Category Archives: Common Errors

‘Peak’, ‘Peek’ or ‘Pique’ one’s interest?

taking-a-peakI think peek can be taken out of the confusion equation most easily. It simply means ‘a secret look’, and one cannot ‘secret look one’s interest’ and claim grammatical wherewithal. However, errors arise between peak and pique.

Peak is often used wrongly in this expression, presumably because it sounds like it’s bringing one’s interest to a peak, ‘a highest or maximum point’.

The correct phrase is ‘to pique one’s interest’.

Pique, in this context, means ‘to provoke’.

If you ever confuse peek and peak, just remember that peek is like peer, or see the ‘ee’s like a pair of eyes.

I hope this post provoked you interest. Likes, shares, comments and such will be met with eternal gratitude.

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Capitalising Seasons

birtish-weatherSpring, summer, autumn (or fall) and winter generally do not need capital letters. So why do people write them with capitals so often?

Well they do take capitals as part of proper nouns, like the names of events, e.g. ‘Winter Olympics’.

Also, months have initial capital letters and they’re the other unit we regularly split the year into. My favourite summer month is June.

They need capitals at the beginning of sentences too, obviously.

Otherwise, all small case please. Thanks!

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‘Mother’s Day’, ‘Mothers’ Day’ or ‘Mothers Day’?

Another holiday, another apostrophe-based conundrum. The day on which we celebrate our mothers is almost upon us here in the UK, so what should we write on our card? Indeed, which card should we buy? Is it the day that belongs to all the mothers or just our individual mother? Or is it a day for mothers but not belonging to them at all?

The OED goes with Mother’s Day which I think works. A lot of us have only one mum and it’s her day. Celebration in the singular. General usage seems to back this up.

ngramIt seems Ann and Anna Jarvis, the women who invented Mother’s Day in the USA, chose to have the apostrophe before the S too, ‘[Anna] was specific about the location of the apostrophe; it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.’

She also thought that we should send letters, rather than cards.

I think that’s pretty conclusive, but if you’re still not happy, just go with Mothering Sunday.

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‘Further’ or ‘Farther’?

These are often used interchangeably and are commonly accepted to be synonyms. Both words share the sense of going beyond. However, there is still a proper, formal way to use them.

Farther is used for a physical distance. Think far away. If you could fit the words a greater physical distance in place of it, it is correct to use farther.

“Is there farther to go before we turn?”

“Is there a greater physical distance to go before we turn?”

green-light

F. Scott Fitzgerald knew how to use them.

Further can be used for less concrete notions and all that metaphysical jazz:

“Without further ado…”

Further to your letter…”

“We’ve made further progress on the research.”

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‘Must Of’ or ‘Must’ve’?

In general, I’m not the sort of person who corrects people unbidden, but every time I see a message with must of in it my pedant urges twitch, and I have to stop myself typing a Google-style “Did you mean must’ve?”

DowntonMust of is an incorrect way of saying must’ve or must have. The contraction is pronounced like must of, presumably causing the confusion.

It is extremely rare that must of will make sense together in a sentence e.g. ‘They must of course consider what is proper’. Commas would sort that right out, though.

They must’ve been scandalized when she married the chauffeur.

You must’ve mistaken a footman for a valet. How embarrassing.

I think you must’ve watched too much Downton.

Have you seen this happening? Comments and shares much appreciated!

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‘Stationary’ or ‘Stationery’?

stationaryBack to school time: a time when proprietors try to cash in on young ones’ collective desire for decorative protractors, pens and paraphernalia. It is also a time when signage misspelling abounds. The A-board to the right was in my shopping precinct. Homophones are tricky. Here’s the correct usage: 

Stationary: adjective; not moving.

Stationery: noun; writing materials. 

The way that I was taught to remember this is to think of the -er in paper. “I bought pap-er from a station-er.”

stationeryTheir etymology is linked. They both originate in the Latin stationarius, which comes from stare which means ‘to stand’. You are stationary when you are standing in one place. Also, stationer (a person who sells stationery) was a tradesperson who had set up at a fixed location and was therefore standing in the same spot, stationary

One more time: 

“The paper is stationery.”

“The car is stationary.”

I hope that was helpful. How do you remember it? Comments welcome!

