Usage and Grammar

Q. A number of educated friends tell me that “sans” is archaic and affected; they frown when I use it and instead encourage “without.” What do you think?

Q. What is the proper use of “would” or “could” in sentence structure? For example, would you please close the door? Or, could you please close the door?

Q. Could you please tell me the difference between toward and towards?

Q. I work for a software company catering to law firms. In a law firm’s name you might use “et al.” if the firm name is long. What is the proper way of doing so?

Q. Dear CMOS, I know you aren’t a grammar usage source, but for lack of knowing where to look, I wonder if you might know which word—“be” or “is”—would be correct here. “The senior management plan specifies that the lump sum rate in effect at termination (be/is) used to project interest to the regular retirement date.” I believe the correct word choice is “be,” but I’m not sure why. Can you offer any expertise? Thanks for your help!

Q. It grates on my ear to listen to the BBC (particularly sports) newscasts talk about countries in the plural form, e.g., “England are preparing for next week’s match.” Can this be correct? I only began noticing it a couple of years ago, and I seem to recall that the practice even extends to cities or team names (Bayern Munich are out of the playoffs . . .). Your assistance would be much appreciated.

Q. May I please ask if nouns can sometimes be used as verbs. For example, “His emotions nuance his words.” Thank you.

Q. In a recent William Safire column, “On Language,” in the New York Times, Safire devoted the column to addressing the mistakes he might have made during 2002, and his readers’ corrections. This is part of one of them:

In that regard, the law of proximity: “Henry [Kissinger] is one of the few who has the trust of the keepers of the secrets.” Ken Paul e-mails: “The antecedent of who is ‘the few,’ and thus the verb should be have.

But in my style book it says this:

One in x. Formalists recommend a singular verb, arguing that “one” is the subject. For example: One in two marriages ends in divorce.

Was William Safire right to accept the admonition of the person who corrected him?

Q. I am uncertain about the correct usage in the following sentence: “There is no solution, since the absolute value, by definition, can not be equal to a negative number.” I’ve looked through your book and it appears to me that it is a closed (or solid) compound word—cannot. The editor I work for insists that it is can not. Please advise.

Q. I have lived abroad now almost twenty years and fear my English may be tainted by other grammars. A friend, who has been married three times to three different women, recently wrote: “She reminds me of my first and third wives.” I feel that it should be: “She reminds me of my first and third wife.” In other words, “She reminds me of my first (wife understood but not expressed) and my third wife.” There are other languages with this sort of unexpressed noun usage where the adjective is marked by both gender and syntax. Am I totally off base here?