Husband: “Darling, is there anything I can do besides bring in firewood?”
Wife: “What, you’ll do anything other than that? You swine! Leaving all the heavy work to me!”
I love the trick words in our language.
Besides can mean other than OR in addition to — which are opposites-ish, right?
No wonder learning English is such a pain for people from other language groups.
Tomorrow I’ll head to Belarus for a week of humanitarian volunteer work with NewThing.net, where I’ll make my Russian-speaking friends a little bit crazy, because as you know, English is a complicated language.
Join the adventure by choosing one or more of these channels today:
“Schakowsky indicated interest in replacing Barack Obama in the United States Senate. Before his arrest, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich had reportedly been considering Schakowsky….”
I didn’t know Obama had ever been arrested. Somebody finally got their wish, I guess.
Oh wait, maybe it was Schakowsky who got arrested.
Oh wait, maybe it was Blagojevich?
Somebody check the prison cell, please, and let us know who’s actually in there.
(In the meantime, avoid those mysterious possessive pronouns. Every time you see his in your first draft, place it under arrest, replace it with whose, and re-read. You’ll probably find that you want to change whose to somebody’s name.)
The nationwide campaign was wonderful. We had students around the cities that had been chosen, and they were ecstatic.
Great campaign. But remind me, please … Which cities did you choose for it?
Huh? Oh, no, sorry, I didn’t mean we chose the cities. We chose the students. And they were ecstatic!
Good. And I’m overjoyed by the clarity of your writing.
If you had slavishly obeyed the Brendel rule which requires you to global-search your first draft for any form of have (has, had) and any form of that (which), you would have choked on your two hads and your clumsy that, and perhaps accidentally realized that your sentence was awkward and your meaning unclear.
The bank lead the field of donors, followed by shareholders.
It’s so complicated.
It’s not just about what you see on the page or screen, but also what you hear in your head.
Whenever you hear leed — whether the verb (the president will lead us into glorious battle) or the noun (we are like a dog on a lead, helpless to object) — it’s spelled lead.
But whenever you hear led — well, it might be the past tense of lead (he led us into war, and look where that got us), OR it might be that heavy, toxic element they once used to make bullets and paint.
When I mean to write led, the past tense of lead, I think “LEAD” — I hear the toxic element in my head.
(There may be a poem there, I’m not sure. I was ahead; I thought I lead. But it was toxic, left me dead. Nah. Never mind. No poem there.)
When I saw his data with the paddlefish, sturgeon, and ammonite, I think he’s right on the money.
This marine biologist has an awesome career.
He’s not just studying ocean life; he’s got exotic creatures reviewing his findings alongside him!
(Let’s not even bother him by pointing out that he’s switched from the past tense to the present tense in the middle of his sentence, and it’s given us whiplash. Whiplash is nothing when you have a paddlefish doing your data with you.)
Jerry came into our hospital after hearing about us from one of our neglected clubfoot patients, Lonnie. Jerry, like Lonnie, has neglected clubfoot.
Clubfoot is nothing to laugh about. But the medical condition known as “neglected clubfoot” really needs a new name — or at least a hyphen … so at least the hospitals caring for these patients don’t get a reputation for ignoring their patients.
Imagine being a forgotten Alzheimer’s patient. See? Not funny.
Money used to make us richer is gone in the end, but money used for this cause has an enduring power. Money used to buy possessions — which we often watch depreciate — can instead be used to change lives over the long term.
I used to think things were simple.
“Used to” is a tricky little phrase in American English.
When I read “Money used to make us richer,” I think I’m about to read something clever about how money no longer makes us richer.
But no. The phrase used to can go two ways.
The paragraph in question confuses me not just once but twice. The second sentence starts out Money used to buy possessions — but it’s not talking about something that happened in the good ol’ days. Turns out, it’s talking about Money which is used to buy possessions.
Both sentences are technically correct — but accidentally confusing.
(And yes, money did make us richer in the good ol’ days. Remember penny candy? No? Well, enjoy your youth. I’d kill to be your age.)
Honestly, please: If you’re going to scam me, at least use proper English.
Dear doug,(No, sorry, in English we capitalize people’s names)
Your email address might be temporarily closed due to the non recent (you need a hyphen between non and recent)upgrade of your account and failure to upgrade your email will lead to permanent closure of your email.(Sorry, this isn’t how we refer to email programs, but whatever.)
