HOW TO SPEAK AND WRITE CORRECTLY by JOSEPH DEVLIN, M.A.
CHAPTER VIII Page 2: PITFALLS TO AVOID
is another word which creates ambiguity and alters meaning. If we substitute it for only in the preceding example the meaning of the sentence will depend upon the arrangement. Thus “I alone struck him at that time” signifies that I and no other struck him. When the sentence reads “I struck him alone at that time” it must be interpreted that he was the only person that received a blow. Again if it is made to read “I struck him at that time alone” the sense conveyed is that that was the only occasion on which I struck him. The rule which governs the correct use of only is also applicable to alone.
OTHER AND ANOTHER
These are words which often give to expressions a meaning far from that intended. Thus, “I have nothing to do with that other rascal across the street,” certainly means that I am a rascal myself. “I sent the despatch to my friend, but another villain intercepted it,” clearly signifies that my friend is a villain.
A good plan is to omit these words when they can be readily done without, as in the above examples, but when it is necessary to use them make your meaning clear. You can do this by making each sentence or phrase in which they occur independent of contextual aid.
AND WITH THE RELATIVE
Never use and with the relative in this manner: “That is the dog I meant and which I know is of pure breed.” This is an error quite common. The use of and is permissible when there is a parallel relative in the preceding sentence or clause. Thus: “There is the dog which I meant and.which I know is of pure breed” is quite correct.
A participle or participial phrase is naturally referred to the nearest nominative. If only one nominative is expressed it claims all the participles that are not by the construction of the sentence otherwise fixed. “John, working in the field all day and getting thirsty, drank from the running stream.” Here the participles working and getting clearly refer to John. But in the sentence,â€””Swept along by the mob I could not save him,” the participle as it were is lying around loose and may be taken to refer to either the person speaking or to the person spoken about. It may mean that I was swept along by the mob or the individual whom I tried to save was swept along.
“Going into the store the roof fell” can be taken that it was the roof which was going into the store when it fell. Of course the meaning intended is that some person or persons were going into the store just as the roof fell.
In all sentence construction with participles there should be such clearness as to preclude all possibility of ambiguity. The participle should be so placed that there can be no doubt as to the noun to which it refers. Often it is advisable to supply such words as will make the meaning obvious.
Sometimes the beginning of a sentence presents quite a different grammatical construction from its end. This arises from the fact probably, that the beginning is lost sight of before the end is reached. This occurs frequently in long sentences. Thus: “Honesty, integrity and square-dealing will bring anybody much better through life than the absence of either.” Here the construction is broken at than. The use of either, only used in referring to one of two, shows that the fact is forgotten that three qualities and not two are under consideration. Any one of the three meanings might be intended in the sentence, viz., absence of any one quality, absence of any two of the qualities or absence of the whole three qualities. Either denotes one or the other of two and should never be applied to any one of more than two. When we fall into the error of constructing such sentences as above, we should take them apart and reconstruct them in a different grammatical form. Thus,â€””Honesty, integrity and square-dealing will bring a man much better through life than a lack of these qualities which are almost essential to success.”
It must be remembered that two negatives in the English language destroy each other and are equivalent to an affirmative. Thus “I don’t know nothing about it” is intended to convey, that I am ignorant of the matter under consideration, but it defeats its own purpose, inasmuch as the use of nothing implies that I know something about it. The sentence should readâ€””I don’t know anything about it.”
Often we hear such expressions as “He was not asked to give no opinion,” expressing the very opposite of what is intended. This sentence implies that he was asked to give his opinion. The double negative, therefore, should be carefully avoided, for it is insidious and is liable to slip in and the writer remain unconscious of its presence until the eye of the critic detects it.
FIRST PERSONAL PRONOUN
The use of the first personal pronoun should be avoided as much as possible in composition. Don’t introduce it by way of apology and never use such expressions as “In my opinion,” “As far as I can see,” “It appears to me,” “I believe,” etc. In what you write, the whole composition is expressive of your views, since you are the author, therefore, there is no necessity for you to accentuate or emphasize yourself at certain portions of it.
Moreover, the big I’s savor of egotism! Steer clear of them as far as you can. The only place where the first person is permissible is in passages where you are stating a view that is not generally held and which is likely to meet with opposition.
