How can I pose a question

This is the place to post questions and discussions on usage and style. The members of the Wordwizard Clubhouse will also often be able to help you to formulate that difficult letter.
Post Reply

How can I pose a question

Post by Quoc » Sun Dec 17, 2006 3:54 am

Hi,

1/ Their names are Fred,Roland and Jim.

Is the question for Fred,Roland and Jim (a) or (b)? Why?

a. What are their names?
b. What is their names?

2/ Their names are Fred,Roland and Jim.

Is the question for Their names (c) or (d)? Why?

c. What are their names?
d. What is their names?

Thanks
Quoc
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

How can I pose a question

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Dec 17, 2006 4:51 am

Quoc,

1) "Is the question for Fred, Roland and Jim (a) or (b)?" makes no sense. "Is the question for Fred, Roland and Jim (a) or (b) ?" means "Is (a) or (b) the question that Fred, Roland and Jim are supposed to ask [or maybe answer]?"

I suspect that what you meant to ask was, "Is the answer concerning Fred, Roland and Jim (a) or (b)?".

"Is the question for their names (c) or (d)?" makes even less sense, because a name can neither ask nor answer a question.

2) There is more than one person, so there is more than one name. Therefore, "What are their names?" is the appropriate question format.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

How can I pose a question

Post by Quoc » Sun Dec 17, 2006 7:34 am

Sorry for my mistakes.

Hi,

1/ In order to have the answer: Their names are..... (ex:Their names are Fred,Roland and Jim). Should I ask (a) or (b)?

a. What are their names?
b. What is their names?

2/ In order to have the answer: ...... are their names. (ex: Fred,Roland and Jimare their names). Should I ask (c) or (d)?


Is the question for Their names (c) or (d)? Why?

c. What are their names?
d. What is their names?

Thanks
Quoc
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

How can I pose a question

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Dec 17, 2006 7:42 am

Quoc,

Thanks for the clarification.

The answer and the explanation I gave at 2) in my posting above are correct for both your questions 1/ and 2/.

Of course, if there was only one person in your set, the question would need to be:

"What is his name? for a man, or
"What is her name?" for a woman, or
"What is his or her name?" if you did not know what sex the person was. If you preferred, for the last-named instance you could also ask the gender-neutral "What is their name?"
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

How can I pose a question

Post by dalehileman » Sun Dec 17, 2006 4:40 pm

We also write it him/her and his/hers although the singular "their", as Erik says, which used to be considered "vulgar," is becoming very common
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

How can I pose a question

Post by russcable » Sun Dec 17, 2006 5:32 pm

On the difference between 1) and 2), as far as I know there is no way to phrase the question that will definately cause the answer to be "A, B, and C are their names" instead of "Their names are A, B, and C.".
If you were to ask "A, B, and C are their names?", you might get "Yes, A, B, and C are their names." but there's still a good chance the reply would be "Yes, their names are A, B, and C."

Dale, your sentence says to me that Erik said "their" was vulgar which he did not. Also, one of us is confused - I say the singular "they" for unknown number and gender has long been accepted See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

How can I pose a question

Post by dalehileman » Sun Dec 17, 2006 6:17 pm

It has long been accepted. I am so old, however, that general acceptance seems relatively recent

Quoc should not misread my meaning. Undoubtedly you two fellows are much, much younger than I, but the old timer will remember that this term was used in Merriam Collegiate to mean merely vernacular, or everyday language, hence the quotation marks
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

How can I pose a question

Post by zmjezhd » Sun Dec 17, 2006 6:35 pm

It has long been accepted. I am so old, however, that general acceptance seems relatively recent

I see, Dale. So, you're saying that you're older than Wm Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer. That is old.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

How can I pose a question

Post by dalehileman » Sun Dec 17, 2006 7:41 pm

zm: Prescriptivist
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

How can I pose a question

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Dec 17, 2006 11:06 pm

Russ,

I suspect you were a little misled by Dale's word order. The meaning would have been clearer had he written:

We also write it him/her and his/hers, although as Erik says, the singular "their", which used to be considered "vulgar", is becoming very common; or,

We also write it him/her and his/hers, although as Erik says, the singular "their" (which used to be considered "vulgar") is becoming very common.

These reframings of the sentence make it more apparent that the reference to the putative vulgarity of the singular 'their' is Dale's parenthetical comment.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

ACCESS_END_OF_TOPIC
Post Reply