The Unnecessarily Difficult English Quiz!


1. The symbol ¶ indicates a new paragraph. In MS Word, it is also an icon that turns formatting marks on or off. What is this symbol called?

2. Today, “dilemma” refers to any difficult situation. But traditionally, this word had a more precise meaning, which some writers still maintain. What is it?

3. When is it acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition?

4. Does “inflammable” describe something that can be set on fire, or something that can’t?

5. Which is correct?
The man who we met yesterday is secretly a robot.
The man whom we met yesterday is secretly a robot.











1. The symbol ¶ is called a “pilcrow.”

2. Traditionally, a dilemma was a choice between two bad options (e.g. Sophie’s Choice) rather than just any difficult situation. If you observe this distinction, then the question “How can we raise $5,000 for the Fractal Appreciation Society?” is a predicament, but not necessarily a dilemma.

3. There is nothing bad whatsoever about ending a sentence with a preposition, and there never has been. This has always been a faux “rule” enforced by generations of misguided pedants. Among serious grammarians, this rule has about as much authority as a “No Square Dancing” sign in Austin.

4. In its original meaning, “inflammable” described something that could be set on fire. However, this was very confusing, because the “in-” prefix often means “not” (e.g. “indestructible”). This was especially unfortunate considering the possible consequences of getting those two mixed up. It’s much better to avoid the word altogether and use the unambiguous terms “flammable” and “nonflammable.”

5. According to the rules of formal grammar, the sentence should be:
The man whom we met yesterday is secretly a robot.
“Who” is a subject, and “whom” is an object, very much analogous to “he” and “him.” But although “The man whom we met yesterday” is the subject of the sentence, “whom” is an object within that clause, and that’s what counts.
Of course, this distinction doesn’t really matter, and English is gradually shifting toward using “who” everywhere, which is a good thing.

Also, if you met a man who is secretly a robot, grammar should probably not be the biggest thing on your mind.

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