Monthly Archives: October 2014

Only “And” Adds

images

 

“And” is the conjunction we use to add information. However, sometimes we use other phrases, such as “along with,” “in addition to,” “as well as,” “with,” “including” and “together with.” These seem to add information but, in fact, don’t.

Why do you care? Whether you use “and” or one of the other phrases determines whether the sentence is singular or plural. Look at the following two sentences:

1. Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane work at the Daily Planet.

2. Clark Kent, together with Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, works at the Daily Planet.

That “and’ in the first sentence makes the subject plural; it includes all three people Therefore, the verb also has to be plural. In the second sentence, “together with” does not make Jimmy and Lois part of the subject. Only Clark is the subject; therefore, you need the singular verb works.

Remember, I don’t make up the rules; I just teach them.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Just a Reminder

images

I recently spent time with a person who qualified “unique”: things were “very unique” or “rather unique” and even “extremely unique.”

Did I say something? No. Did I want to? Did I ever. “Unique” means one of a kind. Nothing else like it (whatever “it” is) exists. Therefore, it can’t be qualified. Either something is unique or it isn’t. Qualifying “unique” is  rather like being a little bit pregnant.

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

How Not to Write

Last week I came across this article (partially reprinted here) in the New York Times. Immediately, I knew I was going to use it as an example of what not to do.

To begin, read the first paragraph and tell me you are not confused. The reporter included so much information that by the time you get to the topic, you forget what you had just read.

The second paragraph clearly tells what happened. With a few simple revisions, that should have been the lead.

 

In Mexico, an Embattled Governor Resigns

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD OCT. 23, 2014

MEXICO CITY — The governor of the southern Mexico state where 43 college students have gone missing in a case that the authorities say has exposed the deep ties among local politicians, the police and organized crime stepped down on Thursday under pressure from his own party.

The governor, Ángel Aguirre of Guerrero State, agreed to leave his post after leaders of his party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, publicly said they would otherwise try to push him out in order to quell growing civil unrest in the state.

Here’s what I would have written:

The governor of Guerrero State, Mexico, Ángel Aguirre, agreed to leave his post after leaders of his party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, publicly said they would otherwise try to push him out in order to quell growing civil unrest in the state.

Recently, 43 college students have gone missing in a case that the authorities say has exposed the deep ties among local politicians, the police and organized crime.

The article then continues, but I didn’t want to read any more, primarily because of the hodge podge of information the reporter threw at me in the first paragraph.

I have noticed that, particularly in newspapers, you have an idea what an article is going to be about by reading the title; however, until you get to the meat of the article, you have to wade through a great deal of background detail. At times the crucial information is located many paragraphs later on a following page.

Take a lesson from this article when you are writing—whether for pleasure or work. Start with the most important information and then fill in the supporting details. Otherwise, you are seriously risking losing your readers.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Simplistic or Simple?

Recently, I’ve heard people use “simplistic” when they meant “simple.” I searched my blog and found this post from a year ago and think it’s worth repeating.

I have written about the difference between long and lengthy and how the latter has a negative connotation, implying something is going on longer than it needs to. A long speech may be hard to listen to, but a lengthy one may verge on torture.  Most people use lengthy (or God forbid, lengthly) because they think it sounds more professional.  It isn’t.

The same can be said about simplistic.  It is not a fancy-schmancy way to say simple.  It means something that is overly simple, and therefore inadequate.  Roger’s simplistic explanation left the audience with more questions than answers.

Don’t write (or talk) to impress.  Your goal is to be clear and understood.  Isn’t that what you want from others’ communications?

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Are You Tense?

For people learning English, our plethora of verb tenses if confusing and often overwhelming. From native speakers, the most common error I see and hear is with the verb “go.” Yep, simple, everyday “go.”

You know the past tense is “went”: I went, you went, he went, she went, we went, they went. But when you are in a situation in which you want to describe an action you have or had done before, you need the verb “gone,” as in “I had gone to see that movie but wanted to see it again.” What I hear so frequently is “I had/have went.” Shudder!

“Has” and “have” comprise the past participle form of verbs. If you use any version of those, including “will have” or “could have,” you will need to use “gone.”

