Have you ever noticed that anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac? (George Carlin)

 

English Matters

 

This page is dedicated to my sister Shin (12 November 1966–27 January 2009), who shared my delight in the wonder of words. Dona ei requiem.

 

Below is a collection of mistakes or quasi-mistakes I have come across in both written and spoken form. If you have any emendations or suggestions to offer, please e-mail me and let me know. Thanks for your interest in our delightful language. Enjoy!

 

N.B.: Frequent or egregious items are highlighted.

 

Also see Common Errors in English.

For some levity: How to Write Good.

 

wrong:

Having finished the assignment too late, the teacher would not read what I wrote.

Celebrated annually on October 31, the origins of Halloween can be traced back to Samhain.

When young, Christmas is magical.

right:

Having finished the assignment too late, I knew the teacher would not read what I wrote.

Celebrated annually on October 31, Halloween can be traced back to Samhain.

When young, we experience Christmas in a magical way.

 

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that does not modify (i.e., describe, clarify, or provide more details about) the noun that it should. Because of its placement in a sentence, a dangling modifier often modifies an unintended or wrong noun. In the first example, the teacher is not the one who finished the assignment; likewise, in the second sentence, Christmas is not what’s young. Both of these are “dangling” in search of the correct word to modify (i.e., “I” and “we”).

wrong:

The music of the ‘80s has become popular again.

It’s 4 o‘clock.

right:

The music of the ’80s has become popular again.

It’s 4 o’clock. (= It is 4 of the clock.)

 

The apostrophe () indicates the omission of one or more letters or numbers. Thus, ’80s abbreviates 1980s by omitting 19. The single opening quotation mark () does not. The apostrophe happens to look just like the single closing quotation mark (). Unfortunately, word processors that offer the so-called “smart quotes” are not smart enough to know that you mean to use an apostrophe instead of a single opening quotation mark.

wrong”:

Stay for awhile, won’t you?

better:

Stay for a while, won’t you?

Stay awhile, won’t you?

 

The word while is a noun meaning “a period of time,” as in the sentence “We waited a long while.” The word awhile is an adverb meaning “for a short time,” as in the sentence “Wait awhile.” It would be awkward to say “Wait for awhile.”

wrong”:

She did alright despite the pressures.

better:

She did all right despite the pressures.

 

Alright is an informal one-word spelling of the phrase all right. Although common in written dialogue or other informal writing, all right should be used in more formal, edited writing, e.g., academic paper, newspaper articles.

wrong:

It may or may not rain today.

She may or may not want to go.

right:

It may rain today.

It might not rain today.

She may want to go.

She may not want to go.

 

The auxiliary (modal) verb may generally indicates possibility (e.g., We may win.) or permission (e.g., We may go.). To say that she may or may not want to go means that it is possible that she wants to go, which is indicated sufficiently by saying, “She may want to go.” Or if we want to emphasize the negative possibility, we can say, “She may not want to go.”

wrong”:

After five long years, she was anxious to see her friend again.

better:

After five long years, she was eager to see her friend again.

After five long years, she was excited to see her friend again.

 

Because the primary definition of anxious is worried, using eager or excited would be better in such sentences.

wrong:

As far as their English, I think it could be better.

right:

As far as their English is concerned, I think it could be better.

 

As far as should not be left hanging without a corresponding verb to complete the thought. Similarly also for insofar as.

wrong:

If you are just joining us, our guests today are …

For those of you who are just joining us, our guests today are …

If you’re hungry, there’s some food on the table.

If you like coffee, it is free in the library.

right:

Our guests today are . . .

For those of you who are just joining us, I would like to introduce our guests.

There’s some food on the table.

Please help yourself to the food on the table.

There is free coffee in the library.

 

The first two examples are commonly heard on the radio or television. Are the guests different for those who “are just joining us” and for those who have been listening or watching all along? The guests are the same whether “you are just joining us” or not. Likewise, the food is on the table whether or not “you’re hungry, and the presence of the food on the table is not dependent on your being hungry; there is free coffee in the library whether of not “you like coffee.”

wrong:

Of these two groups the blue one is best.

Of these three groups the red one is better.

right:

Of these two groups the blue one is better.

Of these three groups the red one is best.

 

The comparative (e.g., better, louder) is used between two things, people, or groups. The superlative (e.g., best, loudest) is used when there are more than two things, people, or groups.

wrong:

John likes Ford better than GM.

Jane likes this one best (out of all of them).

right:

John likes Ford more than GM.

Jane likes this one most (out of all of them).

 

More indicates that John prefers Ford over GM (probably because John thinks Ford is better than GM). Better would suggest that there is a qualitative difference in the way John likes Ford (as opposed to the way John likes GM). Better is categorically incompatible with the sense of the sentence. Similar reasoning would apply in the case of the superlatives best and most. Remember these sentences for reference: I like it more because it is better; I like it most because it is the best.

wrong:

Then the calvary entered into battle.

right:

Then the cavalry entered into battle.

 

A cavalry is an army component mounted on horseback (or in motor vehicles). Calvary (always capitalized) is the location of Jesus’ crucifixion.

wrong:

Compare and contrast these two texts.

right:

Compare these two texts.

 

To compare means to note similarities and differences; comparing includes noting contrasts. Thus, “and contrast” is redundant—unless someone can show a case of contrasting that is not included in comparing.

wrong:

The couple are spending its honeymoon in Hawaii.

The couple is spending their honeymoon in Hawaii.

right:

The couple are spending their honeymoon in Hawaii.

The couple is spending its honeymoon in Hawaii.

 

Couple exists as a singular and a plural noun. The pronouns should be used accordingly.

wrong:

A couple days went by.

right:

A couple of days went by.

 

This informal use of couple (meaning a few or several) is followed by of.

wrong”:

As you deplane, make sure you have all your personal belongings.

better:

As you leave the plane, make sure you have all your belongings.

