”—serves as a noun complement of the verb phrase “find themselves.” In contrast, it isn’t a gerund phrase in this sentence, “Many teenagers are spending much of their time on Facebook,” where it’s actually a regular part of the verb phrase “are spending much of their time,” and where “are spending” is the present progressive form of the verb “spend.”

As to your second question: “Does the verb ‘spend’ only take a gerund?” I don’t understand what you mean by that question, but if what you meant is, “Does the verb ‘spend” take only the gerund form,” the answer is no. It can be a regular verb, as in the sentence you provided, “I usually spend my day off watching T.V.,” or it can take the infinitive form, “I like to spend my day off watching T.V.”, where to spend is the direct object of the verb “like.” It can also take the past participle form, as in “The spent bullets were recovered from the crime scene,” where “spent” functions as an adjective modifying the noun “bullets,” or the present participle form, as in “My father gave me spending  money for my weekend outing,” where “spending” functions as an adjective modifying the noun “money.”

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The usage of the form that combines prepositions with “which”

Question by forces20, Forum member (June 1, 2011):

Good morning, Sir Carillo,

I feel the nostalgic eagernesss of posting grammar questions and other pecularities, so here I am again!

Sir, what do you call the combination of preposition and relative pronoun “which” such as “in which,” “on which,” “with which,” etc.? I am confident that I can use some of these forms in written composition and oral communication, but I know you can give a comprehensive explanation to give me a deeper understanding of them, as follows:

1. “on which”
2. “in which”
3. “of which”
4. “from which”
5. “with which”
6. “into which”
7. “for which”

Below are some sentences using them:

1. “Equilibrium is a situation in which the quantity of supply equals that of demand.”
2. “Price floor is the lowest price set by the government at which a producer can sell a good or service.”
3. “A reservoir of psychic from which they draw a positive outlook in life.”
4. “Words are pegs upon which we hang ideas.”
5. “Some writers base their fiction on actual events to which they add up invented characters, dialogue, settings, and plots.”

My reply to forces20:

I am not aware of a specific term for the combination of prepositions and relative pronouns that you are asking about. Such grammatical structures as “on which,” “from which,” and “with which” are a formal way in written English for introducing a defining relative clause and linking it efficiently to a main clause that typically ends in a noun. This noun becomes the antecedent of the pronoun “which,” which then becomes the object of the preposition in the defining relative clause.

Making a preposition and the relative pronoun “which” in this manner is a powerful grammatical device for combining ideas that would otherwise need to be said in two sentences. Consider the following sentences:

“Boracay is a white-sand beach. The hotel chain built a five-start resort-hotel on it.”

These two sentences can be combined into a single sentence using the prepositional form “on which,” as follows:

“Boracay is a white-sand beach on which the hotel chain built a five-start resort-hotel.”

When the relative clause after the noun refers to a place, of course, a perfectly acceptable alternative to “on which” as a combiner is the relative pronoun “where”:

“Boracay is a white-sand beach where the hotel chain built a five-start resort-hotel.”

In contrast, a misshapen, awkward-sounding sentence results when we attempt to combine those two sentences using the subordinating conjunction “that” instead:

“Boracay is a white-sand beach that the hotel chain built a five-start resort-hotel on.”

This grammatical construction with the preposition “on” at the tail end of the sentence is an example of what’s called preposition-stranding, which is frowned upon in formal written English. (Combining prepositions and pronouns in such forms as “in which” and “from which” is, in fact, meant to avoid such preposition-stranding in sentences.) Nowadays, however, preposition-stranding is widely used by native English speakers in colloquial situations, as in the following sentence:

Stranded preposition: “This is the chapter that passage was taken from.”
(Preposition not stranded: “This is the chapter from which that passage was taken.”)

Now, following the same pattern for the “on which” sentence that we analyzed above, the relative pronoun “which” can also be used in tandem with the prepositions “in,” “of,” “from,” “with,” “into,” or “for” to combine sentences, as follows:

Two-sentence construction: “That is the precise place. They found my missing engagement ring there.”

One-sentence construction: “That’s the precise place in which they found my missing engagement ring.”

(Alternative “where” construction: “That’s the precise place where they found my missing engagement ring.”)

Two-sentence construction: “They have chosen a law office. Atty. Cruz is a managing partner of it.”

One-sentence construction: “They have chosen a law office of which Atty. Cruz is a managing partner.”

 (Alternative “where” construction: “They have chosen a law office where Atty. Cruz is a managing partner.”)

Now let’s reverse the process and analyze the two sentences you gave as examples for “at which” and “upon which” usage:

Your one-sentence construction: “Price floor is the lowest price set by the government at which a producer can sell a good or service.”

Its two-sentence equivalent: “Price floor is the lowest price set by the government for producers of a good or service. The producers can sell at that lowest set price.”

Your one-sentence construction: “Words are pegs upon which we hang ideas.”
Its two-sentence construction: “Words are pegs. We hang ideas upon them.”

At this point, of course, it would be logical to ask: Why bother using such combinations of preposition and relative pronoun as “in which” and “with which” when we could very well use simpler sentence-combining forms like “that,” “where,” and “when”? The reason is, of course, to find the most suitable and best-sounding ways to combine two or more ideas in one sentence—and the more grammatically correct ways to choose from, the better for both our written and spoken English.

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