SEQUENCE OF TENSES
When two verbs depend on each other their tenses must have a definite relation to each other. “I shall have much pleasure in accepting your kind invitation” is wrong, unless you really mean that just now you decline though by-and-by you intend to accept; or unless you mean that you do accept now, though you have no pleasure in doing so, but look forward to be more pleased by-and-by. In fact the sequence of the compound tenses puzzle experienced writers. The best plan is to go back in thought to the time in question and use the tense you would then naturally use. Now in the sentence “I should have liked to have gone to see the circus” the way to find out the proper sequence is to ask yourself the questionâ€”what is it I “should have liked” to do? and the plain answer is “to go to see the circus.” I cannot answerâ€””To have gone to see the circus” for that would imply that at a certain moment I would have liked to be in the position of having gone to the circus. But I do not mean this; I mean that at the moment at which I am speaking I wish I had gone to see the circus. The verbal phrase I should have liked carries me back to the time when there was a chance of seeing the circus and once back at the time, the going to the circus is a thing of the present. This whole explanation resolves itself into the simple question,â€”what should I have liked at that time, and the answer is “to go to see the circus,” therefore this is the proper sequence, and the expression should be “I should have liked to go to see the circus.”
If we wish to speak of something relating to a time prior to that indicated in the past tense we must use the perfect tense of the infinitive; as, “He appeared to have seen better days.” We should say “I expected to meet him,” not “I expected to have met him.” “We intended to visit you,” not “to have visited you.” “I hoped they would arrive,” not “I hoped they would have arrived.” “I thought I should catch the bird,” not “I thought I should have caught the bird.” “I had intended to go to the meeting,” not “I had intended to have gone to the meeting.”
These prepositions are often carelessly interchanged. Between has reference to two objects only, among to more than two. “The money was equally divided between them” is right when there are only two, but if there are more than two it should be “the money was equally divided among them.”
Less refers is quantity, fewer to number. “No man has less virtues” should be “No man has fewer virtues.” “The farmer had some oats and a fewer quantity of wheat” should be “the farmer had some oats and a less quantity of wheat.”
Further is commonly used to denote quantity, farther to denote distance. “I have walked farther than you,” “I need no further supply” are correct.
EACH OTHERâ€”ONE ANOTHER
Each other refers to two, one another to more than two. “Jones and Smith quarreled; they struck each other” is correct. “Jones, Smith and Brown quarreled; they struck one another” is also correct. Don’t say, “The two boys teach one another” nor “The three girls love each other.”
EACH, EVERY, EITHER, NEITHER
These words are continually misapplied. Each can be applied to two or any higher number of objects to signify every one of the number independently. Every requires more than two to be spoken of and denotes all the persons or things taken separately. Either denotes one or the other of two, and should not be used to include both. Neither is the negative of either, denoting not the other, and not the one, and relating to two persons or things considered separately.
The following examples illustrate the correct usage of these words:
Each man of the crew received a reward.
Every man in the regiment displayed bravery.
We can walk on either side of the street.
Neither of the two is to blame.
When two singular subjects are connected by neither, nor use a singular verb; as, Neither John nor James was there,” not were there.
Custom Has sanctioned the use of this word both with a singular and plural; asâ€””None is so blind as he who will not see” and “None are so blind as they who will not see.” However, as it is a contraction of no one it is better to use the singular verb.
These verbs are very often confounded. Rise is to move or pass upward in any manner; as to “rise from bed;” to increase in value, to improve in position or rank, as “stocks rise;” “politicians rise;” “they have risen to honor.”
Raise is to lift up, to exalt, to enhance, as “I raise the table;” “He raised his servant;” “The baker raised the price of bread.”
The transitive verb lay, and lay, the past tense of the neuter verb lie, are often confounded, though quite different in meaning. The neuter verb to lie, meaning to lie down or rest, cannot take the objective after it except with a preposition. We can say “He lies on the ground,” but we cannot say “He lies the ground,” since the verb is neuter and intransitive and, as such, cannot have a direct object. With lay it is different. Lay is a transitive verb, therefore it takes a direct object after it; as “I lay a wager,” “I laid the carpet,” etc.
Of a carpet or any inanimate subject we should say, “It lies on the floor,” “A knife lies on the table,” not lays. But of a person we sayâ€””He lays the knife on the table,” not “He liesâ€”â€”.” Lay being the past tense of the neuter to lie (down) we should say, “He lay on the bed,” and lain being its past participle we must also say “He has lain on the bed.”
We can say “I lay myself down.” “He laid himself down” and such expressions.
It is imperative to remember in using these verbs that to lay means to do something, and to lie means to be in a state of rest.