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Posts tagged ‘Usage’

Abstruse vs. Obtuse

Some writers seem to be confusing obtuse with the word abstruse, as in these incorrect examples on the web:

Believe it or not, the American public wasn’t always in love with Alfred Hitchcock. Because his movies were often too intelligent or obtuse, he had more fans in the film elite than he did in the general public.

Grizz tends to make Shakespeare-esque, outsider-looking-in type observations about the situations at hand, while Dot Com spouts highly intelligent, yet obtuse references that send you (or maybe just me) to Google.

Having finally struggled through Ulysses, and yes it was a struggle, I had no patience at all for FINNEGANS WAKE, which is even more obtuse. Has anyone actually read it? All of it?

I chide Brad DeLong all the time for making excuses for Greenspan’s thick, obtuse, obscurant speech.

In each of these examples, the context calls for a word that means “difficult to understand.” That word is abstruse:

The mistake of using abstruse where obtuse is intended seems to be less common, but it happens:

It is really abstruse to find Avatar not grabbing anything from the Oscars. It was altogether a new theme with a lot of innovations

This movie fan seems to be reaching for obtuse, a word that means “lacking in perception, stupid.”

Bottom line: Barely comprehensible language is abstruse. Stupid people are obtuse.

Note: Obtuse derives from Latin obtusus, “blunted, dull.” An obtuse angle is “blunt,” as opposed to being “sharp.”

From: Daily Writing Tips

Mood vs. Tense

By: Maeve Maddox

From: Daily Writing Tips

Many people are not quite clear as to the difference between the grammatical terms mood and tense. For example, I’ve seen such expressions as “subjunctive tense” and “progressive mood.”

Because both tense and mood have to do with verbs, the confused terminology is understandable. Tense, however, refers to time, whereas mood refers to manner of expression.

Tense
The three possible divisions of time are past, present, and future. For each, there is a corresponding verb tense:

Present: He walks now.
Past: Yesterday he walked.
Future: Tomorrow he will walk.

Each of these tenses has a corresponding complete tense: perfect, past perfect (pluperfect), and future perfect:

Perfect: He has walked every morning since Monday.
Past Perfect: He had walked a mile by the time we joined him.
Future Perfect: By tomorrow, he will have walked twenty miles.

Each of these tenses has a continuous or progressive form:

Present Continuous: I am still walking.
Past Continuous: I was still walking when you phoned.
Future Continuous: I shall/will be walking when you reach town.
Perfect Continuous: I have been walking since early morning.
Past Perfect Continuous: I had been walking for an hour when you phoned.
Future Perfect Continuous: When you see me, I shall have been walking for six hours.

Mood
Mood is the form of the verb that shows the mode or manner in which a thought is expressed. Mood distinguishes between an assertion, a wish, or a command. The corresponding moods are: Indicative (assertion), Subjunctive (wish), and Imperative (command).

Note: Unlike some languages, English does not have an “Interrogative Mood”; questions are formed by changing word order and not by altering the verb.

The word indicative derives from Latin indicare, “to declare or state.” Indicative Mood expresses an assertion, denial, or question about something:

Assertion: I liked him very much before he did that.
Denial: He is not going to remain on my list of friends.
Question: Will you continue to see him?

The word imperative derives from Latin imperare, “to command.” Imperative Mood expresses command, prohibition, entreaty, or advice:

Command: Go thou and do likewise.
Prohibition: Stay out of Mr. MacGregor’s garden!
Entreaty: Remember us in your prayers.
Advice: Beware of the dog.

The “true subjunctive” equivalent to the Latin Optative Mood (opare, “to wish”) is rare in modern English. Examples of the “true” subjunctive: “If I were king,” “God save the Queen!”

In most contexts dealing with unreal situations, speakers used a mixed subjunctive. The use of the auxiliaries may, might, should, and would creates a mixed subjunctive in which one verb is in subjunctive and another in indicative mood:

If I should see him, I will tell him.
He came that they might have life.

