Compound Verbs are Parallel

Well, compound verbs are supposed to be parallel. Meaning they have the same tense, person, and so on.

Here’s an example of not doing it:

So this (last panel) is a compound verb: “We should have bought and gave.” (shudder)

Gave??? Nah. Given! He started with a present perfect, so he should have finished with the present perfect, (should have) given, not the simple past, gave.

Don’t you do that.

Double Negatives

English has two kinds of double negatives. I’ll call them incorrect and correct. Maybe we could call the incorrect type of double negative “low class,” and the correct double negative “polite” or “high falootin’.”

Here’s a couple incorrect usages:

  • I don’t got no money.
  • There ain’t no place we can hide
  • You shouldn’t use no bad grammar

Examples of correct usage:

  • Polite double negatives are not infrequently found in older conversations.
  • I’m not unopposed to going to the opera with you
  • He is not unlike his brother
  • I’m not indifferent to bad grammar

And then there’s overkill, as demonstrated in this cartoon, which I’m posting because of the grammar, not because of the politics.

I counted six negatives in that one.

Don’t Use Weak Verbs

If you can, avoid using “make,” “do,” and any form of “to be” in your writing. Those verbs are ambiguous, and ambiguity is the enemy of good writing. Except in poetry and lies.

Here’s an example with “make.”

I admit, the choices aren’t graceful.

  • Manufacture them fast enough
  • Engineer them to go fast enough

But what matters is that you not be ambiguous!

Another Subjunctive Lesson

I picked this up on Memorial Day, hence the topic. But it’s a good example of not using the subjunctive when you’re supposed to.

The “if” makes the sentence contrary to reality, so you should use the subjunctive form of the verb, “were.” If only it were this easy.

Speaking as a pedant, using a pronoun (it) is frequently bad writing, even when using a pronoun is grammatical. What would you supply in place of the “it”?

Another Agreement Lesson

What’s wrong with this sentence?

The isotopic signature of material from the inner and outer solar system differ significantly.

“Differ” is plural, right? And the phrase “inner and outer” describes two things, right? So what’s wrong?

“Inner and outer” isn’t the subject of “differ”! “Signature” is, and “signature” is singular.

Since we’re talking about two things, though, the subject should be plural! (“Inner and outer” are objects of the preposition “of.”)

The picture isn’t very useful, but it’s in the article…

Isotope analysis indicates that Earth's water may have arrived when the Moon was formed

Remember: the subject and the verb must both be singular or both plural. That’s agreement.

Make Your Parallels Parallel!

I see this mistake a lot.

First panel:

He should say “What would you say if I were playing golf instead of cleaning the garage?”


What would you say if I played golf instead of cleaned the garage?”

The two parts of his sentence are parallel, so they should have the same verb form.

Of course, in this case he’s wrong no matter what he says…

A Malaprop Everyone Knows

A malaprop is when you have the meaning right but the pronunciation wrong. I don’t think a malaprop requires the mispronunciation to be an actual word. (In which case I know a member of my local home government who makes a lot of malaprops. But I digress.)

Anyway, the toaster gives the guy his revenge…

Wouldn’t you know it; I ran into a comic about malaprops!

Quiz: Can you tell what the correct words are? I counted six malaprops…

Another “If” or “Whether” Post

Back in May I wrote about when to use “if” and when to use “whether” instead. Here’s a comic on that subject. They get it wrong.

Eight Pronunciations of “-ough”

Not exactly a lesson, just fun. The last one, by the way is, pronounced “hock.”

The rough-coated, dough-faced ploughman strode coughing and hiccoughing through the streets of Scarborough leading a horse whose leg had been houghed.

Campbell’s Higher English

Maybe someone can draw me a cartoon of that…

All Numbers are Singular

What??? You ask. Hear me out.

First, numbers in most contexts are adjectives. Adjectives don’t show number in English. We say “five apples” but not “fives apples.” But that’s not my point.

Let’s move on to arithmetic. We (correctly) say “Three and six are nine.” Plural verb, so plural numbers, right? Not quite. That sentence has a plural subject, three and six. You could as easily say “Tom and Pete are sick.” The two persons are one each, and they make a plural subject.

A number is singular when you talk about the number itself!

For example, you say, “six is half of twelve, thirteen is a prime number.” Singular verbs! You’re referring to the number itself (not themselves), not six of something, such as six people.

Finally we get to the comic. Third panel. The guy confuses referring to the number itself with the number of things. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it?

Anyway, there’s a little incongruity for you that I bet you never noticed.