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Hyphenating Compound Adjectives

The aim of hyphenation is usually to make things easier to read. In general, if the two words modifying the noun appear before it then they should be hyphenated. If they are post-modifiers then the hyphen is not necessary.

Here’s an example:

‘She was a well-known scientist.’

‘The scientist was well known.’

Hyphens can also be helpful in demonstrating that the two adjectives are combined.

A ‘first-class discussion’ is quite different from a ‘first class discussion’.

huge man

“Oh, you want to see a man-eating plant.”

There are exceptions to any rule, for example if the left modifier has an -ly ending and the right modifier has an -ed then they are usually not hyphenated e.g. ‘a distantly related cousin’. Compound modifiers with comparatives or superlatives are generally not hyphenated either e.g. ‘the most recent change’.

If you’re not sure, check a dictionary or ask a proofreader.

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‘Advice’ or ‘Advise’?

IMAG0343

Look at the image. There’s something wrong with it beyond the poor camera-phone picture quality and the excessive air-brushing. It’s there in the bottom right corner. It’s easily done. The verb and the noun have been confused.

Advice is what they meant. It is the noun meaning guidance or recommendations for future action. In this case, guidance on hair-based life choices. Think ‘my advice on ice’ to remember spelling and pronunciation.

Advise is the verb, meaning to recommend or inform.  This is pronounced more like ‘-ize’.

For example, my conversation with them will go something like this:

‘If I advise you on proper spelling, will you give me free hair advice?’

‘No.’

‘OK, thanks, bye!’

Any questions or comments? Put them below please!

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Exclamation Marks

Westward Ho!

It is impossible to say this town’s name without sounding like you’re suggesting a galleon-based voyage towards it.

The key point with exclamation marks is to use them sparingly, otherwise they will lose their impact. There are three main uses:

1. Exclamation marks can be used to indicate an exclaimed sentence: ‘With a gorilla in a hot air balloon! A hot air balloon of all things!’

2. In speech they show that something is shouted or said loudly: ‘Get that gorilla back in its enclosure!’

3. They can also be used to indicate that a statement is intended to be humorous: ‘I couldn’t tell if it was him or the hippo that had made the mess!’

However, if the humour is evident without the exclamation mark, it is often more amusing and stylish to dead pan.

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?

With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?

The main issue that occurs is over-use. Please don’t use more than one at a time. If you feel that you need to give more emphasis to a sentence than others that already have one exclamation mark, it is likely that the original sentences didn’t require exclamation marks at all. I associate multiple exclamation marks with dodgy advertising; my spam folder is full of exclamation marks.

It is often better when meaning is conveyed through content. Do it with your words, not with your punctuation.

How do you feel about exclamation marks? Do you use them in your writing? Leave me a comment.

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Homonyms

A homonym is a word that is identical to another word either in sound or spelling, but differs from it in meaning. It comes from the Greek homos meaning ‘same’. Homonyms can be divided into two sub-types: homophones (from the Greek ‘same’ and phone, ‘sound’) and homograph (‘same’ and graphe,‘writing’).

These are homonyms that are also homographs; they are spelt the same but pronounced differently:

Capsule - Homonym

Capsule – Homonym

  • ‘The bandage was wound around the wound.’
  • ‘The farm was used to produce produce.’

These homonyms are also homophones; they are spelt differently but pronounced the same:

  • ‘I will die if you dye that pink.’
  • ‘Can you see that ewe by the yew?’
  • ‘That boat shop has got a sail sale on.’

Homophones can often be the root cause of common spelling errors: your and you’re, for example. They are also the basis of many glorious puns and jokes. Here are a few courtesy of my favourite joke book (Tim Vine, you are a genius!):

  • The other day I sent my girlfriend a huge pile of snow. I rang her and said, ‘did you get my drift?’
  • My dog always misinterprets things I say. I say ‘heel’ and he goes down the hospital and does what he can.
  • So I went to the cinema and saw a very sad film. The guy behind me started wailing. I got hit in the back of the head with a harpoon.
  • She said ‘I’m going to dig a hole in the ground and fill it with water.’ I thought, she means well.

Test your understanding by telling me which of the above jokes are based on homophones and which are homographs. Answers in the comments please!

Homophones

Tell me your favourite homonym-based joke in the comments!

If you’ve found this useful – please do like and share!

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