According to the Penguin Dictionary of English Grammar, the distinctive subjunctive forms are now confined to the verb be and to the third-singular forms of other verbs; they are still common in American English, while in British English they are confined to very formal styles.

In American English, the subjunctive often occurs with the following verbs:

suggest: I suggest that she refuse his offer.
demand: They are demanding that he go to London for an interview.
propose: The father proposed that his son be locked up to teach him a lesson.
insist: We all insisted that he accept treatment.

British usage tends to use should in such constructions: I suggest that she should refuse his offer.

 

Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctions are words that link words, phrases, and clauses and provide a smooth transition between ideas.

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Some adverbs can also join or show connections between ideas. When they do this, they are called conjunctive adverbs.

Conjunctive adverbs show comparison, contrast, sequence, cause-effect, or other relationships between ideas.

The most common conjunctive adverbs are:

accordingly
also
besides
consequently
conversely
finally
furthermore
hence
however
indeed
instead
likewise
meanwhile
moreover
nevertheless
next
nonetheless
otherwise
similarly
still
subsequently
then
therefore
thus

Conjunctive adverbs function in three ways.

1. They indicate a connection between two independent clauses in one sentence:

The primary meaning of the term ḥeḥ was “million” or “millions”; subsequently, a personification of Ḥeḥ was adopted as the Egyptian god of infinity.

In this explanation of why a particular word was personified the way it was, subsequently joins the ideas and conveys sequence at the same time. The word heh means millions; it follows that the personification derived from heh would be a god of infinity.

2. They link ideas in two or more sentences.

Democracy has empowered thousands upon thousands of the “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish,” who come from a mix of different nationalities. All hope is not lost, however, since there are “hundreds who are wise.”

 

In this quotation from a speech by Woodrow Wilson, the however connects and contrasts “thousands of foolish citizens” in the first sentence with “hundreds who are wise” in the second sentence.

3. They show relationships between ideas within an independent clause.

We are determined to do whatever must be done in the interest of this country and, indeed, in the interest of all to protect the dollar as a convertible currency at its current fixed rate.

In this quotation from a speech by John F. Kennedy, indeed connects ideas within the sentence: the idea of doing something on a national level and on an international level as well.

Punctuation note: A conjunctive adverb within a sentence is set off by commas. A conjunctive adverb that begins or ends a sentence is set off by one comma:

Therefore, let us reconsider this legislation that marginalizes a large proportion of employees.

You were late for the fifth time today; you are dismissed, therefore.

From: Daily Writing Tips

Watch out for the following deadly usages.

from Daily Writing Tips:

Tried-and-true words and phrases are convenient, but they are also truly trying — as with clichés, when a writer relies too heavily on stock usage, the resulting prose is tired and uninspired. Watch out for the following deadly usages.

