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-- By Anish(a friend of mines)


(Those usages people keep telling you are wrong but which are actually standard in English.)

Split infinitives

For the hyper-critical, "to boldly go where no man has gone before" should be "to go boldly. . . ." It is good to be aware that inserting one or more words between "to" and a verb is not strictly speaking an error, and is often more expressive and graceful than moving the intervening words elsewhere; but so many people are offended by split infinitives that it is better to avoid them except when the alternatives sound strained and awkward.

Ending a sentence with a preposition

A fine example of an artificial "rule" which ignores standard usage. The famous witticism usually attributed to Winston Churchill makes the point well: "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put."

Beginning a sentence with a conjunction

It offends those who wish to confine English usage in a logical straitjacket that writers often begin sentences with "and" or "but." True, one should be aware that many such sentences would be improved by becoming clauses in compound sentences; but there are many effective and traditional uses for beginning sentences thus. One example is the reply to a previous assertion in a dialogue: "But, my dear Watson, the criminal obviously wore expensive boots or he would not have taken such pains to scrape them clean." Make it a rule to consider whether your conjunction would repose more naturally within the previous sentence or would lose in useful emphasis by being demoted from its position at the head of a new sentence.

Using "between" for only two, "among" for more

The "-tween" in "between" is clearly linked to the number two; but, as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, "In all senses, between has, from its earliest appearance, been extended to more than two." Weíre talking about Anglo-Saxon here-early. Pedants have labored to enforce "among" when there are three or more objects under discussion, but largely in vain. Even the pickiest speaker does not naturally say, "A treaty has been negotiated among England, France, and Germany."

Over vs. more than.

Some people claim that "over" cannot be used to signify "more than," as in "Over a thousand baton-twirlers marched in the parade.""Over," they insist, always refers to something physically higher: say, the blimp hovering over the parade route. This absurd distinction ignores the role metaphor plays in language. If I write 1 on the blackboard and 10 beside it, 10 is still the "higher" number. "Over" has been used in the sense of "more than" for over a thousand years.

Forward vs. forwards

Although some style books prefer "forward" and "toward" to "forwards" and "towards," none of these forms is really incorrect, though the forms without the final S are perhaps a smidgen more formal.

Gender vs. sex

Feminists eager to remove references to sexuality from discussions of females and males not involving mating or reproduction revived an older meaning of "gender," which had come to refer in modern times chiefly to language, as a synonym for "sex" in phrases such as "Our goal is to achieve gender equality." Americans, always nervous about sex, eagerly embraced this usage, which is now standard. In some scholarly fields, "sex" is now used to label biologically determined aspects of maleness and femaleness (reproduction, etc.) while "gender" refers to their socially determined aspects (behavior, attitudes, etc.); but in ordinary speech this distinction is not always maintained. It is disingenuous to pretend that people who use "gender" in the new senses are making an error, just as it is disingenuous to maintain that "Ms." means "manuscript" (thatís "MS"). Nevertheless, I must admit I was startled to discover that the tag on my new trousers describes not only their size and color, but their "gender."

Using "who" for people, "that" for animals and inanimate objects

In fact there are many instances in which the most conservative usage is to refer to a person using "that": "All the politicians that were at the party later denied even knowing the host" is actually somewhat more traditional than the more popular "politicians who." An aversion to "that" referring to human beings as somehow diminishing their humanity may be praiseworthily sensitive, but it cannot claim the authority of tradition. In some sentences, "that" is clearly preferable to "who": "She is the only person I know of that prefers whipped cream on her granola." In the following example, to exchange "that" for "who" would be absurd: "Who was it that said, " A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" ?"*

*Commonly attributed to Gloria Steinem, but at least one source says she was quoting Irina Dunn.

"Since" cannot mean "because."

"Since" need not always refer to time. Since the 14th century, when it was often spelled "syn," it has also meant "seeing that" or "because."


This word has meant "it is to be hoped" for a very long time, and those who insist it can only mean "in a hopeful fashion" display more hopefulness than realism.


