A.M. in the Morning, P.M. in the Afternoon

It seems to me that I hear this particular grammar error more frequently now than in the past. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t really matter; I’m just here to clear things up.

Schools will open at 9:30 a.m. this morning. The show will start at 10:30 p.m. this evening.

A.M. means ante meridiem, which is Latin for before noon (midday); therefore, saying Schools will open at 9:30 a.m. this morning is redundant since it means Schools will open at 9:30 before noon this morning. Is there any other 9:30 before noon than the one that occurs in the morning? Is there a 9:30 before noon in the evening or afternoon?

You could say The school will open at 9:30 a.m. or The school will open at 9:30 this morning or The school will open at 9:30 a.m. today.

The same could be said for The show will start at 10:30 p.m. tonight P.M. means post meridiem, which is Latin for after midday, so this sentence is a redundancy. It says The show will start at 10:30 after midday this evening. Is there any other 10:30 after the hour of noon (midday) than the one that occurs at night? Is there a 10:30 after the hour of noon in the morning?

By the way, the abbreviation a.m. has several meanings, some of which are distinguished by whether it is capitalized. For ante meridiem, the correct spelling is with lowercase letters, a.m., since it is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, not Ante Meridiem. You also need the periods to distinguish between meanings (for example, A.M., Am, am). The same is true for p.m.

Sherry  

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Try To or Try And

Although the phrase try and is commonly used, it is illogical, and the correct phrase is try to. Try needs the infinitive after it. (Remember, the infinitive is the to form of a verb, as in to read, to work, to sing.)

I will try and stay awake until the end of the movie. This sounds as if I am going to do two unrelated things that are connected in the sentence by the conjunction and. First, I will try, but what will I try? I don’t specifically say. Second, I will stay awake until the end of the movie. This, of course, is not the intended meaning of the sentence.

I will try to stay awake until the end of the movie. This construction makes the meaning of the sentence clear: Staying awake until the end of the movie is my goal.

It also helps to remember that you wouldn’t use try and for the past tense, as in I tried and stay awake. This doesn’t make sense. You would, instead, say I tried to stay awake.

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Continuous, Continual

Continuous means perpetual, uninterrupted, without a break. I ran continuously for 30 minutes means that I ran every second of every minute for 30 minutes. I did not stop for a water break or to catch my breath or to walk for 5 steps. I just ran from beginning to end without stopping.

Continual means that it happens repeatedly, but there is a break in the action. I continually wash dishes all day means that I wash dishes repeatedly—-many times—-over the course of the day.

Try some sort of mnemonic device to help remember the difference between these two.

For example, continuous ends in -s, so you could associate it with the word stay or same or ceaseless, all words that start with the -s sound and describe the meaning of continuous.

Continual ends in -l, so you could associate it with the phrase leave and come back, which starts with an -l and describes the meaning of continual: an action that leaves and then comes back.

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A lot, Alot, Allot

Alot is the incorrect spelling of the correct phrase a lot. Think of it this way: A lot is just like a little, only more. She plays a lot of tennis. He has a lot of extra time to finish his homework. She works a lot.

Allot means to allocate or apportion. The municipality did not allot enough money for the building of the new park, so the project has been postponed.

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Then and Than Grammar

Use than when making a comparison. My brother is older than I. She can do more than that. They would rather read the book than watch the movie.

Use then when referring to the order of incidents, events, etc. It will be sunny in the morning but then turn cloudy in the afternoon. You first have to have an idea, and then you can make a plan for success.

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The Difference Between Drink, Drank, and Drunk in Grammar

I’ve written before about the past participle of the verb to run; I’ve noticed a similar problem with the pattern of the verb to drink.

The present tense of drink is, of course, drink. He drinks eight glasses of water every day.

The past tense is drank. They drank champagne at midnight.

The problem usually comes when forming the past participle. I know that it’s tempting to avoid using the word drunk unless you’re talking about spending too much time with your buddies Jack (Daniels) or Johnnie (Walker), but in this case, avoidance is unnecessary.

The past participle of drink is (have/has) drunk, as in We have drunk the rest of the bottled water. She has drunk two cups of coffee. I have already drunk my morning tea. Do not say We have drank the rest…, she has drank two cups…., or I have already drank my tea.

Sherry

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Using Had: the Past Perfect Tense

A reader wanted to know how to use the word had in relation to verb tense, so I’m going to try to give a simple, short answer to her question. I think what the reader was asking about was the past perfect tense.

The past perfect is used when two events happened in the past, with one past action having occurred even before the other past action. To form the past perfect, use had and the past participle of a verb in one part of the sentence. Often, the regular past tense is used in the other part of the sentence.

Sally had agreed to wait in the pumpkin patch with Linus before she realized that there was no such thing as the Great Pumpkin. Both events happened in the past—agreeing to wait in the pumpkin patch and realizing that there was no Great Pumpkin—but the agreeing happened even before the realizing, so we have to use the past perfect tense for the agreeing part and the regular past tense for the realizing part.

We might be tempted to say Sally agreed to wait in the pumpkin patch with Linus before she realized that there was no such thing as the Great Pumpkin, but we’d be wrong. Just using the regular past tense for both parts of the sentence doesn’t work because one event happened before the other event.

Here are some other examples:

  • The telephone rang after we had left the house. (Both the phone ringing and the leaving occurred in the past, but one occurred even more in the past than the other.)
  • He had been to Paris, so I asked him whether I could get by without learning French. (He went to Paris in the past—he’s now back—and I asked him a question in the past.)
  • By the time Lucy woke up, Linus had fallen asleep in the pumpkin patch.

Sherry

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