As you disembark, make sure you have all your belongings.

 

Although somewhat acceptable, deplane can—should?—be avoided, at least until we debus and detrain? “Personal belongings” is redundant or nonsensical. Are not your belongings all “personal” belongings? Would people be carrying “public belongings” on the plane?

wrong”:

Let’s drive a little further.

I’m farther along in my work.

better:

Let’s drive a little farther.

I’m further along in my work.

 

Preferred would be to use farther for physical distances.

wrong:

Her and I went there.

Him and I went there.

right:

She and I went there.

He and I went there.

 

Pronominal subjects should be in the nominative (subject) case.

wrong:

That’s not for you and I to decide.

That’s good for you and I.

right:

That’s not for you and me to decide.

That’s good for you and me.

 

The pronoun I is in the nominative (subject) case and should not be used as the object of a preposition.

wrong:

There were so many incidences of that here.

right:

There were so many incidents of that here.

 

Incidents and incidence are often misused because they are homophonous. Incidents is the plural of incident, which means an event or occurrence. Incidence means the “rate or range of occurrence or influence of something, esp. of something unwanted” (e.g., “the high incidence of heart disease in men over 40”). Incidences should be avoided. Cf. instance.

wrong:

I’m planning to lay out in the sun today.

I laid out in the sun yesterday.

He was just laying on the road.

Let me just lay here for a while.

Lay down!

Lay low!

right:

I’m planning to lie out in the sun today.

I lay out in the sun yesterday.

He was just lying on the road.

Let me just lie here for a while.

Lie down!

Lie low!

Let’s lay our bags down.

 

The verb lie-lay-lain is intransitive (i.e., it does not take a direct object).

The verb lay-laid-laid (cf. say-said-said) is transitive and anticipates a direct object (e.g., a hen lays eggs).

If someone tells you to “lay there,” you should ask, “Lay what there?”

wrong:

There were less people there than I thought.

The express lane is for people buying 8 items or less.

A surprising amount of people voted for her.

right:

There were fewer people there than I thought.

The express lane is for people buying 8 items or fewer.

A surprising number of people voted for her.

 

Fewer refers to the number of people, whereas less refers to the portion of people (e.g., less people might mean people who are less than whole, perhaps missing some character traits or physical body parts—in other words, less makes no sense). Relatedly, number is used for quantities that can be counted while amount is used for things that cannot be counted, e.g., amount of snow, not number of snow.

wrong:

He did everything not to loose the game.

right:

He did everything not to lose the game.

 

Note that loose and lose are two different verbs.

wrong:

She lead him away yesterday.

right:

She led him away yesterday.

 

The past tense of the verb lead is led.

wrong”:

Sally likes Joe more than me.

right:

Sally likes Joe more than me.

Sally likes Joe more than I.

 

The sentence is correct if Sally likes Joe more than Sally likes me. But if Sally likes Joe more than I like Joe, the sentence is incorrect.

wrong”:

A group of people were there.

 

There was a great number of people.

There is a number of announcements.

The number of students were declining for years.

right:

A group of people was there.

A group of people were there.

 

There were a great number of people.

There are a number of announcements.

The number of students was declining for years.

 

Whether a collective noun, which is singular in form, is used with a singular or plural verb depends on whether the word is referring to the group as a unit or to its members as individuals. In American English, a collective noun naming an organization regarded as a unit is usually treated as singular:

The corporation is holding its annual meeting.

The team is having a winning season.

The government has taken action.

 

In British English, such nouns are commonly treated as plurals:

The corporation are holding their annual meeting.

The team are playing well.

The government are in agreement.

 

When a collective noun naming a group of persons is treated as singular, it is referred to by the relative pronoun that or which:

His crew is one that (or which) works hard.

 

When such a noun is treated as plural, the pronoun is who:

His crew are specialists who volunteered for the project.

 

In formal speech and writing, collective nouns are usually not treated as both singular and plural in the same sentence:

The enemy is fortifying its (not their) position.

The enemy are bringing up their heavy artillery.

 

When the collective nouns couple and pair refer to people, they are usually treated as plurals:

The newly married couple have found a house near good transportation.

The pair are busy furnishing their new home.

 

The collective noun number, when preceded by a, is treated as a plural:

A number of solutions were suggested.

 

When preceded by the, it is treated as a singular:

The number of solutions offered was astounding.

 

Other common collective nouns are class, crowd, flock, panel, committee, group, audience, staff, and family.

 

[source: Dictionary.com, collective noun]

 

wrong”:

None of the players are good.

better:

None of the players is good.

 

Since none has the meanings “not one” and “not any,” some insist that it always be treated as a singular and be followed by a singular verb:

The rescue party searched for survivors, but none was found.

 

However, none has been used with both singular and plural verbs since the 9th century. When the sense is “not any persons or things” (as in the example above), the plural is more common:

none were found.

 

Only when none is clearly intended to mean “not one” or “not any” is it followed by a singular verb:

Of all my articles, none has received more acclaim than my latest one.

 

[source: Dictionary.com, none]

wrong:

The reason is because we want to improve our English.

right:

The reason is that we want to improve our English.

The reason is we want to improve our English.

The reason is to improve our English.

The reason is clear.

 

Because we want to improve our English, we read everyday.

 

This illustrates the popular but wrong use of the conjunction because. The reason is should not be followed by a because-clause but an appropriate completion of the predicate, e.g., a substantive (including a noun clause) or an adjective. N.B.: because seems to be accepted now in some circles to mean the fact that, in which case this popular, “wrong” use of the conjunction may be justified.

wrong:

If I would have been more careful, I would have seen it coming.

I wish you would of included more examples.

right:

If I had been more careful, I would have seen it coming.

I wish you had included more examples.