"The plane will be landing momentarily" says the flight attendant, and the grumpy grammarian in seat 36B thinks to himself, "So weíre going to touch down for just a moment?" Everyone else thinks, "Just a moment now before we land." Back in the 1920s when this use of "momentarily" was first spreading on both sides of the Atlantic, one might have been accused of misusing the word; but by now itís listed without comment as one of the standard definitions in most dictionaries.

Lend vs. loan

"Loan me your hat" was just as correct everywhere as "lend me your ears" until the British made "lend" the preferred verb, relegating "loan" to the thing being lent. However, as in so many cases, Americans kept the older pattern, which in its turn has influenced modern British usage so that those insisting that "loan" can only be a noun are in the minority.

Regime vs. regimen

Some people insist that "regime" should be used only in reference to governments, and that people who say they are following a dietary regime should instead use "regimen"; but "regime" has been a synonym of "regimen" for over a century, and is widely accepted in that sense.

Near miss

It is futile to protest that "near miss" should be "near collision." This expression is a condensed version of something like "a miss that came very near to being a collision" and is similar to "narrow escape." Everyone knows what is meant by it and almost everyone uses it. It should be noted that the expression can also be used in the sense of almost succeeding in striking a desired target: "His Cointreau soufflť was a near miss."

"None" singular vs. plural

Some people insist that since "none" is derived from "no one" it should always be singular: "none of us is having dessert." However, in standard usage, the word is most often treated as a plural. "None of us are having dessert" will do just fine.

Scan vs. skim

Those who insist that "scan" can never be a synonym of "skim" have lost the battle. It is true that the word originally meant "to scrutinize," but it has now evolved into one of those unfortunate words with two opposite meanings: to examine closely (now rare) and to glance at quickly (much more common). It would be difficult to say which of these two meanings is more prominent in the computer-related usage, to "scan a document."

Off of

For most Americans, the natural thing to say is "Climb down off of [pronounced " offa" ] that horse, Tex, with your hands in the air"; but many U.K. authorities urge that the "of" should be omitted as redundant. Where British English reigns you may want to omit the "of" as superfluous, but common usage in the U.S. has rendered "off of" so standard as to generally pass unnoticed, though some American authorities also discourage it in formal writing. However, "off of" meaning "from" in phrases like "borrow five dollars off of Clarice" is definitely nonstandard.

"Gotten" vs. "got."

In England, the old past participle "gotten" dropped out of use except in such stock phrases as "ill-gotten" and "gotten up," but in the U.S. it is still considered interchangeable with "got" as the past participle of "get."

Till vs. ítil.

Since it looks like an abbreviation for "until," some people argue that this word should always be spelled "ítil" (though not all insist on the apostrophe). However, "till" has regularly occurred as a spelling of this word for over 800 years and itís actually older than "until." It is perfectly good English.

Teenage vs. teenaged.

Some people object that the word should be "teenaged," but unlike the still nonstandard "ice tea" and "stain glass," "teenage" is almost universally accepted now.

Donít use "reference" to mean "cite."

Nouns are often turned into verbs in English, and "reference" in the sense "to provide references or citations" has become so widespread that itís generally acceptable, though some teachers and editors still object.

Feeling bad

"I feel bad" is standard English, as in "This t-shirt smells bad" (not "badly"). "I feel badly" is an incorrect hyper-correction by people who think they know better than the masses. People who are happy can correctly say they feel good, but if they say they feel well, we know they mean to say theyíre healthy.

Unquote vs. endquote

Some people get upset at the common pattern by which speakers frame a quotation by saying "quote . . . unquote," insisting that the latter word should logically be "endquote"; but illogical as it may be, "unquote" has been used in this way for about a century, and "endquote" is nonstandard.

Persuade vs. convince

Some people like to distinguish between these two words by insisting that you persuade people until you have convinced them; but "persuade" as a synonym for "convince" goes back at least to the 16th century. It can mean both to attempt to convince and to succeed. It is no longer common to say things like "I am persuaded that you are an illiterate fool," but even this usage is not in itself wrong.

"Preventive" is the adjective, "preventative" the noun.

I must say I like the sound of this distinction, but in fact the two are interchangeable as both nouns and adjective, though many prefer "preventive" as being shorter and simpler. "Preventative" used as an adjective dates back to the 17th century, as does "preventive" as a noun.

People should say a book is titled such-and-such rather than entitled.

