Eleven mistakes about grammar mistakes

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The Apple is a site "where teachers meet and learn". It has a page where teachers can supposedly learn from "11 Grammar Mistakes to Avoid". And guess what: as Steve Jones has pointed out to Language Log, not a single one of these alleged grammar mistakes is both (a) genuinely relevant to English grammar and (b) actually a mistake. It is truly extraordinary what garbage teachers are exposed to when it comes to matters of how to describe what is and what is not grammatical in Standard English.

I suppose I have to go through all eleven of the misbegotten peeves and fumbled explanations that this execrable site provides. Here goes:

1. The page presenting the first alleged mistake is headed "Constipated Clauses", and the advice is that you should never use "it goes without saying" or the adverb "obviously". This has nothing to do with grammar; it is about trying to direct people in the matter of what they should say, not of what form of words is permissible for saying it.

2. The second is headed "Comma Vomit", and recommends against certain uses of commas. In fact it recommends against the comma use in my previous sentence, and against the comma in this one. There's a lot of variation of choice in comma use among expert users of Standard English, and it certainly cannot be claimed that "Commas should only precede and, but, for, or, nor, so, or yet when they introduce an independent clause". Do not trust this page.

3. The third is headed "The Death of Adverbs", and says that adjectives modify nouns and adverbs modify verbs. As it happens, a new paper (by John Payne, Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, forthcoming in the journal Word Structure) shows this is actually not always true. But never mind the wider picture: what the page is telling you is that I can do that easy is wrong and should be corrected to I can do that easily. This is a style difference. Most American speakers will say they can do it easy when speaking in relaxed and casual mode, and most will agree that "do it easily" sounds more careful and formal. As an observation about formality levels, this might be worth making; but it doesn't amount to an error in syntax.

4. The fourth is headed "Less vs. Fewer", and warns against substituting less for fewer. It is claimed that the latter "describes finite, listable items". Strictly that would imply that it's ungrammatical to say There are fewer rational numbers than reals, because neither the rationals nor the reals are finite in number, and the reals are not even listable. But never mind the math. The page recommends saying "fewer brains", as in "He has fewer brains than I thought", which is ludicrous (how many more does he need, if he has one?). It's an old, old usage quibble, and here it's very badly presented and described.

5. The fifth says you shouldn't reduplicate "etc." — it doesn't say why, but merely alleges that if you write "etc. etc." it will show that you don't know what you're talking about. This is just a style peeve. It also says you shouldn't confuse it with "et al.", which is a purely lexical point.

6. The sixth (oddly headed Prevarication Junction) tells you not to use "I think" or "studies show". Again, this is being bossy about what you should say, and has nothing at all to do with what it is grammatical to say.

7. Number 7 distinguishes the words affect and effect in their noun and verb uses. You can look them up in a dictionary. Purely lexical information, no grammar.

8. Number 8 is also purely lexical, or even just a spelling point: it distinguishes than and then.

9. Number 9 actually is about grammar, but what the page says is not true. It asserts that none "is always singular" for purposes of verb agreement. This just isn't true for Standard English. When none is a subject, the agreement is often plural (are, for instance). None of us are perfect, says the Reverend Dr. Chasuble in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde was not intending to portray Dr. Chasuble as incapable of speaking correct English. The myth that none takes only singular agreement on the verb lives on despite many refutations. Serious handbooks of grammar and style don't represent it as ungrammatical. (Of course, the idiots Strunk and White do in their clueless book The Elements of Style; but they get almost everything wrong.)

10. With number 10 we are back to Latin abbreviations: "i.e.", it tells us, is different from "e.g." — and so it is, but this is not grammar.

11. Finally, alleged mistake number 11: writing could of for could've or could have. A spelling point, really; nothing to do with grammar. A guy who writes I could of been a contender can't spell, sure, he knows how to say grammatically that he could've been a contender (and who knows, perhaps in some realm other than writing he could've been).

That's it. There is nothing more. The Apple has nothing for you but unmotivated content bossiness, unacknowledged style preferences, familiar lexical distinctions, and inaccurate punctuation guidance. There is only one clearly grammatical point, and it makes a clearly false claim about verb agreement in English and misinforms the user badly.

If this pathetic parade really the best that The Apple could provide for the teachers who turn to it, then I can only say that my previous blasts at the idiocies of the burgeoning industry of uninformed grammar punditry must have been far too understated or far too little noticed.



139 Comments

  1. Oliver said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 11:33 am

    Isn't their example for rule #3 incorrect? As far as I can tell the adverb has no distinct form in higher degrees of comparison. "She ran quicker" is correct English, isn't it?

  2. Neal Goldfarb said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    Regarding no. 11: At the LSA meetings this year, someone had a poster presentation about differences in the distribution of the various forms of would have: would've, woulda, and (I think) would of. The point was that (contrary to what I had always thought) there's more at work than just a matter of spelling—there are constraints on how each variant can be used. Unfortunately, I don't recall the details. Maybe the author is out there and can chime in.

  3. Nada said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 11:49 am

    It's interesting; they could have made their list significantly better if it were titled, "11 Choices to Avoid in Formal Writing" or "11 Writing Style Improvements" or even simply substituting "writing" for "grammar" – "11 Writing Mistakes to Avoid". It's clear in their introduction that they're attempting to advise on formal writing.

    I still disagree with much of their advice, but they made the list significantly worse by using the word "grammar".

  4. Gloria Oren said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    Word usage falls under the category of diction, not grammar. It makes you wonder who is behind the Apple publication for teachers. No wonder so many teachers fail to teach grammar and why so many children are so confused by what they do teach them, that they become adults using bad grammar.

    Gloria Oren
    PineTree Whispers http://gloriaoren.com
    Gloria's Corner http://gloriascorner.com

  5. Hanne-Ruth Thompson said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    She ran faster, surely?

  6. Jon Weinberg said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    I can't help but ask: I'm stopped short by the third sentence in #11 above. "Sure" isn't a conjunction – is it?

  7. Zwicky Arnold said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

    To Nada, who says: I still disagree with much of their advice, but they made the list significantly worse by using the word "grammar".

    As I've pointed out on this blog a number of times over the years, to non-linguists (including many people who write usage advice) "grammar" means 'any aspect of language that is regulated'. The slogan is: It's All Grammar.

    See, in particular, my July 2004 posting here.

    It's hard to know what to do about the terminological morass. (Though I have to point out that folding the mechanics of writing — spelling, capitalization, punctuation, etc. — in with matters of grammar and usage flies against an older tradition, one still represented in many college handbooks as well as in the work of linguists.)

  8. John said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    It strikes me that evolution in usage of adverbial forms in English is a grammatical issue.

    In any case, for the "don't be proscriptive, but descriptive" crowd, here's what my built-in MacBook dictionary says. You'll note that some of the 11 are covered (if not all, in the most broad definition):

    grammar |ˈgramər|
    noun
    the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology (including inflections) and sometimes also phonology and semantics.
    • [usu. with adj. ] a particular analysis of the system and structure of language or of a specific language.
    • a book on grammar : my old Latin grammar.
    • a set of actual or presumed prescriptive notions about correct use of a language : it was not bad grammar, just dialect.
    • the basic elements of an area of knowledge or skill : the grammar of wine.
    • Computing a set of rules governing what strings are valid or allowable in a language or text.

  9. Jason L. said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

    Oliver: "She ran quicker" is correct English, isn't it?

    For this native speaker of North American English, "she ran quicker" has a slightly different sense from "she ran more quickly". "She ran quicker" to me sounds like she completed some course faster (than someone else) — the emphasis is on running as a completed action — while "she ran more quickly" sounds like during the process of running, she was covering ground faster (than someone else). It's like how it sounds more natural to me to say, "the party turned out pleasant", than to say, "the party turned out pleasantly". Or how "the dough rises really slow" implies it takes a long time for the dough to finish rising but "the dough rises really slowly" implies that a low instantaneous rate of rising at any given moment.

  10. Steve F said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    Is anyone else surprised by one of the examples under number 7 – the affect/effect confusion? They are right, after all, that these are commonly confused words (though of course that is a lexical, not a grammatical error). They are right too that 'affect' and 'effect' are both verbs and nouns, though of course 'affect' is more commonly found as a verb, and 'effect' as a noun. But I was surprised by their example of 'affect' as a noun: 'An affect (noun) is an artificial air that someone puts on. Do you pretend to have a British accent? That’s an affect.' – Is this a difference between American and British usage. Over here, where we naturally speak with British accents, 'an artificial air that someone puts on' is an 'affectation'. The only use of 'affect' as a noun that I have come across is a rather technical term in psychological discourse. Do Americans (or even other Brits – I don't pretend to know all the words British speakers use) really use the word 'affect' in this sense?

  11. Melanoman said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

    The most ironic statement of the article: "If you really don’t know what you’re talking about…don’t talk about it."

