As recently as November 5th, we addressed this issue. Yet here is some poster designer, whose work is on display in the Community House in Hamilton, Mass., who not only defies me, but does so in 428-point Bodoni bold.
You are either renowned architect Guy Lowell OR you are Guy Lowell, renowned architect.
You are either President Donald Trump OR you are Donald Trump, ex-president.
(You only get to use those commas if you’re towing the title behind you, like a stranded boat — I guess because in that case you need the commas to serve as hooks.)
I heard about a group called the Chainsmokers, and their supposedly cool song entitled “Push My Luck,” and I looked them up on YouTube, and in the middle of the “read the lyrics” video, I got this ad from Avidia Bank, which proclaims:
We have an unlimted amount of checking and savings accounts.
Would you trust a bank that can’t spell?
If they miss the letter i in unlimited, might they miss the numeral 1 in your $1,794.68 deposit?
And even if you would trust a bank that can’t spell unlimited, would you trust a bank that uses amount where it’s supposed to be number?
Maybe this is just somebody posing as “Avidia Bank” and playing a little joke on the Complicated English guy.
The All-Pro has yet to officially make a decision about his NFL future, which would only put greater emphasis on the Patriots to go out and get a reliable pass catching option if they lose him as well.
Not the same thing.
You can put emphasis on a need … like the need to get a new wide receiver.
You can put pressure on the team … to get a new wide receiver.
And, come to think of it, you can put guilt on a sportswriter … for not knowing the difference.
(But then, to tell you the truth, this early 2019 pre-season item is so stale, the Patriots have already blown this moment. So, what can I say? Go, 49ers?)
(OK, honestly, I swear every day I won’t use any more football examples. But sportswriters just offer up so much delicious material! SORRY!)
The next time you receive an invitation to a party with a thoughtful request like this…
If anyone has any allergies or dietary restrictions, let us know here! We’ll be sure to have options for all.
I suggest you respond like this:
Thank you so much for asking. Yes, anyone does. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 235 million have allergies. Here in the United States, there are only 114 people left who don’t claim some sort of dietary restriction. I’m especially grateful for your offer of “options for all”: I require goat brain reduction on celery sticks. Please trim the leaves because they give me a faux-gluten headache thanks to my recently diagnosed Osborne’s Prazniosciosis syndrome. (Fortunately they caught it in time.) Thank you again! Looking forward to the party!
This makes my friend (Lauren O., in northeastern Ohio) crazy, and me too.
FRUIT: $1.00 or complementary w/lunch sandwich
Let’s just sort this out here and now, once and for all:
complimentary — free, gratis (or even admiring! — you receive a complimentary note from a fan)
complementary — balancing, making whole, interdependent. (If you’re enjoying an Italian meal, red wine is complementary. In fact, it’s complementary even if you’re not enjoying the meal. Because red wine is more or less… eh, never mind.)
(Yes, you may now send an admiring note from a fan.)
From Time magazine’s 10/7/19 story on Canada’s Mr. Trudeau:
He’s proud that his government has reached important trade deals, including the revised NAFTA agreement known as USMCA, a pact with the European Union, and the updated Trans-Pacific Partnership abandoned by Trump as soon as he took office.
Is this a list of three things (USMCA, pact, and Partnership)?
Or is USMCA a pact with the European Union?
No way to be sure, unless you happen to know that NAFTA has nothing to do with the E.U.
Sure, you know that. But the editor shouldn’t have assumed you know that. Because what if you didn’t?
(In honor of Teddy Roosevelt‘s birthday today, we’ll ignore the “Trans-Pacific Partnership abandoned by Trump” detail.)
Let’s be clear: The writer of a newspaper article does not write the headline. Headlines are dropped in by an editor, further up the food chain.
So clearly, some editor happened to have a Dixie cup full of apostrophes, probably as a mid-morning snack, and they accidentally spilled all over page A4, and they tried to clean them all up, but they missed one.
A walrus attacked and sunk a Russian Navy landing boat…
The walrus sank the boat. (Recruit that pinniped, Marines!) Sunk is the participle.
I sink, I sank, I have sunk.
I drink, I drank, I have drunk.
I shrink, I shrank, I have shrunk.
These are the only words I can think of that work this way. It’s not:
It’s not: I think, I thank, I have thunk.
It’s not: I clink, I clank, I have clunk.
And it’s certainlynot: I fink on you, I fank on you, I have funk on you.