No less a writer than Chaucer is cited by the Oxford English Dictionary as having used "entitled" in this sense, the very first meaning of the word listed by the OED. It may be a touch pretentious, but itís not wrong.

People are healthy; vegetables are healthful.

Logic and tradition are on the side of those who make this distinction, but Iím afraid phrases like "part of a healthy breakfast" have become so widespread that they are rarely perceived as erroneous except by the hyper-correct. On a related though slightly different subject, it is interesting to note that in English adjectives connected to sensations in the perceiver of an object or event are often transferred to the object or event itself. In the 19th century it was not uncommon to refer, for instance, to a "grateful shower of rain," and we still say "a gloomy landscape," "a cheerful sight" and "a happy coincidence."

Dinner is done; people are finished.

I pronounce this an antiquated distinction rarely observed in modern speech. Nobody really supposes the speaker is saying he or she has been roasted to a turn. In older usage people said, "I have done" to indicate they had completed an action. "I am done" is not really so very different.

Crops are raised; children are reared.

Old-fashioned writers insist that you raise crops and rear children; but in modern American English children are usually "raised."

"Youíve got mail" should be "you have mail."

The "have" contracted in phrases like this is merely an auxiliary verb indicating the present perfect tense, not an expression of possession. It is not a redundancy. Compare: "Youíve sent the mail."

Itís "cut the muster," not "cut the mustard."

This etymology seems plausible at first. Its proponents often trace it to the American Civil War. We do have the analogous expression "to pass muster," which probably first suggested this alternative; but although the origins of "cut the mustard" are somewhat obscure, the latter is definitely the form used in all sorts of writing throughout the twentieth century. Common sense would suggest that a person cutting a muster is not someone being selected as fit, but someone eliminating the unfit.

Itís "carrot on a stick," not "carrot or stick."

Authoritative dictionaries agree, the original expression refers to offering to reward a stubborn mule or donkey with a carrot or threatening to beat it with a stick and not to a carrot being dangled from a stick. This and other popular etymologies fit under the heading aptly called by the English "too clever by half."

"Spitting image" should be "spit and image."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earlier form was "spitten image," which may indeed have evolved from "spit and image." itís a crude figure of speech: someone else is enough like you to have been spat out by you, made of the very stuff of your body. In the early 20th century the spelling and pronunciation gradually shifted to the less logical "spitting image," which is now standard. Itís too late to go back. There is no historical basis for the claim sometimes made that the original expression was "spirit and image."

"Connoisseur" should be spelled "connaisseur."

When we borrowed this word from the French in the 18th century, it was spelled "connoisseur." Is it our fault the French later decided to shift the spelling of many OI words to the more phonetically accurate AI? Of those Francophone purists who insist we should follow their example I say, let íem eat bifteck.

Keep learning,

Pratik. 8)

From India, Calcutta
Deepali Singh

hi, Suddenly forum has also started discussions for communication. hopefully we will improve our english too.. dips
From India, Delhi
Sanath Kumar T S


A very nice article. But, I was surprised to see it listed under HumouR.

The very essence of the English language is the resilience and the adaptability that it has to morph with the times.

As Deepa has mentioned, it is better for all of us that we, as Indians, improve on our English because, let's face it, we ARE ahead of other countries in the outsourcing race not just because of our technical skills. China, and for that matter, most of the Asian and South American countries, can give us a run for our money. As Thomas L Friedman , the multiple-Pulitzer Prize winner, states in his best-selling book, 'The World is Flat', the Chinese have already woken up to this fact and are churning out graduates with Computer skills and English Communication skills at the rate of more than 200,000 every year!

Let us not feel daunted by this and contribute our mite to bettering our English Communication skills by bringing up more such articles that will go a long way in meeting this objective.

Keep up the good work!


From India, Mumbai

Dear Pratik,
Excellent mail.
Amazing knowledge in English, but which mine is Anish a friend of?
Gold or Lignite?
Refer : " By Anish(a friend of mines) "
Sorry, just kidding
Good Post anyway

From India, New Delhi

Good info. Corrects some of the usual misconceptions.
By the way, Sanath, do you know that english coaching is today the best business in China? They are desperate to acquire english language knowledge.

From India, Madras
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