Three in a Row? No!

English doesn’t allow three of the same letters in a row. So Dagwood is wrong here. See the first panel:

But apostrophe-s is how you make a possessive, isn’t it? Yes, if the word you’re making possessive doesn’t already end in s. If it already ends in s, then all you need is the apostrophe. So it should be “boss’.” You still pronounce it “bosses.”

Okay, English has an exception to the no-three rule: onomatopoeic words. You can write hmmm and zoooom and buzzzz and noooo! and yasss? And so on.

A Little Tech Writing Advice

This Lunar Baboon comic is a set of instructions. Instructions are common in technical writing.

Look at the second panel. He numbered the instruction. That’s good. But…

He used the future tense! The context of instructions is customary behavior, and for customary behavior, use the present tense, even if it hasn’t happened yet. Instructions should also be in the imperative, so he really should have said, “First, get a wand.” (The first panel describes a single event, so the future is okay here.)

The rest is good, but I have a quibble. In the next-to-last panel he should have said, “…someone who enjoys…” but that’s for another lesson.

Comprise Again

People get “comprise” correct so seldom, I have to post examples of getting it right whenever I see them.

Dubbed “Cabin by the Sea”, the single bedroom home is built around a central living cube, which not only comprises a kitchen, study and bathroom suites, but also separates the home into its separate quarters.

Remember, “comprise” goes from the whole to its parts, “compose” goes from the parts to their whole.

PS—I just ran into a post on Google+ where the writer used “comprise” correctly—twice! Here it is:

Comprising around 7500 coins and 1200 pieces of bullion, it is the largest known Viking hoard from Western Europe. … The hoard comprises a mixture of coins, ingots and hacksilver, mainly from Viking ruled parts of England with some from the Continent and the Islamic world too.

The post is about a museum exhibit in England. …the extensive Cuerdale Viking Hoard, ‘Vikings: Rediscover The Legend’ Exhibition, The Riverside Arts Centre Museum, Nottingham, 6.1.18.

Some Light Reading

Think you could you change this using “reed,” “leed,” “red,” and “led”?

Thank you, Soup to Nutz, for the diversion.

(Yes, “leed” is a word (so is “lede”). Look it up.)

PS—Another blogger whom I read regularly recently commented on this strip, too. He takes a rather different approach to the funnies than I do, but still… Here’s the link to the correct Comic Strip of the Day.

Singular or Plural Verb?

The two regular readers of this humble site probably recall that I studied Greek in my youth. When I saw the first panel of this strip, I thought of something that had not occurred to me in all these years. Was the verb plural to go with wages, or is it singular to go with death? So I rushed to the original of the passage quotes on that sign, Romans 6:23. Then I read the rest of the comic, to discover that the comic was about that very topic! Here’s the comic, Barney & Clyde:Okay, here’s what I found out: In Greek and many other languages, it’s okay to leave out the verb “to be” in any of its many forms, and that’s what Paul of Tarsus did here. Basically, he wrote, “The wages of sin—death!” I’d be curious to know what he would have written if he had included the verb, but since it’s perfectly idiomatic to leave “is” and “are” out, I’ll bet he didn’t even consider including it. I’ll add, since we’re talking about Greek grammar, “sin” is singular, and there’s a rule in Greek and Latin called attraction, where a word picks up a form from the word that precedes it, regardless of the precise grammar. So maybe that’s why the translators felt comfortable using the singular verb in English, to go with the singular “sin.” And, as the comic suggests, “wages” is a collective noun, so you can treat it as a singular.

It’s a good punchy way to get the message across, though, isn’t it?

An Error I Mentioned Before

I mentioned this error before, so here’s a grim reminder not to make it. Perry Bible Fellowship is a rather grim comic anyway, even if it is funny to those of us with a grim mind set.

The error is made by both the students and the, um, professor, and the error is promulgated by lots of stuffy English teachers, so it’s fairly common.

That “preposition” at the end of the sentence isn’t a preposition. It’s an adverb! It’s part of a separable verb, of which English has many. (Or I might say, “…which English has many of.”)

Those words, which can also be used as prepositions in other contexts, are perfectly correct at the end of a sentence when they’re part of the verb. It brings to mind the apocryphal Winston Churchill quote, said when someone correct his English, “Impertinence, young man, is something up with which I will not put.”

How to Improve your Spelling

First the comic, Reality Check. Doesn’t work this way in real life, of course.

I still have trouble remembering whether or not to put that “e” into that word. It’s because I don’t follow my own rule about learning to spell those last couple works that you don’t remember how to spell.

When I was younger, I had trouble remembering how to spell “until.” Was it one “l” or two? I also had trouble remembering the conjugation of “lie,” as in lie down. Then someone told me a trick, and here it is:

Write down the thing you have trouble remembering on a card, and tape it up where you can see it when you write. Look at the word whenever you feel the slightest doubt. Eventually you’ll remember and stop doubting.

It worked. I now remember “until,” and know the past tense of lie is “lay,” not “laid.” The wall in my desk nook was not quite plastered, but adorned maybe, with 3×5 cards containing the correct spellings of an assortment of words. Currently I have a card in front of me with a half dozen or so ASCII codes for several symbols that I use occasionally I have about half memorized, the others I use maybe once a year or less, so they’re there when I need them.

So there you have it: post your doubtful spellings up where you can see them.

Retired English Teacher

This one’s too easy.

Um, you do know what “literally” means, and the difference between “healthy” and “healthful,” right?

Sometimes English Could Use the Dative

Lots of Indo-European languages use inflectional endings on words to indicate how the words are used in the sentence. About all we have left of inflected nouns in English is the possessive case.

Now, when we have a direct object and an indirect object, you can usually tell which is which without an inflectional ending. So If I say,

Give the woman the ball.

We rely on word order to know that woman (indirect object, dative) is getting the ball (direct object, accusative). That’s easy when you have nice short sentences. Suppose the ball isn’t in the sentence:

Give the woman.

Sounds like something from a wedding ceremony. Now let’s add a man into the picture:

Give the woman the man.

A little harder. Who’s getting whom? Put a “to” in there:

Give the woman to the man—or—give to the woman the man.

We use a “to” to indicate the indirect object. An inflection would be something like -em for dative (indirect object) and -en for accusative (direct object). Then we could put the words in either order and our meaning would still be clear.

Give the womanen the manem.

Now we can see that he’s getting her! No need for “to.”

All this is a bit trivial with these nice short sentences. But what about a long sentence? Here’s one, from the book Listening In by Susan Landau, page 107:

When a user instructs her iPhone to update, the iPhone sends an Apple authorization server—directly or via iTunes—the device’s unique ID, hashes of the software the phone is requesting, and a random number.

Where did the iPhone get the server to be able to send it? Oh wait—the server is the indirect object; the ID and so on are being sent to the server. Not obvious until you wade through the sentence.

A dative inflectional ending on “server” would have been handy.