English as a Second Language/Different


QUESTION: Dear Shannon,

A new lot of questions (God help you!):

(1) This is my friend, Robert.
Question: Is the use of the comma here a must or can we eliminate it?

(2) He sailed of the Terror. (an abstract noun used as a proper noun).
Question: Is 'The Terror' here a name of a ship? What is meant?

(3) He made me a cake.
Question: Can this sentence be understood in another way? In other words, i.e. instead of "he made a cake for me" he (who is a magician) turned me into a cake".

(4) A dead person's debts.
Question: What is the structure of this sentence. As you note, we have here an indefinite article and a plural noun, which is somewhat confusing.

Many thanks, dear. A lot of appreciation!

Fond regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

ANSWER: 1. Grammatically, it should be there.
2. He sailed on the Terror?  Yes, I would say it's the name of a ship.
3. I suppose it could, but no one would ever think of that :)
4. It's not a sentence.  You have an indefinite article, an adjective (which describes the upcoming word), a possessive noun (which acts as an adjective), and a noun.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: could you please send me more details for 1 and 4? What is the grammar for this comma (1)? And why there is "a" with a plural noun (4)?

Well, I could be wrong about the comma ;)

#1 could be both ways...if Robert is your only friend, you would do as I showed.  If he is just one of many, then you wouldn't need it.  It's based on identification vs. additional information.  Most native English speakers don't even know the rules about this!  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/the-most-comma-mistakes/

#4 is because the debts belong to "a dead person."  It is dependent on the original sentence.  If the debts were specific to "the mother," then you'd say, "the mother's debts."  If the original dealt with "Patrick," then we'd say "Patrick's debts."  So it's hard to analyze in this case the specific reason why we use "a."

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Shannon Cole


I can answer questions related to learning the English and Spanish language.


I have taught ESL and Spanish since 1998 at the university and middle school levels. I am a native of the U.S., and have taught in both the U.S. and Mexico.

I am owner and operator of www.coleinstitute.com, an online language school.

Georgia TESOL in Action (1999)

B.A. in Spanish; M.Ed. in Language Education

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I have clients worldwide, some who want their documents proofread, and others who take lessons with me through the Internet. Some work at high-profile companies and government organizations. Besides the U.S. and Mexico, my recent students come from South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Colombia, Russia, Italy, Paraguay, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia.

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