  1. After having: “After looking around, I chose a seat” is fine, and so is “Having looked around, I chose a seat,” but “After having looked around, I chose a seat” is redundant. “Having” means that the action has already been performed, so the context is clear that the writer is writing after the fact.
  2. Aged: Identifying the age or age range of a person or a group with this word puts the subject(s) in a category with cheese or wine. Write “50 years old,” for example, instead of “aged 50 years,” or “ages 21–34” rather than “aged 21–34.”
  3. Aggravate: To aggravate is to make something worse, not to bother, annoy, or irritate.
  4. And also: And and also are redundant; use one or the other.
  5. Anticipate: To anticipate is to foresee (and perhaps act on that foresight), not to expect.
  6. Anxious: To be anxious is to feel distressed or worried, not eager.
  7. Approximately: How about using about instead? Save three syllables. For scientific or technical references, approximately is fine, but it’s a bit much in most other contexts.
  8. As to whether: “As to” is extraneous; use whether only.
  9. At this point in time: Omit this meaningless filler.
  10. Basically, essentially, totally: Basically, these words are essentially nonessential, and you can totally dispense with them.
  11. Being as/being that: Replace these phrases with because.
  12. Considered to be: “To be” is extraneous; write considered only, or consider deleting it as well.
  13. Could care less: No, you couldn’t. You want to convey that it’s not possible for you to care
    less, so you couldn’t care less.
  14. Due to the fact that: Replace this phrase with because.
  15. Each and every: Write “Each item is unique,” or “Every item is unique,” but not “Each and every item is unique.”
  16. Equally as: As is superfluous; write equally only.
  17. Was a factor, is a factor, will be a factor: If your writing includes one of these phrases, its presence is a sign that you’re not done revising yet; rewrite “The vehicle’s condition is a factor in performance,” for example, to “The vehicle’s condition affects its performance.”
  18. Had ought: Had is redundant; use ought only.
  19. Have got: Got is suitable for informal writing only; if you’re referring to necessity, consider must rather than “have got,” and if the reference is to simple possession, delete got from the phrase “have got.”
  20. In many cases/it has often been the case: Reduce the word count in statements containing these verbose phrases by replacing “in many cases” with often, for example.
  21. In the process of: This extraneous phrasing is acceptable in extemporaneous speaking but unnecessarily verbose in prepared oration and in writing.
  22. Is a . . . which/who: If you find yourself writing a phrase like this, step back and determine how to write it more succinctly; “Smith is a man who knows how to haggle,” for example, can be abbreviated to “Smith knows how to haggle.”
  23. Kind of/sort of: In formal writing, if you must qualify a statement, use a more stately qualifier such as rather, slightly, or somewhat.
  24. Lots/lots of: In formal writing, employ many or much in place of one of these colloquialisms.
  25. Of a . . . character: If you use character as a synonym for quality, make the reference concise. “The wine has a musty character” is better rendered “The wine tasted musty, and “He was a man with a refined character” can be revised to the more concise statement “The man was refined,” but better yet, describe how the man is refined.
  26. Of a . . . nature: Just as with character, when you use nature as a synonym for quality, pare the phrasing down: Reduce “She had a philosophical nature,” for example, to “She was philosophical.”
  27. Oftentimes: An outdated, unnecessary complication of often.
  28. On account of: Replace this awkward phrase with because.
  29. Renown: Renown is the noun (as well as a rarely used verb); renowned is the adjective. Avoid the like of “the renown statesman.”
  30. Thankfully: In formal usage, this word is not considered a synonym for fortunately.

Prepositional idioms

Prepositional idioms are tricky in any language. Here are some tips for using in and on with expressions of time.

For months, years and long periods like centuries, use in.
For days and dates, use on.
For precise times use at.
 
Meet me at 8 p.m.
The children played at recess.

Some common expressions vary the pattern:
in the morning, but on Monday morning
in the mornings, but on Wednesday mornings
in the afternoon but on Sunday afternoon

NOTE: Although we say in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, we say at night. Ex. Milk is delivered in the morning. The stars come out at night. BUT We heard a noise in the night.

Some time expressions do not require a preposition:
I went to Sicily last May.
He’s giving a speech next Friday.
My children visit every Thanksgiving.
What are you doing this afternoon?

Talking about the weekend admits of variation:
Do you work weekends?
Do you work on the weekend?
(American usage)
Do you work at the weekend? (British usage)

BBC Learning English on, in and at with time expressions.

From: Daily Writing Tips

Parallel Structure with Prepositions

Writers often mistakenly withhold repetition of prepositions with corresponding sentence elements in the erroneous belief that those elements can share a single preposition. In each of the following sentences, a repeated preposition is missing, and a discussion after each example explains the problem and a revision resolves it.

  1. These developments are significant as the cost and influence of regulation on business models remains high in many industries.

This sentence’s construction implies that cost can share the preposition of with influence, but it requires its own, because cost is parallel not to influence but to “influence of regulation on”: “These developments are significant as the cost of, and influence of regulation on, business models remains high in many industries.”

  1. Such dysfunction can arise from incentives that do not encourage resiliency and management being out of touch with the customer.

Similar to the problem in the previous sentence, from should be repeated before management so that the reader is not led to believe that management corresponds to resiliency rather than to incentives: “Such dysfunction can arise from incentives that do not encourage resiliency and from management being out of touch with the customer.”

