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Like French, Welsh has the same:

Ti (tu) : Singular and "informal"
Chi (vous): Either singular "formal" or plural

[Mike you can also correct me if I'm wrong]

Italian even more interesting:

tu : singular and informal
Lei: singular and formal (lowercase lei = she)
voi: plural and informal
Loro: plural and formal (lowercase loro = they)

diafol is right:

"tu": singular "you" (2nd person)
"vous": plural "you" (2nd person) and formal singular "you"

And it's true that there is an on-going debate about the use of the formal "vous" for people that you don't know or that you want to keep some sort of formal distance from (like your boss or your clients, or some other people you don't want to be too familiar with). It's a mark of respect, but also a mark of distance, and conversely, not using it (using "tu" instead) could be seen as disrespectful, but could also be seen as welcoming or warm. I'm not sure if it will ever disappear completely. I don't use "vous" too much, but sometimes (especially with the elderly) I use it just to make sure that they feel "respected". But there is a trend of using the formal form less and less.

Many other languages have this thing too. In Spanish, there is "tu" and "usted" with the same usage as "tu" and "vous". In German, they have "du" for "you" (singular, informal), and "Sie" (with a capital letter) for the formal 2nd person, but it is actually conjugated like the "sie" of the plural 3rd person. Swedish only recently dropped the formal person, and is rarely used. Here is a table about this distinction.. you will quickly see that a lot of languages have this. English is an exception, not the rule, it seems.

Among other things, I could never understand why it made a distinction between masculine and feminine nouns (or even how it was decided that a table or window was masculine or feminine).

This is also a very common thing in different languages. English used to have the same genders as in German (masculine / feminine / neuter (or neutral)). English simplified away the genders, like Scandinavian languages did.

And don't worry about struggling with those, even natives struggle with it. This is quite annoying because adjectives (among other things) have to be accorded with the gender of the noun, and sometimes it's not obvious which gender it is. For example, a word like "autobus" (means "bus") is masculine, but when you say "un autobus" ("a bus"), the "n" from "un" joins with the "au" from "autobus" to create a "nau" sound (sounds like "no") which makes it sound kind of like "une autobus", which makes lots of people (natives that are used to the sound) believe that it's feminine. They have the same struggles in Germany, especially in the Dusseldorf region where I used to live, because they tend to pronounce all the articles (der / die / das, or ein / eine / ein) the same regardless of gender or function, as just "deh", and so, many of the natives have much less of a natural feel for the genders of the nouns.

Fun fact: the German word for "young woman", which is "Mädchen", is of neutral gender. It doesn't look great for the whole objectification of women!

French is no better, the french words for breast (sein) and vagina (vagin) are both masculine. The genders always got me when I was learning french, but I liked the many different conjugations of the verbs for clarity when it came to writing 'properly', so much of English grammar has been dropped or is used inconsistently across the world that I could hardly see the point of learning it.

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French is no better, the french words for breast (sein) and vagina (vagin) are both masculine.

Do you reckon the originators of these words took them to be male possessions? he ducks

I know the French word "sein" is derived from the Latin masculin word "sinus", which means bay or curve (still used in math btw!)

Another English gender problem is in the sentences:
"This is my friend." "This is my doctor."
Male or female?
If I wanted to point that out, I have to use "he" or "she", or in case of "friend" I could use "boyfriend" or "girlfriend", but that is more used in case of a lover I guess.
In my language we use a suffix to point that out. To me this is a bit confusing in English.

"This is my friend."

Strangely enough, we have the same problem in French if you say: "C'est mon amie." Where "amie" is feminine but the "e" is silent and the article "mon" is masculin (used because "amie" starts with a vowel).

In my language we use a suffix to point that out. To me this is a bit confusing in English.

Yeah that's true. It's nice to have a built-in cue about the gender of the person being talked about. Otherwise, there are these awkward little moments like when you talk back and you either make a guess with a 50% chance (and maybe seem like you're making a skewed presumption, like a "nurse" is a "she"), or you have to ask "is it a guy or a girl", often leaving the impression that it's a big deal, even though all you want is to be able to use the right pronoun.

In French, it's kind of half-way, most professions and stuff like that have both forms (masc/fem), but sometimes, the feminine form sounds exactly the same (e.g., "auteur" / "auteure", "ami" / "amie"), or one of the forms doesn't exist (e.g., a male secretary is still "une secrétaire" (feminine) because the masculine form is a piece of furniture).

