An Came First

A reader writes: I propose that “an” was invented to prevent us from having to interrupt the flow of speech. And it still fills that purpose before unaccented first syllables starting with h.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 0 Comments

Labor vs. Belabor

The Google Ngram Viewer indicates that “labor the point,” (“to continue to repeat or explain something that has already been said and understood”) has been around for about 100 years longer than “belabor the point.” A Web search suggests that the two versions are now used interchangeably.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 0 Comments

Pronoun Mistakes #1: TV Characters

When it comes to nonstandard grammar in the mouths of television characters, I expect the professionals–like FBI agents, medical examiners, and college professors–to model standard English. When they don’t, I always wonder if the scriptwriter or the actor is at fault.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 5 Comments

Verb Review #3: Two Kinds of Infinitive

The English infinitive is the basic form of the verb. It has two parts, the particle to and the present form of the verb. Here are some infinitives.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 1 Comments

Spelling and Word Origin

A reader wonders how knowing a word’s origin helps spelling bee contestants arrive at the correct spelling: Recently, I was watching [a spelling bee] competition and students were asking about the origin of a spelling like Latin, French, Greek, Dutch, Italian etc. and were guessing correct spellings. How is it possible to get correct spelling from the origin of a word?

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 3 Comments

Feckless

A reader has called my attention to a surge in the use of the word feckless in the American press. A Web search garners 1,550,000 hits.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 0 Comments

Flirts and Philanderers

When I was a child, I learned that the name Philadelphia derives from the Greek words philos (loving) and adelphos (brother) and that William Penn chose the name because he wanted to establish “a city of brotherly love.”

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 1 Comments

Carriage Trade

The “carriage trade” is the industry engaged in transporting passengers and goods. Because of recent campaigns by animal activists to ban the use of horses in heavy city traffic, the term has come to apply specifically to the horse-drawn carriage trade.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 0 Comments

Verb Mistakes #1: Didn’t With Conditional

One type of conditional sentence refers to a situation in the past that might have happened, but didn’t. The speaker is speculating about what might have happened if things had been different. In this type of sentence, the verb in the “if clause” will be in the past perfect tense, and the main clause will contain the modal would or could.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 1 Comments

Die vs. Dye

Although referred to as a “hoax,” a recent false report of the death of a beloved celebrity was the result more of ignorance than of malice. The rumor may have stemmed from this headline above a story posted in September in the Empire News.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 1 Comments

Pronoun Review #2 Who’s vs. Whose

A common error with who’s and whose is to confuse one for the other. Who’s is a contraction of the pronoun who and the verb is.

Read More
  • Maeve Maddox on
  • 3 Comments