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Posts Tagged ‘grammar error’

Do You Really Care?

Posted by languageandgrammar on July 16, 2009

How many times have you heard someone say I could care less? For every time you’ve heard it, have you wondered why the person saying it COULD care less about something he seemingly doesn’t care about at all?

The correct saying is I couldn’t care less–which, considering the context within which it’s always said, makes more sense.

I could care less if you’re breaking up with me means that you’re admitting that you do care about being tossed aside like yesterday’s newspaper.  And while we all probably do care when that happens to us, we usually don’t want the other person to know, so we say I couldn’t care less (not I COULD care less), meaning, Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?

I could care less means that you actually could care less than you do, which means that you do, in fact, care. I couldn’t care less means that you could not care any less than you do.

That’s the correct usage—in case you care.

Sherry

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Cancel One L

Posted by languageandgrammar on April 6, 2009

Remember that spelling rule you learned in elementary school about doubling the final consonant before adding -ed or -ing to a verb? Well, if you were listening carefully, then you know that there was a little more to the story than that. Apparently, however, many of us suffered from a mild form of SADD—Spelling Attention Deficit Disorder—-and that includes everyone from the blogger next door to the people who are in charge of the title bars and scrolls on the t.v.

When making a past tense or a present participle of a verb, we can’t just go doubling final consonants recklessly and assume that all is right in the world of spelling; no, that would be too easy. Here’s the rule (oh that’s right, descriptivists, I said RULE): When a word of more than one syllable ends in a single consonant that is preceded by a single vowel, and the accent is on other than the last syllable of the root word, do NOT double the final consonant before adding the -ed or -ing. The final consonant in cancel is -l, which is preceded by the single vowel -e, and the accent is on the -can. The past tense of cancel, then, is canceled, and the participle is canceling.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule—what would rules be without exceptions——-but cancel is not one of them. Oh, and neither is benefit, which I’ve also seen written as benefitted and benefitting; the correct spellings are benefited and benefiting. And that goes for travel, too; it’s traveled and traveling.

And now you know the rest of the story……

Sherry

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Oh Brother, Can’t We Just Use the @!&* Telephone?

Posted by languageandgrammar on April 1, 2009

The other day, I heard a certain Alaska governor use the word telephonically to describe making a telephone call. She said that she “was scheduled to participate telephonically in a meeting ….”  Spending $150,000 on clothing for her campaign and taking taxpayer money for living at home is bad enough——-but using overinflated grammar? Now she’s gone too far.

While I did find the adverb telephonically in the dictionary, I have to admit that it’s not a word I’d ever heard before hearing it from the governor. Maybe that’s because when most of us want to use the telephone, we say “I’m going to make a call.” There’s also the familiar “I have a conference call at 10” and the ever popular “Where did I put my phone!”

I asked myself why in the world someone would use the ridiculous “word” telephonically when she could have easily said “was scheduled to participate in a meeting via telephone” or “was scheduled to participate in a telephone meeting” or….. The answer was obvious: Governor Palin has fallen prey to the same disease to which so many of us have fallen prey: The desperate need to make ourselves and what we’re doing sound more important than we are or it is. It’s called being pretentious.

Nothing is functional any longer; it has functionality. No one is tall any longer; her or she has immense verticality. No one plays physical football any longer; he plays with great physicality. Storms are impactful, senses of humor are non-existent——–and now, we no longer make telephone calls; we communicate telephonically.

Sherry

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Don’t Get Disorientated Over This One

Posted by languageandgrammar on March 22, 2009

Last week, a reader asked that I talk about the words orient and orientate and their, ummmm, evolution, so here we go.

According to Webster’s dictionary, orient first appeared in 1727 and meant to cause to face and turn to the east or to simply turn to the east, as well as “to build a church or temple with the longitudinal axis pointing eastward and the chief altar at the eastern end.” In the 1840’s, it started being used to mean getting your bearings, and according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, it was in 1850 that it started to be used in the figurative sense of getting your bearings.

Again, according to Webster’s, orientate did not appear until 1849 and meant to turn to face to the east. In 1868, it started being used in much the same way as orient. Does anyone else see a mutational red flag of misuse here? (Our descriptivist friends will surely argue that it’s not an egregious mutation but, rather, a legitimate evolution of language—oh, wait, we’ve already determined that we don’t have any descriptivist friends.)

In any case, most grammarians that I know prefer to stick with orient.

Sherry

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Meantime, the Controversy Rages

Posted by languageandgrammar on March 16, 2009

Fine,  it’s not a major controversy, but I figured I would need a sensationalistic headline in order to get any but the most grammar- and language-obsessed among us to read about the proper use of meantime and meanwhile. It’s not exactly the type of debate that will keep people talking for hours, but it is annoying to hear the two being used interchangeably, especially the use of meantime at the beginning of a sentence.

I know.  I know. That simple statement–that meanwhile and meantime should not be used interchangeably–resulted in our descriptivist friends (Wait, do we even have any descriptivist friends? Ahh–probably not) to fall off their chairs in horror since the two words are often used interchangeably. If you believe that common usage is reason enough for you to use something, then please feel free to continue to do so; however, this languageandgrammar.com author was taught that the words have subtle differences in meanings.

Meantime means intervening time, and meanwhile means in the intervening time. The only difference between the two is the lonely, little words in the. Since meanwhile has in the built into its meaning, it should not have an in the in front of it when being used; however, since meantime does not have an in the built into its meaning, it does need to have those words added when needed. This is best explained through examples:

Meantime, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument is incorrect just as Intervening time, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my arguments would be incorrect.

Meawhile, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument is correct just as In the intervening time, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my arguments would be correct.

Along the same lines…

In the meantime, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument is correct since it means In the intervening time, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument.