    Except that I think he meant "don't really" instead of "really don't".

    The phrase "It goes without saying…" isn't as paradoxical as it seems in some contexts. It can often be an efficient way to say "Most people take the following for granted, but I want to elevate it to your attention so that we can consciously evaluate it for the purposes of this discussion." To be fair, that would more typically be "It often goes without saying."

  12. Boris said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

    I've never heard affect used as a noun (Northeast US), though I gave them the benefit of the doubt (after all, I can't know all possible usages of all possible words) since I know the related adjective "affected". The dictionary at dictionary.com, though, has no relevant sense of the noun "affect"

  13. E. Pyatt said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    I'm not sure why these are all "mistakes" per se. If you insert commas as you do in item #2, a well-heeled copy-writer will, more than likely, correct you. Same for items #3-4 and 7-8 (for a list like this, I would assume the traditional inclusion of spelling as grammar) and 10-11. If you follow the advice, that part of the text will remain unmarked. If you don't you may have to pull out your linguist card to get it through the revision process….

    As for the rest, following the advice probably won't hurt your reputation with the copy editor since avoiding cheesy cliches is good advice, even from a descriptive point of view.

    Another question I have – how does list differ from any other standard list of prescriptive grammar errors? Aren't they all lists of things that one is not supposed to say, when in fact everyone says them in casual speech?

    For the record, I too find these lists annoying, but not as annoying as, say a recent article on "How to Sound Smarter" in Reader's Digest (which I felt really should have/should've been entitled "How to Sound Ever so Overeducated.")

    P.S. Item 4 – I would have to agree that "less brains" is preferred over "fewer brains" even in a prescriptive sense. One would assume that "brains" is a mass noun in this usage.

  14. Acilius said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

    @Boris: Hang around psychologists or actors for any length of time, and you'll hear the noun "affect" used to mean (as the American Heritage Dictionary defines it) "Feeling or emotion, especially as manifested by facial expression or body language."

  15. Steve Harris said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    @Steve F:

    I agree with your affect/affectation distinction: An affectation is an assumption of mannerisms for purposes of ostentatious display, while an affect is the broad psychological stance a person presents to the world (as in "flat affect", a stance of showing no feeling). I'm midwestern American.

  16. Philip said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

    "Affect" as a noun is pretty common psychobabble out here in Southern California. It means "emotions." Depressed people, for example, are said to "display a flattened affect." People like me who are passionate or fly off the handle–take your pick–have too much "affect."

    Al long-gone administrator once warned me, "Philip, you need to watch your affect."

  17. Morten Jonsson said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

    The writer did indeed confuse the noun "affect" with "affectation." I doubt that anyone, anywhere, uses the word in that sense except from the same confusion. There's no reason it couldn't meant that, of course (and it goes without saying); in the sixteenth century it did, says the OED.

  18. Eric said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

    Steve:

    Over here, where we naturally speak with British accents, 'an artificial air that someone puts on' is an 'affectation'.

    As a native speaker of American English, I'd agree with that. Of course, I never encountered affect as a noun before learning about 'flat affect' as a symptom in Abnormal Psych. But my impression of affect as a noun is more or less in line with the OED's 1a:

    1. a. The manner in which one is inclined or disposed; (also) the capacity for willing or desiring; a mental state, mood, or emotion, esp. one regarded as an attribute of a more general state; a feeling, desire, intention. Obs.

    The OED does, however, offer

    4. An affectation, a trick. Obs.

    with the citation

    1588 A. FRAUNCE Lawiers Logike I. v. f. 31v, This were an affect of an extemporall Rhetor to salute a man by name without premeditation.

    It's marked obsolete, but so are all the rest of the definitions of affect-as-a-noun, so maybe the Apple is infinitessimally less wrong than I thought. Cold comfort for them, perhaps, as I doubt any of them would be very happy with that example sentence.

  19. Morten Jonsson said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

    No, the psychological sense isn't marked as obsolete in the OED.

  20. Stephen Jones said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

    The interesting thing is as my colleague pointed out is that there are some sensible comments, giving one the idea that teachers aren't as dumb as those trying to give them advice. This comment appears spot on:
    The article is of questionable credibility. First, the proper use of commas has many gray areas, and the matter is not as simple as the author makes it out to be. Second, I question whether two of the so-called mistakes, namely "Constipated Clauses" and "Prevarication Justice" are actually errors of grammar. They seem like trite or redundant expressions, but don't appear to violate any rules of usage in and of themselves. Third, the author should know that one falls "into" a trap and not "in" a trap, as was written in the article. The article reads like the work of an amateur who is merely spouting off on a few pet peeves and has failed to do the proper research. The know-it-all tone doesn't help, either.

  21. Stuart F said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

    The rules seem incorrect in their differentiation between "etc" and "et al", saying the former refers to things and the latter to people. This isn't a differentiation I've ever come across: "et al" is mainly used in listing authors and parties in legal cases (generally people or organisations) but can be short for "et alibi"="and elsewhere". By whom is "etc" for people prohibited?

  22. Brett said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    I have hear "affect" used in the fashion they suggest, but only once (and I can't remember the background of the speaker). I presumed at the time, correctly it seems, that it was a nearly obsolete synonym for "affectation." I suspect, however, that for anyone using it now, "affect" in this sense results from a confusion with "affectation" and a mistaken generalization. In the psychological sense, a person will "affect" (verb) an "affect" (noun), but when speaking of mannerisms, they "affect" (verb) an "affectation" (which would be described as "affected"). My hypothesis is that the use of the noun "affect" is being chosen to match the structure used in psychology. On the other hand, however, "affected" is probably a much more common word than "affect" in its psychological senses, so the speakers are probably almost certainly aware of "affectation" and are using "affect" believing it to be a synonym exhibiting a greater degree of parallelism with the psychological terminology. (If there were some audio recordings of this usage, they might shed further light, since the pronunciation of "affect" can vary markedly depending on which meaning is intended.)

  23. Stephen Jones said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    'quicker' as an adverb form is about three times less common than more quickly in American English, whilst in British English both forms seem equally common.

    There are limitations to the use of adjective forms instead of adverb forms.
    No one says:
    *He drove dangerous down the road.

    But peevologists never complain about what nobody says. They only complain about constructions large numbers of native speakers spontaneously use (which are pretty well grammatical by definition).

  24. Steve F said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    Thank you to the commenters who have confirmed that 'affectation' is the more common word on both sides of the Atlantic, and that 'affect' as a noun is largely restricted to psychological discourse. (Though, interestingly, the comments would suggest it's a bit more widespread in US English: I mix a lot with actors, but I've never heard it used in a theatrical context over here – and, I'm sure I'm being misled by a crude stereotype here, but I can't say I was particularly surprised that it has a somewhat broader user base in Southern California.)

    On another topic, about number 11 – 'could of' – a favourite peeve of many. I agree that it's a simple spelling mistake – and not a particularly recent one: I like to point out to people who rant about it as an example of illiteracy among young people that 'I should of written' was recorded as early as 1811, and then to see their faces when I tell them its author was John Keats. Of course, the fact that it was used by a great poet (in a letter, by the way, not a poem, which he tended to proof read more carefully) does not stop it from being a spelling mistake, and a fairly logical one at that (if you don't know better it makes sense to use 'of' to represent the sound indicated by the contracted 'have' in 'could've'.) But I can see why some people might think it's a grammatical error: I teach English to foreigners, as well as to native speakers, and one of my more advanced students once asked me about an instance of 'could of' she had come across, with the words 'Surely it isn't right to use a preposition as an auxiliary verb?' For her, having learnt English in a very different way from native speakers, it did appear to be a grammatical error. Though, of course, the sort of writer who is likely to make such an error (with the possible exception of Keats) has never heard of either a preposition or an auxiliary verb, and so for them it remains a simple spelling mistake.

  25. Chandra said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

    As descriptivists, should we really be dictating how non-linguists make use of the word "grammar"? :)

  26. Boris said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

    I think there's more to "could of" than a spelling mistake. After all, it's not as if the writer meant "could have", but misspelt "have" as "of". Rather, it must be a misunderstanding of meaning, almost like an eggcorn. Now, I have no idea how people interpret "could of". Perhaps they consider it an opaque construct (after all, the "have" in "could have" doesn't have a simple meaning on its own either), but it's certainly more than misspelling "have" or "'ve" as "of". After all, we don't see these same people writing things like "I of nothing to add to this discussion" where the meaning of "have" is more clear.

  27. Stephen Jones said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

    As descriptivists, should we really be dictating how non-linguists make use of the word "grammar"? :)

    It's a serious point. Zwicky has addressed it further up. I think the answer is yes, but the people we are opposing think the solution to bad spelling, bad punctuation, bad style, wrong register or simple muddle is to teach people the terms and rules that have traditionally gone under the term grammar.