I kink the hose, I kank the hose, I have kunk the hose.
I link the clues, I lank the clues, I have lunk the clues.
And if you want to delight that attractive person at the bar, absolutely stay clear of I wink at you, I wank at you, I have wunk at you. They will never, ever go home with you. Trust me on this, you’re sunk.
“…players were prohibited to wear hard objects during games.”
Required to — or prohibited from.
Never required from — nor prohibited to.
Hey, don’t wear even a cheap Timex when you’re playing football. And no chain mail, please. Avoid steel-toed shoes. Buttons can hurt somebody. Get that Bluetooth out of your ear. And breastplates are out.
“Beckham’s appeared to not fall in compliance with the league rules. Clearly Beckham feels different about the rule.”
I’m not sure about “falling in compliance with” a rule. I thought you could “be in compliance with” a rule, or “comply with” a rule, or “fall within” the rules, but is this phrasing English? All the individual words are English, yes. But the combination is something I’ve never seen.
And then there’s Beckham feeling “different” about the rule. Some days I wake up feeling different, but that’s generally because of what I ate the night before. I think Jeff means Beckham feels “differently” about the rule — because feels is a verb, and he wants to modify it, which means he needs an adverb, and the adverb would be differently.
All of this is moot, of course, if, unbeknownst to me, the NFL has started to allow writers to wear lightly tinted adverbs, without the requisite ly at the end.
“Statistics, for all its limitations, has a profound role to play in the social realm.”
Hannah and/or her copy editors at the magazine have decided to treat statistics as a singular noun.
I don’t know. It would be different, I think, if there were no such thing as a single statistic. But you can indeed deal with a single statistic. So it seems to me we should say statistics have a role.
The Brits do sort of the opposite thing when they talk football.
Arsenal have won the league!
In the U.S., we don’t say Miami have won the game! (Well, there’s another reason we never say this, but let’s not descend into the quagmire of partisanship.)
I guess if you’re talking about statistics as a realm, a body of work, a concept, then it makes sense to treat it as a singular.
Immigration enforcers doing their thing, politicians cheering them on, reported by CNN.com:
Authorities haled the sweep at food processing plants in six cities as a record-setting operation.
These authorities probably actually hailed the sweep. Cheered for it, approved it enthusiastically.
There are four kinds of hale in our English-speaking world:
You can hale a cab — which is to yell at the driver.
You can be hale and hearty — healthy and robust.
You can live in a Hawaiian hale, a simple thatched-roof dwelling — although you pronounce it HAH-lee.
Or you can be Nathan Hale (1755–76) — and be hanged by the redcoats for spying.
Only one of these four is a verb. So if you hale the sweep at food processing plants, it’s like asking the sweep for a ride to Times Square. Not gonna happen. Unless, possibly, you’re Caucasian and documented.
I know that I’m on the opposite end of it than my colleague….
You don’t know any such thing, Jared. You must be hallucinating. I’m not picking on you because you’re a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan. I’m just picking on you because nobody can be opposite than anybody or anything.
You can be something other than, or rather than.
Something can be easier said than done — like keeping all those tricky conjunctions straight.
Something can be more good than bad — like Jared Dubin’s sportswriting.
Jared, here’s your consolation prize: You can be on the opposite end from your colleague.
By the way, Jared, I totally agree with you about paying Ezekiel Elliott. Big mistake. The very opposite than what they oughta do. (Joke — get it?)
His latest novel out this month is The Institute….
King is known as a prodigious writer, forcing himself to write at least 2,000 words of fiction a day, whether he feels like it or not. And good for him: he’s one of the top-earning writers in the world.
But nobody, not even Stephen King, produces more than one novel in a single month.
Keillor is suffering here from a comma shortage.
His latest novel, out this month, is The Institute….
As I do not have Stephen King’s discipline, I’m not writing 2,000 words of fiction a day. So you’ll have to keep waiting for my next novel. (While you’re waiting, you may read the previous one, here.)
I have, however, collected a plethora of commas, which I’ll be happy to share with anyone who needs them.
(It’s my birthday. Don’t buy me anything. Instead, as a gift to me, go to NewThing.net and check out my humanitarian work. Thank you!)
I keep puzzling over this “Talk of the Town” piece from The New Yorker.
It starts out describing “the first time Grant met Barbra Streisand.”