I have to use "he" or "she",

I'm curious what people think here, I've seen many people write using "she" and "her" when the gender is unknown or undefined. I often find this odd, I generally use "one" instead, but it might sound too old fashion, I don't know. What do you guys think? Default to "he"? Or "she"? Or stick with "one"?

Quite often he/his was used as default for unknown gender, in response many activist writers now use she/her. I like "one" but it tends to sound pretenious so I more frequently use "s/he" and "their". I've also seen "ze" and "zir" as new gender-neutral pronouns in the transgender community.

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I agree that 'one' sounds pretentious, but it's rather useful at times. Most foerign languages 'have' to use he/she as 'it' usually has a different meaning as in "C'est moi" instead of "Il est moi" or "Elle est moi".

ze/zir IMHO is a load of baloney. People get their knickers (or should that be znickers?) in such a twist over gender in language. I like to use "she/her" occasionally just to balance things out, but not in any activist/positivist sense.

Gender (masculine/feminine) with regard to words in language do not really convey male/female. Too much is made of it.

Well, I always sound pretentious anyways, so I'll keep using "one". ;)

One would think that one would not want to sound pretentious, now would one? :)

Using the royal "we" when one is referring to oneself is even worse, especially when one works with one who actually does this. And no, the one who does this is not a sports star.

Using the royal "we" when one is referring to oneself is even worse

I'm terrible for that when it come to my work because for publishing scientific papers there is always multiple authors so one should always use "we" (even when one did >90% of the work) but in job interviews or personal reports one is expected to use "I". Then there are conferences and presentations where there is no clear rules for when one should use "I" vs "we".

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Royal 'we'. I remember Maggie Thatcher using that once. Just once. The fallout from that in the media ensured that she never tried it again.

Who the hell does the Queen think she is? Schizophrenic, that's for sure. Anybody know if she uses 'us' for 'me'? Or is that too common, as it's used by the working class, "Give us a job, mate". She probably uses "our" for "my" though. All that inbreeding, they're crazier than outhouse rats.

We have a little quirky thing here (in Canadian-French), and I'm not sure if it's common elsewhere, or other languages. It's the use of the third person instead of the first or second person. It's basically talking about yourself in the third person, like this:

John (comes up to Paul): Hi, how's he doing today?
Paul: He's doing fine. But he's really busy at work these days.
John: He's not about to burn out, is he?
Paul: No, no, he'll be fine, he just gotta get his boss off his back.

where Paul is talking about himself this whole time. This is somewhat common here in popular speech (i.e. lower-class). I don't think I've heard it elsewhere (in the "French world", or in English). Ever heard something like that?

I've never seen or heard that outside of a Seinfeld episode years back.

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I'm not sure if it's common elsewhere

I had an aunt in a small area in Wales (mainly Pontarddulais village) and we referred to people from there as the "fe's" (the "hes") because tehy'd refer to you (second person) in the third person.

"How is he today?" Meaning "How are you today?" BTW - this is in Welsh not English. They wouldn't however refer to themselves in anything other than the first person. That was back in the early 70's - I haven't heard anything of it since the early 80's - so it seems like it died out.

I think I mentioned Italian earlier (formal singular) with the Lei form - which sounds identical to the third person (lei).

Is it for awhile, for a while or for some time to expres someting that started to take place in the past and is still continuing

The difference between while and awhile is explained well here. As for "for a while" vs. "for some time", there is not much of a difference, they are pretty much synonymous, and equally vague. In terms of formal vs. familiar, I think that both are OK in any context, but I would tend to prefer "some time" (or avoid "while" to mean "time") in a formal writing context, but I don't think that's a big deal.

commented: Thanks for the info +0

Just a thought as I watch my 2 boys come up through the rankings of the Canadian/Manitoban school system; I think people get lazy about grammar and it, in most cases, should not reflect the teachers teaching. My kids try to be right as far as grammar goes when they are writing on the computers (or by hand). I'm a happy guy knowing that they know the differences between such things like they're, their, and there, as well as the fabled to and too, just as quick examples.

However, their grammar goes to the shitter when they use mobile devices and are texting to their friends, hence the laziness because of speed whilst texting. I too get caught up sending "bad" grammatical messages while texting with my phone but not too often.

Chucking pennies!

The last grammar book I read classifies grammar as

  1. formal
  2. conversational
  3. texting

So I suppose that as long as one doesn't bleed into another it's acceptable. I can understand why someone would want to abbreviate while texting but I find it annoying when used in other situations.

but I find it annoying when used in other situations

Especially when posting in any of these forums!

