I don’t call myself a language Nazi but it’s amazing how I can still talk about the language after three beers, and actually tell my friend some of the most common mistakes people make when speaking or writing English. I have made a similar post before, but here’s another list of the things people do and say that make me bite my tongue because i can’t correct them all the time:
1. Pleonasms: A pleonasm is the use of more words than is necessary in speech to express something. Examples are: 11 pm in the night, black darkness, a little child, etc. Now which of these phrases actually need so many words? If you are talking about “pm” you obviously mean after midday, so “11 pm” can only mean “11 in the night”. Likewise, a “child” is little, or he/she wouldn’t be a child. Some words are really self-sufficient, and you do not need to add more to it, even for emphasis. More examples of such pleonastic usage: tuna fish, safe haven, null and void, free gift, down south, up north, join together, HIV virus, PIN Number, in close proximity to, etc. See the redundancy?
2. Ellipsis: When you are intentionally leaving out a word, sentence or a whole clause, to indicate an unfinished thought or to trail off from a sentence into silence, you use an ellipsis. The way to write ellipses is to put three full stops (…). I see a lot of people use ellipses with way more than three full-stops, or with just two. Either way, it is incorrect. Refer to any manual you choose, ellipsis is always denoted with those three dots, so both the following are incorrect:
I said so..
I said so…….
3. Double Negatives: Forgive me for saying this if you are a Pink Floyd fan, but “We don’t need no education” is completely incorrect. Unless of course you are Southern American, African American or East Anglian. If you speak one of these dialects, you follow a different set of descriptive linguistics, but if you follow standard English in the rest of your speech, then you are turning your statement into a positive when you use two negatives. So yes, telling the cops “I haven’t seen nothing” can actually get you in trouble because they interpret your statement as “I have seen something.” Following a fad is dangerous, really.
4. Participial Phrases: The Purdue Owl defines these as: “A participial phrase is a group of words consisting of a participle and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the participle, such as:
Removing his coat, Jack rushed to the river.
It is amazing how many people mess up these phrases in a sentence you know. The other day someone said on Facebook, “After rotting in my pantry for weeks, I brought out the cheese.” You see where the mess up is? Were you rotting in the pantry or was the cheese? Seriously? Your opening phrase should always modify what immediately follows. If it doesn’t, you’ve messed it up and turned it into a dangling participle.
5. Pronoun Agreement: In a sentence with indefinite pronouns (like someone, everyone), the antecedent verb must always be singular. So it is never “Has everyone eaten their breakfast?” Now the correct way to say this would be “Has everyone eaten his breakfast?” But say that in today’s world, and they’ll call you sexist. What I normally do is add a mental slash to mean his/her or simply insert the “or” in the sentence, like “Has everyone eaten his or her breakfast?” Better still, avoid indefinite pronouns, “Have you all eaten your breakfast?”
6. Split Infinitives: An infinitive is a form of a verb that begins with “to”. For purists like me, putting another word or words between the “to” and the infinitive, and splitting it up, is technically incorrect. So I would say that it is incorrect to say “She seems to always talk about her boyfriend”. I would say, “She always seems to talk about her boyfriend.” But then this is more a stylistic issue now than a pure grammar rule, so go ahead if you can’t help yourself.
7. More errors: In writing, here’s the most common errors I’ve seen people makng on Facebook:
Everyday: it is an adjective (meaning common or ordinary) when you join the two words, and an adverb (meaning daily) when you don’t. So it’s an “everyday” mistake people make. They should be careful about it every day.
Ofcourse: it’s spelled Of course. Separately.
Pronounciation: It’s “pronunciation”
Comprised of: It’s always “comprised” minus the “of”, or “composed of”.
Diffuse the situation: It’s “defuse the situation” or “defuse the tension”.
For more such common errors, please refer to the Wikipedia list, and you’ll be amazed at some of the things people mess up.
8. In bed / On Bed: When you are “on your bed”, you’re literally on it, and that means, you’re on top of the covers etc. When you are “in bed”, it means that you are between the covers and have retired for the night. In usage, an example would be “I was in bed when I heard my daughter scream about the cat on her bed.” Get it?
Not a bad job, eh? Three beers and I can still tell you what is correct and what isn’t.