What's a fused participle — and is it really an error?
Posted by June on September 25, 2023

I saw you working hard.

I appreciate you working hard.

At a glance, these sentences seem grammatically identical. But in fact, the grammar of the second one is wildly controversial, with some experts insisting it’s an error called a “fused participle.”

The fused participle concept comes up most often in the sentence: “I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me.” Critics of this form say it should be: “I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me.” And that one-letter variation, “your” replacing “you,” makes all the difference in the world. But to understand how that changes the grammar, you need to zoom in on how all the parts work together in the sentence.

In “I saw you working hard,” the object of the verb “saw” is “you.” I saw you. The next word, “working,” is a verb participle functioning as a modifier — essentially an adjective. It may seem odd to classify a verb form as an adjective, but we use verb participles this way all the time: a cooking class, a walking stick, your thinking cap, growing pains, a hiking excursion. In all these examples, a verb participle is modifying a noun, meaning it’s working like an adjective. The participle in “you working” has the same role, even though it comes after the noun.

So when you say, “I saw you working,” you get a grammatical sentence with a verb (saw), followed by its object (you), followed by a modifier of that object (working).

But in “I appreciate you driving him home,” the object of the verb “appreciate” isn’t really “you.” You’re not saying, “I appreciate you as a person” or “I appreciate that you exist.” It’s the driving that you really appreciate. So “driving” is the true object of the verb “appreciate.” Yet the first word after “appreciate” isn’t “driving.” It’s “you.” Between the verb and its true object, there’s another word — “you” — just sitting there with no grammatical job to do. The participle “driving” is just kind of fused to “you” with no clear role. From a standpoint of pure grammar, it’s nonsensical. Here's the full story in my recent column.

'All told' or 'all tolled'?
Posted by June on September 11, 2023

Should you write "all told" or "all tolled"? The first one: all told.

There’s a good chance you knew that already. I knew it for years, right up until I stumbled across some bad information on the subject, which led to a series of unfortunate events.

For years I knew the term as “all told.” Again, that’s correct. I considered “all told” a close cousin of “when all is said and done.” That’s not exactly right, but it’s a good way to think of it because it equates the telling in “told” with the saying in “said.” Both words refer to talking.

Then, some years ago, I came across a wrong bit of information. I read, I don’t remember where, that “all told” is wrong and that it should be “all tolled.”

I wrote a column about it before I realized it wasn’t true. A writer friend of mine who read the column repeated its incorrect message in a book. Only by sheer luck did we realize the error before the book went to press.

To get this right, remember that it’s about telling – when all has been told. But for a historical understanding of the term, well, that’s not exactly how it works.

“One archaic meaning of ‘tell’ is ‘to count,’” says Garner’s Modern American Usage. “Hence the idiom is ‘all told’ -- ‘All told there were 14 casualties’ -- which dates from the mid-19th century. Some people write ‘all tolled,’ perhaps because ‘toll’ can mean ‘to announce with a bell or other signal.’ But this is an error.

'For Joe and I' and other reader peeves
Posted by June on September 5, 2023
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 Reader Louise wrote: “My big pet peeve is those who say, ‘It was a great trip for Joe and I.’ … I want to scream, ‘You wouldn't say it was a great trip for I.' It's ‘me’!"

There are several standards of correctness in English. Grammar is one. Idiom, or common usage, is another. A subject pronoun like “I” in an object position is ungrammatical, but you can’t say it’s 100% wrong because it’s idiomatic. Still, to anyone who cares about grammar, it’s bad form. Plus, it’s a minor tragedy because people who say “for Joe and I” usually choose “I” because they’re trying to be grammatically correct — and failing. To get these right, follow Louise’s model: Try the sentence without the other person: “A great trip for I” is clearly wrong, so that’s how you know the most grammatical choice is “It was a great trip for Joe and me.”

Reader Mike is peeved by the phrasing “where is it at?” “It grates like fingernails on a chalkboard,” he writes. Over the years, a lot of people have told me they feel the same way. As an editor whose job is to delete needless words, I understand their reaction. The “at” at the end of “where is it” is unnecessary. But unnecessary isn’t quite the same as being wrong, exactly. Consider “where is it at” to be a casualism that rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

Meanwhile, Reader Sherry wrote to ask about people who use “so fun” instead of “so much fun.” Reader Katie doesn’t like when people who’ve been asked “How are you?” respond with “I am well.”  And Reader Dick thought he spotted an error in my column. Read how I answered them all in my recent column.

'Chaise lounge' isn't just a corrupted version of 'chaise longue'
Posted by June on August 28, 2023

One of my favorite summer activities is relaxing on a chaise longue under an umbrella with a good book. It’s a nice escape from the grueling work of changing “chaise lounge” to “chaise longue” in article after article this time of year — and wondering why I bother.

A “chaise longue” is, of course, one of those long lounge chairs you see situated around swimming pools, as well as indoor furniture in a similar shape. The term comes from the French “chaise,” meaning “chair,” and “longue,” which is the French feminine form of “long.” But because these chairs are for lounging and because Americans are less familiar with the French spelling, we English speakers often use “chaise lounge.”

This process of transforming foreign or less familiar words into something familiar is called “folk etymology” — like “duck tape” formed from “duct tape,” both of which are correct today.

But it would be a mistake to assume that “chaise lounge” came from “chaise longue” through this exact process. In fact, “chaise lounge” is almost as well established in English as “chaise longue.” The English spelling started showing up in dictionaries in the 1920s, just a decade or two after dictionaries started including the French term, which we used to hyphenate: chaise-longue.

But even before that, English speakers were using “lounge” to mean a type of chair, for example in this passage from the 1852 novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”: “He stretched himself at full length on a lounge opposite Marie.”

So we didn’t get this sense of “lounge” simply by rearranging the letters in “longue.”

Even more interesting: “chaise longue” and “chaise lounge” have sort of carved out their own roles over the years.

“The American ‘chaise lounge’ began to appear in print in the 1920s; undoubtedly it had been used in speech for some time earlier,” writes Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. “As a printed term, it seems to have become established first in the trade; many of our early citations are from manufacturers’ catalogs and newspaper advertisements. When the spelling began to appear in both the Montgomery Ward and the Sears and Roebuck catalogs, it could no longer be ignored.”

As “chaise lounge” was staking out its place in the business world, “chaise longue” became dominant in literature. Surprisingly, it still is. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, “chaise longue” is about 50% more common in published works than “chaise lounge.” Editors like me could be the reason. I discuss why in my recent column.