 

Schools often do not teach about the proper sequence of tenses for complex sentences. Children learn faulty syntax from popular songs like “If she would have been faithful” (by the pop group Chicago)—probably not the best source of knowledge when it comes to English grammar and syntax. N.B.: use “would have,” not “would of.”

wrong:

I should of . . . .

right:

I should have . . . .

 

This is a common mistake which approximates in written form the way we often pronounce the word have in conversation.

wrong:

We would have came earlier.

You could have swam farther.

They should have went with us.

right:

We would have come earlier.

You could have swum farther.

They should have gone with us.

 

This is becoming a common mistake. Make sure to learn the principal parts of verbs, e.g., go, went, gone; come, came, come; swim, swam, swum.

wrong”:

Take your feet off of the couch.

right:

Take your feet off the couch.

 

Avoid unnecessary prepositions.

wrong”:

We had a fun day in the sun.

better:

We had an enjoyable day in the sun.

We had fun in the sun today.

 

Fun is a noun. One can have lots of fun or have fun but not a fun time. N.B.: the informal adjectival use of fun seems to be more and more accepted.

wrong:

Older people are often abandoned by society.

right:

The elderly are often abandoned by society.

Old people are often abandoned by society.

 

Older people begs the question “older than whom?” because older is a comparative adjective.

wrong:

Neither of us are wrong.

Each of us want a good life.

Everyone can express their opinion.

right:

Neither of us is wrong.

Each of us wants a good life.

All people can express their opinion.

Everyone can express an opinion.

Everyone can express his or her opinion.

 

Keep the numbers consistent (i.e., singular or plural).

wrong:

Who were you with?

right:

Who was with you?

Whom were you with?

With whom were you?

 

There are always correct alternatives to wrong use of cases.

wrong:

The three R’s of elementary education.

There are several YMCA’s in this county.

The Smith’s live there.

We will visit the Smith’s (home).

We will visit the Smiths’ (home).

We like reading Burns’ poems.

We listened to Vaucouleurs lecture on the Hubble constant.

Jesus’s teachings were not popular.

Euripides’s plays were written in Greek.

Life was good in the 1990’s.

Life was good in the 90’s.

Life was good in the ‘90’s.

right:

The three Rs of elementary education.

There are several YMCAs in this county.

The Smiths live there.

We will visit the Smiths.

We will visit the Smiths’ home.

We like reading Burns’s poems.

We listened to Vaucouleurs’s lecture on the Hubble constant.

Jesus’ teachings were not popular.

Euripides’ plays were written in Greek.

Life was good in the 1990s.

Life was good in the ’90s.

 

There seems to be an apostrophe catastrophe in the US these days. Most do not seem to know when to use it and when not to. The corresponding mistakes in pronunciation are also worth mentioning. See The Chicago Manual of Style, 6.15–23.

wrong:

My mother doesn’t like me staying out late.

right:

My mother doesn’t like my staying out late.

 

It is not the me that the mother does not like; the mother does not like the staying out late.

wrong”:

Hopefully you will get a raise.

You will hopefully get a raise.

You will get a raise hopefully.

better:

Hopefully, you will get a raise.

I hope you will get a raise.

The hero drove hopefully into the sunset. (= in a hopeful manner)

 

The first meaning of hopefully is “in a hopeful manner.” The second meaning of hopefully is “it is hoped,” “I hope,” or “we hope.” According to Merriam-Webster, hopefully in the second sense is a kind of adverb known as disjuncts, which indicate a writer’s or speaker’s comment to the reader or hearer (usually on the content of the sentence to which they are attached). Cf. interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, unfortunately.

wrong”:

That was a near miss.

better:

That was a close call.

That was a near hit.

That was almost a hit.

 

Logically, a near miss is in fact a collision or a hit. Although near miss may have begun life as a misnomer, it seems to enjoy the validity of long use; people use near miss almost always to mean a near collision or a close call.

wrong:

I loaned some money from her.

better:

I borrowed some money from her.

She lent me some money.

She loaned me some money.

 

Loan means to lend, not to borrow. Lend is usually better, but loan is often used when money is involved.

wrong:

The reverend preached a good sermon today.

better:

The minister preached a good sermon today.
The priest preached a good sermon today.

 

Instead of the adjective reverend, use the following: minister, priest, pastor, preacher. Reverend, as a title should be used with the definite article the and the name of the person, e.g., the Rev. (Mr. or Dr.) Smith. Reverend is really just an adjective like honorable as in the honorable Judge Judy—we would never say, The honorable sat on the bench for a long time.

wrong:

Put the toast in the toaster.
We are now ready to pre-board.

Put it into the pre-heated oven.

Please wait until we come to a complete stop.

In my own personal opinion, they should go ahead.

Take care of your personal belongings.

right:

Put the (slice of) bread into the toaster.

We are now ready to board.

Put it into the heated oven.

Please wait until we come to a stop.

In my opinion, they should go ahead.

Take care of your belongings.

 

Sometimes what we say makes no sense or are redundant. Do we really mean to put something that is already toasted into—note the correct preposition—the toaster? Aren't those who pre-board merely those who board ahead of others—we wouldn't say that those who board last post-board. And isn't an oven either heated or not heated? What would be the temperature of a pre-heated oven—any different from a heated one? And is a complete stop different from a stop—as if there can ever be a partial stop? Is my own personal opinion more mine or more personal than simply my opinion? Can we speak of non-personal belongings? (FYI: some of these are taken from one of George Carlin's comedy routines.)

wrong:

How do you feel about that?

right:

What do you think about that?
What do you feel about that?

 

When people ask how we feel about something, they are usually asking for our opinion concerning the topic of discussion. They are no more interested in the intricate workings of our bio-chemical state or in the mechanisms involved in our sensation or emotion as they would be in the workings of our nervous system if they were to ask how we think about something. Unless the anticipated answer is something like "Well, I feel with my fingers," the proper way to ask for an opinion is to ask what we think about something, i.e., our thoughts or opinions concerning something. In most cases how we feel has very little to do with what the questioner intends to find out. In the case that feelings are in fact what interests the questioner (e.g., I feel anger.), the question should not be "How do you feel?" but "What do you feel?"

wrong:

She feels the oil embargo was necessary.