  28. grackle said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

    I can't recall ever hearing anyone say "I can do that easy" rather than 'easily'. Is that a British usage? It sounds quite jarring to my ear – I have no sense that 'easily' is more formal than 'easy', but I do see the latter as an adjective and the former as an adverb. Am I misinformed? This is the only example in the list where I would differ from Prof. Pullum.

    [The phrase "can do that easy" gets an estimated 8.36 million Google hits. It's worth taking a look at a few of them. Admittedly, the top-ranked one is someone — possibly even you — saying on Hacker News the same thing that you say here. But plenty of the roughly 8,359,999 others are people writing things like "I can do that easy". I agree that it should probably be regarded as non-standard English. But the reason it's not a very good pick as a grammar mistake is that it's just a very slight (and extremely common) extension of a practice that is already going on in Standard English: making new adverbs from adjective stems without -ly. So we get not only the slightly non-standard phrases like love me tender, treat me nice, fixed it up good, looks real nice, etc., but also unquestionably standard phrases like hit him hard, get there early, arrived late, can't stay long, etc. Not all adverbs have an -ly on the end in Standard English; the list of adverbs that don't have -ly on the end is slowly lengthening; and in non-standard dialects and informal usage the list is longer. In the specific case of We can do that easy it's on the cusp: you would avoid it in very serious writing and formal style, but I think it would pass without remark in conversation, or in a casual email between Standard English users. —GKP]

  29. Ellen said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    But, Boris, in your example sentence, the have and the 've of the correct versions (I have, or I've) are not pronounced like "of". People write "of" when, and only when, the pronunciation matches that of the word "of".

    And it may sometimes be simply typing the wrong sound-alike word (or morpheme in this case) despite knowing better, as I did in the above paragraph, when I wrote "right" for "write" — which I corrected upon proofreading, but sometimes people don't proofread, or miss stuff when proofreading.

  30. Steve F said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

    Fair points, Boris – I take back the 'simple' in 'simple spelling mistake' and agree it is a little bit eggcornish, but, as you say, the use of 'have' as an auxiliary verb is pretty opaque too. But I agree with Ellen that the reason 'of' is only substituted for 'have' with modal verbs and not with the ordinary present perfect, is that the contraction is different: 'I've', 'you've', 'we've' etc. do not contain a sound that could be represented by 'of', and the full verb 'have' has a different vowel.

    I suspect that it is often a typo, but that for some people it may be something more akin to an eggcorn.

  31. Nik Berry said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

    Anyone else notice this from #11?

    "It’s an easy trap in which to fall."

    The writer seems to be trying to avoid the terrible, terrible mistake of ending a sentence with a preposition, and ends up splitting 'into' in two.

  32. Rubrick said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

    GKP:I can only say that my previous blasts at the idiocies of the burgeoning industry of uninformed grammar punditry must have been far too understated or far too little noticed.

    Is there really any question whatever that they're far too little noticed? What percentage of people in the field of grammar instruction (if it can be called a field) do you suppose are aware of said blasts? Or of the existence of Language Log? Or can name a linguist? Or have even a remotely accurate idea what linguists do?

  33. Nick W said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

    Not saying I disagree with you, but you use informal speech examples to discredit a few of The Apple's bossy and nitpicky proscriptions. Isn't their conflation of grammar and lexicality, spelling, etc., just an informal manifestation of your equally bossy, proscriptive, and nitpicky definition of "grammar?"

  34. Army1987 said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

    @Nik Berry: No, the to is the infinitival marker.

  35. Army1987 said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

    Why would you consider easy in I can do that easy an adjective? I'd rather say that the speaker can make adjectives into adverbs by zero derivation. (In cases such as "He's going fast" a more far-fetched but still plausible analysis would be to consider fast a predicative, but here it'd be ridiculous.)
    Better examples of adjectives modifying verbs would be (IMO) "Do not short circuit", "Speedy delete" (Wikipedia lingo, a back-formation from "Speedy deletion") and similar.

  36. Army1987 said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

    (Expanding on my comment to Nik Berry) Of course I think a Brit would use "a trap *into* which to fall" (or "a trap to fall into"), but I wouldn't consider "a trap in which to fall" (or "a trap to fall in") incorrect in AmE — it's "Get in the Ring" not "Get into the Ring".

  37. Boris said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

    @Ellen,
    At least in my dialect, "I have nothing" and "I of nothing" (with a voiced f). I can even construct an (admittedly contrived) ambiguous phrase, "Eye of nothing" (sounds like an Egyptian artifact or something). Try saying that quickly and tell me it doesn't sound the same.

  38. Keith Hampton said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

    The Apple is essentially a job marketing site (note the introduction to the grammar article) that targets newly credentialed teachers who are looking for work. They cleverly disguise themselves as a "best practices" site in order to lure new teachers. The accuracy of their advice is never the point; the point is to attract potential customers.

  39. John said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

    Stuart,

    I don't read legal texts very often, but I've never seen for "et alibi"="and elsewhere". It's always in my experience, et alii, "and others".

    > By whom is "etc" for people prohibited?

    By its meaning: etc. = et cetera = "and the other things" (κτλ, as we write in ancient Greek).

  40. TCM said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

    Well, if reduplicating "etc." was good enough for the King of Siam…

  41. Dee Lawrence said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

    "could of" – it can be divided up differently so I think that means it's not just a spelling error.

    "Could you of got that yesterday?" I hear things like this, and they seem unremarkable. "Could you have got that yesterday?" would sound different – mainly by the voiced h. kudyoowuv vs. kudyoohuv :)

  42. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

    @Arnold Zwicky:

    It's hard to know what to do about the terminological morass. (Though I have to point out that folding the mechanics of writing — spelling, capitalization, punctuation, etc. — in with matters of grammar and usage flies against an older tradition, one still represented in many college handbooks as well as in the work of linguists.)

    I agree completely with what you say about the word grammar. As a physics teacher, I can use words such as force, pressure, energy, stress in their non-technical senses when I'm not talking about physics and in their technical senses when I am. This seems to be harder with grammar, maybe because the meanings are too close?

  43. Stephen Jones said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

    By its meaning: etc. = et cetera = "and the other things" (κτλ, as we write in ancient Greek).

    According to the SOED 'cetera' means the rest and is the plural of 'ceterus' meaning 'remaining over'.

    The SOED gives examples of etc used for people, and of 'etc etc'.

  44. Stephen Jones said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

    This seems to be harder with grammar, maybe because the meanings are too close?

    As I've said, the problem is that those who misuse grammar will still use it in the same breath to refer to what linguist call 'grammar'.

  45. Neal Goldfarb said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

    Following up on my comment about the poster at the LSA meetings dealing with would of, woulda, etc.:

    The authors were Minta Elsman (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Stanley Dubinsky (University of South Carolina). The presentation was titled, The morphosyntax of the American English perfect. Here is the abstract:

    American English has four phonologically distinct variants of perfect aspect: have, ‘ve, of, and a. Traditional accounts treat them as variants of a single auxiliary verb (Akmajian, Steele, & Wasow 1979), while Kayne 1997 analyzes have/’ve as an auxiliary verb and of/a as a prepositional complementizer. We analyze have/ve as an auxiliary verb and of/a as a functional ASP(ect) head that selects modal complements. Our analysis accounts for several facts: (i) only have/ve can bear tense; (ii) of/a appears only with past-tense modals; and (iii) in some American English varieties, of/a (but not have/’ve) may select a preterite complement.

  46. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

    1. About affect as a noun: like many psychological terms, it's probably a loanword from German, namely Affekt 'emotion.'

    2. About "she ran quicker": I don't think Jason L.'s analysis quite gets it. I'm not a native speaker, but I find that, in English, verbs describing a state or movement can take a predicative adjective, just like verbs of being or becoming, with the adjective saying something about the subject more than modifying the verb: rest easy, stand tall, sit still, flow gentle, go slow, and, yes, run quick.

  47. Javier Candeira said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

    For us non-native speakers of English who need a style-cum-grammar guide, which substitute would Geoff recommend for "the clueless book" by "the idiots Strunk and White"?

    Thanks!

    [Hundreds of people ask me this. And I usually say (1) Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by the late Joseph Williams is much more sensible than Strunk and White, and just as intelligible for students and general readers; and (2) everyone who's at all seriously interested in the topic of usage should treat themselves to the truly wonderful Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (or the more recent and not much smaller Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage) and keep it near the desk as a reference resource. Strunk and White's book, and especially the bits that White added, is full of outdated, idiosyncratic, and inaccurate drivel, and should really be avoided. See my 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice for a brief justification of this assessment. —GKP]

  48. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

    3. About "grammar": I suppose it's perfectly OK that linguists have appropriated the term for a specific meaning within linguistics, but historically "grammar" (grammatica, γραμματική) has been a method of teaching classical literary languages (note the graph- root) that were no longer spoken: Sanskrit, Homeric Greek, Classical Latin, Koranic Arabic, Biblical Hebrew. Nebrija's Gramática castellana, the first grammar of a living language, also had a didactic purpose — a threefold one: (1) fixing literary Spanish for the future, (2) helping Spaniards learn Latin, and (3) teaching Spanish to non-Spanish-speakers.

