Category Archives: grammar

the demise of the sentence (remember that?)

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a bank branch in Manhattan to request some documents for tax preparation purposes A bank officer who did not look busy asked if she could help me.

 

I told her that I needed to get a printout of my bank statements for the past year, and that I had been informed when I called the bank’s 800 number that I had to do this in person.

 

The bank employee seemed to regard the request as routine. She left me at her desk for a few minutes and came back with a printout of the statements I needed.

 

I looked at them to see if it was what I wanted. Then I said to her (began to say): “I didn’t ask you for this. but I realize that the statements are only for the year ending on December 31, 2019. Could you also print out the statements for the past three months of this year [2020]?”

 

She heard the words “I didn’t ask you this,” and, seemingly annoyed, responded, interrupting me mid-sentence: “I gave you what you asked for.”

 

“Could you let me finish,” I said. “What I was saying [meant] is that even though I didn’t ask you to [my “fault”], I realize now that I need you to print out the additional statements for this year.”

 

 

 

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This morning I called my internist’s office. The medical practice is not scheduling in person visits. Only on line or phone visits are possible. I had a medical matter that I wanted to discuss with my physician. It was not critical, but I felt I should not neglect it.

 

The scheduler who answered the call, after a wait, asked me the purpose of my call and then asked my name and date of birth. “I want to schedule a telephone consultation with Dr. _______,” I said.

 

She asked me when.

 

I replied as follows: “I would like to speak with the doctor as soon as possible. But it’s not an emergency.”

 

It was as if she didn’t hear me. She said, “When?”

 

“I thought I just answered that,” I said.

 

“Today, Thursday, Friday? WHEN,” she said.

 

“Well, I just said as soon as possible. But, today, since you want a date.” I tried to finish, to explain that I didn’t want to pressure the doctor, but would like to hear back, as I had explained, at his earliest possible convenience. She kept interrupting me.

 

She was annoyed.

 

 

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My parents always spoke in complete sentences. They were well spoken and admirably clear.

 

No one can handle a sentence nowadays. At least the generations that came after me can’t.

 

The schools don’t teach this sort of thing in English classes any more. I just verified this with my wife. We both remember diagramming sentences. (Heaven forbid! So old fashioned, tedious and retrograde. It would be unthinkable to subject today’s students to such an exercise.)

 

My wife and I both remember learning in fifth or sixth grade English: A sentence has a subject and predicate. A sentence expresses a complete thought.

 

This elementary knowledge has gone by the boards. (Grammar teachers are an extinct species.) But, what’s worse, people don’t talk this way, and they often can’t comprehend or pay attention when an answer is longer than a word or two, or when someone communicates precisely, in “old fashioned” complete sentences.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

   April 29, 2020

 

when is a dash not a dash?

 

 

I got an email from a reader of several of my posts the other day.

I was wondering why do you use double dash in your posts? Is it followed by the rule or a personal style?

I responded as follows.

 

 

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Dear _______,

Thanks for the email. I can explain with an example or two.

“It was a fast-moving storm system.”

People think it’s a dash (between fast and moving). It’s actually a hyphen (-).

I think — but I’m not sure — that the L train should not be shut down this April.

The two hyphens (–) are what is actually, in printed matter, a dash — more specifically what a printer would call an em-dash. (The term em-dash comes from the days of typesetting. An em-dash was equivalent to the length of a capital M.) Two hyphens (–) in printed matter (such as a book) are set as a dash (—).

You can make an em-dash with word processing programs such as Word

or

you can just use the two hyphens, which, from the old days of typewriters, are understood to mean a dash.

So, a hyphen and a dash are not the same thing.

He told a side-splitting joke. (hyphen used)

I realized — I couldn’t quite believe it — that I had won the grand prize. (dash used)

Hyphens are used for compound words.

Dashes are used for an interpolated thought in a sentence.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2019

commonly misspelled words

 

 

 

Commonly Misspelled Words

 

 

Here’s a list of words commonly misspelled in English. If a writer acquaints himself with them, the writer can avoid a lot of spelling mistakes.
— compiled and posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2019

 

 

 

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battalion

ecstasy

misprint

misspell

accommodate

parishioner

belligerent

indispensable

modify

stupefy

liquefy

torrify / torrefy (to dry or roast with fire)

indemnify

medicine

impassable (however, “impassible,” with the seldom used meaning of impassive, is correct)

liaison

occurrence

guttural

incidentally

plebean

millennium

anoint

disappoint

chaise longue (plural: chaise longues … from French for “long chair”; it is universally mispronounced as “chaise lounge”)

colonnade

antediluvian

canister

banister or bannister

bulrushes

callus (noun) … callous (adjective)

mucus (noun; something in the throat) … mucous (adjective, as in “mucous membrane”)

Camellia (type of shrub)

Pharaoh (generally capitalized)

vise (tool)

vice (e.g., gambling)

vilify

vermilion

vacilate

strategy

stratagem

pollinate (but: pollen)

petrify

putrefy

propellant

straitjacket (not strait jacket)

strait-laced

tonsillitis

transcendent

wield

vocal chord

accordion / accordeon / accordian (variant spellings)

abscess

privilege

extrovert (popular spelling) … extravert (used in technical writing, such as psychiatric, scientific)

Chaldean / Chaldaean (variant spellings)

