Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Logic? Sure Thing!

Do You Really Understand English  

Everyone who reads my blog knows I love Reader’s Digest.  In their September 2010 issue, they presented an article by Melissa Demeo and Paul Silverman that resonated with me.  Although I like to think I’m literate when it comes to speaking and writing, I honestly had to pause after each example and consider if I’m an offender. 

I’m going to share some of their tips with you today.  I suppose as long as I’ve credited the magazine and authors, I won’t be brought up on plagiarism charges.  I’ve “bolded” the correct examples below, and in some cases, both are appropriate when used in the correct situation:

Could care less versus Couldn’t care less:  Because you care so little already, you couldn’t care less.

Less versus Fewer:  Recommend the use of fewer when you specify a number of countable things (50 words or fewer).  Less is appropriate when speaking of mass amount (less than half.) *Raising hand as guilty on this one.*

Hone in versus Home in: Since hone means to sharpen, Home in comes from “homing pigeons.” which indicates being single-minded.  You either want to home in on something or, if you’re confused, zero in on the topic.

Brother-in-laws versus Brothers-in-law:  Form the plural by adding an s to the thing there is more than one of.  Of course an ‘s would indicate possession by one brother-in-law.  (applies to runners-up and hole in ones, too)

Different than versus Different from: If you can substitute “from: for than, then do it.  Use “than” for comparisons.  Example:  My office is different from any other in the building.  My office is bigger than any other in the building.  *Raising hand as guilty on this one.*

Try versus Try to: If you are planning to do something, then try to do it. Of course, try and try again makes sense, but remember the rule.

Supposably versus Supposedly: Although spell check tells me that supposably is not a word, it is one—meaning “conceivably.”  But, if you’re trying to relay, “it’s assumed” than supposedly is what you want to say and what most people recognize as correct English.

All of versus All:  Drop “of” whenever you can, but not before a pronoun. Examples:  All the children were in their seats.  All of them were in their seats.

Outside of versus Outside: Both are prepositions and weren’t meant to be used together. 

Each other versus One Another: Each other is appropriate when speaking of two people or things. Example: Ginger and Barbara present each other with a gift for the occasion.  One another is used when more are involved.  Example:  The debaters argued with one another.

Now for some confusing pairs:

Wary = suspicious
Weary = tired
Farther = physical distance
Further = metaphorical distance or time
Principle = rule
Principal = School official
Compliment = saying a nice thing
Complement = match
Continual = ongoing but intermittent
Continuous = without interruption
Stationary = doesn’t move
Stationery = paper
Imply = suggest a meaning
Infer = draw meaning from something
Affect (v) = to act upon. (n) = an emotional response
Effect (n) = something produced, but as a verb) to bring about  

If you’re like me, you’re still confused about affect versus effect, so here are some examples:  His bad behavior affected the entire classroom.  His bad behavior had a negative effect in the classroom.

I still don’t get the “emotional response” usage of affect as a noun.

A few last helpful hints:  Did you know that saying “at this point in time” is redundant?  Point and time have the same meaning in this instance.  At this time, at this point…

Past history?  Isn’t all history past?

Be careful where you place your modifiers…if you even need one.  If you read this sentence with “even” placed after “need”, the meaning of the sentence is changed.  “Only, also, and even can impact your story if you aren’t careful.

And one of my favorites,  I versus me:  When comparing yourself to someone or something, use I.  “Am” is implied so consider that “me am” is not appropriate. Meow is, if you’re a cat.  J

The rules continue to grow the more I write.  Just when I think I have a grasp on something, one house claims the rule inappropriate and I have to change my logic.  What logic, I say….there is none in writing.  But just in case you want to check out my accomplishments, please visit my website at http://www.gingersimpson.com and see if you think I understand English.  Now don’t forget, we’re talking U.S. English, not The Queen’s English.  Shouldn’t English be English?  See, I told you…no logic.


Sally_Odgers said...

The ones that annoy me are everyday/every day and loose/lose. I reckon if *I* can get them right other people should be able to, too. (I might then add to you that I, too, have a tutu or two in my cupboard!)

M. L. Archer said...

I always get affect and effect screwed up. You gave a very good way to remember the difference!

unwriter said...

I did a speech on english and punctuation. It came from a book called "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves". A very good book. It affected me and had a large effect in my speaking.

Karen McGrath said...

Great post, Ginger! One thing I'd like to add... Many people say they'd like to try and do something rather than try to do something. Articles like this one warm my editing heart. LOL!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Great blog. I have known it's 'couldn't care less' and it irks me when people say it the wrong way...lol. But there's always some I need to stop and think about. On another note: spelling - I could never spell 'tomorrow' right. But way back in high school I had a friend name Tom and another friend say "you can have 'tom or row' and almost every time I write that write, even 30 years later, I recall Sylvia telling me that.

Anita Davison said...

Don't forget the one that has me gnashing my teeth whenever I hear it. 'I am bored of him.' No you're not! You are bored with him!'

Paul McDermott said...

Thanks for sharing, Ginger!

A short article in a mag can never hope to cover ALL the problems amd pitfalls of the English language, but this is well-balanced.

Can I add one of my regrets to your comment about the (mis)use of "I" and "me" - please?

I always think it's a shame that there aren't any schools left in which LATIN is taught, as tis makes the problem easy to explain:-

"I" is the NOMINATIVE (or SUBJECT) form of the pronoun. "I" am therefore the person in the sentence performing whatever ACTION is described by the MAIN VERB in the sentence.

"me" is the ACCUSATIVE form, the OBJECT of the sentence. Something is happening in the sentence, for which "me" is NOT directly responsible.
In other words, there is SOMEONE ELSE involved and the MAIN VERB is connected in some way with what THEY (not"me") is doing.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Ginger,

You've got some good points here! I teach research writing to non-English speakers; if you think you have problems, you should try helping them to understand some of these distinctions.

By the way "affect" as a noun is more or less a synonym for "emotion", usually used in a technical or psychological context, e.g. "Women who looked at photos of George Clooney reported positive affect, whereas subjects viewing Maynard G. Crebbs photos universally reported negative affect". There's also an adjective "affective" (not to be confused with "effective", which means successful or useful), which means "relating to emotion" - for instance, "positive affective response to reading well-written English".


Diane Scott Lewis said...

Ginger, I learn more every day...or is it each day? In a previous critique group an older man pointed out the 'complement, compliment' difference and even the woman with a Harvard degree didn't know there were two!
Great post and information.

Lorrie said...

Pass and past are two I see confused in subs many times.

Of course I think I may be guilty of all that is written in this post.

Now, I'm going to go sit in the corner and pout. lol.

You just had to tell me!!!!
Kidding. Great post, Ginger.

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