Dropping the “of” After “couple”

This recent cry of despair from a reader has not fallen on deaf ears: You’re the only people I know to complain to, so I’m complaining again: ‘Couple’ in spoken form, and recently in written form, with ‘a’ and ‘of’ elided, has become the equivalent of ‘two’. The reader goes on to offer an “updated” … Read more

Misbehaving Memes: thou, with, and went

Since Richard Dawkins coined the word in 1976, meme has become familiar to social media users as a captioned graphic used to convey a thought meant to be amusing, inspiring, or informative and shareworthy. Thanks to their popularity, memes have spawned slapdash versions consisting of little more than a colored square containing words. Many, however, … Read more

Definitions and Glosses

A definition is a phrase or sentence (or more) that explains the meaning of a term, and a gloss is a brief definition offered parenthetically after the term. This post includes examples of sentences in which definitions and glosses are erroneously presented. Discussion after each sentence explains the error, and a revision demonstrates the correct … Read more

A Guide to In-Line Lists

This post describes how to organize in-line lists, those that occur within a sentence, as compared to vertical lists, those organized by setting the items on the list apart from each other, distinguished by numbers, letters, or other symbols, on consecutive lines. (Vertical lists will be described in a separate post.) An in-line list may … Read more

3 Types of Compound-Word Errors

Compound words can easily confuse writers. Compound nouns, for example, are variously styled closed (for example, horseshoe), hyphenated (light-year), and open (“income tax”). But correctly formatting a noun isn’t the only challenge when it comes to determining whether one word or two is appropriate. This post discusses three classes of errors in usage regarding compounds. … Read more

Usage Mistakes #1

The sentences below illustrate various types of mistakes in wording born from (not “borne out of”) ignorance or carelessness. 1. All the progress we have made to educate people about the hazards of smoking may be for not. The writer, perhaps unfamiliar with the term naught, assumed that the last word of the sentence is … Read more

Verb Mistakes #12: Heard on Television

Quite apart from stylistic errors involving redundancy and inapt word choice, television can be a rich source of grammatical errors. Here are four examples. INCORRECT: Gin was drunken out of necessity, not choice.—Documentary narrator CORRECT: Gin was drunk out of necessity, not choice. The forms of the verb drink are: Present: drink/drinks Simple past: drank … Read more

Verb Mistakes #11: Fall, Ring, and Go

The verbs fall, ring, and go are irregular. That means that their forms must be memorized. A common error with these verbs is to use the simple past in place of the past participle. fall Present: fall, falls Simple past: fell Past Participle: (has/have) fallen INCORRECT: Really, this is an ostensibly bright middle-aged man, who … Read more

Verb Mistakes #11: Fare

The verb fare derives from the Old English verb faran, “to travel.” In OE it could also mean “to undergo” or “to suffer.” In modern usage, the verb fare is used to mean something like “to get along.” Here are examples of correct usage: [Sanders] offered a stunning chart that showed just how poorly most … Read more

Preposition Mistakes #5: Descend, Discuss, Return

One kind of preposition error is to follow a verb with a preposition when one is not needed. descend INCORRECT: Sunita Gale and her husband descend down Highclere Castle’s majestic staircase. Caption, Today site. CORRECT : Sunita Gale and her husband descend Highclere Castle’s majestic staircase. Descend is a transitive verb that means “to move from a higher to a lower position.” … Read more

Verb Mistakes #10: Dropping the Past Participle Ending

These errors are not particularly noticeable in spoken colloquial English, but they jump out in formal written English. Some of these forms have become quite common in writing. 1. INCORRECT: My son says he wants to marry an old-fashion girl. CORRECT : My son says he wants to marry an old-fashioned girl. “To fashion” is … Read more

Preposition Mistakes #4: Surprised and Ignorant

Preposition usage does change from century to century, but never, I suspect, as quickly as it seems to be doing now. Here are some examples of unconventional usage from the Web: Surprised + preposition INCORRECT: In effect, he said no one should be surprised from Donald Trump’s behavior.—Political commentary blog. CORRECT : In effect, he … Read more