…more or less mean the same thing

This series is published in the tuesday  issues of Deccan Chronicle .

Micmanz Language building series

Many of us have problems with the use of words that more or less mean the same thing – atleast to us. The problem arises in how these words are used . For example take the words ‘good’ and ‘well’ When someone asks you how you are, the right use of the language would be to say, “I am well” and not “I am good.

According to Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, ‘good’  is always used as an adjective, so it can only be used to modify a noun .‘Well’ is used as an adverb meaning capably. Additionally, ‘well’ may be used as an adjective meaning in good health, well-groomed, well-dressed or satisfactory. The rule of thumb thus, is to use ‘well’ only when you mean capably or when you specifically mean one of the four adjectives listed above .Otherwise use good.

What about the use of the singular or plural verb when the noun is a fraction? What would you say? For example: One-fifth of the cake were eaten (was eaten or were eaten)? Let’s look at a few more examples: Two-thirds of the audience have left (has left or have left)? The school (has or have) come to a decision. A number of people (is waiting or are waiting) for the doctor .

The rule that would be applied here is simple. Expressions stating an amount (time, money, measurement, weight, volume, fractions) are usually singular. The amount is looked at as ONE unit. However when the amount is considered as a number or as separate units, a plural verb is used.
The correct use for the above sentences would be
One-fifth of the cake was eaten. Two-thirds of the audience has left. The school has come to a decision. A number of people are waiting for the doctor.


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