Tennesseean

Galilean (as in Jesus of Galilee)

queue (but note: barbecue)

affidavit

tumultuous

Portuguese

kimono

insidious

piteous

inoculate

innocuous

supersede (There are only three words in the English language that end in –ceed: proceed, succeed, exceed. Many English words end in -cede: e.g., accede, recede, secede, intercede … supersede is the only one that ends in –sede; from Latin roots meaning sit above.)

spoliation (not spoilation)

mortgager

peaceable

cataloger / (or) cataloguer

transferable (an exception to a general rule about doubling of consonants)

forcible

enforceable

linage (the number of lines in printed matter)

lineage (descent)

likable

salable

aging

bluish

shoeing (as in shoeing a horse)

singeing (as in to singe)

mileage

sizable

dying (death)

dyeing (altering color)

canceled

cancellation

benefited

befitted

lamppost

reoccurrence

memento (a souvenir)

handicapped

kidnapped (preferred form; kidnaped also acceptable)

corralled

mosaicking

picnicking

arcing (the formation of an electric arc)

acknowledgment

light-complexioned

center (British spelling: centre)

theater (unless, in the case of the proper noun, a particular theater spells it Theatre)

timber (i.e., lumber)

timbre (musical pitch)

practice (the noun practise is a British spelling)

prophesy (verb) … prophecy (noun)

sieve

weird

weir (a damn across a river)

ceiling

privilege

stubbornness

newsstand

allotment

allotted

ambiance

gallowses (plural of galluses: the word for suspenders)

summonses

boss’s

desiccate

dioceses

aide-de-camp

auto-da-fé (there is an acute accent over the final “e”; means act of faith)

omnivorous

carnivorous

idiosyncrasy

hypocrisy

exorbitant

exhausted

exuberant

exhilaration

excerpt

foreword (say, in a book)

forebear (noun; an ancestor)

forbear (verb)

genealogy

minuscule

harass

sacrilegious

suddenness

forgiveness

aggressive

founder (means to sink; e.g., a ship hitting a rock)

flounder (to struggle, to stumble around)

octopuses

alibis

alkalies

mangooses

apparatuses

bicepses

stupefy

rarefy

liquefy

torrent

putrefy

grammar (again!)

 

 

“A documentary that aired on Britain’s Channel 4 two weeks ago generated news about how much sex — or not so much — Charles and Diana were having as their marriage cratered, mostly because Charles could not get over his one true love, Camilla Parker-Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, who he later married.”

 

— “Princes William and Harry are all grown up, and their mother would be proud,” by Karla Adam and William Booth, The Washington Post, August 28, 2017

 

 

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These two reporters do not know that it should be WHOM he later married.

If, like me, you were carefully taught the eight parts of speech in elementary school, you would have learned that there are such things as PRONOUNS; for example, the pronoun who and its variant form whom.

This would have enabled you (as it did me) to better understand how language works. A pronoun such as who when it is a subject is who, but when it is an object, it becomes whom. Elementary, my dear Watson! So we were taught by prim fussy schoolmarms eons ago. (Don’t ask me to explain why this type of variation — in spelling — occurs with pronouns and not nouns.)

But now, it’s considered to be too much to ask schoolchildren to be taxed with such lessons. And, it also seems to be considered a waste of time.

I would be willing to bet that a lot of schoolteachers nowadays don’t know the parts of speech themselves, or how they function.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  August 29, 2017

 

 

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COMMENTS

 

 

Carol Hay

August 29, 2017

“Prim fussy schoolmarms”? Rather sexist and stereotyping of teachers. Is that what I was? And how do you know teachers no longer teach grammar? I and my colleagues did! Many students rarely read these days; perhaps their not learning grammar very well is due more to this fact rather than poor teaching.

Very insulting, condescending, and ignorant comments about teachers.

 
Thomas P. Riggio

August 29, 2017

Technically you’re correct, of course. But common usage nowadays has dumped the distinction, at least in the USA. I think because “whom” sounds so British and a bit academic. It’s gone the way of which and that! Language and usage is always evolving.

 

 

Roger W. Smith

August 29, 2017

Tom -– former (?) New Yorker copyeditor Mary Norris does a great job of addressing such issues in Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, sensibly. She’s a stickler for correct grammar, but takes great pains to show why it matters and why we should care. She also tackles thorny issues of usage such as when to use which vs. that.

grammar anyone?

 

 

 

“white nationalists, counterprotestors, violently clash”

— CNN

 

 

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There should not be a comma between “counterprotestors” and “violently.”

The way it’s punctuated, it would appear that there is an apposition indicating that the white nationalists are one and the same group as the counterprotestors.

Grammar! it’s gone the way of the curtsey.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 12, 2017

subject-verb DISagreement

 

 

” ‘The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments,’ Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said via Twitter on Monday evening.”

— “Protestors in North Carolina topple Confederate statue following Charlottesville violence,” The Washington Post, August 15, 2017

 

 

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Does anyone know (let alone care) that a plural subject takes a plural verb? This grammar rule is violated routinely — all the time. Not only by public speakers and journalists — both in speaking and in print — but also, incredibly, it is routinely violated by academics.

When you come to think about it, this is not all that surprising. After all, grammar isn’t taught in elementary schools any more; this has been the case since around 1970. It was considered too old fashioned, something prim schoolmarms used to fuss over.

I am very thankful that I had such teachers. They taught such things as sentence structure, the parts of speech, and the difference between a subject and an object. Heaven forbid, they even had us diagramming sentences!

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

August 2017