Saturday, 19 April 2008
Despite being, as some would have it, an overly-picky grammar snob, I have to confess to several compulsions that frequently make me out to be a hypocrite. These guilty secrets are either mistakes that I have to take real care to avoid or perceived errors that I don't see any wrong in.
- I sometimes use 'less' when I mean 'fewer'.
I needed to get this one out of the way. Very occasionally, when I've been in a hurry, or under duress, or drunk, or being tortured; I have made this mistake. There is no excuse for this and a good few hours cilice-time were required afterwards. Moving on swiftly...
- 2. I have to fight the urge to write 'definately'.
This one annoys the crap out of me. I know how to spell definitely. I spot other people's misspelling of this all the time. Yet, if I'm not concentrating, I'll reread a sentence I've written and to my shame that horrible little 'a' will be grinning back at me. I think this is to do with phonetics. When I say, "definitely," I pronounce it df-ntl and the urge to spell it so needs to be quashed when writing.
- 3. I use they, their and them as singular pronouns when no gender is specified.
And I'd do it again in a heartbeat, a heartbeat I tell you! Unless one is writing a contract, using 'he or she', 'he/she' or (lord preserve us) 's/he' is just stupid. And unless one wishes to come across as a pompous twit, one might want to avoid using 'one'.
- 4. I treat collective nouns as plurals.
Being in the UK, this isn't really a problem. There are no hard rules and it's generally accepted that one can go with the pronoun that sounds appropriate. This only becomes a problem if inconsistencies creep in. I really get annoyed by a current BBC Radio 1 trailer for the Monsters of Rock festival, in which Daniel P. Carter says the following phrase.
...and the legend that are Kiss.
Damn it, Daniel! I don't care how 'rock' you are, you make sure that your verb, subject and object match. Either Kiss is legend or Kiss are legends. Will Smith, on the other hand, makes crap films.
In the USA, all collective nouns are treated as singular. This can lead to some awkward constructions. Paul Brians, American author of Common Errors in English thinks the British way is sensible.
The British also quite sensibly treat collective bodies like governmental units and corporations as plural (“Parliament have approved their agenda”) whereas Americans insist on treating them as singular.
- 5. I use 'sat' in the present tense.
There you have it. I feel better for getting that off my chest.
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