  1. They are designing preventive and detective control activities that are effective in the new environment, both from a risk-management and operational-scalability perspective.

For the phrasal adjectives “risk management” and “operational scalability” to be fully parallel, legitimately sharing the noun perspective, the second phrase must, like the first phrase, be preceded by an article: “They are designing preventive and detective control activities that are effective in the new environment, both from a risk-management and an operational-scalability perspective.” (Better yet, do so and transpose both and from and repeat perspective after each phrasal adjective: “They are designing preventive and detective control activities that are effective in the new environment, from both a risk-management perspective and an operational-scalability perspective.”)

 

The Top 5 Mistakes I Find as an Editor

A lot of writers won’t hire an editor. This isn’t a pitch to get your business (although, of course, I am always open to that). So since you probably won’t hire me or any of my editor cohorts, I’m going to share with you a list of the five biggest mistakes I see in manuscripts, so you can watch for them, and fix them, yourself.

Mistake #1: Writers don’t place a comma between independent clauses separated with a conjunction. Independent clauses are clauses that can stand on their own as sentences, e.g., “He took the 405 freeway to work, and he exited at the Getty Museum.” Because both “He took the 405 freeway to work” and “he exited at the Getty Museum” are independent clauses—meaning they can stand alone as sentences, you must, must, place a comma before the conjunction, “and.” This is probably the biggest, most common mistake I find in manuscripts and books. Don’t make it. It’s a very easy punctuation rule to remember.

Mistake #2: Writers place commas between independent clauses and dependent clauses. This is probably the second most common mistake I see. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Let’s take the above example, and change it just a little: “He took the 405 freeway to work and exited at the Getty Museum.” I took the second “he” out. That makes the clause after “and” a dependent clause, because “exited at the Getty Museum” cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is dependent upon the first clause to be understood; thus, no comma should precede the “and.”

Of course, there are other places you need—and don’t need—commas, but this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive study of the comma. If in doubt, look up comma placement in The Chicago Manual of Style or other style manual.

Mistake #3: Writers don’t know their homonyms. In just the last few weeks alone, I’ve seen characters who were unphased, waiving to people, and peaking out windows. The writer’s spellchecker should have alerted her to the fact that “unphased” isn’t even a word. She meant “unfazed.” To waive means to relinquish, to set aside. The word this author wanted was “waving.” And a peak is the highest point of something; one peeks, not peaks, out a window.

Please, unless you are 100 percent sure you are using the right homonym, look it up. The wrong choice could have your characters doing some pretty strange things!

Mistake #4: Writers rely on their spellcheckers. This is a big no-no. If ewe think you’re spellchecker will fined awl yore miss steaks, your wrong. That sentence went through my spellchecker just fine, and there are no less than eight errors in it (“ewe” should be “you”; “you’re” should be “your”; “fined” should be “find”; “awl” should be “all”; “yore” should be “your”; “miss” and “steaks” should be “mistakes”: and finally, “your” should be “you’re”). Homonym spelling errors are the most common type of spelling error I find. Do not rely on your spellchecker. It will let you down every time.

Mistake #5: Writers who make errors in syntax. For example, look at this sentence: “I saw a deer driving to work today.” Uh, no—you didn’t, unless there are some very talented deer in your neighborhood! The correct sentence structure is, “I saw a deer while driving to work today,” or, “While driving to work today, I saw a deer.” Please, don’t put the deer in the driver’s seat!

Here’s another example: “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm it in the microwave for a few moments.” Warm what in the microwave? You’ve got a choice of antecedents here. Heaven help the toddler if you make the wrong choice! The correct structure would read, “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm the milk in the microwave for a few moments.”

Of course, if you and I were having a conversation, we’d probably understand each other if we made these syntax errors. But you can’t count on that when people are reading your words. Make sure you have them in the correct order so your meaning cannot be misconstrued.

I cannot list every error I run across while editing manuscripts. To do so would fill a book. But if you watch for these top five mistakes in your writing, your manuscript will be a lot more polished, and you can be more confident about submitting it to your publisher.

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