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My grammar isn't great, but I like to think that I can spot poor grammar in others' writing, even if I don't necessarily know the rules that are being broken. As a head of dept, I get to scrutinize reports written by my team, as well as other colleagues. It can make me cringe. I'll go and check my reports with a variety of grammar checkers before they're checked by another human - call it professional pride. Some don't seem to give a fig. I get called a pedant and a tw*t (pick your own vowel) when I return corrected reports. Soul destroying. :(

I was on the Twitters not long ago and one of the peeps I follow uses (continuously) are instead of our.

Drives me a little bonkers to see that but meh, people our people ;)

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Heh heh. I don't know if you have the same on your side of the pond, but over here we have a similar thing with 'of' and 'have'.

I would of thought that ...

That drives me loopy. Makes me want to scream,

Learn your own language you ignorant @#$%ing clown!!!

There are so many rules and so many exceptions that it is difficult to get through any significant amount of writing without making at least one grammatical error. However, that does not excuse people who are just ether lazy or sloppy. It is sad to hear a person who has graduated high school saying something like "I seen it with my own two eyes."

There is a dialect called Ebonics that is indigenous only to the USA (as far as I am aware). In 1996 the Oakland, California School Board recognized it as a distinct language thereby legitimizing bad grammar. I suppose the next logical step would be to teach it as a second language for credit.

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Ebonics heh heh. Dat funny. Some people are so stupid that they think it's cool to act and sound stupid. Great. At least the rest of us can spot them after just a couple of words.

Ok I've heard enough, you can now shut the hell up and remove yourself from my presence. What prejudiced? Me? Only if you insist on revelling in your stupidity and wearing your ignorance like a freaking medal. I feel a rant coming on.

"I seen it with my own two eyes."

Well, one has to be precise. It is reassuring to know that his eyes are his own, and that he only has two, and that he sees with his eyes and not some supernatural ability. It's important in this day and age to make it clear if you are neither a Frankenstein-ian monster nor a mutant. I'd say these people are ahead of their time ;)

I get called a pedant and a tw*t (pick your own vowel) when I return corrected reports. Soul destroying. :(

That's a good point. To that I would add that this whole grammar-nazi thing is also starting get on my nerves. I think that good grammar and writing well should be conveyed more in the form of an art than in the form of reprimands. I think that's the difference between those who appreciate good language and those who don't. Those who don't care will only see grammar as an annoying set of rules to which they constantly have to obey to, or else, get reprimanded. Those who do care see grammar as a useful set of rules to make what they write pleasant to read, clear and fluent. That's really the only reason why I like grammar and linguistics, it's because I appreciate the beauty of well-written text, and I'm proud of myself when I'm able to hit just the right notes when writing. Grammar is not sufficient for writing well, but it's necessary (and, alone, it goes a long way to turn something shitty into something decent).

But we have to accept that for each his own. If someone has no particular taste or appreciation for good language, then there isn't much that can be done.

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Good points Mike.

But we have to accept that for each his own. If someone has no particular taste or appreciation for good language, then there isn't much that can be done.

When writing with style and fluency for a particular audience is part of your job, it's pretty darned important. When the same individuals (professionals/ colleagues) keep making the same mistakes, seemingly without a care, it really makes my blood boil. I often feel like sending copies of reports to my manager, telling them to send X, Y and Z on a language course. I'd then be known as "that #@%ing pedant". Clearly a promotion. :)

So I am now faced with a problem, which involves issues like bad grammar and poor spelling.

My mother, who is not very well educated, has a blog-site for selling some kind of magical teas. That's all good and I hope the best for her but upon looking at her pages there are a few spots where grammar is poor and there are a number of spelling mistakes. The spelling mistakes I can understand because sometimes people miss a ltter here or thre.

In saying all this, I want to point out every error I see to my mom but I don't want to be a dick, to the point where I may not say anything at all.

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Why not offer to correct her mistakes (call them typos, if you want) for her? That way she may not even notice. If it's a business site, then you've got to get it right. If it's personal, the majority of us would still want to get it right - you don't want to look daft in public.

However, it's amazing how protective / defensive people get with regard to their grasp of grammar. So, you know your mom best - will she be embarrassed / upset / hacked off / emotional in the slightest? Will she be grateful / relieved / proud?

My mother, who is not very well educated

I hope she doesn't stalk you on DW :(