He feels the country is going in the right direction.

She felt the answer to 2+3 was 5 instead of 4.

right:

She thinks (believes, is convinced) the oil embargo was necessary.
He thinks (believes, is convinced) the country is going in the right direction.
She thought the answer to 2+3 was 5 instead of 4.

 

Watch out for all the uses of feel. We can feel good, sick, nervous, etc. But when it comes to our opinions and thoughts on things, we do not feel them, but instead we think, believe, conclude, etc.

wrong:

I'm so hungry, I can literally eat a horse.

right:

I'm so hungry, I can eat a (literal) horse.

 

What people mean to say is that their hunger is so great that they feel as though they can devour something as big as a horse (a literal horse as opposed to a figurative one). To eat literally would mean to eat for real (or really) instead of eating figuratively. It is best to leave the word literally or literal out altogether.

wrong:

The weather conditions are slippery right now.
The temperature outside is very warm.
The weather outside is very warm.

right:

The roads are slippery right now.
The temperature outside is high.
It is very warm outside.

 

The grammatical sensibilities of people in the media are not always trustworthy. Weather cannot be slippery; roads may slippery. Weather cannot be warm either; it may be nice or terrible. Also the temperature can never be warm, only high, low, or a particular unit of measure, e.g., 30 degrees Celsius.

wrong:

She has supported me continuously.

right:

She has supported me continually.

 

Continuously is an adverb which has to do with connectedness or unbrokenness in space and time, e.g., a line can be continuous or water can flow continuously. Continually has to do not so much with connectedness, but rather with consistency, frequency, or repetition (e.g., God continually lavishes forgiveness on sinners.).

"wrong":

Turn on the machine.

right:

Turn the machine on.

 

If the first sentence is enunciated clearly, it would be okay: i.e., if the preposition on is grouped with the verb turn (= Turn-on the-machine). If the words are grouped wrong (i.e., Turn on-the-machine), the meaning would be different: the command will be to get on top of the machine to turn oneself around and around. It is much clearer to place the auxiliary adverb on at the end; that would mean to start the machine. The best way to remember this is to replace the object with a pronoun. For example, we would say Turn it on; but never would we say Turn-on it to mean start the machine.

 

 



under construction



Wrong:

Her silence seemed to infer that she was guilty.

Right:

Her silence seemed to imply that she was guilty.
From her silence we inferred her guilt.

 

Imply and infer are often confused. One infers what someone else implies.


Wrong:

He jumped in the pool.
He walked in the room.

Right:

He jumped into the pool.
He walked into the room.

 

Unless he is already in the water and jumped in the pool while still in the pool, the preposition into should be used. Likewise, walking while already in the room differs from walking into the room from outside the room.


Wrong:

Are you taking the SAT test?
I forgot my PIN number.
I need to find an ATM machine.
What's your car's VIN number?

Where is the ISBN number?

 

Could you send me the PDFs?

Right:

Are you taking the SAT? (Are you taking the SATs?)
I forgot my PIN.
I need to find an ATM.
What's your car's VIN?

Where is the ISBN?

 

Could you send me the PDF files?


SAT is the abbreviation for Scholastic Assessment Test, so it would be redundant to say SAT test. That would be somewhat like saying US states. Likewise, it would be silly to say PIN number because the N stands for number (PIN = Personal Identification Number). So also ATM (Automated Teller Machine), VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and ISBN (International Standard Book Number). Unfortunately, the same isn't true of PDF (Portable Document Format) because the F stands for format; thus, one could save a file "in PDF" or "as a PDF file," but not "as a PDF"—it would be nice if we could talk about "PDs" or save something "as a PD," but PD is not used this way.


Wrong:

It is most fundamental to my research.
It is very essential to my work.
She is more/very unique.

Right:

It is fundamental to my research.
It is essential to my work.
She is unique.


Superlatives cannot be made more superlative. To say something is most fundamental would be to say that there are various levels of fundamental, which by definition cannot be the case. Something is either fundamental or it is not. The same holds true for other superlatives: something is either essential or it is not; something is either unique or it is not. There cannot be anything more fundamental than fundamental, more essential than essential, or more unique than unique. The same is true of all superlatives (e.g., basic, not more or most basic; necessary, not very necessary).


"Wrong":

In Philadelphia it is 39 degrees presently.

Right:

In Philadelphia it is 39 degrees at this time.
She will arrive presently.

 

The use of presently to mean at this time or now is still in dispute. What is not in dispute is its primary definition, which is in a short time; soon; directly.


Wrong:

Give us, oh God, our daily bread.

O what a great day!

Right:

Give us, O God, our daily bread.

Oh, what a great day!


O and oh have separate functions. O is confined to direct address, in prayer and invocation, in literary and religious contexts (e.g., O God on high! O mighty ocean!), and to the exclamations O dear! and O my! It is always capitalized, always followed by another word(s), and never followed directly by punctuation. In contrast, the interjection oh can stand alone or as part of a sentence, to express strong emotions or merely a reflective pause: Oh! What a horse! or Oh, I see. It is only capitalized when it is the first word of a sentencew and is followed directly by a comma or, when the emphasis is strong, by an exclamation point.


"Wrong":

The situation was different in the '80s than the way it was in the '60s.
Your situation is different than mine.

Right:

The situation was different in the '80s from the way it was in the '60s.
The situation was different in the '80s than it was in the '60s.
Your situation is different from mine.