Then it says “He recently recalled the encounter, which took place at a house party … in 1991.” So we’ve gone back in time.
“She was wearing a black lace dress and a floppy hat.” OK, so we’re at the party in ’91.
“He had arrived in a ‘cheap rental car.'” So now the past perfect tense is telling us about something that happened even earlier.
“In order to reach Streisand…” uh … brings us back to the party?
Soon we’re jerked back to the present: “Grant — who is now 61 … doesn’t drink.”
Then, I’m sorry to say, a new paragraph begins: “It was a frigid morning….”
All the zigzagging through time and space has exhausted me, and arriving at the damnable pronoun It just makes me want to sit down and cry. Where and when are we now? At the party in 1991? Or at the moment Grant is describing the encounter for us?
By the time we learn we’re in the back seat of an S.U.V. zooming through Flatbush, it seems we’re back in the present. Even Marty McFly would be nauseous.
I vote for writers to tell stories in chronological order whenever possible. If you have to flash back to keep things interesting, flash back carefully.
But the concept is: You set the reader up to think you’re talking about one thing, and then you talk about something entirely different.
As a valued friend of the Mission, I am writing to ask for your prayers and financial support.
“As” tells you that you’re going to get an equivalent, after the comma.
So when you get to “I,” you think back to “As.”
That word, after all — “As” — was the warning signal, like a light that flashes as you approach the train tracks, telling you that the identity of the person who’s being described is the person who’s about to be more fully described.
But in this case, the writer (“I am writing to ask”) isn’t the “valued friend” previewed at the beginning of the sentence.
As you are a valued friend of the Mission, I am writing to ask….
As a valued friend of the Mission, you are someone I feel comfortable asking….
It’s not an issue that’s exclusive to Brady of course, as other QBs have also discussed how it can effect the way they play. Just last month, Kirk Cousins talked at length about the very damp caboose of his new rookie center.
So I’m just here to remind us all … I mean those of us who speak and write American English, or who pretend to … that effect is usually a noun, and affect is usually a verb, and if you need to use either word, it’s wise to check out Grammarly.com first.
Because no, sweaty butts don’t effect the way quarterbacks play.
Whether they actually affect the way a quarterback plays is another question entirely.
“…officials disagreed … but sought to manage him rather than confront him, as Mattis did, while enlisting other allies, such as the Israelis and members of Congress, to lobby Trump for a reversal.”
Wait. Who enlisted other allies? Officials? Him? Mattis?
The commas before and after “as Mattis did” … what do they tell us?
They tell us the writer was on a roll, and just kept adding phrases, assuming we were rolling too. But a reader isn’t on the writer’s roll. The reader is absorbing all this detail cold. We need each phrase to inform the previous phrase.
“As.” “While.” I officially disagree with the order to use these slippery words.
“Rusal was tailor-made to join forces on the project. But it was under sanctions” — Rusal was under sanctions? Or the project was under sanctions? —
“imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department. Its billionaire owner, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s” — whose billionaire owner? Rusal? The project? The Treasury Department? —
“was being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for his potential involvement…” — whose potential involvement? Oleg’s? Putin’s? Mueller’s? Nah, Mueller wasn’t investigating himself. But that’s just about all we can be sure of, thanks to the IT factor.
“Rusal’s billionaire owner” would be clearer.
And actually leaving IT out — “being investigated by Mueller for potential involvement” instead of “his potential involvement” — would be clearer too.
When you use ring as a verb, to mean making a ring around something, the past tense is indeed ringed.
When you use ring to mean making the sound of a bell, the past tense is rang. (They rang the bell.)
Rung is rong. It’s never the past tense. It only gets to be the participle. (“They have rung the bell.” “They had rung the bell.” “They were exhausted, having rung the bell throughout this entire post.”)
“Leader of militia that has held migrants attacked in jail”
So there were these migrants, see? And they went to jail. And they got attacked while they were in there. And there was this militia, see? And they were holding these migrants, see? And this is a picture of the militia’s leader.
The former linebacker retired from the team back in 2016, but did keep a prominent presence around town as he was working an NFL analyst on NBC Sports Boston, but now is heading back to 1 Patriot Place, this time as a coach.
Think of a sentence as a journey. When you write but, you’re asking your reader to make a U-turn, or at least turn a corner. It’s whiplash waiting to happen. One thing is true but something about it isn’t true.
