If you have any questions about orthoepy — a delightfully obscure word that means “proper pronunciation” — start with a good . Though it takes a while to get the hang of it, consider learning (the International Phonetic Alphabet), which allows greater precision in rendering pronunciations (it distinguishes the th sound in thin from the one in they, for instance, to say nothing of the two sounds that the letters th make in hothead). And Charles Harrington Elster has written a few enjoyable books on the subject, collected into one omnibus volume as (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999).
Lord knows this guide irritates enough people already; I don't want to alienate the rest of the Anglophone world by issuing decrees on how words should be pronounced. My concern in this guide is with the written rather than the spoken language. But many things I've said about writing apply to speech as well. Start with the entry for , and follow some of the links from there.
A few exceptions require special care. In some noun phrases, the “head noun” gets the plural, even if it's not at the end of the noun phrase: mothers in law, attorneys general, courts martial. (Such forms may be disappearing, but they're still preferred.)
Many people get spooked by the plurals of proper names: the rules really aren't that different. Papa Smith, Mama Smith, and Baby Smith are the Smiths; Mr. Birch, Mrs. Birch, and Junior Birch are the Birches. The only difference is that proper names ending in y shouldn't change form in the plural: just add an s. The members of the Percy family are the Percys, not the Percies.
Plural means “more than one.” English handles these things more simply than many languages. You already know the basic rules: most take an s or es at the end; singular nouns ending in y usually end in ies in the plural. Our don't change form at all. There are a handful of irregular nouns — child, children; woman, women — but native speakers learn the important ones early, and non-native speakers can find a list of them easily enough.
A declarative sentence (or ) is made up of two bits, the subject and the predicate. The subject — usually containing one or more or , along with their accompanying — is who or what does the action of the sentence. The predicate is what's said about the subject: it consists of the main , along with all its modifiers and .
Precision can also mean putting your words in just the right order, or using just the right grammatical construction to make your point. Always read your writing as closely as possible, paying attention to every word, and ask yourself whether every word says exactly what you mean.
Step 1: The operations within the parentheses should be performed first.
Step 2: (12 + 4) - 4 [Original expression.]
Step 3: = 16 - 4
Step 4: = 12
Step 5: So, the value of the expression is 12.
The value of the expression 5 × 8 + 4 is 40. But if we use the parentheses with the same expression by grouping (8 + 4), i.e. 5 × (8 + 4), the value of the expression will be 60 as the order of operation gets changed in this case.
Why should you care? In some style guides, some compound modifiers — especially when that don't end in -ly modify adjectives — are when they appear in the “attributive” position, but not in the “predicate” position. In other words, there's no hyphen if the adjective phrase is what is being predicated. That usually means they should be hyphenated when they come before the noun they modify, but not after, although that's not always the case. For example:
The singular form of parentheses is known as parenthesis.
Parentheses are used to denote modifications to normal order of operations.
Parentheses are also called round brackets, curved brackets, oval brackets, or just brackets.
The only time for hesitation is when you have a singular noun that ends in s or an s sound: bus, James, house. This is a matter of : most guides suggest the same rules as before: the bus's route, James's friends, my house's roof. Others (especially in journalism) suggest just an apostrophe without the additional s. Some have different rules depending on whether the s is sounded like an s or a z; some have different rules based on whether it's a word of one syllable or more. But it's usually best to go with apostrophe-s with all singular nouns, whether or not they end in s.
The use of the word plus where and or with would be better is a bad habit picked up from advertising copy. Try to limit plus to mathematics, and use and or with where they're appropriate.
It's a subtle distinction, and not one to get too worked up about. Some style guides are backing away from this rule, preferring to give the general advice that such phrases should be hyphenated whenever they aid clarity.