Grammar Police Blotter: Therapy for the grammar impaired
- different from / different to / different than
- deciding which is the proper preposition to use with different
gives people a lot of trouble. Here are the rules: use different to
or different than when you want to display your ignorance
of correct grammar. In all other situations, use different from, because
that's the only construction that's correct. Here's a tip that might help
you remember: change the adjective different into the verb differ,
then apply the words from, to, and than and see which
one makes sense. You can differ from someone, for instance; but
you can never differ than or to.
- dependent dependant
- if it's a noun you need, then you can spell it either way, but if the
word you need is an adjective, then it has to be dependent with
- appraised apprised
- to appraise something means to assess its value
- to apprise someone of something means to inform
- principal principle
- principal means chief, or main; for example: school principal;
principal violinist; principal concern. And when you pay back a loan,
you pay interest and principalin principle, anyway.
- principle means a rule, standard, policy; for example: his high
moral principles determined his course of action.
- compliment complement
- a compliment is an expression of praise or congratulations. The
associated adjective is complimentary, which also describes a gift,
- a complement is something that completes, or makes whole, as,
for example 35° is the complement to 55° in that the two make
up a right angle. Similarly, a person who is a thinker is complementary
to a person who is a doer; together they make up a stronger team.
- your you're
- your is the possessive; your umbrella is the umbrella that belongs
- you're is a contraction of you are. You're dead wrong if your
thought is that "your dead wrong" is correct grammar.
- its it's
- its is the possessive pronoun. It has no apostrophe. Work with
me here: we say "it's Mary's pen," or if we know who we're talking
about, we may say "it's her pen." Notice that we do not say
"it's she's pen." Why? Because the possessive corresponding
to she is her, not she's. By the same principle
(see above for the scoop on principle), we say "it's the Honda's
clutch," or if we know which car we're talking about we say "it's
its clutch." We don't say or write "it's it's clutch" (unless
we're grammar impaired, anyway), because the possessive is its
(without the apostrophe), not it's. Writing "it's it's clutch"
is just as wrong as writing "it's she's pen."
- it's (with the apostrophe) is a contraction of it is (usually),
or it has. The preceding example should have made this abundantly
clear by now.
- whose who'shere's another homonym that trips people up:
- whose is the possessive form of who or which (compare
it and its)
- who's is a contraction of who is or who has (again,
compare it and it's)
- adverse averse
- averse derives from Latin and literally translates as "turn
away." Its usage refers to the protagonist. For example, Captain
Bligh of the Bounty was described as "averse to innovation of any
sort," meaning that he turns away from innovation, rejects it.
- adverse also derives from Latin, and literally translates to
"turn towards." It's an admittedly confusing derivation; what
it refers to is some external force, something acting on and opposing
the protagonist. For example, adverse weather; an adverse reaction.
- affect effect
- if the word you want is a noun, then it's almost certainly effect
you need. (Yes, affect can be a noun, but it's a rare usage, and
if you need to be reading this stuff you're not nearly ready to risk going
- to affect something means to cause some kind of change in that
something, for example "the wind affected the flight of the ball."
- to effect something means to bring it about, for example "his
persistent persuasion effected the necessary action."
- allusive, elusive, illusive
- yes, they all sound similar. Yet they're all different words, with very
different meanings. Many people are aware of only one or two of the three,
and they're not sure whether to begin with an a, e, or inever mind
how many l's they need. The most commonly used (um, make that intended)
word is elusive, meaning tending to escape, difficult to describe
accurately, difficult to pin down. (Ironic isn't it? In the context we're
discussing here, the word is self-describing.) Illusive, by contrast,
is the adjectival form of illusion. In other words, an illusion
of some sort can be described as being illusive. It's not a very
common word, largely because it has a synonym illusory that's much
more user friendly (where "user" refers to both speaker and
listener) in that it avoids confusion with its homonyms in spoken language.
Allusive, on the other (third?) hand, is an adjectival form of
the verb allude, which means to make oblique or indirect reference.
Thus, allusive means "characterized by indirect references."
As with negotiating the perilous affect versus effect,
if you need to be reading this stuff then your highest percentage play
is to go with elusive; "e" and one "l."
- the plural (YES! it's plural) of criterion. One criterion, several
criteria. Got that?
- same deal as criteria: it's the plural form of phenomenon.
Hey, you saw John Travolta in that film, right? Called Phenomenon,
not Phenomena. There was only one of him, you see.
- arse ass
- The word arse appears in English literature going back to Chaucer
(14th century) and beyond. It means the buttocks, the nether regions,
etc. But you knew that. It's suffered a fate shared by other formerly
innocent and acceptable words having uncomfortable meanings, in that gradually
it has become to be regarded as vulgar. So we replace it with euphemisms,
like "bottom," "back side," and yes, "ass."
An ass is a donkey. Or a silly person. Its euphemistic substitution for
arse is a uniquely American foible. The rest of the English-speaking
world (notably Britain and Australasia) sticks with the original. So don't
make an ass of yourself by calling an arse an ass. Call a spade a spade,
and an arse an arse.
- begs the question
- begs the question is one of those strange expressions that is
now in common usage by people who have no idea what it really means. People
usually employ it to mean raise the question. In fact it means
nothing of the sort. It means to avoid answering the question by
waffling and tautology. Yes, it's an obscure and obsolete meaning of the
word beg, but that's what it means. If you mean "raises the
question" then say that.
- means accidental; not lucky, and not luckily accidentalto use
it like that is a malapropism. Serendipitous is the word you need
in those situations. Realistically, though, there are so few people who
understand the word that poor old "fortuitous" is in the process
of being saddled with the "lucky accidental" meaning by the
weight of public ignorance. Ten years from now (i.e. in 2016) I expect
to see printed dictionaries promulgating that newly accepted meaning.
- precedent, precedents, precedence
- more similar words with dissimilar meanings. A precedent is an
act or instance that sets an example that guides future similar instances.
Its plural is precedents (reasonably enough), which sounds exactly
like precedence. But there's a world of difference in meaning,
because precedence means "priority."
- forgo, forego
- once upon a time, the "e" was significant. Forgo, you
see (without the "e") means to abstain from, to do without.
Forego, (with the "e") means to precede in time or place.
However, the "e" confused enough people over a long enough period
that dictionaries these days tend to offer "forego" as a valid
variant of "forgo." For shame!
- some complementary (as opposed to complimentary) grammar links:
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