 

Most handbooks of English recommend that different be followed by than if it has a noun clause following it (e.g., "It is different in the '80s than it was in the '60s."). From is used if the phrase is followed by a noun, not a noun clause (e.g., "It was different in the '80s from the way it was in the '60s.").


Wrong:

I'm going irregardless of what you think.

Right:

I'm going regardless of what you think.

 

As far as I know, irregardless is not a word (regardless of how often people use that word).


Wrong:

It's so loud that I can't hardly think!
I could care less about what happens to him!

Right:

It's so loud that I can hardly think!
I couldn't care less about what happens to him!

 

These are common mistakes that display illogic in a sentence.


"Wrong":

I'm glad Adam arrived safely.

Right:

I'm glad Adam arrived safe (and sound).

I'm sorry that Adam arrived so tired.

Please drive safely.


Because safely is an adverb, it modifies how the arriving happened, not in what condition Adam arrived. That is, safely describes arrived, while safe describes Adamthe latter is what people usually mean. The poet Dylan Thomas shows that he knew this subtle distinction well when he wrote "Do not go gentle into that good night." That first line would have meant something quite different had Dylan used gently instead of gentle: gently would describe how to go into that good night, whereas gentle describes the condition of the father as he goes into that good night.


 Spelling & Pronunciation (or . . . close but no cigar)

 
See also this.


a lot

Many write this incorrectly as one word (alot).


affect

effect

 


alternate

alternative

 


baptize

baptism

The verb is pronounced bap-TIZE and is spelled with a Z (cf. the Greek verb bap-TID-zayn). The noun is pronounced BAP-tism and is spelled with an S (cf. the Greek noun BAP-tis-ma).

 

Cf. also the shift of accent in pronunciation in other verbs that are used as nouns: con-VERT and CON-vert; con-SULT and CON-sult; con-STRUCT and CON-struct; im-PLANT and IM-plant.


energize

enervate

Sometimes words may seem to have similar meaning, but the knowledge of their etymology clarifies why they have different, even opposite meanings. Energize, from the Greek word energein, which also gives us the word energy, has to do with work and energy. Enervate, from the Latin word enervare, has to with weakening (i.e., e-nerving, which is something like de-nerving). The main root for energize is erg, which is in fact a unit for measuring work or energy; the main root for enervate is nerv, from which we also get nervous.


memento

Note the spelling of the word: it is not MOmento. Memento has nothing etymologically to do with moment; its root has to do with remembering. The preferred pronunciation is me-MEN-to, although mo-MEN-to is also acceptable (hence the misspelling).


prophecy

prophesy

Prophecy is a noun; (to) prophesy is a verb. So, I can prophesy a prophecy. Or she prophesies doom and gloom.


sacrilegious

Note the spelling of the word: it is not sacRELIgious. Sacrilegious has nothing etymologically to do with religion (NB: the spelling of religion); it has rather to do with theft (Latin legere, meaning to gather, to pluck; a sacrilegus is a temple thief). It used to (should?) be pronounced sa-cri-LEE-jus, not sa-cree-LI-jus. It would be helpful to remember that the noun is sacrilege (SA-cri-lej), which is the misuse, theft, desecration, or profanation of anything regarded as sacred (not necessarily religious).


separate

SepArate, not sepErate.


shepherd

Shepard may be an acceptable spelling for a person's name, but it is not an alternative spelling for shepherd.


versus

verses

 


 Punctuation

 


The importance of correct punctuation: are the following two letters the same?

 

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy—will you let me be yours?

Gloria

 

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,
Gloria


A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing!


I see a man-eating lobster.
I see a man eating lobster.


And speaking of hyphens, note that the computer has enabled us to do what publishers have been doing for a long time, i.e., use en dashes and em dashes. (For detailed explanations, see the Chicago Manual of Style, from which some of the material below has been adapted.)

 

hyphen

-

The hyphen is a short line used to connect the parts of a compound word or the parts of a word divided for any purpose.

 

Indo-European languages

English-speaking countries

re-creation of a place


en dash

The en dash is longer than a hyphen and is used primarily to indicate continuing, or inclusive, numbers, e.g, dates, time, or reference numbers.

 

1964–98

Jan–Mar 2007

10:00 am–2:00 pm (or 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.)

Galatians 1.1–2.21

 

The en dash is also used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective one element of which consists of two words or of a hyphenated word.

 

New York–London flight

post–Civil War period

quasi-public–quasi-judicial body (NB: hyphens and the en dash are used in combination)

non-English-speaking countries (NB: only hyphens)


em dash

The em dash is twice the length of an en dash and is used to indicate a break in thought or sentence structure, to introduce a phrase added for emphasis, definition, or explanation, or to separate two clauses.

 

Will he—can he—obtain the necessary signatures?

Because the data had not yet been completely analyzed—the reason for this will be discussed later—the publication of the report was delayed.

Later that night Alexandra—what an extraordinary woman she was!—rode alone to Bucharest to warn the duke.

 


 Etc. (NB: et cetera, not ek cetera)

 


What do the sentences mean?

 

He cut the cheese with the new hunter's knife.
Last summer Janet went to a pretty little girls' camp.
The cannibal ate the roast beef before his enemy.

 


Writing tips from Writer's Digest

 

1.    Prefer the plain word to the fancy.

2.    Prefer the familiar word to the unfamiliar.

3.    Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

4.    Prefer nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs.

5.    Prefer picture nouns and action verbs.

6.    Never use a long word when a short one will do as well.

7.    Master the simple declarative sentence.

8.    Prefer the simple sentence to the complicated.

9.    Vary the sentence length.

10.  Put the word you want to emphasize at the beginning or end of your sentence.

11.  Use the active voice.

12.  Put the statements in a positive form.

13.  Use short paragraphs.

14.  Cut needless words, sentences and paragraphs.

15.  Use plain, conversational language.

16.  Avoid imitation. Write in your natural style.

17.  Write clearly.

18.  Avoid gobbledygook and jargon.

19.  Write to be understood, not to impress.

20.  Revise and rewrite. Improvement is always possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

under construction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 “Wrong”:

Right:

 

Wrong:

I loaned some money (from her).

