Usage bite: Two Words

And always two.

Two cute babies

“I love you a lot, little brother! And pleeease remember: a lot is always two words.”

Grammar Bite: Misplaced Modifiers

Watch out for misplaced modifiers.

A modifier is a word or phrase that describes something. A modifier at the beginning of a sentence is considered “misplaced” when it doesn’t match up with what follows, which can cause confusion for your reader. For example, I recently received an email from an organization I support financially. Here’s how it began, “Dear Dean: As a faithful supporter of our organization, we are requesting your participation in a special research project.” Continue reading “Grammar Bite: Misplaced Modifiers”

Usage Bite: Is It Pleaded or Pled?

Which is correct?

Should It Be Pleaded or Pled?

Watching a news program recently on PBS, I heard two different narrators give two different past tense renderings of the legal term “plead”—as in “What do you plead to these charges?” A female reporter said the congressman “pleaded” not guilty. In an unrelated story a male reporter said a defendant “pled” not guilty. Why the different words? Which is the preferred usage?

I don’t recall the nationality of the two reporters, but I do know that speakers of British English consider plead to be a regular verb* and therefore will use the regular past tense, pleaded. In American English, the irregular verb form pled is considered to be an informal but acceptable usage.

The call is yours to make. If I were writing a formal essay or letter, I would use the almost universally accepted standard form pleaded.

*As you will recall, a verb is “regular” when its past or past participle is formed by adding -d or -ed. Most verbs are regular.

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Usage Bites: Five Frequently Confused Words

Frequently Confused or Misspelled Words

Choose the correct spelling (answers follow below):

  1. Johnny [use to / used to] go to all his alma mater’s football games.
  2. [Based on / Based off of] your most recent visit to our restaurant, how would you rate the service you received?
  3. I take vitamins and walk two miles [everyday / every day].
  4. Flan is Jose’s favorite dessert. He eats it [a lot / alot].
  5. The Joneses arrived at the park early to [set up / setup] the food and games for the party.

(1) used to. It’s past tense, so we add the -d. I understand that the d and t are blended together when we say it, but remember to add the d when spelling it. Always. I repeat: always.

(2) It’s based on (or upon) something, not based off of something, no matter how prevalent the misusage is. Standard English is based on.

(3) The correct form here is every day. Keep the words separate. You use the closed compound word everyday, an adjective, when describing something ordinary or run-of-the-mill: “Wear your everyday shoes.” “Brushing one’s teeth is an everyday chore.” (And I do brush my teeth every day.)

(4) a lot. Jose eats flan a lot. Sometimes we see these words fused together (alot), likely because it’s confused with the very different word allot, which means “to assign as a share or portion.” (We often see allot used in its noun form: allotment.)

(5) Set up refers to an action; setup is a noun. The Joneses arrived to set up (verb) the food and games. During the party, one guest commented, “What a nice setup (noun) you have here!”

Now you know. Remember to practice every day.

If this post has been at all interesting or helpful to you, please let me know by liking it or writing a comment. Also feel free to share with someone who might appreciate it. Thank you!

Punctuation Bite: Use Commas in Direct Address

Use commas to separate words in direct address.

The cartoon humorously illustrates the importance of properly punctuating a sentence that involves direct address—that is, when writing directly to someone. The Standard-English convention is to place a comma after the introductory word or phrase.

Need some examples, friend? Here you go, gentle reader. (Um, notice the two examples there?)

Here are a few more:

  • “Hello, John!”
  • “Thanks, Maria.”
  • “How are you, Pete?”
  • “Way to go, Andrea!”
  • “Give me a break, buster!”
  • “You’re confusing me, Dean.”

Don’t leave out those poor, underemployed commas. Let them serve their intended purpose.

And let’s not forget these:

  • “Happy birthday, Tori!”
  • “Merry Christmas, Lou!”
  • “¡Feliz Navidad, Luis!”
  • “Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!”

It’s almost time for lunch. Let’s eat, Grandma!

Grammar Bite: Subject-Verb Agreement

Subjects and verbs must agree.

As a copyeditor, a common grammar issue I find in a piece of writing (besides punctuation problems) is subject-verb agreement difficulties.

In simplest terms, in any sentence, verbs must agree with their nouns in number, whether singular or plural. Look for the subject of the sentence and don’t be distracted by intervening prepositional phrases, the may be the most common cause of subject-verb agreement problems. Consider the following example:

“The box of chocolates (has/have) fallen on the floor.” The correct verb is has, although many writers would mistakenly write have. How can you be sure? Trust your ear. Remove the prepositional phrase (of chocolates) and hear what makes sense: “The box [singular subject] has fallen [singular verb] on the floor.”

Another example: “The main argument of the defense attorneys (is/are) that the defendant wasn’t anywhere near the scene of the crime that day.” Remove the prepositional phrase (of the defense attorneys) and what remains? “The main argument [singular subject] is [singular verb] that the defendant wasn’t anywhere near the scene of the crime that day.”

Questions or comments? Let me know.

Quote of the Day

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

Attributed to Carl Sandburg

Reading: Is Anything Better Than Nothing?

Does it matter what we read?

When it comes to children and young people reading, should parents/teachers/grandparents say, “I don’t really care what they read, as long as they’re reading”? I’ve heard folks say that many times through the years and never thought much of it. I tended to agree that kids’ reading something is better than reading nothing. And especially in this day of ubiquitous video games and various forms of electronic preoccupation, isn’t it better for a kid to turn off the brain-numbing gadgets occasionally and exercise other intrapersonal proficiencies? And the same applies to adults: isn’t it better to read something than nothing at all? With so many reading options available, from comic books to romance novels, to unlimited online content, what’s the big deal? Just read something! Because reading, no matter what it is, is good for you.

But an article I read recently caused me to stop and reconsider that assertion. The author challenged the reading-something-is-better-than-reading-nothing thesis with the analogous, “I don’t care what they’re eating as long as they’re eating.” Read that clause again: “I don’t care what they’re eating as long as they’re eating.” He is implying, of course, that not all reading choices have equal value for enriching our lives and making us healthier, better people.

A pair of disclaimers are in order. First, I’m not talking about very young children who are just learning to read, where the innate, God-given drive to learn and master one’s world one step at a time brings the child (and his parents) a sense of accomplishment and joy. I do believe that any and every type of reading material that interests little tykes needs to be encouraged. I’m referring to older kids (and, yes, adults) who have gained some mastery of reading fundamentals, yet who, for whatever reason, don’t read much.

Girl reading

Second, I’m excluding online content, including news, weather, sports, articles on various topics, and blogs—including this one. For the most part, that sort of reading is ephemeral, meaning it’s here today and gone tomorrow (or ten minutes from now). And so, while that is technically reading, it isn’t the type of reading I’m talking about. I admit that, as much as I like to read in general, a significant chunk of my reading these days consists of ephemera. And I worry that ephemera is producing an insidious shallowness in me. Reading twenty or thirty snippets of online content in one sitting on a regular basis may fool me into thinking I’m a well-informed person, but it may in fact be turning me into a Mississippi River kind of person: you know, someone who’s a mile wide but an inch deep. That troubles me.

Now, I could go on here, arguing for the reading of books—good, substantial, depth-producing books that take a concerted effort to consume and digest—but I’ll reserve that argument for a subsequent article. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you—from parents, grandparents, teachers, and other adults. Let me ask, what do you think of the statement, “I’d rather that people read something instead of nothing”? Do you agree? If so let me know why. If not, why not?

I look forward to hearing from you.