Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Errors in Speaking and Writing, Part I

There are still lots of things to be learned from Lessons in Our Language (Quackenbos, 1882), as well as a couple of things to scratch our heads over.


Errors in speaking and writing are so numerous that the student cannot be too watchful for avoiding them. The most common mistakes have already been pointed out; further examples of these, arranged promiscuously, follow.

Apparently, "promiscuous" did not yet have the connotation it does today. I just cannot see using the word in a textbook that doesn't deal with psychology or sexuality. However, I have found that the old Randomhouse dictionary gives it no such connotation. It merely means "indiscriminate" or "casual." So, moving along.

Five dollars are a small sum to leave to the poor.

Five dollars being referred to as one sum, the verb are should be changed to the singular form is.

But we knew that, because we read Ceely's Modern Usage.

It was supposed that his first act would have been to have hurled defiance at his enemies.

The reference here is to an act future as regards the time when it was supposed. But have does not express future time; say would be and hurl.

The next one is an error that is still quite common, and many of us fall victim to it. However, we can see how correcting it would make our writing much more precise.

The class should here be shown a globe.

It is the globe that should be shown, and not the class. Make the right noun the subject: -- "A globe should be shown to the class."

And one more.

On examining his horse's foot, he found his shoe was loose and cutting his hoof.

In the first part of the sentence, his and he are used with reference to the rider; in the latter part, his is used for the horse. Change to "the shoe." "the hoof." -- In the same sentence, do not apply the same pronoun to different persons or things.

Now, here are a few sentences to correct on your own.

Five-eighths are more than one-half.

Another, perhaps, might have been able to have managed the affair better than me.

We were presented with sweet smelling nosegays.

When they looked at their stock of provisions they found they were near ruined with salt-water.

Angry men permit of no explanations nor apologies.

I have to say that your guess is as good as mine on some of these. The book does not provide an answer key.


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