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Grammar experts to help conclusively resolve grammar arguments?
Thread poster: Mikhail Kropotov

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:57
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Oct 17, 2018

Hi,

As a reviser and copyeditor, it is my job to explain English grammar issues to colleagues from time to time. When a colleague doesn't accept my explanation and insists on a different viewpoint, I'm forced to find additional arguments to 'prove' my point.

This is why I'm looking for an authority on English grammar that I could consult and receive conclusive and convincing expert assessments (preferably an online resource).

I would appreciate any suggesti
... See more
Hi,

As a reviser and copyeditor, it is my job to explain English grammar issues to colleagues from time to time. When a colleague doesn't accept my explanation and insists on a different viewpoint, I'm forced to find additional arguments to 'prove' my point.

This is why I'm looking for an authority on English grammar that I could consult and receive conclusive and convincing expert assessments (preferably an online resource).

I would appreciate any suggestions of such an authority.

Thank you very much for your help.

[Edited at 2018-10-17 11:08 GMT]
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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:57
Member
English to Italian
Style Guides Oct 17, 2018

I can think of the Chicago Manual of Style, which is online, but not free, or the EU DGT guides: http://ec.europa.eu/ipg/basics/management/day_to_day/dgt/index_en.htm

 

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:57
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
But can they answer my specific questions? Oct 17, 2018

Is there a team behind the Chicago Manual of Style that answers people's language questions? I thought it was just a reference resource.

I'm not looking for guides or books. I'm looking for grammar experts who can consider my specific question and confirm that an expression or sentence is grammatically valid (or invalid, as the case may be). The main requirement is that these experts' assessments be as authoritative as possible, so that they may serve as "proof".

[Edited at 2
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Is there a team behind the Chicago Manual of Style that answers people's language questions? I thought it was just a reference resource.

I'm not looking for guides or books. I'm looking for grammar experts who can consider my specific question and confirm that an expression or sentence is grammatically valid (or invalid, as the case may be). The main requirement is that these experts' assessments be as authoritative as possible, so that they may serve as "proof".

[Edited at 2018-10-17 11:36 GMT]
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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Stackexchange.com Oct 17, 2018

At https://english.stackexchange.com/ you can ask questions, although it is expected that you first check if a similar question has already been answered.

At https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl selected questions are answered in blog posts, but there is no guarantee that yo
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At https://english.stackexchange.com/ you can ask questions, although it is expected that you first check if a similar question has already been answered.

At https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl selected questions are answered in blog posts, but there is no guarantee that yours will be. You may also find the answer in past blog posts.

However, as English is not a prescriptive language, there can be situations where two opposing views are equally valid. There is not always one single correct answer.
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Colleen Roach, PhD
Tom in London
Matheus Chaud
 

Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:57
Member
English to Italian
On call authoritative experts Oct 17, 2018

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

Is there a team behind the Chicago Manual of Style that answers people's language questions? I thought it was just a reference resource.

I'm not looking for guides or books. I'm looking for grammar experts who can consider my specific question and confirm that an expression or sentence is grammatically valid (or invalid, as the case may be). The main requirement is that these experts' assessments be as authoritative as possible, so that they may serve as "proof".


Sorry Mikhail, looks like I have misinterpreted your original request. I just thought many "dubious" cases can ultimately be solved by abstracting and referring to general rules, rather than by having to dissect and assess each single specific case.

As Thomas pointed out, there are several fora about English grammar on the net, but I'm not sure they would be considered "authoritative" enough by those who challenged your corrections (especially considering they're usually based on consensus from a plurality of unknown users), plus, as Thomas was saying, there's no guarantee you'll receive a reply (and fast enough).


Mikhail Kropotov
Tom in London
 

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:57
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for the tips. Perhaps I should give an example. Oct 17, 2018

Of course I realize not all grammar issues are black and white. However, the ones I usually deal with are. Let me give an example now. I did not want the discussion to focus on any specific language issues, but this will probably make my intentions clearer.

A colleague of mine believes that "a software" is good English. For example, he recently wrote, "They wanted to create a software which follows the style guide." I pointed out that as a mass noun, 'software' neither has a plural
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Of course I realize not all grammar issues are black and white. However, the ones I usually deal with are. Let me give an example now. I did not want the discussion to focus on any specific language issues, but this will probably make my intentions clearer.

