Nouning a Verb

A common complaint by grammarians is about verbing nouns (meaning using a noun as if it were a verb), which you can actually do in English. For example, you can say “Let’s table the motion.” 

Looks like you can noun a verb, too. Here’s what I mean:

Is “Much” Singular or Plural?

We think of “much” as a measure of part of a group of things, so it has a plural feel to it, but it’s a singular! (The equivalent plural is “many.”) So we ask, “How much is enough?” But take a look at this sentence, taken from Bruce Schneier’s book on cyber security, Click Here to Kill Everybody, page 147.

So much of Internet+ hardware, software, protocols, and systems overlaps between wildly different applications.

Shouldn’t that be “overlap”? Nope. Look closely. That list of things, two of which are plurals, is the object of “of.” The subject of the sentence is “much”! My compliments to Bruce for getting this sentence right; it would be an easy sentence to get wrong.

Synonyms for “Synonym”

It’s an old joke, and people are generally amused that they can’t think of a good answer. The guy in the comic has a good answer, though.

Of course English does have a couple synonyms for “synonym;” they just aren’t in common usage.

For example, you have “metonym,” a type of synonym where you refer to part of something to mean all of it. When you say “wheels” to refer to your car, that’s a metonym.

“Analog” can be used to mean “synonym. ” Not very often, though. I suggest you make it into a phrase, such as:

“Beater” is a noun analog for “car.”

Sorry for spoiling the joke.

Evaluating an English Lesson

I don’t know whether you’ll get the allusion to the two famous movie critics, but I thought the comic was cute.

The best way to treat a grammar lesson, by the way, is to soak it all up!

Another Repeat Lesson: Try

(n.b.: When you say “another repeat,” you’re implying the existence of at least three of whatever you’re talking about, the original, the repeat, and the another.) Anyway, I’m sure I mentioned this solecism in the past, but I can’t find a single post about it. So maybe I need to, um, repeat the lesson!

Don’t say, “try and [do something]” 
Say “try to [do the something].”

Here are a couple comics. One gets it right and one gets it wrong.

Maybe the rabbit needs better grammar more than he needs a shower!

Try to google n.b. if you don’t know what it means. 

Positive, Comparative, Superlative

Been a while since I mentioned this fairly common error (but I have mentioned it. More than once.). 

When you compare two things, use the form that ends in -er: steeper, sweeter, longer.
When you compare three or more, the winner gets the -est form: steepest, sweetest, longest.

That makes it easy to tell what form they should have used in the last panel:

Unless maybe they’re including the rest of the world???

Sometimes “Only” Should Come First

I occasionally point out times when people write “only” too early in a sentence. Such as here and here. 

The rule is that in English (not necessarily other languages) adjectives, such as “only,” should come directly before the word they modify, particularly when you have more than one word that it could modify.

Sometimes the correct word is the first one! For example:

The donkey’s three-times-repeated reply is correct! He only wants.

The Incongruity of Spoken and Written Pronunciation

You can tell people who read a lot because of the occasional mispronunciation they make because they know a word, but never heard it pronounced. I used to mispronounce “metropolitan” for that reason.

Anyway, this Adam at Home comic almost makes that point:

My advice? Show someone the word and ask them how to pronounce it. If they turn out to be wrong, at least you’ll have someone to blame.

A Redundancy so Common You Don’t Notice It

Even I do this! Well, sometimes. In spoken language. I don’t recommend it in expository writing, though. 

It’s in the last panel. Do you see it?

Yup; “tiny little.” You need only one of those words.

Another Use for Commas

We use commas to separate items in a list, to identify an aside remark,  and between certain words, such as city and state. Here’s another use.

Sometimes you need a pause, especially when you represent spoken English, even when you have no grammatical requirement to do so. In fact, you can use this physical pause function even when it would otherwise be incorrect to use a comma:

In fact, the cartoonist added a line break to emphasize the pause! I even used this technique on a post I shared a couple months ago.

Ordinarily you are incorrect to separate a subject and its verb with a single comma, so when you use this technique, be sure you know what you’re doing.