Please kindly UPGRADE HERE your records (I think you mean upgrade your records here, because the person you’re trying to scam speaks American English)
Once the information provided matches what is on our record, your(oops, you’ve got a phantom hard return there, after your and before email)
email will work normal.(normally — adverb)
Sincerely, Godaddy (oh yeah, you should probably configure correctly the name of the company you’re posing as: it’s GoDaddy, with a capital D in the middle there)Service Team.(Eh, here in America, we don’t put a period at the end of the sign-off)
I could help these people. I could become a language consultant to online scammers. I bet I could make a reasonable living at it. Sheesh.
“…Trump’s anticipation of the release of stolen Democratic emails in 2016 by WikiLeaks.”
For a second there, I thought WikiLeaks wrote the stolen Democratic emails.
Which would be a pretty weird new storyline, wouldn’t it.
(Honestly, there are so many prepositional phrases in this sentence — (1) on Friday, (2) of lying (3) to Congress (4) in a case, (5) on President Donald Trump’s anticipation, (6) of the release, (7) of stolen Democratic emails, (8) in 2016, (9) by WikiLeaks … I almost suspect that some CNN writer is getting a per-prepositional-phrase commission. Would that be legal?)
“…Trump’s anticipation of the release of Democratic emails stolenin 2016 by WikiLeaks.”
From faithful ComplicatedEnglish.com follower Lauren O., a report about the South Dakota publicity campaign which either accidentally or tongue-in-cheekily suggests … uh … well, you decide for yourself:
(Lauren O.’s sister-in-law is from South Dakota, so Lauren’s family is having quite the laugh about this one.)
OK, so, if you follow the link and watch the governor’s video, you get it. Good cause. Lots of buzz. Mission accomplished.
You know how some articles are broken up with subheads? It’s not very often that writers write the subheads as they’re crafting the text. Typically, subheads are added later — and maybe not even by the writer. Sometimes it’s an editor who adds the subheads.
In any case, the subheads need to make sense in the flow of the text. Because that’s how the reader is going to consume them.
So don’t stick a subhead into the middle of a thought. For example:
…Less than $30,000 was reportedly used for MBTA tickets over that same time period.
Employers have to strongly incentivize transit over driving to change habits
However, the report suggests the private sector could be doing more, too.Experts in transportation and psychology said that commuters need to be given strong incentives to change their habits….
When you get to “However,” it seems the subsequent paragraph is contradicting the subhead. Then, by the end of the sentence, you realize, no: The subhead has jerked you around. Your brain has to pull the steering wheel to get back onto the road.
If a sentence starts with However, But, On the contrary, or any change-of-direction indicator, you probably shouldn’t put a subhead before it. Relocate the subhead after the change-of-direction indicator:
…Less than $30,000 was reportedly used for MBTA tickets over that same time period.
However, the report suggests the private sector could be doing more, too.
Employers have to strongly incentivize transit over driving to change habits
Experts in transportation and psychology said that commuters need to be given strong incentives to change their habits….
Do not jerk your readers around. Do not force their brains to grab the wheel. In such a moment, a driver is apt to curse, and worse.
“Trump had initially been resistant to the suggestion that he hire additional attorneys, believing he was well positioned to combat Democrats as they advanced their impeachment probe without outside help.”
Some would say the Democrats actually had plenty of outside help. Like from Trump himself, for example.
“The men who wrote and ratified the Constitution had left women, sex, marriage out of it. ‘Remember the ladies,’ Abigail Adams had warned her husband in 1776…. That the framers of the Constitution had not resolved the question of slavery had led to a civil war…. Women had often written themselves into the Constitution by way of analogy.”
I revere history writer Jill Lepore, but she loves the past perfect tense and nobody has the nerve to stop her.
The past perfect routinely gums up her otherwise crisp writing.
I humbly suggest that in this paragraph, you can change most or all of the past perfect to simple past tense and the reader will glide through the text more easily:
“The men who wrote and ratified the Constitution left women, sex, marriage out of it. ‘Remember the ladies,’ Abigail Adams warned her husband in 1776…. That the framers of the Constitution didn’t resolve the question of slavery led to a civil war…. Women often wrote themselves into the Constitution by way of analogy.”
Simple, straightforward, not perfect.
Why do they call it perfect, anyway? It’s the one and only thing that makes Jill im.
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.