A colleague of mine believes that "a software" is good English. For example, he recently wrote, "They wanted to create a software which follows the style guide." I pointed out that as a mass noun, 'software' neither has a plural form nor may take the indefinite article. I suggested that the wording above be corrected to "a piece of software," "a software product," "a software solution," or simply "an app." He insisted, however, that his sentence was acceptable as is.

This native speaker of British English, aged 33, works for a software development company as a copywriter and copyeditor. He has also self-published two fiction books and is writing more. On the face of it, his expertise in the English language should far exceed mine. And yet, on this particular language issue, I am convinced I'm right. The only problem is finding the arguments to persuade him.

As much as I hate arguing with native speakers of English, who are supposed to have a better feel for the language than I do, I feel that my own reputation as a copyeditor hinges on this issue (and a couple of other similar ones).

I've asked questions on Stack Exchange before and was unimpressed. As far as I'm concerned, a community of users of unknown credentials is not at all authoritative. At least not in my situation; I'm not looking to get educated, but need a conclusive confirmation.

I did consult Grammar Girl about a month ago and received a confirmation, though it was not unequivocal. Ms. Fogarty started her response by saying, "Mikhail, the most common use of "software" is a mass noun..." -- even though I had already laid out the very same reasoning in my question to her. She neither gave me new information nor labeled "a software" as unacceptable grammar, which is what I needed her to do.

This is why I'm looking for additional options.

[Edited at 2018-10-17 13:24 GMT]
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mariealpilles
 

Thomas Pfann  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:57
Member (2006)
English to German
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Agree to disagree Oct 17, 2018

With questions of style (and that's what your 'a software' issue is) there is no black and white, no right and wrong. You will always get different opinions and I don't see the point of arguing endlessly about it. Both reviewer and translator are professionals with enough experience to make their case - both can try and convince the other party of their opinion and if they fail to convince the other party then they should leave it there.

It should be clear from the outset who will b
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With questions of style (and that's what your 'a software' issue is) there is no black and white, no right and wrong. You will always get different opinions and I don't see the point of arguing endlessly about it. Both reviewer and translator are professionals with enough experience to make their case - both can try and convince the other party of their opinion and if they fail to convince the other party then they should leave it there.

It should be clear from the outset who will be responsible for the final version (translator or reviewer) - if it's the translator then they can consider your comments and either make the change or disregard it. If you, the reviewer, are finalising the translation then you can choose to disregard any objections the translator may have.

Any additional experts will only give additional opinions. Eventually someone will still have to take a decision (and others will disagree with this decision).
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Inga Petkelyte
MollyRose
Tomasz Sienicki
 

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:57
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not a question of style Oct 17, 2018

Thomas Pfann wrote:

With questions of style (and that's what your 'a software' issue is) there is no black and white, no right and wrong.


While I agree with your statement in general, it doesn't apply here as it's not a question of style but one of grammar, and a simple one at that. If I may draw an analogy in German, it's akin to saying that "Er spreche deutsch" is acceptable in place of "Er spricht deutsch". The fact is that the former wording is wrong and there cannot be two opinions about it. (I hope I picked a suitable example as my German is very basic! Please correct me if I'm wrong. But even so, I hope you get my meaning.)


 

Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 14:57
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
I believe Oct 17, 2018

In the world of simplyfying, I believe, "a sofware" is used as a substitute for "a software programme".
Languages are not static, the evolve, and the direction now is simplyfying, if not profanation in some cases.


Natasha Ziada
 

mariealpilles  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:57
Member (2014)
English to French
+ ...
Grammar expert Oct 17, 2018

I have a PhD in linguistics (i.e. grammar) and I am willing to help you as much as I can. Do not hesitate to get in touch with me. I used to lecture at university so I had all sort of questions. If I cannot answer, maybe we can devise an answer which would be satisfactory for both after discussing and studying the case.

