Misused Forms in English Page 1


Common Stumbling Blocks Peculiar Constructions Misused Forms.


Very often the verb is separated from its real nominative or subject by several intervening words and in such cases one is liable to make the verb agree with the subject nearest to it. Here are a few examples showing that the leading writers now and then take a tumble into this pitfall:

1. “The partition which the two ministers made of the powers of government were singularly happy.”—Macaulay.

(Should be was to agree with its subject, partition.)

2. “One at least of the qualities which fit it for training ordinary men unfit it for training an extraordinary man.”—Bagehot.

(Should be unfits to agree with subject one.)

3. “The Tibetans have engaged to exclude from their country those dangerous influences whose appearance were the chief cause of our action.”—The Times.

(Should be was to agree with appearance.)

4. “An immense amount of confusion and indifference prevail in these days.”—Telegraph.

(Should be prevails to agree with amount.)


Errors in ellipsis occur chiefly with prepositions.

His objection and condoning of the boy’s course, seemed to say the least, paradoxical.

(The preposition to should come after objection.)

Many men of brilliant parts are crushed by force of circumstances and their genius forever lost to the world.

(Some maintain that the missing verb after genius is are, but such is ungrammatical. In such cases the right verb should be always expressed: as—their genius is forever lost to the world.


Even the best speakers and writers are in the habit of placing a modifying word or words between the to and the remaining part of the infinitive. It is possible that such will come to be looked upon in time as the proper form but at present the splitting of the infinitive is decidedly wrong. “He was scarcely able to even talk” “She commenced to rapidly walk around the room.” “To have really loved is better than not to have at all loved.” In these constructions it is much better not to split the infinitive. In every-day speech the best speakers sin against this observance.

In New York City there is a certain magistrate, a member of “the 400,” who prides himself on his diction in language. He tells this story: A prisoner, a faded, battered specimen of mankind, on whose haggard face, deeply lined with the marks of dissipation, there still lingered faint reminders of better days long past, stood dejected before the judge. “Where are you from?” asked the magistrate. “From Boston,” answered the accused. “Indeed,” said the judge, “indeed, yours is a sad case, and yet you don’t seem to thoroughly realise how low you have sunk.” The man stared as if struck. “Your honor does me an injustice,” he said bitterly. “The disgrace of arrest for drunkenness, the mortification of being thrust into a noisome dungeon, the publicity and humiliation of trial in a crowded and dingy courtroom I can bear, but to be sentenced by a Police Magistrate who splits his infinitives—that is indeed the last blow.”


The indefinite adjective pronoun one when put in place of a personal substantive is liable to raise confusion. When a sentence or expression is begun with the impersonal one the word must be used throughout in all references to the subject. Thus, “One must mind one’s own business if one wishes to succeed” may seem prolix and awkward, nevertheless it is the proper form. You must not say—”One must mind his business if he wishes to succeed,” for the subject is impersonal and therefore cannot exclusively take the masculine pronoun. With any one it is different. You may say—”If any one sins he should acknowledge it; let him not try to hide it by another sin.”


This is a word that is a pitfall to the most of us whether learned or unlearned. Probably it is the most indiscriminately used word in the language. From the different positions it is made to occupy in a sentence it can relatively change the meaning. For instance in the sentence—”I only struck him that time,” the meaning to be inferred is, that the only thing I did to him was to strike him, not kick or otherwise abuse him. But if the only is shifted, so as to make the sentence read-“I struck him only that time” the meaning conveyed is, that only on that occasion and at no other time did I strike him. If another shift is made to-“I struck only him that time,” the meaning is again altered so that it signifies he was the only person I struck.

In speaking we can by emphasis impress our meaning on our hearers, but in writing we have nothing to depend upon but the position of the word in the sentence. The best rule in regard to only is to place it immediately before the word or phrase it modifies or limits.

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