Here is a short video from “The Big Bang Theory,” sent to me by VMD. Remember, it’s a joke; these tenses don’t really exist. But I think you’ll enjoy the creativity of the so-called grammarians you’ll see:

http://www.cbs.com/shows/big_bang_theory/video/4861723D-9A3C-9D15-AE2F-0BF43322F381/the-big-bang-theory-back-to-the-future-grammar/

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

A Quick Pronoun Quiz

Which sentence is grammatically correct?

1. My boyfriend likes soccer more than me.

2. My boyfriend likes soccer more than I.

Hmmm. You’re thinking about this one. Scroll down and see if you are correct.

 

 

images

 

 

Both sentences are correct. The first one is really saying that my boyfriend likes soccer more than he likes me. The second sentence says he likes soccer more than I do.

If you’re not sure about which pronoun to use, think about what the sentence is actually saying and add the missing but understood words.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What’s the Correct Verb?

imagesHere are a few sentences asking you to decide which verb is correct:

1. Each of the Congress members in the border districts (is, are) being polled on the immigration proposal.

2. A list of the employees of the Internal Audit Department requesting flexible vacation days (is, are) posted in Sheridan’s office.

3. Every member of the committee reviewing the bylaws (needs, need) to send in recommendations by next Friday.

Finished? The correct answer in each sentence is the first choice. Verbs have to agree with their subjects—singular with singular, plural with plural.

In the first sentence, the subject is “Each.” The next two pieces of the sentence before the verb are prepositional phrases, and the subject of a sentence is never found in a prepositional phrase. “Members” and “districts” are objects of their preceding prepositions but neither can be the subject.

The subject in the second sentence is “list,” for the same reason, as is “member” in the third sentence.

If you are not sure what your subject is, temporarily cross out the prepositional phrases. You’ll then be down to the skeleton of your sentence and the verb will become apparent.

How did you do?

3 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Into or In to?

The distinction between these two is not difficult, yet people often confuse them.

INTO is a preposition and indicates movement either within something else or toward it:

“I drove into downtown Chicago although I had never been there before and was unsure where I was going.”

“Harry tried to put his new iPhone6 into his pocket but found it wouldn’t fit.”

 

IN TO comprises the adverb “in” and is followed by “to,” which is another preposition.

“I listened in to see if I was interested in their discussion of ‘Homeland.’ ”

Here’s an easy way to distinguish these two constructions:

INTO almost always answers the question “Where?”

IN TO indicates “in order to.”

Let’s try this out: Harry put his new iPhone6 where? Into his pocket (or at least he tried).

Why did I listen in? In order to see if I would be interested in their conversation.

Got it? Good!

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Presently or Currently?

 

images

The first meaning or spelling you find in the dictionary is the preferred one. The first definition of “presently” is “soon, in the near future.”

“Currently” means “now, at the present time.”

Many people use “presently” interchangeably with “currently,” because, most likely, they are thinking of “at the present time.”

I prefer to make the distinction between these two words. As always, though, common usage will be the deciding factor.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Are You Using These Phrases Incorrectly?

images

Today I bring for your edification today the following phrases that are often said/written incorrectly, probably because people may not have seen them in print but go by what they hear (or think they hear):

http://www.buzzfeed.com/michaelblackmon/17-really-common-phrases-youve-probably-been-saying-wrong?bffb&utm_term=4ldqpgp&s=mobile#10bv1hc

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Question Marks

images

You know to put a question mark at the end of a direct question: “Where have you been?” However, I often see them where they do not belong, such as at the end of sentences containing the words “wonder” and guess.” (If you put those words in the search box on this blog, you’ll find a post I wrote addressing that problem.)

Another place they don’t belong is in indirect questions such as the following: “Terrence would like to know when Algernon will be in England?” This is a statement of fact. Terrence himself must have asked, “When will Algernon be in England?” But you are merely stating what Terrence is wondering about. Thank you for holding  your question mark.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Transpire

Most people think “transpire” means “to happen or occur,” as in,”The community was very curious about what transpired at the closed-door Board of Education meeting.”

In fact, it means “to leak out.” Surprised? Stick around because in not too many years today’s misconception about the meaning of “transpire” will have become standard through common usage.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language