(See <Author> - our Smartphone App on Google Play)
By A P von K’Ory
LITERALLY VS. FIGURATIVELY
This month, I thought I‘d make a look-see at commonly confusing grammatical usages. I’m reading Ian Rankin’sStanding at Another Man’s Grave and came across a passage where the protagonist debates his little square of parking sign that allows him to park “illegally legally”. The sign reads: POLICE OFFICIAL BUSINESS. The protagonist wonders if this is grammatically correct; whether it should be OFFICIAL POLICE BUSINESS.
The English language grammar often has a thin line between right and wrong.
And now to our business. The definition of literally is, “in a literal sense; exact.” So if you say something literally happened, by definition you mean it actually happened. Of course, when most people say “I literally fell on the floor laughing,” they don’t really mean that. Instead, they’re using hyperbole, or exaggeration, to give emphasis to their point.
There’s a big contemporary argument as to whether or not you can use literally as hyperbole. Sticklers for grammar (and many editors) who don’t believe in using literally when you mean figuratively will call out your grammatical misstep.
But many professional writers have long used literally to emphasize points. For example, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain writes, “Tom was literally rolling in wealth.” It’s clear that Tom wasn’t actually flopping around in a pile of coins. And if Twain can do it, we can too … right?
Maybe. Its usage is evolving. Some major resources, such as Merriam-Webster, now include a second definition: “in effect; virtually.” So if you do use it for exaggeration, you’re no longer incorrect by all accounts. But there will still be folks who will literally wag their fingers at you for using it figuratively.
ALRIGHT VS. ALL RIGHT
The biggest difference between all right
is that one (all right
) is a commonly used phrase that’s been accepted by dictionaries and grammar stylebooks for ages, while the other (alright
) technically isn’t, well, a word. Resources such as Garner’s Modern American Usage
deem all right
“the standard,” and make the case that the hybrid spelling alright
should be totally avoided because it’s nothing more than a spelling mistake.
As time rolls on, though, more and more people seem to be using alright—for better or worse—much like already andaltogether (both of which are accepted words in the English language). In fact, my word processor’s spell checker doesn’t even give alright that angry red underline to denote that it’s wrong—it just gives me the thin green underline asking if I think I’ve made the right word choice. Apparently Microsoft Word is on the fence, too.
It seems likely that alright will one day become an accepted form of all right, but that day hasn’t come yet. So in the meantime, stick with the standard whenever your writing calls for it, and you’ll be all right.
ENSURE VS. INSURE
Some stylebooks say yes, and some say no. Are you any less confused? These two words are often used in place of each other, but my favourite style separates them. Mine—and many other publications—uses “insure” only when referring to financial insurance policies. After signing a contract with a professional baseball team, Jack decided to insure his pitching arm for $1 million.
When the meaning is “to make certain,” I stick with “ensure.” It’s my job to ensure that you don’t misuse terms like these.
There are some newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times and The New Yorker, that still use “insure” in both instances, but it’s fairly archaic to do so. Most publications differentiate the two.
Which sentence brings me to the next “confuser”.
WHICH VS. THAT
The battle over whether to use which or that is one many people struggle to get right. It’s a popular grammar question and most folks want a quick rule of thumb so they can get it right.
Here it is:
If the sentence doesn’t need the clause that the word in question is connecting, use which. If it does, use that. (Pretty easy to remember, isn’t it?) Let me explain with a couple of examples.
Our office, which has two lunchrooms, is located in Cincinnati.
Our office that has two lunchrooms is located in Cincinnati.
These sentences are not the same. The first sentence tells us that you have just one office, and it’s located in Cincinnati. The clause which has two lunchrooms gives us additional information, but it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. Remove the clause and the location of our one office would still be clear: Our office is located in Cincinnati.
The second sentence suggests that we have multiple offices, but the office with two lunchrooms is located in Cincinnati. The phrase that has two lunchrooms is known as a restrictive clause because another part of the sentence (our office) depends on it. You can’t remove that clause without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Let’s look at another example:
The time machine, which looked like a telephone booth, concerned Bill and Ted.
The time machine that looked like a telephone booth concerned Bill and Ted.
In the first sentence (thanks to the use of which), the time machine concerned Bill and Ted. It also happened to look like a telephone booth. In the second sentence (which uses the restrictive clause), Bill and Ted are concerned with the time machine that looks like a telephone booth. They aren’t concerned with the one that looks like a garden shed or the one that looks like a DeLorean (Marty McFly may have reservations about that one).
Now that you’ve learned the rule, let’s put it to a test:
1. The iPad (which/that) connects to the iCloud was created by Apple.
2. The issue of this month’s newsletter (which/that) has Bruce’s picture on the cover is my favorite.
The correct answers are:
1. The iPad, which connects to the iCloud, was created by Apple. (All iPads connect to the iCloud, so it’s unnecessary information. My word processor has just lined it blue, telling me it’s “passive” and I should consider revising the sentence.)
2. The issue of Writer’s Digest that has Brian A. Klems picture on the cover is my favorite. (Your favorite issue of Writer’s Digest isn’t just any issue, it’s the one with me on the cover.)
OK, so Bruce’s picture is not on the newsletter but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s necessary for you to understand the context of your clauses, a key covered in most grammar books. If the information is essential, usethat. If it’s just additional information that’s not useful but unnecessary, use which.
Till next month, stay with us. Isn’t that what every newscaster says on radio and TV? Anyway, I hope my words were helpful. Do let us know by comments and suggestions.
“ABOUT PEACE AND PEACEMAKING” by MARIA CRISTINA AZCONA and OTHERS
Humanity´s existence is on peril. Its worst enemy is not only violence, war or terrorism, but also a profound lack of love, sensibility and empathy. A complete change for all of us is possible, but only will arrive from an innovative thought and a serious research on the possible ways out.
The solution to our problem hides in this book…Let us find the cure to this severe illness that is causing the decadence and perhaps death of our blue planet Earth.
To subscribe to this newsletter, click here…
Privatewriting offers professional book report writing services.
Order professional book reviews from OzEssay.com.au, a professional writing service.