Right:

I borrowed some money (from her).

She lent me some money.

She loaned me her umbrella.

           

Loan means to lend, not to borrow. Lend is usually used when money is involved.

Wrong:

The reverend preached a good sermon today.

Right:

The minister preached a good sermon today.

The priest preached a good sermon today.

           

Instead of the adjective reverend, use the following: minister, priest, pastor, preacher. Reverend, as a title should be used with the definite article the and the name of the person, e.g., the Rev. (Mr. or Dr.) Smith. Reverend is really just an adjective like honorable as in the honorable Judge Thomas—we would never say, The honorable sat on the bench for a long time.

Wrong:

Put the toast in the toaster.

We are now ready to pre-board.

Put it into the pre-heated oven.

Please wait until we come to a complete stop.

In my own personal opinion, they should go ahead.

Take care of your personal belongings.

Right:

Put the (slice of) bread into the toaster.

We are now ready to board.

Put it into the heated oven.

Please wait until we come to a stop.

In my opinion, they should go ahead.

Take care of your belongings.

 

Sometimes what we say makes no sense or are redundant. Do we really mean to put something that is already toasted into—note the correct preposition—the toaster? Aren’t those who pre-board merely those who board ahead of others—we wouldn’t say that those who board last post-board. And isn’t an oven either heated or not heated? What would be the temperature of a pre-heated oven—any different from a heated one? And is a complete stop different from a stop—as if there can ever be a partial stop? Is my own personal opinion more mine or more personal? Can we speak of non-personal belongings? (FYI: some of these are taken from one of George Carlin’s comedy routines.)

Wrong:

How do you feel about that?

Right:

What do you think about that?

(What do you feel about that?)

 

When people ask how we feel about something, they are usually asking for our opinion concerning the topic of discussion. They are no more interested in the intricate workings of our bio-chemical state or in the mechanisms involved in our sensation or emotion as they would be in the workings of our nervous system if they were to ask how we think about something. Unless the anticipated answer is something like Well, I feel with my fingers or the like, the proper way to ask for an opinion is to ask what we think about the topic, that is our thoughts or opinions concerning something. In most cases how we feel has very little to do with what the questioner intends to find out. In the case that feelings are in fact what interests the questioner (e.g., I feel anger.), the question should not be how but what do you feel?

Wrong:

She felt the answer to 2+3 was 5 instead of 4.

She felt the oil embargo was necessary.

Right:

She thought the answer to 2+3 was 5 instead of 4.

She thought (believed, was convinced) the oil embargo was necessary.

           

Watch out for all the uses of feel. We can feel good, sick, nervous, etc. But when it comes to our opinions and thoughts on things, we don’t feel them, but instead we think, believe, conclude, etc.

Wrong:

I’m so hungry, I can literally eat a horse.

Right:

I’m so hungry, I can eat a (literal) horse.

           

What people mean to say is that their hunger is so great that they feel as though they can devour something as big as a horse (literal horse, as opposed to figurative). To eat literally would mean to eat for real (or really) instead of eating figuratively. It’s best to leave the word literally or literal out altogether.

Wrong:

The weather conditions are slippery right now.

The temperature outside is very warm.

The weather outside is very warm.

Right:

The roads are slippery right now.

The temperature outside is high.

It is very warm outside.

           

Never trust the grammatical sensibilities of people in the media. Weather can’t be slippery; only roads can be that. Weather can’t be warm either; it can be nice or terrible, though. Also the temperature can never be warm, only high, low, etc.

Wrong:

She has supported me continuously.

Right:

She has supported me continually.

 

Continuously is an adverb which has to do with connectedness or unbrokenness in space and time, e.g., a line can be continuous or water can flow continuously. Continually has to do not so much with connectedness, but rather with consistency or repetition (e.g., God continually lavishes forgiveness on sinners).

“Wrong”:

Turn on the machine.

Right:

Turn the machine on.

 

If the first sentence is enunciated clearly, it would be okay: i.e., if the preposition on is grouped with the verb turn (= Turn-on the-machine). If the words are grouped wrong (i.e., Turn on-the-machine), the meaning would be different: the command will be to get on top of the machine to turn oneself around and around. It is much clearer to place the auxiliary adverb on at the end; that would mean to start the machine. The best way to remember this is to replace the object with a pronoun. For example, we would say, Turn it on; but never would we say Turn-on it to mean start the machine.

Wrong:

Her silence seemed to infer that she was guilty.

Right:

Her silence seemed to imply that she was guilty.

From her silence we inferred her guilt.

           

Imply and infer are often confused. One infers what someone else implies.

Wrong:

He jumped in the pool.

He walked in the room.

Right:

He jumped into the pool.

He walked into the room.

           

Unless he is already in the water and jumped in the pool while still in the pool, the preposition into should be used. Likewise, walking while already in the room differs from walking into the room from outside the room.

Wrong:

Are you taking the SAT test?

I forgot my PIN number.

I need to find an ATM machine.

What’s your car’s VIN number?

Where is the ISBN number?

 

Could you send me the PDFs?

Right:

Are you taking the SAT? (Are you taking the SATs?)

I forgot my PIN.

I need to find an ATM.

What’s your car’s VIN?

Where is the ISBN?

 

Could you send me the PDF files?

 

SAT is the abbreviation for Scholastic Assessment Test, so it would be redundant to say SAT test. That would be somewhat like saying US states. Likewise, it would be silly to say PIN number because the N stands for number (PIN = Personal Identification Number). So also ATM (Automated Teller Machine), VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and ISBN (International Standard Book Number). Unfortunately, the same isn’t true of PDF (Portable Document Format) because the F stands for format; thus, one could save a file “in PDF” or “as a PDF file,” but not “as a PDF”—it would be nice if we could talk about “PDs” or save something “as a PD,” but PD is not used this way.

