LABELS: ben zimmer, GRAMMAR, john dowd, plead pled
Recently, there was some speculation about the authorship of a Donald Trump tweet that hinged on the use of the past tense "pled." Trump's account had tweeted the former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had "pled" guilty of lying to the FBI. Fearing the tweet amounted to an admission of obstruction of justice, Trump's lawyer John Dowd claimed responsibility for the tweet.
Some observers weren't buying it. The word "pleaded" seemed more lawyerly, they argued, and therefore "pled" could not have been written by an attorney.
"Pled" is actually a longtime peeve of mine. Years ago, I looked it up to prove that its users were wrong. Of course, I was the one who was wrong. "Pled" and "pleaded" are both acceptable past-tense forms of the verb "to plead."
But that's general usage. It's quite possible that, within their own close-knit profession, lawyers have their own standards and official or unofficial preferences for forming the past tense of "plead."
So what's their verdict? As linguist Ben Zimmer showed in a recent piece for the Atlantic, you can't spot a lawyer by his use of "pled."
Don’t touch that holiday greeting card. Don’t send out those event invitations. And whatever you do, don’t have a gift engraved, embossed or embroidered until you read this.
It’s time, once again, for our holiday tradition: warning hosts, hostesses and gift-givers of the most common mistakes of the season: incorrectly formed plurals, possessives and plural possessives.
Here's my column on how to avoid errors like "the Wilson's," "the Williams's" and "the Chavez's."
LABELS: GRAMMAR, object complement
Look at this sentence: The news made Charles angry.
What’s the subject? It’s the news. What’s the verb? It’s “made.” The object, of course, is Charles. He’s the one being made. So what’s that “angry” doing in there? It’s modifying the object. Welcome to the wonderful world of object complements — sometimes crucial sentence elements that (spoiler alert) can also be nouns. Here's my recent column on these little-known but hardworking grammatical units.
LABELS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, WORD CHOICE
Last week, I almost missed a pretty big mistake in an article I was editing. A travel piece said that the luxury of some hotel would "envelope visitors in luxury." I didn't catch it on the first pass. Only on the second read did I notice that the article needed the verb, envelop, and not the noun meaning something you put a letter into.
So keep an eye out for this one. And if you're prone to blow right past this error, you're not alone.