    It's a little bit like the word "linguist": it seems to have meant 'polyglot' before it meant 'language scientist.'

  49. linguist.in.hiding said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

    @Chandra: As descriptivists, should we really be dictating how non-linguists make use of the word "grammar"? :)

    This cuts both ways. How about "words":

    "as"
    "descriptivists"
    "should"
    "we"
    "really"
    "be"
    "dictating"
    "how"
    "non"
    "linguists"
    "non-linguists"
    "make"
    "use"
    "of"
    "the"
    "word"

    :)

  50. Eric said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 9:23 pm

    Morten Jonsson:

    No, the psychological sense isn't marked as obsolete in the OED.

    Indeed it is not. I must have skipped over it in my distraction with all the obsolete versions I'd never heard of.

  51. Nick Z said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

    @Stephen Jones: cetera is the neuter (inanimate) plural of the adjective ceterus (masculine), cetera (feminine), ceterum (neuter). As such, it cannot refer to people.

    However, there is no reason that etc. shouldn't in principle stand for et ceteri 'and the other men/people' or et ceterae 'and the other women' (the sexism here is built into the Latin, I'm afraid).

  52. John said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 10:41 pm

    Nick's right, except that etc simply isn't correctly used for et ceteri, although I won't dispute that people sometimes act as if it were.

    Then again, people also say "eksetera," so what can you do? :-)

  53. John Atkinson said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

    As far as "of" instead of "have" is concerned, I'm sure that for some speakers it's a simple spelling mistake, and for others it's an eggcorn, as others here have pointed out. But there's a third alternative, that it's a dialectical thing, that is, that it's completely grammatical in some dialects. "Of" is both a preposition and an auxiliary in these dialects — just as "to" is for speakers of Standard English.

    I don't know if this is the case for any USA dialect, but I'm pretty sure it is for some English dialects — also Irish and (broad) Australian. Such speakers, when they learn to write, internalise the rule that "of" is spelled either "have" or "'ve" when it forms part of a compound verb. But this isn't a rule of grammar for these speakers, it's a simple spelling rule, just like they learn to spell the single (for them) word /ǝfekt/ as either "affect" or "effect", depending.

    So for these people (and I think I'm one of them), writing "of" instead of "'ve" is indeed a spelling mistake, but not a simple one. It exists in their internal lexicon as one of the meanings of "of", and their mistake is that they forgot that when "of" has this meaning, it's supposed to be spelled differently.

  54. Aaron Davies said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 11:17 pm

    Surely "grammar", like grammar, is defined by common usage…

    [I think you're forgetting that some words do have a technical use, agreed on by communities of specialists. And surely a site where specialists explain grammar mistakes to teachers is not one where the technical sense of "grammar" would be appropriate. —GKP]

  55. Gordon Campbell said,

    March 8, 2010 @ 11:49 pm

    I’ve found a site that’s excellent for those who enjoy being peeved by peevers: http://languageandgrammar.com/
    Most peevers have a limited repertoire, but this site seems to embrace every shibboleth and prescription ever perpetrated. It’s beautiful.

    The readers ‘pet peeves’ is astounding. Any kind of nonsense is happily included. I tried submitting a couple of polite comments pointing out that many of these complaints weren’t justified. My comments didn’t pass moderation.

    So I decided instead to join in the peeving. I complained about people saying “is there much data on this disk?” instead of “are there many data …?” I complained about people who say “Switzerland is between France, Italy and Germany” (the correct preposition for more than two is ‘among’), and I complained about people not treating stamina as a plural noun. Sadly (or happily, depending on how you see it) these are some of the saner factoids on the site.

  56. Ray Girvan said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 12:31 am

    Gordon Campbell: every shibboleth and prescription ever perpetrated. It’s beautiful

    The Words & Wordplay section of Yahoo! Answers is worth following for much the same reason. Apart from the excruciating spectacle of (evidently) another generation of school students being turned into prescriptivist blimps, you get constant cases of some weird blinkered variety of Recency Illusion (if you don't recognise a word, you just conclude, without researching, that it isn't a real word); and bizarre prescriptions I couldn't have imagined , such as people who think "they think him a whatever" and "most probably" are ungrammatical constructs.

  57. Gordon Campbell said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 1:19 am

    …meant pro- rather than prescription, but it still works

  58. conservativechick said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 3:08 am

    @Oliver#3–She ran more quickly is the correct form. The comparative form (between two things) usually ends in -er or adds "more" while the superlative form (3 or more, including unknown quantities, such as all the people in the world) usually ends in -est or adds "most" to the root word.

  59. Jen said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 4:18 am

    I hate people who say "have got", as in "I've got to go". No, you do not "have got" to go!! You "have" to go!

    I also hate people who say "ten" when they mean "tin" (the metal), or say "set" when they mean "sit".

    I finally hate people who do not know the difference between "insure" and "ensure". Or who get "no" and "know" confused: "I don't no" and "Know, you cannot go out tonight!".

    [(myl) I'm not wild about trolls, myself. Jen's "contributions" to other LL discussions (e.g. here and here) also seem designed to provoke fruitless and marginally relevant controversy, by evoking extreme and marginally relevant prejudice of one sort or another.]

  60. Jen said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 4:21 am

    I also hate people who say "go" or "be like" when they really mean "say". for example:

    "And I was like: 'no she did not just say that!'"

    "And he goes: 'WTF? I can't believe that.'"

    "go" is a verb of motion!! It does not mean "say"!!

    [I started reading Jen's first comment assuming that she was parodying the sort of clueless peever who hates people because of minor innovations or dialect differences or nonstandard forms; but this is the second of her comments, and still no sign of any humor. She seems to be deadly serious. So I am beginning to think she has no idea what Language Log is, and doesn't realize how loony this sort of prejudiced braying looks in the present context. I thought of deleting her comments; and then I swung the other way (I have these rare moments of generosity and openness) and thought that it takes all sorts to make a world; and then I swung back again and reminded myself that even if it does take all sorts, thaat doesn't mean Language Log has to provide space for every dingbat who wants to evince arbitrary examples of construction rage... I still haven't decided which way to go. —GKP]

  61. Dionne said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 4:31 am

    @Ray
    As the Technical Writer in my firm, I get asked from time to time to do a bit of proofreading. I came across a gem once, "it must be beared in mind", which I corrected to "it must be borne in mind". The gentleman in question (second language English speaker) actually argued with me and said he's never heard of the phrase "borne in mind", and therefore it cannot possibly be right! It later turned up in another document as "it should be bore in mind".

  62. Mark P said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 5:06 am

    By its meaning: etc. = et cetera

    A dangerous position to take. How do you use the word "awful": like it originally meant — full of awe — or how the whole rest of the world uses it?

    With loan words the situation is even more precarious. Spelling and usage are often wildly different from the original. Soirée? Hamburger? etc. etc

    (Personally, I will happily continue to use etc for people. It indicates that the list goes on, but not necessarily with any end or precision. I use et al when I cannot be bothered with citing a full list of specific people, usually authors, in a formal situation.)

  63. Phil said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 5:26 am

    Jen, are you quoting from one of the sites Gordon and Ray mention? If not, may I recommend you take a longer browse around this blog? You may have fundamentally misunderstood its nature.

  64. Adam said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 5:56 am

    @Dionne: "it should be bore in mind"

    For some business writers "it should be bored in mind".

  65. Andrew F said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 6:01 am

    Javier Candeira,

    Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum have written a couple of grammar books, which are listed on Prof. Pullum's webpage.

    http://ling.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/

    [Thank you, Andrew; but in fact even our 2005 book (A Student's Introduction to English Grammar) is for undergraduate students taking linguistics or structure-of-English courses in universities, not for high schoolers or members of the general public. People tell me I ought to write a guide to grammar and style for the general public, and perhaps I should, but I must confess that I haven't yet. I'll add my suggestions from the currently published literature to Javier's comment above. —GKP]

  66. Steve F said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 6:24 am

    @ Jen: 'I hate people who say "have got", as in "I've got to go". No, you do not "have got" to go!! You "have" to go!'

    Jen seems to hate rather a lot of people, but if she really hates people who say 'have got' she ought to make sure she never comes to Britain, as we nearly all say it here. Also in Ireland, Australia and probably quite a few other countries. The other usages she mentions are, I suppose, non-standard, though extremely common, but 'have got' is standard British English, and we can't help saying it. We do use 'I have to go' as well, but it is less common, and sounds a bit 'American' to our ears. We don't hate you for saying it though.