But is a disturbance in the force. Don’t make your reader change direction more than once in a sentence. They’ll get dizzy.
In fact, for the most pleasing effect, if you must change direction two sentences in a row, switch from but to however or something. Maybe like this:
The former linebacker retired from the team back in 2016, but did keep a prominent presence around town as he was working an NFL analyst on NBC Sports Boston. Now, however, he is heading back to 1 Patriot Place, this time as a coach.
“…Rodgers went rouge during McCarthy’s time in Green Bay….”
Rouge is French for red. It’s pronounced roozh. It’s the red stuff you put on your face to make your cheeks look better. I don’t think Aaron Rodgers needs to go rouge. His cheeks look fine to me without any special treatment. (My wife loves his eyes, too.)
On the other hand, you can “go rogue.” Rhymes with vogue. Urban Dictionary says this means “To cease to follow orders; to act on one’s own, usually against expectation or instruction. To pursue one’s own interests.”
If Coach McCarthy said, “Aaron, stop wearing that rouge to practice,” and Rodgers kept showing up with red cheeks, that would be going rogue.
English is complicated, and French is even more complicated, so spell things correctement, s’il vous plait.
I have an awesome friend who knows and sympathizes with my fixation on U.S. presidential history. He visited the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids and thoughtfully sent me a Richard Nixon bobblehead doll. BEAUTIFUL addition to my already disturbing collection of presidential figurines (including lots of presidential Pez dispensers).
But I was alarmed to see the claim on the Nixon box:
“The Royal Bobbles ‘Presidents’ series celebrates the American presidents who have most significantly impacted the history of our great nation. It is largely through their vision, wisdom and determination that our country has achieved its role as the leading free nation in the world.”
I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe that a bunch of bobblehead dolls made our country what it is today.
Or — wait — maybe…
“Their” is a possessive pronoun. Dangerous part of speech. Apparently the presidential bobblehead box designers don’t subscribe to this blog, so they didn’t get the memo about avoiding vague possessive pronouns.
And now, as a result, bobblehead dolls are running the show.
“…Kavanaugh sided with Alito 91% of the time in his first term.”
Whose first time? Kavanaugh’s? Or Alito’s?
Those rotten little possessive pronouns — his, her, their, its — will get you sued one of these days.
Don’t be afraid to say someone’s name a second time in a sentence — like this: “Kavanaugh sided with Alito 91% of the time in Alito’s first term.” (Actually, this isn’t possible. Kavanaugh wasn’t on the court during Alito’s first term. But what if you didn’t have encyclopedic knowledge of Supreme Court history when you came across this sentence in Time magazine? You would have to rely on the writing for your information! Just imagine.)
(Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.)
More than 603 people lost their lives, including 1,641 injured, and 600,000 affected
I feel badly for the dead, the injured, the affected, and the writer.
How many, exactly, is “more than 603”? Is this 604? When expressing numbers, you have two good choices: either give us the exact number, or use a generalizer (more than, less than, nearly, almost) in conjunction with a base number that makes sense (like 600, or 650, or even 625).
If you’re not committing to the exact number because you’re not sure — for example, maybe more people will have died after this statement is released — then specify that in some way: At least 603 people lost their lives — or At this writing, 603 have lost their lives.
Unrelated item: Be careful about “including.” Use “plus” instead, in a case like this. The way it’s currently written, this sentence says the 603+ people who died included 1,641 who were injured, and 600,000 who were affected — a physical impossibility.
Unless, of course, the 603+ people lost their lives in the process of including the injured and affected — which suggests that being inclusive can be dangerous. But then you wouldn’t need that comma. A classic case of “You can’t win for losing.”
Joe Biden’s statement: “They have mine and Jill’s full and complete support….”
Technically, I think he wanted “Jill’s and my.” Or, if he insists on being rude and putting himself first: “my and Jill’s.”
Here’s the test: They have Jill’s support. They have my support. So: They have Jill’s and my support.
(It could also be “Jill’s support and mine,” or “my support and Jill’s,” although this might feel like whoever gets named first was right there from the beginning, and whoever gets named second just came along with their support later — and why get into a scrap with your spouse?)
As for “full and complete” support: I’m not sure how “full” support differs from “complete” support.
I guess you could squint at the definitions and make the case for using both; but I think and feel this presentation and use of wording and usage is a common and typical specimen and example of politician-speak.