And…

In the meanwhile, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument is incorrect since it means In the in the interverning time, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument, which has one too many in the‘s.

–Paul

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Nip it WHERE????

Posted by languageandgrammar on March 2, 2009

No matter how many times you’ve said it—and you know who you are—nip it in the butt is NOT the correct phrase. Nip it in the butt? Ouch! If you must use this cliche, then use it properly: Nip it in the bud. Still painful but at least correct.

The Phrase Finder, a Web site I’ve never used before, gives an eloquent, and seemingly well-researched, explanation of the phrase. You can read it for yourselves here, but to summarize, in 1595, Elizabethan dramatist Henry Chettle used the original phrase, which was nip it in the bloom. In 1607, it appeared as nip it in the bud.

When you nip something in the bud, you stop its growth, as you would do in order to stop the growth of a plant bud by nipping it.

I don’t even want to think about what you mean if you’re talking about nipping something in the butt.

Sherry

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THAT’S Incredible; I’M Incredulous.

Posted by languageandgrammar on February 24, 2009

I’ve heard the word incredulous attributed to situations, as in That’s an incredulous story. The problem is that incredulous means skeptical or disbelieving, which is a human trait, not something that can be attributed to an inanimate object, a theory, or a situation. I was incredulous of his story (I was skeptical of his story) is the correct use of incredulous.

Incredible means not to be believed, as in That’s an incredible story (a story that’s difficult to believe).

Here are other examples:

  • He looked at me with an incredulous stare. (a stare of skepticism)
  • I was incredulous of his request. (disbelieving of his request)
  • The details of his excuse were incredible. (the details were unbelievable)

Oh, I can hear it now:  Didn’t Shakespeare use incredible to mean incredulous at some point in his writings? Ergo, doesn’t that mean that incredible and incredulous are synonymous?

In a word—-no. And considering the common belief by scholars that he had a very limited education, it shouldn’t be surprising. Shakespeare may have written some insightful works (then again, the works attributed to him may have actually been written by someone else—-the jury is still out on that one, much like the hotly debated Great taste! Less filling! Miller Lite controversy), but that doesn’t necessitate a perfect command of vocabulary and an absolute deference to his grammar skills. None of us can boast such perfection, and, really, who would want to? It’s too much of a burden.

Sherry

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Let’s Dive Right In

Posted by languageandgrammar on February 12, 2009

Ok, here’s the deal. Dive is a regular verb, and a regular verb makes its past tense form by adding –ed to the end (or just –d if there’s already an –e at the end of the word). The past tense of dive, then, is dived.

Dove has become widely used as the past tense of dive, and it is frequently listed in dictionaries as an alternative to dived; however, many experts, grammarians—-and English teachers handing out the latest grammar quiz—-still call it colloquial, non-standard, or even substandard. (I, myself, prefer to cut to the chase and call it wrong.)

I can’t say that I understand the logic of taking a verb that has been classified as regular and re-classifying it as regular and irregular. (As we all know, all regular verbs follow the same pattern of conjugation, but each irregular verb has its own pattern that must be memorized.) The evolution of dove as an alternative past tense of dive is obviously the result of an oft-repeated grammar error that went for too long without being corrected.

If you want to be certain of using the correct conjugation, stick with the traditional dived for the past tense of dive.

  • I dived in and did the necessary work.
  • We dived from the 25-meter board.

Think of the past tense of words such as skydive; we say skydived, not skydove.

The past participle of dive is dived as well, as in I have never dived from that height before or She’s dived off that cliff many times.

Sherry

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Subordinating Conjunctions

Posted by languageandgrammar on February 9, 2009

While coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet), which connect clauses of equal importance, get a great deal of press in every grammar book on the bookshelf , they’re not the only conjunctions in town. Subordinating conjunctions connect clauses as well, but theirs is the job of connecting those of unequal importance. Some common subordinating conjunctions are even though, unless, until, because, although, and since.

I find that the problem many people have with these conjunctions is in how to punctuate them. When a clause containing a subordinating conjunction comes before the main clause, a comma should separate them. This isn’t usually a problem.

Note: Remember, the main clause is the independent clause, and the clause with the subordinating conjunction is called the dependent (or, not surprisingly, subordinate) clause.

  • Because bacterial pathogens cause disease in plants, we need more information on how plants can resist bacterial pathogens.

Because bacterial pathogens cause disease in plants is the subordinate (dependent) clause that starts with the subordinating conjunction, so it needs a comma before the main (independent) clause.

The problem usually comes when the clause containing the subordinating conjunction (the dependent clause) comes after the main clause. While many people like to add the comma here, too, no comma is needed.

  • We need more information on how plants can resist bacterial pathogens because bacterial pathogens cause disease in plants.

Sometimes, it seems that many of us automatically place a comma before certain words, such as because or but or since, without examining how that word is being used in the sentence. This is the grammar equivalent of being on autopilot. What we need to do is to take back the controls and decide the appropriate speed—-I mean comma use.

  • Even though RNA replication of the virus already has been studied, there’s more work to be done.
  • There’s more work to be done even though RNA replication of the virus already has been studied.
  • Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been celebrating.
  • I’ve been celebrating since you’ve been gone.

Sherry

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Mmmmmm, Probly (Probably)

Posted by languageandgrammar on February 6, 2009

While this is not a terribly common written error—-although I have at times seen it spelled this way on the information superhighway—-the pronunciation of probably as probly is constant and irritating.

You should probably have a good lawyer if you don’t want to be taken to the cleaners. (not probly)

It’s only an eight-letter, three-syllable word: prob-a-bly. And those syllables are awfully short. If you can’t say the extra –ab, then what do you do when you have to say onomatopoeia—or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious—or antidisestablishmentarianism?

I suppose I should file this one under Pet Peeves.

Sherry

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