  67. Picky said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 10:06 am

    @GKP: Number 9 – "Serious handbooks of grammar and style don't represent it [plural verb after 'none'] as ungrammatical. (Of course, the idiots Strunk and White do in their clueless book The Elements of Style …"

    Oh no, not again! This is getting tedious, Professor, but the truth is, at least in the current edition, (one more time): No they don't.

  68. Thomas said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 10:06 am

    Javier asks for a text that can be used as a guide, especially for non-native speakers.

    The one that I use as a reference for those rare times I need it is "Practical English Usage" by Michael Swan and published by the Oxford University Press. It gives not only examples of correct usage but common examples of incorrect usage.

    My favorite entry is on "taboo words". First Swan suggests that you not use them, and then explains a great many of them in detail with usage examples.

  69. T-Rex said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 10:22 am

    AFAIK the distinction between adjectives modifying nouns and adverbs modifying non-nouns is now blurry to say the least, especially in comparatives. I hear lots of British Standard English speakers saying, "She ran quicker than him," which grammar fiends regard as incorrect, preferring, "He ran more quickly than him." (Ignoring their stance on pronoun case.)

    I am very intrigued to hear that there may be a usage distinction between these two variants.

    Jason L said that for them as a speaker of North American English:

    ""She ran quicker" has a slightly different sense from "she ran more quickly". "She ran quicker" to me sounds like she completed some course faster (than someone else) — the emphasis is on running as a completed action — while "she ran more quickly" sounds like during the process of running, she was covering ground faster (than someone else). It's like how it sounds more natural to me to say, "the party turned out pleasant", than to say, "the party turned out pleasantly". Or how "the dough rises really slow" implies it takes a long time for the dough to finish rising but "the dough rises really slowly" implies that a low instantaneous rate of rising at any given moment."

    It seems to me that "turned out" may be acting like a copula, in which case I understand why the adverb sounds unnatural. But the other examples are really fascinating. Do other people follow the judgements? Or are the distinctions drawn, like many unfortunately, a product of out of context over-analysis?

    I'd be very interested to hear more opinions, as I'm attempting to write my undergraduate dissertation about the distinction between adjectives and adverbs, based on how adverbs now frequently appear in "traditionally" adjectival places, and my starting point is comparative constructions.

    Stephen Jones and Professor Pullum, can you please put me onto any nice references?

  70. Stephen Jones said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 11:30 am

    cetera is the neuter (inanimate) plural of the adjective ceterus (masculine), cetera (feminine), ceterum (neuter). As such, it cannot refer to people.

    I'll remember that next time I want to talk in Latin.

    Firstly you're confusing grammatical gender with real world classifications. Grammatically in German the word for a 'girl' is neuter, not femine, and in Arabic you use the feminine singular verb with masculine plurals, but neither has anything to do with hormonal imbalance.

    According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary 'cetera' means 'remainders'. This is neither animal, vegetable, or mineral; it's an abstraction. Therefore I can't think of an earthly, or ghostly, reason why it can't include people.

  71. bee said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    Jen's affected hatred is a trap up with the falling into which I shall not put.

  72. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    T-Rex: As I wrote above, verbs describing state or movement can act as quasi-copulas, in the sense that [V] [Adj] can be interpreted as something like "be [Adj] while [V]ing." For example, when Dylan Thomas wrote "Do not go gentle into that good night," he meant "Don't be gentle as you go into that good night." And someone can be quick in their movements while running — so that they are "running quick" — but take very short steps, so that the run as a whole is not quick, and therefore they are not "running quickly."

  73. Craig Russell said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

    Re: quicker vs. more quickly

    Is it really non-standard to use "quicker" and "quickest" as adverbs? They sound fine to me.

    If so, then how do you form the comparative/superlative adverb of "good"?

    I did well on that test.
    She did better/more well on that test than I did.
    He did the best/most well of all of us on it.

    To me "more well" and "most well" in these senses are not only not what I'd say, but they border on the ungrammatical.

    WIth many adjectives both ___est and most ___ly sound about equal to me:

    He fought the bravest/most bravely I've ever seen anyone fight.

    But with some most ___ly sounds markedly better than ___est:

    He made his way through the crowded room more clumsily/clumsier than usual.

    Here "clumsier" sounds pretty bad to my ear. But I suppose maybe this is more a question of style and sound than grammatical "correctness". I think also (after admitting that as a Classicist I am deeply influenced by how Latin works) that in many of these examples what seems to be an adverb can be labeled a predicate adjective, even when the verb is not a copula:

    He fought the bravest = He, being the bravest, fought.
    He went the quickest = He, being the quickest, went.

  74. John said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

    Stephen,

    Look, people can and will use words however they want.

    But WRT Latin, it's a dead language and the neuter meant something to Cicero that it might not have meant to, say, Goethe. In this particular case, et cetera referred to things, not people, even if there were nouns that referred to people and were neuter.

    We've adopted this dead-language expression, and yes, you can use it however you want, but you'll also understand if many of us label this animate usage of the neuter cetera as "wrong."

    Just like those people down the road from me have "Alumni/ae" on their sign. They're wrong, insofar as they're using a language that had rules that they are now violating.

    That said, I think the adoption and modification of foreign-language terms falls into a different category than the first-language ones.

  75. michael farris said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    Jen: "I hate people who say "have got", as in "I've got to go". … I also hate people who say "go" or "be like" when they really mean "say". for example:"

    I was just talking with someone about this and related your position to him. He goes "I've got to say we hate Jen too."

  76. Craig said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

    @Steve F., "I've got to" is also amply represented here in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.

    Anecdotally, I have observed that a lot of American prescriptivist blather comes from areas where the ACT is preferred over the SAT. I don't know that the two are necessarily correlated, although I did notice (way back when I took the latter) that the former concerned itself unduly with stylistic differences which were not actual errors.

  77. Ken Grabach said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

    @ Steve F,
    "I've got to" in place of "I have to" is used commonly in American English, as well as other forms. If no further proof is needed, a chorus of "Leaving on the midnight train to Georgia" as performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips, the backup singer (Pips?) sing the repeated phrase, I've got to go, I've got to go, I've got to go… It has a wonderful syncopated rythm. I have to go is the same meter, but there is less syncopation in it.

    Nice to know that this form requires no translation to be understood in other English speaking locales, such as Australia, UK, Ireland, etc. (dare I add another etc. or two?)

  78. michael farris said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

    @Ken, I don't know, dare you?

  79. Stephen Jones said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

    Although the Latin has nothing to do with the meaning of the phrase when adopted into English, and as Latin-English dictionaries only mention the concept 'the rest' or 'the other' as a translation for 'ceterus', and 'for the rest' or 'otherwise' as a translation for 'cetera' can you tell us the form that would be used for people, and confirm that there are no examples of cetera including people left over?

  80. speedwell said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

    Craig Russell, here's an even more absurd example…

    – I did OK on that test.- She did more OK on that test than I did.- He did the most OK of all of us on it.

  81. speedwell said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

    Aaaaannnd… line breaks worked in the preview. Oh, well.

    I sometimes say, "I can do that easy." But I asked a few co-workers, and they say that when I say it, it comes across to them more like, "I can do that. Easy!" (Interjection.)

  82. Philip said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

    Back to "affect" as a noun in SoCal psychobabble: My computer won't do IPA, but it's pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, ey–like the word "alienate."

    Maybe Jen needs to tend to her affect a little more. I don't hate her, but she's certainly alienating most of us.

  83. John said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

    Stephen,

    One more from me on this:

    Obviously the Latin has more than nothing to do with the English.

    People would be "ceteri" and the word is often used to refer to people. However the phrase "et cetera" when used in a way very much like the way we do in English is always used to refer to inanimate things and not people. They certainly could have said "et ceteri" and probably did, but the phrase that became fixed as a kind of formula was the neuter one that we use.

    I am unaware of examples referring to people, and so apparently is a standard dictionary like Lewis & Short, which you can find on-line these days.

  84. A different Jen said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    Chiming in on 'could of' versus 'could have'.. I know several people who write it as 'could of' when they are writing casually, and pronounce it destinctly as 'of'. After paying attention to the way they used it I came to the conclusion that at a young age they internalise the 've as being a shortened form of 'of' and treat it accordingly. Some proportion of them then go on to learn the correct form.

  85. Stephen Jones said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

    Thanks for the info. I'll remember it when I next have a conversation in Latin :)

    In Emglish the use of etc to include people is in all major dictionaries and apparently dates back as early as the 17th century.

  86. MJP said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

    @John: not sure what you think is wrong with alumni/ae.