But not every case gets that kind of attention, other observers point out. A few revisited cases, they say, isn’t yet a sign of lasting progress…. “One or two high-profile cases,” Kaplan says, “does not make a sea change.”
A case is a thing. Cases is how we talk about more than one of those things. So “a few cases” are something. You can’t say “a few cases” is something. Can you? Maybe I’m wrong.
Kaplan (whoever Kaplan is) proceeds to go the same way. “One or two cases does…” If you invent a new category — “one or two cases” — then that category is one single thing, I guess.
The editor in this example (or the algorithm that edits this publication, or the bot that makes these decisions) clearly assumed that readers seeing “NOAA” would say to themselves, in their heads, as they read this piece, “And a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report last year estimated….”
I don’t think so. I didn’t even know what the NOAA was. I thought it was my neighbor calling her kid home for dinner: “Noaaaaaaah!”
I think we should write the way people think as they’re reading — and what you hear in your head, as you read this sentence, is “en oh ay ay.”
Which means we need “an” in front of it, not “a.”
(Now I’m bracing myself for negative comments from employees of the En Oh Ay Ay.)
A “suite” (pronounced sweet) is a number of things forming a series or set, or a connected series of rooms to be used together, or a series of musical thingie-dingies, or a set of furniture for a single room, or a bunch of software programs sold as a unit so you pay for stuff you’ll never use.
To “follow suit” (pronounced sute) refers to card-playing. (Or at least I think it does. I grew up in a strictly non-card-playing environment.)
But in English, you never follow suite. Not only because suite is always pronounced sweet. Also because follow suite has no actual meaning.
(I take it back. You could let your nose guide you to a chocolate shop. Then, yes, you could say you decided to follow sweet. But you would still spell it differently. And you would probably say sweets. If you simply follow sweets, this post probably doesn’t apply to you.)
It’s only a hyphen. But just because it’s tiny doesn’t mean you should abuse it.
The CBS Sports writing team? Those guys must hate the lowly hyphen:
The league’s coaches were on-hand to get their first glimpse of XFL football.
For the hyphen, this is servitude on the order of Paul Newman’s torture in Cool Hand Luke. The only time you connect on to hand with a hyphen is in the rare case of the two words together forming an adjective — as in He’s ignoring his on-hand resources in favor of far-flung so-called specialists.
They’re bringing aboard what is viewed to be one of the top-two players at the position in this year’s class.
We’re talking about two guys, the top two players at the position. If you talk about top-two players, with the hyphen, you’ve created a category of players: all the top-two players. Not much of a category, when you think about it.
(P.S. Don’t refer to a human being as a what. They’re bringing aboard someone who is viewed to be….)
Other highly-regarded prospects won’t be taken by a team until Friday night’s second round at the earliest.
Many folks are desperate to hyphenate an adverb-adjective combination like this. But the adverb doesn’t need help to be understood. This is one of the adverb’s jobs: to modify the adjective. Simplest rule to follow (thanks to GrammarBook.com): Adverbs ending in ly almost never need a hyphen.
Brady will enter next season at 42-years-old and is well on his way to reaching his self-made mile marker of playing until he’s 45.
If you’re talking about a 42-year-old, you need the hyphens to make the whole 3-word combination into a single noun. Or if you’re talking about a 42-year-old quarterback, you need the hyphens to make the whole 3-word combination into a single adjective. But if you’re just saying he’s 42 years old, well, then, this is just the usual way of using these words, no hyphens required.
(To recap, especially for the benefit of New England fans: Tom Brady is the highly regarded top-two 42-year-old on hand — so we’re keeping him.)
(To recap for New England’s numerous anti-fans: This is a time-sucking,utterly out-of-linejerk-faced post.)
“Now, we’re getting a more succinct look at the deal that will solidify Edelman with the Patriots possibly for his entire NFL career.”
So the sportswriter claims.
But it’s a lie.
What we’re getting is a less succinct look, because what we got originally was a succinct look. A brief, to-the-point look.
What we’re getting now is not more succinct, but more distinct. A more satisfying look, a more complete look. It’s clearer, it’s multi-faceted, it’s detailed. It’s expansive. It’s vast. It’s over-arching, all-encompassing, beyond imagining.
Words matter. Use the right words. Otherwise, you run the risk of being misunderstood … looking like a fool … your reputation besmirched because you’ve wound up on some blog.
Speaking of besmirched reputations … Go, Pats!