Wrong:

It is most fundamental to my research.

It is very essential to my work.

She is more/very unique.

Right:

It is fundamental to my research.

It is essential to my work.

She is unique.

 

Superlatives cannot be made more superlative. To say something is most fundamental would be to say that there are various levels of fundamental, which by definition cannot be the case. Something is either fundamental or it is not. The same holds true for other superlatives: something is either essential or it is not; something is either unique or it is not. There cannot be anything more fundamental than fundamental, more essential than essential, or more unique than unique. The same is true of all superlatives (e.g., basic, not more or most basic; necessary, not very necessary).

“Wrong”:

In Philadelphia it is 39 degrees presently.

Right:

In Philadelphia it is 39 degrees at this time.

She will arrive presently.

           

The use of presently to mean at this time or now is still in dispute. What is not in dispute is its primary definition, which is in a short time; soon; directly.

Wrong:

Give us, oh God, our daily bread.

O what a great day!

Right:

Give us, O God, our daily bread.

Oh, what a great day!

 

O and oh have separate functions. O is confined to direct address, in prayer and invocation, in literary and religious contexts (e.g., O God on high! O mighty ocean!), and to the exclamations O dear! and O my! It is always capitalized, always followed by another word(s), and never followed directly by punctuation. In contrast, the interjection oh can stand alone or as part of a sentence, to express strong emotions or merely a reflective pause: Oh! What a horse! or Oh, I see. It is only capitalized when it is the first word of a sentencew and is followed directly by a comma or, when the emphasis is strong, by an exclamation point.

“Wrong”:

The situation was different in the ‘80s than the way it was in the ‘60s.

Your situation is different than mine.

Right:

The situation was different in the ‘80s from the way it was in the ‘60s.

The situation was different in the ‘80s than it was in the ‘60s.

Your situation is different from mine.

           

Most handbooks of English recommend that different be followed by than if it has a noun clause following it (e.g., “It is different in the ‘80s than it was in the ‘60s.”). From is used if the phrase is followed by a noun, not a noun clause (e.g., “It was different in the ‘80s from the way it was in the ‘60s.”).

Wrong:

I’m going irregardless of what you think.

Right:

I’m going regardless of what you think.

           

As far as I know, irregardless is not a word (regardless of how often people use that word).

Wrong:

It’s so loud that I can’t hardly think!

I could care less about what happens to him!

Right:

It’s so loud that I can hardly think!

I couldn’t care less about what happens to him!

           

These are common mistakes that display illogic in a sentence.

“Wrong”:

I’m glad Adam arrived safely.

Right:

I’m glad Adam arrived safe (and sound).

I’m sorry that Adam arrived so tired.

Please drive safely.

 

Because safely is an adverb, it modifies how the arriving happened, not in what condition Adam arrived. That is, safely describes arrived, while safe describes Adam—the latter is what people usually mean. The poet Dylan Thomas shows that he knew this subtle distinction well when he wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night.” That first line would have meant something quite different had Dylan used gently instead of gentle: gently would describe how to go into that good night, whereas gentle describes the condition of the father as he goes into that good night.

 

 

 Spelling & Pronunciation (or . . . close but no cigar)

 

added 2013.10.17:

Grammar Slammer

 

See also this.

a lot

Many write this incorrectly as one word (alot).

affect

effect

 

alternate

alternative

 

baptize

baptism

The verb is pronounced bap-TIZE and is spelled with a Z (cf. the Greek verb bap-TID-zayn). The noun is pronounced BAP-tism and is spelled with an S (cf. the Greek noun BAP-tis-ma).

 

Cf. also the shift of accent in pronunciation in other verbs that are used as nouns: con-VERT and CON-vert; con-SULT and CON-sult; con-STRUCT and CON-struct; im-PLANT and IM-plant.

energize

enervate

Sometimes words may seem to have similar meaning, but the knowledge of their etymology clarifies why they have different, even opposite meanings. Energize, from the Greek word energein, which also gives us the word energy, has to do with work and energy. Enervate, from the Latin word enervare, has to with weakening (i.e., e-nerving, which is something like de-nerving). The main root for energize is erg, which is in fact a unit for measuring work or energy; the main root for enervate is nerv, from which we also get nervous.

memento

Note the spelling of the word: it is not MOmento. Memento has nothing etymologically to do with moment; its root has to do with remembering. The preferred pronunciation is me-MEN-to, although mo-MEN-to is also acceptable (hence the misspelling).

prophecy

prophesy

Prophecy is a noun; (to) prophesy is a verb. So, I can prophesy a prophecy. Or she prophesies doom and gloom.

 

sacrilegious

Note the spelling of the word: it is not sacRELIgious. Sacrilegious has nothing etymologically to do with religion (N.B.: the spelling of religion); it has rather to do with theft (Latin legere, meaning to gather, to pluck; a sacrilegus is a temple thief). It used to (should?) be pronounced sa-cri-LEE-jus, not sa-cree-LI-jus. It would be helpful to remember that the noun is sacrilege (SA-cri-lej), which is the misuse, theft, desecration, or profanation of anything regarded as sacred (not necessarily religious).

separate

SepArate, not sepErate.

shepherd

Shepard may be an acceptable spelling for a person’s name, but it is not an alternative spelling for shepherd.

versus

verses

 

 Punctuation

 

The importance of correct punctuation: are the following two letters the same?

 

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy—will you let me be yours?

Gloria

 

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Gloria

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing!

I see a man-eating lobster.

I see a man eating lobster.

And speaking of hyphens, note that the computer has enabled us to do what publishers have been doing for a long time, i.e., use en dashes and em dashes. (For detailed explanations, see the Chicago Manual of Style, from which some of the material below has been adapted.)