    @Stephen: for what it's worth, a combination of inanimates and people would most likely give "et cetera" in Latin: "natura inimica inter se esse liberam ciuitatem et regem" ("a free state [fem] and a king [masc] are by nature enemies [neut pl] between themselves": Livy XLIV.24). So, something like "vidi Marcum, navis, et cetera." ("I saw Marcus [masc], the ship [fem] and the other people and things [neut pl]"). I'd be surprised to see any decent examples of neuter "et cetera" with a list of just people, though. Men, or men and women, would give masculine "ceteri"; women only, "ceterae". (Of course Latin has cases too to consider; perhaps we should say, "I saw Tom, Dick, Harry et ceteros [acc]" to keep Cicero still in his grave… But like you, I thought we were speaking English.)

  87. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

    I hope the linguists who hear a difference between "could've" and "could of" are talking to the linguists who think American English has no phonemic distinction between a schwa and the "strut" vowel.

  88. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

    [I think you're forgetting that some words do have a technical use, agreed on by communities of specialists. And surely a site where specialists explain grammar mistakes to teachers is not one where the technical sense of "grammar" would be appropriate. —GKP]

    I agree at least partially, which means I think you have one negation too few or too many there. Or maybe I'm missing your verbal irony.

    @Stephen Jones:

    As I've said, the problem is that those who misuse grammar will still use it in the same breath to refer to what linguist call 'grammar'.

    I still don't see the problem. Lots of people refer in the same breath to "bugs" in the usual sense (any legged terrestrial arthropod) and to "bugs" in the entomological sense, not even realizing that it's only a small subset of what they call bugs. Or people refer to peanuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts as "nuts", not realizing that only hazelnuts are "nuts" in the botanical sense. I don't think those are misuses.

  89. Jen said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 7:57 pm

    Chiming in on 'could of' versus 'could have'.. I know several people who write it as 'could of' when they are writing casually, and pronounce it destinctly as 'of'. After paying attention to the way they used it I came to the conclusion that at a young age they internalise the 've as being a shortened form of 'of' and treat it accordingly. Some proportion of them then go on to learn the correct form.

    Exactly. When I was in kindergarten, I wrote something to the effect of: "that's are house". I had internalized this incorrectly. Fortunately, my teacher immediately corrected me and said I should've used "our" instead of "are". From that point on, I made sure never made that mistake again. The problem with today's speakers and writers is they never learn, because they don't pay attention in school or study. they are lazy. For example, anyone with have a brain realizes you do not say "have got" if you want to be taken seriously. It's prescriptive, and I do not have a problem prescribing how people should speak and write, just as I do not have a problem correcting them if they say 2 + 2 = 5. We live in an educated and logical society and it's time people start acting that way. I refuse to accept the dumbing down of America that some people encourage. Simple concept. Proper use of spoken English is a sign of polish, of education, just like dressing appropriately for work or taking a shower each day.

  90. John said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

    MJP,

    There's no need to include a separate form for the women in the mixed-sex group. It should be alumni plain and simple.

    Yes, adjective agreement with mixed-gender groups can be treated in a number of ways in Latin, but we're talking, as you acknowledge, about an unmixed group of people, which would never be neuter.

    PS The OED says " c. A number of unspecified things or (improperly) persons." and then gives some examples which seem to me to represent a comical or at least light-hearted use of the phrase "a long etc."

  91. Timothy Martin said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 9:55 pm

    For example, anyone with have a brain realizes you do not say "have got" if you want to be taken seriously.

    You've gotta be kidding.

    Proper use of spoken English is a sign of polish, of education, just like dressing appropriately for work or taking a shower each day.

    Agreed. Except most of the rules you seem to be espousing are made up – based on nothing more than somebody's personal preference or peevishness. Want to argue the point? Sure, show me a book where it says using "have got" is wrong, and I'll say, okay – what is the evidential support for this book? How do we know that it's correct? After all, different books say different things about grammar (and many other things). So we do some research and find out that the book has no evidential support. The author(s) just decided that a particular way of speaking was unacceptable, and tried to get everyone else to feel the same. So we're back to our original problem – we need evidence. The only possible thing that can serve as evidence for how people should speak is… usage.

  92. Gordon Campbell said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 9:59 pm

    @Jen: I can see the full fury of LL about to fall, but Jen, I think you’re OK. You just want to be noticed, right? I understand. Trolling isn’t bad. Not really. Not like eating babies. Heck, I guess I was trolling languageandgrammar.com. Of course, my trolling was for the forces of goodness, not evil. And furthermore, I reckon people in glass houses should throw half-bricks about with gay abandon.

  93. MJP said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

    @John: there are just as many dodgy grammar-book "rules" for Latin as for English, and this is one. "filii [et] filiae" (among others) is very common in Christian Latin, and Cicero himself used it in the Tusculan Disputations (I.XXXV). Besides, polyptoton is a standard literary device and always rather pleasing. In these cases it's deliberately inclusive, which is nice in an academic institution (which I assume applies to your notice).

    (As for "etcetera" with a list of people, the point remains: lexical borrowing is more copy-paste than hyperlink. The OED also claims that "cerargyrite" is "improper" because the Greek begins with a kappa, so I guess we murder Homer every time we write "Cyclops" too.)

  94. Neal Goldfarb said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 10:14 pm

    @Jen: Exactly. When I was in kindergarten, I wrote something to the effect of: "that's are house". [etc.]

    Gotta be a parody. Or maybe a peeve-bot.

  95. Tom said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 11:16 pm

    You might save yourself some trouble if you just took a deep breath and substituted the phrase "guidelines for formal academic writing" whenever you heard the phrase "grammar" used by a non-linguist.

    It would be virtually impossible to compile a list of "grammar errors" in the linguistic sense, since native speakers don't really make such errors in a predictable way (if there were a pattern of some supposed grammatical error, a linguist would take it to be a newly attested form and refuse to call it an error by virtue of its being a pattern…).

    Any list like this is really "a list of mistakes students make in formal writing." Whether or not they are mistakes is of course up for debate, but if a substantial number of educated people believe they are such, then in an important sense (the sense of how your writing will be judged), they are errors, regardless of the illogic behind the complaint.

  96. Sarah said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 12:31 am

    What also really bothers me about this is the picture. How in the world is that kid on the left holding their pen? (Singular "they" not being a grammar error and all.)

  97. Craig Russell said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 12:53 am

    @MJP: I don't think that's what OED is referring to when it calls cerargyrite an "improper" formation. Greek kappa to English C (through Latin) is normal in hundreds or maybe thousands of English words (catastrophe, catalog, catalyst, acme, acne, κτλ).

    I think rather what it means is that the word takes the cera- stem from from Greek κέρας (keras), which is the nominative singular of the word. The normal practice however when borrowing from Greek is to take the full stem, which is often different from the nominative. (for example the Greek for "man" is ἄνήρ (aner) but the stem of this word is ἀνδρ- (andr-) giving us many English borrowings (e.g. androgynous).) And the full stem of κέρας is κερατ- (kerat-).

    So–if I'm right–the "proper" borrowing you'd expect from Greek would give you ceratargyrite, not cerargyrite.

  98. Jen said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 2:39 am

    Sure, show me a book where it says using "have got" is wrong, and I'll say, okay – what is the evidential support for this book? How do we know that it's correct

    this is the way I see it:

    1) simplicity/K.I.S.S. principle: it's a lot easier to say:

    "I have a book"

    than

    "I have got a book"

    Why the need for the superfluous verb?

    2) "have" is either a main verb or an auxiliary verb for tenses such as the present perfect. With constructions such as "have got", as in "I have got a book", it is acting as neither.

    3) I checked m-w.com, and there is no entry for "have got", either under the verb "have", "get", "got", or "have"'s idiomatic expressions. It seems to me that the omission from this source would go to show one that such usage is deemed unacceptable, at least in writing and educated speech.

    It bothers me in speech, but I cannot control the entire population. But I think we can all agree it does not belong in formal writing.

  99. Jen said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 4:02 am

    thaat doesn't mean Language Log has to provide space for every dingbat who wants to evince arbitrary examples of construction rage

    hmmmm…yet you have no problem wasting our time by posting ridiculous blog entries such as your most recent:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2169

    pot…kettle…black

  100. Spectre-7 said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 5:08 am

    Wow. I haven't seen the Log trolled this thoroughly in quite some time. I'm not sure whether I'm aghast or impressed… perhaps equal measures both, much like when I was shown 2Girls1Cup.

    @Jen

    I don't believe we can all agree. I personally find have got to be totally acceptable, and wouldn't be at all surprised to run across it in any professionally edited context.

    The dictionary is unfortunately ill-equipped to deal with your sort of question. However, as you appear to regard Merriam-Webster as an acceptable source, I'd like to kindly point your attention to Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, which I think you'll find to be a more suitable resource with these sorts of issues.

    That link again, in case it didn't work above:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA498#v=onepage&q=&f=false

    Moving on to your complaints about the content here at Language Log, I'm sure Professor Pullum is simply heart-broken over having wasted even a picosecond of your valuable time. You should know that the staff always stands ready to refund double your subscription fee, so perhaps you should take them up on the offer and invest in a blog more to your liking.

