Ted's Soapbox How Well-Spoken Are You?


  1. Q: The newly renovated home was expensive; but it's features justified the cost.
    The most frequently misspelled word in the English language is three letters long: its.  Not it's, or the obscene its' — simply, its.  This ordinary personal pronoun means "belonging to it" or "pertaining to it"; it is used no differently than its relatives, such as his.  The construct it's is a simple contraction meaning "it is" or "it has".  No ambiguity exists, and no confusion is warranted; yet this error is disgustingly prevalent.  Not one person in a hundred (a thousand?) seems to understand the correct usage of its and it's.  On the Internet one can regularly observe those two items being spelled both correctly and incorrectly even within the same sentence!  This error is found even on sites hosted by alleged experts, such as those providing instruction in grammar.  Go figure.
  2. Q: The answers to this quiz infer that many writers have little pride in there work.
    {two errors}  Even my most well-spoken of friends have been caught using the verb infer when they meant imply.  This is especially strange in light of the fact that the two words are functional opposites.  Imply means to hint or suggest (something stated); infer means to deduce or surmise (from something heard or read).  Although some dictionaries support an overlap of the usage of infer, the well-spoken person makes a careful distinction between the two words.  Today's intended meaning was "...The answers to this quiz imply..."  Secondly, the adjective their has been misspelled.
  3. Q: Are we supposed to faithfully accept everything that the media says?
    Splitting an infinitive is not wrong.  Although the British tormented themselves over this issue for centuries, they failed to convince modern grammarians that our ability to express ourselves should by compromised by some mythical requirement of conformance to Latin protocols.  Therefore, although it might not sound very good to a listener, there is no error in "to faithfully accept".  The word media, however, is plural (that's right), and it is correct to reference what "the media say".  The singular form of the word is medium.  Don't expect to have much company on this one; but then, it should not be your goal to match the bad habits of others.
  4. Q: Carry out your recently-assigned duties, irregardless of the consequences.
    {two errors}  The hyphen is incorrectAssigned is a past participle properly functioning as an adjective modifying dutiesRecently is an adverb which properly modifies the adjective assigned.  The grammar is valid without adjustment; hence, no corrective hyphen is appropriate.  This is another example of over-correction by those who don't understand the relationships among the various parts of speech.  Secondly, there is no such word as irregardless; it's in the same class as ain't.  Even if it were permissible, it still would have a nonsensical meaning.  The prefix -ir is a negation (think irresponsible or irreverent); yet the offending construct is used as having the same meaning as its logical opposite, regardless.  Doubtless the confusion stems from a dim awareness of the attractive alternative, irrespective.
  5. Q: Sometimes the existing set-up is better than its alternatives.
    Many computer programs are installed by the user.  Equally many software vendors don't have anyone on their staff who understands English, because they use setup as a verb — instructing us with such messages as "You will need to setup the program."  Sorry, folks, but setup is a noun, and it always was.  These same writers often use set-up as the noun form; others use either setup or set-up as verbs, all of which are incorrect: "You may set-up the system tomorrow."  Where do they get this stuff?  It's "monkey see, monkey do", I fear.  If one were to say, "You need to take down that poster", I doubt that anyone would choose to hyphenate between take and down; yet that sentence construction is identical to "You need to set up the program."  There are dozens of such noun-verb relationships: payoff (noun) and pay off (verb), layout (noun) and lay out (verb), etc.  In none of these cases is it proper to hyphenate anything.  In the quiz, our sentence properly reads, "...the existing setup is better..."
  6. Q: The payment on our newly acquired mortgage consists of 20% principle and 80% interest.
    Recently I was solicited by a lender to refinance my home; yet on the printed application the firm's own product was misspelled as principle in half a dozen places.  That was sufficient reason for me to reject any association with that company.  Every dictionary has the answers: the word principle means "code of conduct" or "fundamental law"; then there is principal, an adjective meaning primary or foremost, or a noun meaning "school administrator", "key person", or "outstanding balance of a loan".
  7. Q: The supervisor instructed Carl and I to backup the computer network.
    {two errors}  Illiterate people use the personal pronouns me and him when they should be using I and he.  Countless somewhat better-spoken folk, being aware of this common error, have overly compensated to the point that now they frequently use I and she when they should be using me and her!  These people fall into the half-conscious category; rather than make an effort to assimilate the reason for choosing one case over another, they seem content to mimic the actions of others.  In fact, the rule is remarkably simple.  I, he, she, we, and they are first-person pronouns; they function as subjectsMe, him, her, us, and them represent the third-person, objective case.  (The pronoun you does not change.)  It remains only to determine the word's usage in context.  In today's sentence, "Carl and I" are direct objects of the verb instructed; therefore, "Carl and me" is correct.  One never would say, "The supervisor instructed I to ..."; pluralizing an object does not change its case.  Secondly, backup, is a noun being improperly used here as a verb; "back up" is correct.  I put this one in to see whether you understood Answer #5.
