LABELS: GRAMMAR, past tense, VERBS
I never used to believe in ghosts. The idea of hauntings sounded ridiculous to me. Then I started writing about grammar. Now I know better.
For more than a decade now, I’ve been hearing bone-chilling tales of undead teachers haunting former students from the great beyond with bad information: You can’t end a sentence with a preposition. You can't use healthy to mean healthful. You can't start a sentence with but.
The stubborn persistence of these bad teachings never ceases to amaze me. But from time to time these chilling tales go beyond the pale, wowing me with just how bad bad information can be.
Case in point, an e-mail I got recently:
Dear June. Today, in your column from the Pasadena Sun section of the L.A. Times, you used "the writer got bogged down." I will never forget several teachers, including one particularly memorable Mrs. Hamilton, telling me that using "got" in any sentence anytime was simply being lazy, that it was bad English, uncouth, uneducated, etc. You get the point.
Yup, there was once a teacher who took it upon herself to single-handedly condemn a well established and highly useful word. I particularly like that “uneducated” part -- and the irony of how it came from someone who needed only to open a dictionary to see that she was misinforming her own students. Of course, I didn’t say so to the poor guy in so many words. Instead, here’s what I wrote:
The most common objection to got is that have and got are redundant in phrases like "I have got quite a few friends." Yes, it's inefficient, but it's accepted as an idiom. Every major language authority I know of agrees it's a valid option.
We editors usually trim the gots out. Especially in news writing, which prizes efficiency, "He has got $20'" is a poor alternative to "He has $20." But that's an aesthetic. Not a grammar rule.
From what you're saying, your teacher was condemning the word got in all its uses. And, yes, that's extreme to the point of being illogical. Got is the past tense of get, which can be both a regular verb and an auxiliary verb: "They got married."
It sounds as though Mrs. Hamilton would have everyone say, "They were married." But if so, that's just a personal preference she was trying to pass off as a rule. There isn't a dictionary under the sun that would back her up.
"I hear a lot of stories about teachers who used to lay down laws that weren't laws. (It's wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. It's wrong to split an infinitive. It's wrong to begin a sentence with and.) These kinds of unfounded prohibitions were very fashionable in educational circles for a while. But they never were rules. It's unfortunate kids got so much bad information.
Hope that helps! - June
LABELS: DICTIONARIES, GRAMMAR, VERBS, WORD CHOICE
Wake, awake, and awaken are weird and, together, they’re a great example of how weird English can be. They’re synonyms that, really, we don’t need. But until we put some of them out to pasture, we’ll continue to have all these forms.
First to go will probably be the verb form of awake. In my world, it’s only used as an adjective. I was awake. I never hear it as a verb: When I awake.
This verb use has a distinctly Jane Austen ring to it. I shall awake before dawn. Nobody talks that way anymore, at least not anywhere I can hear them. Everyone uses wake up, woke up, and woken up.
But until the dictionaries drop it, you can continue to use it in all its weird forms without worry, right along with its weird cousins.
To form the past tense and the past participle of awaken and awake, just add “ed.”
Yesterday I awakened.
Yesterday I awaked.
In the past I have awakened.
In the past I have awaked.
Again, I’m betting that “Yesterday I awaked” and “In the past I have awaked” aren’t that useful to you. And you may not like “awakened” in casual speech, either. But that could come in handy in certain types of writing, especially fiction, where characters’ speech peculiarities so often help round them out as people.
If you forget the past tenses of any of these, remember: They’re all right in the dictionary. They’re listed right after the main entry for the word. Plus, some of these past tenses even have their own entries at m-w.com. So they’re easy to find.
LABELS: GRAMMAR, VERBS
Is it time for my annual “There’s no rule against splitting infinitives” speech already? How time flies. Seems it was just months ago that I was blathering on and on about how it’s a myth that you can’t split an infinitive and that, if you don’t believe a language liberal like me, you can ask Messrs. Strunk and White.
Okay, I’m hamming it up a bit. But it’s just weird to write in a newspaper column perhaps a dozen times that there’s no rule against splitting infinitives and still get e-mails like one I got recently asking about a quote that appeared in the column.
The quote was lifted from another article in which a scientist was talking about proton therapy. He said that this kind of therapy “makes it feasible to just hone in on the actual tumors.”
Notice how there’s a word between “to” and “hone”? Well, so did a reader.
<< Thank you for your enjoyable column in today's paper, "A Misspoken Word Makes a Point." In the quote you use as an example, is it now all right to split infinitives, as in "Proton therapy makes it feasible to just hone in ...?" Maybe precise speech is just a dying entity. I used to collect entertaining malapropisms but there are too many nowadays.>>
So I had to be the heavy again and tell him that something he’s probably accepted as fact for decades is just myth.
<<It's not wrong to split an infinitive. Never has been.>> I wrote back. <<The idea that you can't is a longstanding myth. Garner's Modern American Usage calls it a "superstition." Every language authority under the sun, including Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" agree on this point.>>
And thus, another small-town newspaper reader gets the bad news. One down, five million to go …
LABELS: apostrophe, COPY EDITING, PUNCTUATION
If you were writing for the news media or any publication that follows Associated Press style, you would put movie titles in quotation marks.
They watched “Casablanca.”
That’s different from most book publishing, which uses italics. And once you understand it’s just a style thing, that’s easy enough. But it can get harder.
For example, what if you wanted to make the movie title possessive?
What if you wanted to make it plural, say, envisioning a scenario in which there were two of the same film?
Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the style guides don’t say. The good news is that the style guides don’t say. That means that, while you can’t get it right. Technically, you can’t get it wrong, either.
And here’s some better news: I recently asked some fellow copy editors what they would do, and it turns out even professionals disagree on this one.
Well, actually, they all agreed on one thing: These unsightly constructions should be avoided whenever possible. Good editors recast sentences whenever they can to spare readers such visual assaults. But when it came to where to put a plural S or a possessive S and an apostrophe, they disagreed on whether it should be inside or outside the quotation marks.
I learned many years ago that the plural or possessive S goes inside the quotation marks. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I learned it and, because I can’t find any documentation of it now, I suspect I was putting blind faith in a source that didn’t deserve it.
Still, the lesson stuck. So if you want my personal preference, it’s this: Put all that stuff before the closing quotation mark.
If only they had made two different “Casablancas.”
If there were two of the same film, then both "Casablancas'" lead actors would be famous.
"Casablanca's" actors were critically acclaimed.