  101. Cecily said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 5:47 am

    @Jen March 9, 2010 @ 7:57 said ""anyone with have a brain realizes you do not say "have got" if you want to be taken seriously"

    Leaving aside all the typos in that post (odd in such an unforgiving rant), I wonder who you consider "serious", as the phrase is so widespread in speech and also literature. Furthermore, "I have to go" and "I have got to go" reflect different degrees of urgency, so I don't think there is redundancy in the latter.

    If I wanted to be picky, I might highlight your use of "back in the day" (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2143#comment-58485) as an empty or even ungrammatical phrase, but I accept it as a common idiom, and I understand what it means, even though that is not the literal meaning of that sequence of words. Language gives us that freedom.

    As for Prof Pullum's crash blossom post, it highlights the richness of our language and brings a smile to many faces. Nobody makes you read it. If you think the site is so awful, why are you here?

  102. Jen said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 8:05 am

    "I have to go" and "I have got to go" reflect different degrees of urgency, so I don't think there is redundancy in the latter.

    To me they both have the exact same meaning and pragmatics.

    I also do not have any problems with people using idioms or committing typos in blogs such as this.

    As for Prof Pullum's crash blossom post, it highlights the richness of our language and brings a smile to many faces. Nobody makes you read it. If you think the site is so awful, why are you here?

    I don't think the blog is awful; I think Professor Pullum is a hypocrite.

  103. Gordon Campbell said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 8:34 am

    'Have' is easier to say than 'have got'?' — I disagree. "She's got to…" and "I've got to…" seem at least as easy as to say as "she has to/I have to". And even if it were harder to say, it wouldn't make it wrong. "This is the hotel in which we stayed" has one more word than "This is the hotel we stayed in", but it's not wrong on that account.

    I'd generally avoid "have got" in very formal written English, but it's standard spoken English — at least for Brits and Australians.

  104. Timothy Martin said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 8:53 am

    I checked m-w.com, and there is no entry for "have got"

    Wrong source. Try a usage book.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&lpg=PP1&dq=dictionary%20of%20english%20usage&client=firefox-a&pg=PA498#v=onepage&q=%22have%20got%22&f=false
    pg. 498

  105. Gordon Campbell said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 8:58 am

    @Jen

    "2) "have" is either a main verb or an auxiliary verb for tenses such as the present perfect. With constructions such as "have got", as in "I have got a book", it is acting as neither."

    So, therefore, your edict about the uses of 'have' is deficient — you haven't included all the ways in which it's used.

    It's like saying "feathers are found on flying animals and penguins. Emus are neither, therefore it's wrong to say they have feathers". The linguistic environment (like the biological one) exists prior to the 'rules' and patterns we observe in it.

  106. Joe said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 8:59 am

    @Jen,

    Not that it would make any difference to you, but here is an article that explains why "have got" is perfectly good English: http://www.jstor.org/pss/453706 (you won't be able to read it all, and I'm not sure I even agree with the author's argument, but you can at least see that the construction has been in the language for a while, as have discussions concerning it acceptability).

    About your comments about pronouncing some words identically even though they have been historically been pronounced differently. Given your spelling mistake, I imagine you live in a part of the US where "our" and "are" are pronounced the same (maybe mid-Atlantic region, maybe Philadelphia). Do you have enough self-awareness to know if you pronounce "our" and "are" the same? Do you pronounce "Mary," "merry," "marry" the same? Or "cot" and "caught?" Or "hoarse" and "horse?" Or "bird," "heard," and "word?" What's the difference between merging the vowel sounds in these words (and you certainly merge the last two sets) and the vowel sounds in, say, "pen" and "pin?"

    The problem with your critiques of language is that they are totally uninformed by any kind of real knowledge about how language works and how it changes, and how it differs from one variety of English to the next.

  107. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 11:04 am

    @Joe: To go off on a tangent, where in the U.S. are "our" and "are" pronounced differently? I'm from Cleveland, where they're pronounced the same, and now I live in New Mexico, ditto. I don't remember hearing them pronounced differently in other places I've lived or visited, but maybe I heard what I was expecting to hear or thought someone's accent was an idiosyncrasy.

    By the way, thanks and apologies to whoever corrected the html error I made when posting about nuts and bugs.

  108. Ellen K. said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 11:25 am

    @Joe. I live in the Lower Midwest, and I pronounce are and our the same. (Except for in the Lord's Prayer, where our is pronounced like hour.) While I can't say I've paid conscious attention to how others pronounce it, I don't have any reason to think I'm unusual in this. So, not just a mid-Atlantic thing.

  109. John said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 11:30 am

    MJP,

    Something like "Filii et filiae" is not quite what I'm talking about. The question is whether you need explicitly to use the feminine in addition to the masculine in Latin when referring to a mixed-sex group, and of course you don't. You can, but you don't need to. You certainly don't write anything with a slash in it. (OK, that's a different kind of argument too. :-) ) Alumni/ae is a misguided attempt to make an inclusive word inclusiver.

    And don't get me started on the "Alumni" car stickers!

    "there are just as many dodgy grammar-book "rules" for Latin as for English, and this is one."

    I'd be interested in seeing this set of dodgy rules, but whatever is on that list, it is surely correct to say that the masculine plural is correctly used to refer to a mixed-sex group. That is not to say that one can't use a masculine and a feminine, just that it's not necessary.

  110. Joe said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

    Have to improve my Henry Higgins act. I haven't lived in the States for a while, and I thought there were regions where such a distinction was maintained, even when "our" isn't pronounced as a diphthong, with the vowel in the weak form of "are" being a bit higher and more centralized than that in "our."

  111. Thomas said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

    Here in the Milwaukee area, "our" and "are" are pronounced differently. At least I do, and I'm a native and not considered unusual.

  112. Ellen said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    Joe, I'll grant that there's a weak form of "are", as you say. But having a weak form means there's a strong form.

    For me, the words "our" and "are", said in isolation, are pronounced the same. And, as I said, I'm not from the mid-Atlantic, but rather a ways West of there. That "are" also has a weak form is not something that's going to keep someone mixing up the two words and writing "are" when they mean "our".

  113. Joe said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

    @Ellen,

    I grant your point entirely, I was wrong about it being a mid-Atlantic thing. I was playing Henry Higgins and got caught out. Upon reflection, I am not even sure whether the weak form of "are" would be pronounced the same as "our" in the mid-Atlantic region. I am not sure why I thought it was exclusive to that region. . .

  114. Joe said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

    @Jerry Friedman

    Here's a video clip of Hillary Clinton, where she says, "our principle are our north star.." (so you can hear our in two separate places, including right after "are.") The relevant sentence comes 12.39 into the speech. (and I really don't want to revisit the issue of Clinton's accent…).

    http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/hillaryclintonhumanrightsagenda.htm

    I apologize for extending this tangent . . .

  115. Ellen K. said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 2:45 am

    Curious… It sounds like she usually pronounces it with a dipthong, and distinct from "are", but the one in front of "principles" sounds like "are".

  116. John said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 10:21 am

    I pronounce "are" and "our" slightly differently. I'm (mostly) from the Seattle area, with parents from the Midwest (Minnesota, Kansas), FWIW. As someone mentioned, I have a broader, more central /a/ in "are", while the vowel in "our" is farther back and has a weak /w/ glide before the /r/. It occurs to me that this is actually a case of a 3-vowel a-o-r glide, something fairly common on languages like Mandarin, but a bit unusual in English.

    In fast speech, I think I'd tend to reduce are/our towards a simple /r/, maybe with a weak schwa at the start.

  117. Army1987 said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 11:12 am

    I wouldn't expect so many people to agree with my "more far-fetched but still plausible analysis". Anyway, it makes little or no sense in most of GKP's examples in the comment to grackle's post.

  118. Pat said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

    I had a Canadian colleague some years back who always complained about the American tendency to use adjectives instead of adverbs (or drop the -ly on adverbs). I tried to explain it as an expansion of the linking verb category: "My car runs slow" is parallel in some senses to "My car is blue." She didn't buy it.

  119. TootsNYC said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    This makes me think of a problem that I think us copyeditors run into.

    In *many* professions, our true judges are our peers. Our colleagues, or our supervisors who once held our profession.

    And when something becomes so strongly emphasized, you throw the fake rule out at your own peril. I personally don't care much about that/which, but if I were to edit the copy of my magazine with that thought in mind, I'd look bad to the people who are in a position to let their judgment affect my reputation, etc.

    I pronounce "are / our" distinctively, but that's a conscious choice; most of the people I'm around don't bother. I grew up w/ "aunt" sounding like "ant," so I only pronounce the "au" when I feel a need to make the distinction.