  8. Q: It's alright to play the piano poorly as long as no one is around to hear you.
    There is no such word as alright.  Use two words: "all right".  A similar favorite is alot, which is not a word.
  9. Q: In order to insure the boss's respect, I decided to forego an optional vacation.
    {two errors}  The word insure means "to guarantee against loss"; that's what insurance companies and blackjack players do.  The proper verb here is ensure, meaning "to make certain of".  The word boss's is correct.  One drops the final 's' when making a possessive of a plural ending in 's', but boss is not plural.  It invariably is correct to write things just as one would say them (which makes perfect sense), and one always pronounces that second 's' after a singular noun; otherwise, the spoken meaning could be ambiguous.  Try it.  Secondly, forego means to "go before" or "precede" (think "forerunner" or "foregone conclusion").  "...I decided to precede an optional vacation"?  Nonsense.  The intended word here is forgo, meaning "to abstain or refrain from".  Were you aware that that word even existed?  You have been using it for years.
  10. Q: That's a real good idea; it won't effect the company's image.
    {two errors}  The phrase "real good" is a favorite among partially literate folks; it also ranks among the most repulsive.  The adjective real, meaning actual or genuine, cannot modify the adjective good.  "...actual good""...genuine good"?  Idiotic.  Why is it that so few seem to be aware of the existence of the perfectly appropriate adverb, really?  Secondly, affect and effect have both noun and verb forms; we are interested in the verbs.  To effect means to accomplish or "make it happen".  So, "... accomplish the company's image"?  Ridiculous.  Today's proper verb is affect, meaning to influence or "produce a change in".
  11. Q: If the strike would have been avoided, the cargo that laid on the docks would not have perished.
    {two errors}  This usage of would is nonsensical, yet rampant.  What the user invariably intends to say is, had rather than "would have".  Secondly, laid is the past tense of the verb "to lay" (to put or place), and that is not what was meant here.  The desired word is lay, the past tense of the verb "to lie" (to be in a state of inactivity).  The complete sentence would properly read, "If the strike had been avoided, the cargo that lay on the docks would not have perished."  Perhaps even better than that would be, "Had the strike been avoided..."
  12. Q: It looks like the Jones's are hosting a party.
    I take serious exception with this usage of like which, over the centuries, has been the most commonly misused word in the English language.  Originally, like had two legitimate functions — as a verb meaning "to have affection for", or as a preposition meaning "similar to".  It was not a conjunction meaning as, the most forgotten English word.  In any context, if as or as if made sense, then like did not.  Those times seem to be gone, however, as the incessant misuse of the word has rendered it "correct", according to some dictionaries.  Nowadays, nearly everyone will go to any lengths to avoid the usage of as; nevertheless, as far as this diehard purist is concerned, like sounds crummy in this context, and the whole purpose of speaking well is not to sound crummy.  The same opinion applies to the hideous ways in which the word get now is used.  Something such as "you've got mail" not only sounds stupid, but is redundant and uses the wrong tense of the verb "to get" as well.  I hope that I am not the only one shedding tears over the rape of our language.  The quiz sentence does not get off the hook on a technicality, however.  A singular word ending in 's' is pluralized by adding 'es'.  The fact of its being a proper name is irrelevant.  The correct spelling is Joneses.
  13. Q: The highly regarded committee was content to rest upon its self-evident laurels.
    This sentence is correct as it stands.  The term "self-evident" must be hyphenated to satisfy the requirements of grammar.  Self is a pronoun, which cannot modify evident.  The compound word "self-evident", functioning as an adjective, does properly modify laurels.  I find it interesting that "self-evident" is the only hyphenated term in the entire Declaration of Independence!  That is not surprising, however, since English was written far better two centuries ago, before the masses contracted hyphenitis.
