Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Posts Tagged ‘grammar guide

None more use than a grammar book

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Peter Newell's illustration of Alice surrounde...

I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.

David St.Hubbins, band member, This is Spinal Tap (Spoof rockumentary,1984).

Grammar books sometimes bother me; you somehow feel as if you should believe everything you read in them. But while that might make you more of a selective human, it won’t in all cases arm you with the facts.

Even the scariest grammarians don’t always get it right, and here are a few examples from newspaper editor Simon Heffer’s solemnly entitled Strictly English:

Heffer confidently asserts:

‘Onto’ does not exist. The phrase is ‘on to’.

Now, come on Simon, lighten up, that’s not quite true, is it? Step forward Oxford Dictionarieswhich explains that ‘onto’ has been in use since the 18th century and is more or less standard in US English.

Next up: ‘partially’. Heff says that to do something ‘partially’ means to do it ‘with partiality’, in other words, while favouring one party over another. So I can’t say the meal was ‘partially eaten’ if I mean it was ‘partly eaten’. Except, actually, I can.

And, finally, ‘pristine’, says scary Simon, does not mean ‘bright, shiny and new’. It means ‘original’. Blimey, so I can’t say, for example, ‘a pristine white shirt’, meaning it’s clean, fresh and spotless? Hmmm, seems Oxford Dictionaries  likes its shirts pristine too (but not necessarily original). So, once again, relax, at ease, and as you were.

I’m not saying don’t read grammar books; they’ve taught me a lot, including Heffy’s. I’m just saying, don’t believe everything that’s in them. Read with narrowed, glinty eyes and within easy reach of big books that have ‘Oxford’ in their title.

There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

Nigel Tufnel, band member, This Is Spinal Tap.

And as Alice in Wonderland  was probably not the first to ask: What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?

Sometimes, none. None more use.

Commonly confused and just plain wrong



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A woman without her man…

Good grammar and punctuation aren’t optional extras:

A woman without her man is nothing.

With the correct punctuation all becomes clear:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Altogether different

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English: “You are altogether a human being, Jane? You are certain of that?” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a quick reminder today: ‘altogether’ is not the same as ‘all together’.

‘Altogether’ is an adverb meaning:

  • ‘Completely’ or ‘totally’, for example: It was altogether wrong.
  • ‘In total’, for example: There were three children altogether.
  • ‘Taking everything into consideration’ or ‘on the whole’, for example: Altogether I didn’t really like him.

And, of course, if you’re ‘in the altogether’ you’re completely naked.

All together

‘All together’ means ‘all in one place’ or ‘all at once’. For example:

  • We enjoyed being all together.  (As opposed to: ‘in the altogether’.)
  • They entered the room all together. (Ditto.)

The Oxford Dictionaries site has an excellent explanation of the difference between ‘altogether’ and ‘all together’.

Commonly confused and just plain wrong

Double take

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DNA molecule closeup
Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes I hear something and it won’t stop buzzing around in my head. I don’t see why I should suffer alone.

I was watching a TV programme about Francis Crick and James D. Watson who jointly discovered the DNA molecule.  At one point, the commentator said:

Crick and Watson had one major advantage: each other.

Isn’t that two major advantages? No, it’s just one. I think.

Isn’t it?


Written by Wordwatch

02/08/2010 at 7:08 am

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