 

hyphen          

-

The hyphen is a short line used to connect the parts of a compound word or the parts of a word divided for any purpose.

 

Indo-European languages

English-speaking countries

re-creation of a place

en dash        

The en dash is longer than a hyphen and is used primarily to indicate continuing, or inclusive, numbers, e.g, dates, time, or reference numbers.

 

1964–98

Jan–Mar 2007

10:00 am–2:00 pm (or 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.)

Galatians 1.1–2.21

 

The en dash is also used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective one element of which consists of two words or of a hyphenated word.

 

New York–London flight

post–Civil War period

quasi-public–quasi-judicial body (N.B.: hyphens and the en dash are used in combination)

non-English-speaking countries (N.B.: only hyphens)

em dash       

The em dash is twice the length of an en dash and is used to indicate a break in thought or sentence structure, to introduce a phrase added for emphasis, definition, or explanation, or to separate two clauses.

 

Will he—can he—obtain the necessary signatures?

Because the data had not yet been completely analyzed—the reason for this will be discussed later—the publication of the report was delayed.

Later that night Alexandra—what an extraordinary woman she was!—rode alone to Bucharest to warn the duke.

 

 Etc. (N.B.: et cetera, not ek cetera)

 

What do the sentences mean?

 

He cut the cheese with the new hunter’s knife.

Last summer Janet went to a pretty little girls’ camp.

The cannibal ate the roast beef before his enemy.

 

Writing tips from Writer’s Digest

 

1.    Prefer the plain word to the fancy.

2.    Prefer the familiar word to the unfamiliar.

3.    Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

4.    Prefer nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs.

5.    Prefer picture nouns and action verbs.

6.    Never use a long word when a short one will do as well.

7.    Master the simple declarative sentence.

8.    Prefer the simple sentence to the complicated.

9.    Vary the sentence length.

10.  Put the word you want to emphasize at the beginning or end of your sentence.

11.  Use the active voice.

12.  Put the statements in a positive form.

13.  Use short paragraphs.

14.  Cut needless words, sentences and paragraphs.

15.  Use plain, conversational language.

16.  Avoid imitation. Write in your natural style.

17.  Write clearly.

18.  Avoid gobbledygook and jargon.

19.  Write to be understood, not to impress.

20.  Revise and rewrite. Improvement is always possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

================================================================

================================================================

sundry addenda

================================================================

================================================================

 

non-words:

lacksadaisical

mischievious

 

 

 

cohesive v coherent

disinterested v uninterested

energize v enervate

ensure v insure

exalt v exult

hanged v hung 

imminent v immanent

nauseated v nauseous

intimidate v intimidated (obama: ... does not intimidate easily)

industrious v industrial

stationary v stationery

tenet v tennent

tortuous v torturous

vertex v vortex

when v whenever (= every time)

 

 

 

 

Minds, like parachutes, work only when they are open.

 

 

redundant?

responsible response

 

 

redundancies:

more thorough explanation

fuller explanation

complete sentence

complete stop

 

 

 

 

lead, led

shrank, shrunk

showed, shown

went, gone

swam, swum

 

 

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY

 

craft

defeat

document

rock

 

adept

ally

august August

aye

bow

collect

close

complex

compress

conduct

console

content

converse

desolate

permit

process

produce

project     

rebel

recess

reject

resume v résumé

row

sake

sewer

tear

wind

 

 

 

Oh, my God! Help me!

O my God, help me.

 

 

 

"Our materials are far more superior than theirs."

 

 

They could care less about what I think.

 

 

Theres two or three . . .

 

 

i wish i would have did it.

 

anybody else who have done this

 

One must never forget their origin.

 

Paul: Phil 4.10-14 autarkeia

 

 

 

hymn Because He Lives, v3 . . . I'll fight life's final war with pain . . .

dangling ptc?

 

 

 

compt

comptroller

coxswain

forecastle

victual

Worcester

Worcestershire

 

 

 

 

comma-mania

apostropho-mania

hypheno-mania

 

 

 

 

i wish i would have did it.

 

anybody else who have done this

 

One must never forget their origin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012.10.03 presidential debate:Obama:

". . . healthcare experts, doctors, etc. to figure out how can we reduce the cost of care in the system overall."

 

 

demise of indirect speech: "Do you know yet when would we be leaving and returning?"

Then the Q will be about can they govern. [The Q will be, "Can they govern?"]

We should look at why didn't we take the road.

 

Obama: ... I'm asking my team whether is what we're doing necessary ...

 

“Creates a sense of ‘what is this course about?’ among some students.” (PowerPoint slide at WC)

 

 

 

comma chaos

apostrophe catastrophe

"I approve this message because . . ."

 

 

 

". . . you're dreaming about what am I going to be . . . ."

 

 

 

 

 

.take someone out 1 to escort, as on a date : I finally get to take her out on Saturday night. 2 Bridge respond to a bid or double by one's partner by bidding a different suit.take someone/something out informal kill, destroy, or disable someone or something.

 

actor (gender-discrimination: actress)

 

 

loser & loser

closer & closer

 

 

 

produce & produce

 

 

man of 85 years old

 

 

Gayle King interview Carrie Underwood: why do you still doubt that they won't show up

 

 

it's a matter of you gotta find a replacement

 

 

she had grew up there

 

 

 

 

 

 

jewelry

machination

 

alumni

kudos

 

English is the lingua franca = Latin term (meaning literally the French tongue/language) for the universal language

 

 

 

 

Words that aren’t.

arguement

verbage

alot

 

critical/critique

seperate

 

 

 

Smith > Smiths > Smiths’

Jones> Joneses>Joneses’

here’s an instance in which the apostrophe is appropriate:

Chuck E. Cheese’s

name: Chuck E. Cheese

 

 

epitaph & epithet

hardly nothing