(P.S. In my other life, I’m trying to help hearing-impaired kids in the former USSR. Please check out my project at NewThing.net. Thanks!)
I am a fan of the comma. It’s under-appreciated and under-utilized.
Except when it’s over-valued and worked to death.
3 ways NOT to use the beloved comma:
1. Agatha Christie’s, The Stranger (Belmont, MA)
The author’s work, and the name of the work — no need to keep them from each other. It’s Agatha Christie’s The Stranger, pure and simple.
2. Parsons didn’t identify any problems but suggested the town, “regulate time, place, and manner….”
Dick said, “Look!” It’s customary to use a comma to separate a direct quotation from the “he said” type of phrase. You DON’T need a comma before every darn quotation mark. In fact, even when it’s a direct quotation, you don’t need a comma if the quotation works as part of the overall sentence, and you’re not setting up a formal “he said” type of presentation. For example: Dick says that “this exquisite woman Jane is the epitome of womanhood,” and I couldn’t agree more.
3. He spent $40,000 to restore the classic car which, he had for a dozen years….
You sometimes need a comma before which, but almost never after. The technical rule is complicated. Just trust me on this one.
Save your commas. Keep them in a little box on your desktop, and only bring them out when you must. Maybe Christmas, and Agatha Christie’s birthday.
“At the time, prosperity ministry and the promise of riches from heaven was popular.”
Ministry is one noun, promise is another noun, so we have a pretty clear plural going here.
A plural requires were rather than was.
Of course, if a noun combination is regarded as all one thing — mac and cheese, for example — then you can treat it as singular and use was. You would never say the mac and cheese were yummy. The mac and cheese was yummy.
But if you regard “prosperity ministry and the promise of riches from heaven” as all one thing, well … you’re wrong. On multiple levels.
“Kosnoff would like to push the Boy Scouts to list the names of the men his clients have accused in a public database.”
Why his clients are doing their accusing in a public database, instead of on Facebook, I’ll never know.
Who reads public databases these days?
If you happen to be one of those people, and you come across a list of men accused by Kosnoff clients, you’ll know Kosnoff got his way.
(The real problem here — other than the Boy Scouts’ problem — is that there are nine words between the verb, “list,” and the phrase modifying it, “in a public database.” When you finally get to the database, you look back at the most recent verb, and it’s “have accused.” So who could castigate you for not knowing which sinner to blame, and when, and where? Start with the writer. And the editor.)
The thing about Giddens that had stood out more conspicuously, she said, was that she had been “way beyond her years developmentally….”
The past is past. You don’t need to make it perfect.
But this writer felt the need.
The thing about Giddens that stood out was that she was beyond her years. Totally clear.
The past perfect tense — “had stood,” “had been” — often just gums up the writing unnecessarily. I think it’s sometimes a crutch employed by writers trying to sound a bit more sophisticated. (And once you start using it, it feels like you’ve got to keep on using it for the rest of the paragraph. It’s a curse.)
Every time you write has, or had, or having — any of those evil permutations of the evil have — go back and see if you can do without them.
The past tense was good enough when you were a little tyke, and it’s probably good enough today.
“On a Tuesday in kindergarten, I had pooped my pants. Now, I cried to go home.”
“On a Tuesday in kindergarten, I pooped my pants. Now, I cried to go home.”
See? The storytelling isn’t really all that much more sophisticated in the past perfect.
“It required invasive, painful surgeries that took hours and weeks to recover.”
Aw, please. Don’t go back and dredge up an old surgery. Let it go.
Surgeries take a long time to recover from.
Better to write “It required invasive, painful surgeries that took hours and weeks to recover from” — or, to be entirely proper: “It required invasive, painful surgeries from which it took hours and weeks to recover.”
If you’re going to lose a surgery, try to lose it beforehand. (Disclaimer: This is not official medical advice.)
Maybe not. But do you want to be correct — or popular?
As dictionary.com points out: “The form alright is a one-word spelling of the phrase all right. Alright is commonly used in written dialogue and informal writing, but all right is the only acceptable form in edited writing. Basically, it is not all right to use alright in standard English.”
(The dictionary.com entry continues: “The popular song ‘The Kids Are Alright’ by The Who is evidence of popular acceptance of the informal alright. However, the creators of the 2010 film The Kids Are All Right couldn’t bring themselves to use the informal variant even if the title was a clear nod to The Who.”)
