Verb Mistakes #3: Irregular Past Participles

The following verb errors appear in sources that could be expected to observe rules of standard usage. Incorrect: The victim could have eaten or drank something by accident. (TV detective) Correct : The victim could have eaten or drunk something by accident. The principal parts of drink are drink, drank, (have) drunk. Incorrect: Tonight was … Read more

Bestow Is a Transitive Verb

The following use of the verb bestow in an article about Harper Lee in The Washington Post caught my attention: But for Christmas 1956, a wealthy couple who doted on the struggling young writer bestowed her with enough money to take a year off and write. The verb bestow has been in the language since … Read more

Pronoun Review #3: Object Forms

The following appears in a by-lined article in a state newspaper: [A basketball referee] filed a harassment report…claiming [two men] followed he and another official to their cars after the game, yelling obscenities. In this sentence, the masculine pronoun is the object of a transitive verb, followed. The direct object answers the question “What?” or … Read more

A Double Negative Is Not Always UnOK

The grammatical rule against double negatives applies to sentences that combine not with no or with other negatives such as hardly, nobody, nothing, never, and nowhere: I can’t hardly see through these glasses. He didn’t meet nobody on the mountain. They never lied about nothing. On the other hand, double negatives formed with not followed … Read more


A rhetorical term for understatement is litotes: litotes [LY-tuh-teez] (noun): understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary (as in “He’s not a bad ballplayer”)—Merriam-Webster. Litotes can be used to express a variety of meanings. When the translators of the KJV have Paul of Tarsus identify himself to the Roman … Read more

Modal Verbs

A reader wonders when the term “modal verb” began to be applied to the following helping verbs: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would. Writes the reader: When I was young, no teacher or college professor whose subject was English ever mentioned “modal” with respect to verbs.  So, what’s with the “modal” stuff?  “Modal” … Read more

Gibe, Gybe, Jibe, and Jive

The verbs gibe, gybe, jibe and jive all begin with the sound [j] and are often confused. gibe (verb): to taunt, to insult. Example: “If he laughed instead of cried when someone gibed at him, often the teasing stopped.”  gibe (noun): a sneering comment, a taunt. Example: “The teasing, taunts, gibes and hurtful acts are a part of me still.” gybe … Read more

Irreparable vs. Unrepairable

A reader asks, What are the differences between the use of “unrepairable” and “irreparable?” Pronunciation note: Unrepairable: un-ree-PAIR-uh-buhl Irreparable: i-REP-uh-ruh-buhl Both words are used to mean “incapable of being mended,” but unrepairable is nonstandard in American usage. Some online dictionaries include entries for unrepairable, but others do not. If you use any of the following … Read more

Pronoun Mistakes #3: Which Is Not for People

The following erroneous use of which appears in an article in The Huffington Post: On New Year’s Eve at 11:45 am, Pope Francis called up the small community of the Carmelite nuns of Lucena in Cordoba, Spain, but they didn’t pick up the phone. Their once-large community has now dwindled to a mere five nuns, … Read more

Top 10 Punctuation Mistakes

Writers can avoid most errors of punctuation by mastering the following conventions. 1. Introductory words, phrases, and clauses are followed by a comma. Incorrect: Moreover students are expected to read at least one English classic every six weeks. Correct : Moreover, students are expected to read at least one English classic every six weeks. Moreover … Read more

Champion Is a Transitive Verb

I read the following sentence in a newspaper article: He often champions for the rights of many individuals. As a noun, champion can be followed by the preposition for: “She is a champion for gender equality.” But as a verb, champion is transitive; it takes a direct object: “She champions gender equality.” The noun champion … Read more

Uncouth, Unkempt, and Unwieldy

Most negative English adjectives that begin with un- have a familiar antonym. For example: unhappy / happy unlucky / lucky unsuspecting / suspecting ungenerous / generous This post is about three adjectives whose positive forms are rarely used in modern English. uncouth: Awkward and uncultured. Examples of current usage of uncouth: The Malawi government has … Read more