Plural of Mother-In-Law: It’s the Mothers, Not the Laws!

A faithful reader sent a comment about how hyphenated plural nouns such as mother-in-laws and sister-in-laws drives her crazy. She actually said that hearing this grammar error sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, and since we all know how that can make us grind our teeth, I’m ready to jump in there and silence the scraping once and for all.

It’s understandable that making the singular noun mother-in-law into a plural noun would result in many of us making the grammar error mother-in-laws since plurals of nouns are usually made by adding the -s to the END of the word, for example, mothers, hurricanes, aardvarks, and molecules. In this case, however, the plural is made by adding the -s to the FIRST word, not the last. Think of it this way: It’s the mothers, not the laws, that are plural. The correct plural of mother-in-law, then, is mothers-in-law.

The same is true for other hyphenated nouns such as doctors-in-residence, attorneys-at-law, and fathers-in-law.

Sherry

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Is It Have Gone or Have Went?

Don’t get the past tense of the verb to go confused with the past participle of the verb to go. The past tense is went, and the past participle is gone, and each one has a different place in a sentence.

Example: I should have went while I had the chance. (wrong)

When using have (or has), you need the past participle, not the past tense. In this example, the sentence should be I should have gone while I had the chance.

Here are other examples:

  • He could have went if he’d been ready. (wrong)
  • He could have gone if he’d been ready. (correct)
  • They’ve went to the office. (wrong)
  • They’ve gone to the office. (correct)
  • I might have went if I’d been asked. (wrong)
  • I might have gone if I’d been asked. (correct)

Sherry

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Has Your Curiosity Been Peaked—or Piqued?

I understand why it’s tempting to use the word peak when describing an excited stage of interest in or curiosity about something. After all, a peak is the pointy top of something, so it’s natural to think of a peak when you think of your interest or curiosity swelling, but saying The story peaked my interest is wrong.

The correct word is pique, as in The story piqued my interest or My curiosity was piqued by his subtle innuendo.

Save the peaks for the mountain tops and lemon meringue pies.

For more common grammar errors, refer to Sherry’s Grammar List.

Sherry

Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever;

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Future Tense or Present Tense: Is the Future Now?

I heard a meteorologist talking about weather that was going to happen later in the day and the next day, that is, going to happen in the future, so it was confusing when she said It does get better at the end of the day and It’s a little bit better tomorrow morning.

Instead of using the present tense to describe things that were going to happen in the future, she should have said It WILL get better at the end of the day and It WILL BE a bit better tomorrow morning since those things hadn’t happened yet. That’s why it’s called a forecast—it’s a prediction, which means it’s for the future.

Using the present tense to describe what’s going to happen has become very popular, especially on television and especially by weather talent and sports broadcasters. Despite what anyone might think, the future is NOT now, and using the present tense to talk about something that will happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or 10 minutes from now makes a bad impression.

I’ve heard it said that the present tense is the power tense; I suppose that means that words in the present tense have more of an impact than words in the future tense. If you have to depend on using the wrong tense in order for your words to be powerful and effective, however, then maybe your choice of tense isn’t your biggest problem—maybe it’s your choice of words.

Sherry 

Sherry’s Grammar List and Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

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Fewer vs. Less: Fewer Things, Less Stuff

With countable things, use fewer, not less. With things that are not countable, such as emotions and things that are measured in bulk or total amount, use less; for example, you’ll notice fewer lines around your eyes if you use this lotion.

We have fewer stressful situations but less stress. (Stressful situations are countable, but stress is an emotion, so it is not countable.) We have fewer dollar bills, but we have less than five dollars. (Dollar bills are countable, but five dollars is a total amount, so it is not countable.) We have fewer minutes to wait for the train than for the bus, but we have less than 15 minutes to wait for each. (Minutes are countable things, but 15 minutes is a single total amount, so it is not countable.)

Sherry

Sherry’s Grammar List and Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever  

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Fun, Funner, Funnest: Are We Having Fun Yet?

A reader asked whether we could shed some light on the correct use of the word fun; this is one of my pet peeves, so I’m only too happy to oblige.

I hear of people who had fun birthdays, movies that were funner than other movies, and vacations that were the funnest in the world. I even saw a category titled Funnest Party Boy on an ESPN list many years ago. Many of us are not amused—including my spell checker, which rejects both funner and funnest. On this, the software writers and I obviously agree. But back to the point…..

Fun is a noun, but it has become used as an adjective over time. Language changes, but we should be aware of WHY certain changes take place. Is it because there is a need for a more articulate way to say something, or is it because people started using the word in the wrong way, and no one bothered correcting the incorrect use?

Adjectives have comparative and superlative forms; nouns do not. For example, I have a large desk. (The adjective large tells what kind of desk. That’s what adjectives do—they answer the question what kind of.) I have a larger desk than you (comparative form). I have the largest desk in the office (superlative form).

Fun as an adjective is more of a non-standard form. I would stick to using it as the original noun that it has always been; however, if you must use it as an adjective (I had a fun time), then use more fun and most fun as the comparative and superlative forms (the more fun of the two movies), not funner (the funner of the two movies) and funnest as the comparative and superlative forms.

Many people now use the noun fun as an adjective, but that doesn’t make it right. Perhaps some modern dictionaries have now acquiesced to the people who somehow have learned to use fun incorrectly as an adjective and list it as one. I don’t know, but that wouldn’t change my mind. You do what you feel you must. I’m going to stick with what I consider to be a more educated usage: fun as a noun, not an adjective.

Sherry

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It’s or Its: It’s a Problem

Which of the following is/are correct:

a.      Its time to correct one of the most common errors in the English language.

b.      The problem is that its easy to confuse the two spellings.

c.       The English language has it’s share of problems.

d.      It’s problems are sometimes self-evident, but we make the mistakes anyway.

e.      We have to start paying closer attention to grammar details!

If you said either a, b, c, or d, then today’s column is for you.

Most nouns use an apostrophe s (‘s) to make the possessive (for example, Bill Belichick’s questionable coaching style, the quarterback’s excuses, the team’s dedication); pronouns, however, do not. The most common of these types of errors is the spelling of its/it’s.

It’s means it is, as in It’s time to correct one of the most common errors in the English language and The problem is that it’s easy to confuse the two spellings.

Its is the possessive form of it, as in The English language has its share of problems or Its problems are sometimes self-evident, but we make the mistakes anyway.

I know that it seems as if it should be the opposite—it’s should be the possessive since that’s the way nouns make the possessive. Just use reverse logic on this one. Its (the possessive) is like other pronouns: ours, theirs, hers, his, yours. We don’t use ‘s for those, and we don’t use ‘s for its.

Sherry

Sherry’s Grammar List and Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

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