How did we get from all right to alright? Eh, our language has been contracting for centuries. All ready morphed into already. All together shrank to altogether.
Personally, I think it’s alwrong. But after another long, hard day of battling the deterioration of the English language, I’m alwrung out.
Here’s another perfect example of a thicket of hads making mush of a paragraph:
The GOP, founded in 1854 as the party of reform, had been the party of abolition and the party of women’s rights. By 1896, it had become the party of big business. It had remained the party most supportive of women’s rights. The Equal Rights Amendment had been on the GOP platform since 1940. In 1968, in the first wave of the backlash against the women’s movement, the ERA had been left off the party’s platform.
The GOP had been the party of abolition, OK. Then, we could go to simple past tense: By 1896, it was the party of big business. It remained supportive. The ERA was on the platform from 1940. Then in ’68 it was taken off. All smooth, straightforward storytelling.
Ironically, had takes the past tense and turns it into something called the past perfect. It’s not perfect. It’s much of a muchness. Use it when you absolutely must. Then stop.
Look at this passage from Jill Lepore’s brilliant history of the U.S.
“In December, he’d answered reporters.” So at this moment, we know she’s taking us back in time. From this point on, she can use the ordinary past tense. But she waffles, from sentence to sentence. “He said” (past tense). “Muhammad had ordered” (there it is again). “He delivered” (past tense). “That vantage had brought him” (there it is again).
In each of these instances, had is unnecessary. And her editors let her get away with it. It’s almost as if we think more hads make us more sophisticated or something.
If you grew up speaking English, you have no idea how complicated it is for people who didn’t.
I have it. I had it. I did have it. I was having it. I have had it. I had had it, but then I got over it. On and on it goes.
But it isn’t just complicated for non-English speakers. We complicate our own writing by wading into this swamp.
Avoid the swamp. Avoid, if at all possible, anything that involves the verb have.
One sad example: see above. The author is telling a story, then wants to jump back in time. So she starts a new paragraph by saying, “He’d wanted to be a writer.” From this moment, we know that we’ve gone back in time — so from this moment, the author can switch to simple past tense: He wrote his first book … He reckoned with race as a boy … He made himself a stand-in, etc.
By sticking with he’d, time and time again, the author makes the writing sticky, forcing the reader to do more brainwork than necessary.
Search your first draft for the devil have and all its demon forms: had, has, ’s, ’d. If you can’t kill them all, trying letting the first one live and killing all the rest.
“We will want something that jives with the sponsor’s understanding.”
Groovy idea … but I think you mean jibes.
To jive is to engage in a lively style of dance performed to swing music or rock and roll.
To jibe is to conform or agree.
Frankly, I like the idea of something that dances, with a generous sponsor standing by, and totally getting it. I think it will be fun for the sponsor, and fun for whatever’s doing the dancing. Don’t you?
“He’s worked with us for ions, so I’m trusting he can do it!”
Interesting way to pay a guy. He’s working for mere atoms! As long as they have a net electric charge due to the loss or gain of one or more electrons, he’ll apparently take them instead of cash. Must be an alien. Alert NASA.
Oh, wait! You meant EONS! Indefinite, very long periods of time, often used in exaggerated form for humorous or rhetorical effect.
I love commas, but commas don’t solve every problem.
Is this a photo of Bolton at a 1961 event? You tell me. And tell me why, or why not.
To the writer of this caption, it was obvious, I think, that the invasion happened in 1961. But because of The New Yorker‘s fixation on using commas in every possible position, they have separated “the Bay of Pigs” from “in 1961.” If they had quietly omitted the comma, we would have clearly understood the meaning of “the Bay of Pigs in 1961.” The Bay of Pigs, after all, happened in 1961. This photo didn’t happen in 1961. But the comma might lead us to believe this is a 1961 photo. (The “Make Cuba Great Again” hat is a clue. But you shouldn’t need to search for clues in the photo in order to understand the caption.)
I revere The New Yorker. I read it religiously. I have subscribed for decades. But the comma fixation thing has to go. It’s not healthy. Too many commas will clog your editorial digestive tract.
And the photo features Putin. What’s up with this?
I’m so confused.
Start a sentence with a prepositional phrase, and it will modify the first noun that appears after the comma. No power shift in Washington can change this. Learn to live with it. Jefferson did it. Both Roosevelts did it. Even Nixon did it. You can do it too.