  120. Army1987 said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

    In Italian you can say Le macchine vanno veloci ("the cars go fast", with "fast" inflected as plural) or Le macchine vanno veloce (with "fast" uninflected), and I would analyse the former as a predicative complement and the latter as an adverb; a good reason to do that is that you couldn't use uninflected lento "slow" the same way (you have to say le macchine vano lente with the adjective inflected as feminine singular, or use an adverb such as lentamente or piano), so I'd say there's an adverb veloce but no adverb lento. In English you can use no such test…

  121. Neil Griffin said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

    Besides a certain troll, this is one of the most intelligently commented blogs I've come across. I have got to come back to this.

  122. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

    I used to teach English to high school students. I had to fight constantly aginst dreck like that. It's nasty on every level. First, there's an assumption that if you teach school, you must be clueless about your subject and need the intervention of some self-appointed "resource" (usually operating for profit). Then, there's the dreadful, dreadful wrongness of the content pushed by these websites, books, seminars, politicians.

    Unfortunately, too many of our textbooks — and standardized tests — are written by these jerks, and teachers do get caught up in the dreck, and teach it to the kids.

  123. L'amour bilangue said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 11:36 pm

    If only the linguistic contributor of this page could show a little more nuance about the bias toward an hermeticized imperializing English.

    The discussion over etc intrigues me, and makes me think that there is no such thing as English, just as there is no such thing as anyone language. There are Englishes. In my English, when Latin comes in, because I speak it, the erasure of real distinctions doesn't happen.

    Strictly, according to classical Latin usage, et cetera means "everything that remains left over," and it is quite distinct from et alia, (and other things) or et alii (and others) which are not inclusive of all that is left over.

    ceterus (the singular) is only used with non-count nouns (copia, vinum, pecus) because it is a category marker. "ceterum vinum" (the left-over wine), nice; "ceterus vir" …that just makes no sense.

    Since most don't know Latin, in the English of most people, these Latin phrases seem to be the same.

  124. Stephen Jones said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 5:53 am

    In my English, when Latin comes in, because I speak it, the erasure of real distinctions doesn't happen.

    What language does the comma usage come from :)

    When foreign phrases are adapted into a language it is rare they keep the same meaning. Bush may well have been right when he said there was no word for 'entrepreneur' in French; if there is it is certainly not the same word as in English.

    'Etc' has been used to include people in English since the seventeenth century or earlier. There is actually a different meaning between 'etc' used for people and 'et al' used for people. To suggest we follow Latin usages for English is not pedantry, it's wrong.

  125. L'amour bilangue said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 8:13 am

    I don't think that I suggest that we follow Latin usage, nor do I mean to suggest that keeping the semantic distinction be a rule for everyone. I cannot, however, help what I know and what I hear. None of the previous posts arguing for a distinction between etc and et al (whether used of things or people) seemed to know of why there even might be a distinction, and so I just wanted to point out that one does exist, and that operating in a descriptivist way can be distorting depending on whether one views a language syn- or diachronically.

    In what you quote, I specify (by the possessive) that I hear a distinction, which the speaker might not intend. It is not my mission to teach that person a different English, one careful about its borrowings, nor do I aim to teach such a person classical Latin. I just thought that I'd contribute my two cents: some people know Latin, and when Latin comes up in English, it's generally not because the words have been calqued, but rather because they've been left over from writing conventions. The efforts to keep etc and et al distinct probably stem from a desire to keep the non-Latin speaker from an embarrassing situation before those who know Latin. The days when all but a few know this distinction are gone, and so (I agree) it doesn't matter anymore. Knowing only English, as most Americans do, their English has these synonyms, which is just dandy, or they intend a distinction (without knowing why), and that's just dandy too.

  126. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

    Thanks to John for the example of pronouncing are and our differently and to Joe for the Clinton clip. I'm not sure I'd take a speech as an example of normal pronunciation. However, I think we're converging on the idea that some Americans pronounce the two words differently, but maybe not all that many.

  127. Murgatroyd said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 3:19 am

    Regarding "I can do that easy" …

    Y'know, every now and then I think you might like to hear something from us nice and easy … But there's just one thing … You see we never ever do nothin' nice and easy. We always do it nice and rough!. So we're gonna take the beginning of this song and do it easy … Then we're gonna do the finish rough! This is the way we do 'Proud Mary' …

  128. Stephen Jones said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    But the point is that 'etc' and 'et al' have different meanings when referring to people.
    'etc' means an unspecified open list of people with features such as those named.
    'et al' means an unspecified closed list of people who are not being mentioned for the sake of brevity.

  129. James Cloninger said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 11:47 pm

    I had a Canadian colleague some years back who always complained about the American tendency to use adjectives instead of adverbs (or drop the -ly on adverbs). I tried to explain it as an expansion of the linking verb category: "My car runs slow" is parallel in some senses to "My car is blue." She didn't buy it.

    I wouldn't buy it either. "Blue" is an adjective describing the car ("The blue car"), "slowly" is the proper adverb modifying the verb "run".

  130. James Cloninger said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 11:52 pm

    What also really bothers me about this is the picture. How in the world is that kid on the left holding their pen? (Singular "they" not being a grammar error and all.)

    And, I do wish there really was a indefinite pronoun, otherwise it should be "his pen.", as "his" has been historically used to indicate an indefinite status.

    Yeah, it's a nitpick, I know.

    Also, "et al" has always been as far as I know used specifically to mean "and others". "Etc." is used to describe a list of inanimates (as mentioned above), "et alibi" for "other places" is pretty rare.

    And "etc" should not be proceeded by "and", since it is redundant ("et" means "and" in Latin).

    My tuppence…
    J.

  131. Stephen Jones said,

    March 16, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    The COCA has three examples of 'run slow' to two for 'run slowly'. However 'go slow' is twice as common as 'go slowly'.

    [(myl) "Amid this vague uncertainty, who walks safe?"]

  132. Marco said,

    March 16, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

    This might show incredible ignorance on my part. But when you have a two-clause sentence that shares a subject, the sentence doesn't require a comma. It's called a compound predicate.

    Every since I read this post, this distinction has been bugging the hell out of me. I thought I was wrong, but I haven't found anything to back up the construction used in this author's response to Comma Vomit, confirming what I already believed to be true, and as far as I can tell, Comma Vomit is correct.

  133. Stephen Jones said,

    March 17, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

    But when you have a two-clause sentence that shares a subject, the sentence doesn't require a comma. ……but I haven't found anything to back up the construction used in this author's response to Comma Vomit, confirming what I already believed to be true, and as far as I can tell, Comma Vomit is correct.

    The fact that something is not required doesn't mean it's incorrect. A very basic distinction that seems to have escaped both you and Comma Vomit.

  134. John McIntyre said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 8:42 am

    Mr. Jones is quite correct about the comma with a compound predicate. For reasons I have never understood, American journalists tend to leave out the comma separating the independent clauses of a compound sentence, where it is often necessary for clarity, but to insert one between the parts of a compound predicate. That said, anyone who wants to separate those compound verbs with a comma to replicate the rhythms of spoken English or to emphasize separation of the actions is perfectly free to do so and always has been.

  135. Marco said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

    I never bought the argument that we need place commas in our sentences because that represents where someone might generally pause. When one person pauses, another person reads through to the end of the sentence. Can you imagine transcripting Shatner or Walken?

    The Onion made the point best:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/commas_turning_up

  136. Stephen Jones said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 6:40 pm

    When one person pauses, another person reads through to the end of the sentence.

    So you put the comma there to tell them whether to pause or not.

    The rule is that where there's a comma there's always a pause (if there isn't get rid of the comma) but where there's a pause there isn't always a comma (maybe nothing, or maybe a different punctuation mark).

  137. Marco said,

    March 19, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

    Does anyone have a better explanation than it feels right to someone that they pause there? Mr. McIntyre, you had my attention with:

    "…where it is often necessary for clarity…"

    While the comma did throw me for a loop on the first read, it does seem to make the sentence flow better on a second reading. I can't explain why though. Please advise. This is driving me nuts.

    (Sorry, Jones. I don't know why your explanation won't stick. Maybe it was because of my journalist training, but the comma in the sentence posted above regarding Comma Vomit–as mentioned before–throws me for a loop, forcing me to re-read the sentence. I have always thought of commas as road signs, not arbitrary punctuation you decide to put in because the next phrase might be something you pause before finishing the sentence.

  138. Stephen Jones said,

    March 19, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

    Truss has an excellent section on commas, in which she points out that commas serve both purposes.

    Your objection isn't because you are a journalist but because you are an American journalist. For some reason many Americans seem to treat punctuation the same way the German officers treated flying a plane in 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.' You look in the manual and if there's the appropriate entry you put it in. It's an entirely arbitrary rule to say you put it in in compound sentences when there are separate subjects. How is 'Adam delved, and Eve span.' clearer for the comma?

  139. Marco said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

    "How is 'Adam delved, and Eve span.' clearer for the comma?"

    It prepares you for a new, independent clause.

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