 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Not as black and white in English Oct 17, 2018

Although most linguists agree on most English grammar, subject to regional variants, there are cases where things are not so black and white, and there is no final arbiter to decide who is right and who is wrong. Linguistic 'authorities' just don't always agree on every single detail.

 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:57
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Dictionaries and grammar books will tell you when there's a rule Oct 17, 2018

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:
A colleague of mine believes that "a software" is good English.

Any dictionary will give you the definitive answer to that one - as you say, it's a clear-cut case of an error (well, it was yesterday, and I think it is today, but it might not be tomorrow ). See this one: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/software It gives "noun (U)", i.e. it's an uncountable noun, making it clear that it can't take an indefinite article. Any good grammar book will highlight what you can and can't have with uncountable (or mass) nouns.

Grammar Girl and similar resources can be useful but they aren't infallible, and TBH most of the forums are frequented mainly by people who really aren't sure of their facts or at least don't consider the wider questions of variant, context, register, etc. I don't think style guides will help you either. As the name suggests, they help writers and editors adopt a consistent style, but look at 6 style guides and you'll find probably 2 or 3 different right ways of doing the same thing.

I belong to an editors' forum with some very learned members from a lot of different countries, although all native English speakers, including a former editor of THE Oxford dictionary and some other top lexicographers. Some members try to shoehorn English into obeying rules - because life is easier that way. But almost all discussions are heated, or at least interesting, with so many different "rules" applying in different variants and contexts that they really can't be considered rules, especially if you also consider the passage of time, as you should.


Mikhail Kropotov
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
MollyRose
Jo Macdonald
Matheus Chaud
Vladimir Filipenko
 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Software Oct 17, 2018

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

A colleague of mine believes that "a software" is good English. For example, he recently wrote, "They wanted to create a software which follows the style guide." I pointed out that as a mass noun, 'software' neither has a plural form nor may take the indefinite article. I suggested that the wording above be corrected to "a piece of software," "a software product," "a software solution," or simply "an app." He insisted, however, that his sentence was acceptable as is.



I've worked as an IT specialist for 20 years and never come across anyone saying "a software". It's like saying "a water". I would find it difficult to take anyone writing like that seriously. It sounds like a young IT nerd who can't be bothered to learn proper English or someone who doesn't understand what he's writing about.

You could say "an application", "a program" or “a software package” in addition to your own suggestions. There are so many ways to say it, but not “a software”.


Mikhail Kropotov
MollyRose
 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 07:57
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Chicago Manual of Style Q&A Oct 17, 2018

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

Is there a team behind the Chicago Manual of Style that answers people's language questions? I thought it was just a reference resource.

I'm not looking for guides or books. I'm looking for grammar experts who can consider my specific question and confirm that an expression or sentence is grammatically valid (or invalid, as the case may be). The main requirement is that these experts' assessments be as authoritative as possible, so that they may serve as "proof".

[Edited at 2018-10-17 11:36 GMT]


Yes, the Chicago Manual of Style has a Q & A section. I get a newsletter regularly with interesting questions they have received and answered. I'm not sure if you have to have bought the manual to make use of that feature (I have). Check it out online.


 

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:57
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
You can say that again! Oct 17, 2018

Thomas T. Frost wrote:
I've worked as an IT specialist for 20 years and never come across anyone saying "a software". It's like saying "a water". I would find it difficult to take anyone writing like that seriously. It sounds like a young IT nerd who can't be bothered to learn proper English or someone who doesn't understand what he's writing about.


Ain't that the truth? The story gets better though.

I said to this colleague, "OK, so let's consult an authority on English grammar and get this resolved. Who would that be for you?"

"My mother-in-law," he replied. "Going to school in Manchester, I didn't have any English grammar lessons, but my parents' generation did."

The next time his family visited his wife's parents, his mother-in-law confirmed that "a software" is incorrect. Then his sister-in-law, a lawyer, put her two cents in: she said that lawyers use "a software" all the time and it's perfectly fine.

As he retold me this family conversation he had had, he reluctantly admitted that "a software" is not right. Then he added, "But if you add some words between 'a' and 'software', like "a nice software", then it's all good."

The blog post he authored, although editable, still has "a software."

Oy vey.

[Edited at 2018-10-17 15:09 GMT]


 
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