  14. Q: Where is that information coming from?
    Nearly everyone harbors the superstition that it is incorrect to end a sentence a preposition with (sic).  In fact, there is no such rule.  This is another case of misguided attempts to deprive us of a valuable idiomatic resource on the basis of archaic Latin standards.  Some thoughts simply cannot be adequately expressed in a better way.  (Yes, I just split an infinitive!)  There also is the matter of the two-word verb combinations that cannot be sensibly separated.  Examples are "come down" and "go out", which have unique collective meanings.  Although it invariably is possible to rearrange a sentence that ends with a preposition, the result might be undesirable.  "What movie are you going to?" could be reworded as "To what movie are you going?"  Unfortunately, no one tends to speak that way anymore; so many listeners might think that it sounds funny, or even pretentious.  In this case, perhaps a better choice of words is in order: "What movie will you see?"  In any event, since many people perceive that ending a sentence with a preposition is an error, one would do well to avoid that practice — at least in print.
  15. Q: I'm interested to know whether the stock market will go down for awhile.
    {two errors}  This usage of interested means "to have an interest".  One does not have an interest to something; one is interested in something (or perhaps by something).  Our sentence  properly begins, "I am interested in knowing..."  Secondly, awhile is an adverb meaning "for a short time".  So the existing sentence reads "... down for for a short time."  Ludicrous.  Moreover, that adverb cannot function as the object of the preposition for.  There is a choice of valid constructions: "... go down for a while" or "go down awhile".  It's so simple.
  16. Q: San Jose was the first officially designated capitol of California.
    The words capitol and capital are similar to principle and principal; the pairs sound nearly the same, but the meanings differ.  Capitol refers solely to the building and its grounds.  Capital is an adjective meaning "excellent" or "first-rate", or it is a noun meaning "governing city" or "monetary wealth".  Today, "...capital of California..." is correct.
  17. Q: The economically inept Federal Reserve has lead our economically inept politicians down the garden path.
    The past tense of the verb "to lead" is led.  This is almost a no-brainer; yet half the writers on the Internet seem to have "lead" on the brain.
  18. Q: Antiques are popular collectables.
    The proper spelling of the noun is collectible.  I personally refuse to patronize any so-called "antique" store that does not correctly spell its product.  Although it is not in my dictionary, spelling the adjective form as collectable has become commonplace, as in "This book is a collectable item."
  19. Q: The status of our credit induced economy involves a number of complicated factor's.
    {two errors}  Credit and induced are properly hyphenated in this context, for the same reasons as in Answer #13.  The grammar just doesn't stand by itself.  Secondly, the plural of factor is factors.  English words never are pluralized by the use of an apostrophe, despite the proliferation of signposts in rural America proclaiming, "Pig's For Sale".  (Sometimes — rightly or wrongly — abbreviations or acronyms are reasonably pluralized in this fashion to avoid ambiguity; but in any case those constructs are not words.)
  20. Q: The heavily laden truck was involved in a near-fatal accident.
    Technically, this sentence satisfies the rules of grammar, but its structure has been manipulated unnecessarily.  Being analogous to question #10, there is a perfectly good adverb, nearly, which the competent writer/speaker always would prefer: "...a nearly fatal accident".  As in Question #10, eschewing a valid choice of words in favor of a bandage on the grammar is not the behavior of a well-spoken person; so this one qualifies as an error.
  21. Q: Some shoppers feel that saving 10% off an item's price is not that big of a deal.
    {two errors}  Despite its incessant usage in advertisements, there is no such verb form as "save off".  One does not save a portion off something; one saves a portion of something.  One may "take 10% off", but not "save 10% off".  Secondly, there is no way to make sense of the consecutive words, "big of" in any context.  Big is an adjective; but it has been left dangling, as the noun it was intended to modify has been placed inside the prepositional phrase, "of a deal".  Moronic.  Correct usage is simply, "...that big a deal..."  Some similar illegitimate constructs are "...that good of a thing" and "...not that bad of an idea".  All three examples feature an adjective that modifies nothing, and a prepositional phrase that modifies nothing.  Another common improper addition of the word of is in the phrase "as of yet"; here, the adverb yet is wrongly functioning as an object.  The appropriate construction is simply, "as yet".  Contrast that with "as of now", which is correct; now is functioning as a noun meaning, "the present time or moment".


Well, how did you fare?  Congratulation is in order for catching all but a couple of errors, and for not fabricating any; that feat places you well up in the 99th percentile.  Others writers could benefit from the services of a competent proofreader — if they could find one.  A grammar primer (which rhymes with dimmer, by the way) would be helpful as well.

This article was all about common errors; but such things are for common people.  I hope that you aspire to a higher standard!  I leave you with some final thoughts on speaking and writing:

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