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The following are less-than-exemplary snippets from recent newspapers and magazines …
• “The suspect was linked to at least nine different bank robberies.”
Why not just “nine bank robberies”? It would be interesting to know what compelled the writer to add “different.” However, this sentence is not a total loss; it could be shown to youngsters to illustrate the meaning of superfluous.
• “Each has spent their adult lives demeaning and scapegoating.”
This abject sentence could not exist if the writer or his editor had been paying attention. Each is a singular pronoun, and we know the writer
knew that, because he wrote “has” rather than the plural “have.” But after the first two words, he got distracted and started
writing plurals (“their,” “lives”). The fix is simple: “All have spent their adult lives demeaning and
• “The company has never been reticent to send promotional missives.”
is not a fancy synonym for reluctant, as this sentence’s author seems to believe. Reticent traditionally means “silent”
or “uncommunicative.” That doesn’t fit here. Still, reticent to is now inescapable, and some authorities consider it acceptable.
We consider it an affectation.
• “Brown grew up in a poor, predominately black neighborhood.”
Sometimes writers mistakenly use predominately as an alternative to predominantly, meaning “chiefly, primarily.”
Although predominately is technically a word, it’s not easy to pinpoint what it means.
• “Fake it ’til you make it.”
• “And the party rocked on ’til sunrise.”
• “On politically correct language: don’t knock it ’til you try it.”
We see such sentences constantly, but here’s some sound advice: always use till. Many assume that ’til, a
contraction of until, is correct. However, till predates until by several centuries, and you won’t find a reference book
anywhere that endorses ’til. The writer John B. Bremner declares brusquely, “Either till or until, but not ’til.”
• “At the same time, as other Americans of faith, the majority also identify strongly with their religion.”
• “The enemy wore Army green, just like she did.”
The proper use of as and like continues to elude many writers. In formal writing, both of the above sentences are incorrect. In the first
example, make it “like other Americans of faith.” As would be correct only if a verb were involved, e.g., “as other
Americans of faith do.” Like is a preposition meaning “similar to” or “typical of,” and that’s what
is needed here.
In the second example, the verb “did” in “just like she did” means like is the wrong choice— just similar to she did is clearly nonsense. Use as instead, and make it “just as she did.”
General rule: Use like when it is followed by a noun but no verb: Do it like me. But replace like with as, as if, as though, or the way preceding subject-verb constructions: Do it the way [not like] I taught you. Do it as if [not like] you meant it.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
The following are sentences recently heard over the airwaves. See if you can make them better. Answers are at the bottom of the newsletter.
1. “He is trying to appeal to both sides, and neither of them are going to be satisfied.”
2. “There’ll be some upheaval in the market irregardless of who wins.”
3. “He is relishing in the American dream.”
4. “It looked as though they just laid down.”
5. “Clinton vies for support in newly-competitive red states.” (TV graphic)
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An autoantonym or contranym is a word that can mean the opposite of itself. Examples:
(bound for Chicago; moving)
(tied up; unable to move)
(buckle your shoes; to hold together)
(knees buckle; to collapse)
(award for good behavior)
(penalty for bad behavior)
(cut off from)
More next week.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. “He is trying to appeal to both sides, and neither of them is going to be satisfied.”
2. “There’ll be some upheaval in the market regardless of who wins.”
3. “He is reveling in the American dream.”
4. “It looked as though they just lay down.”
5. “Clinton vies for support in newly competitive red states.” (do not hyphenate adverbs ending in ly)
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.