Tag Archives: grammar

‘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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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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‘Proved’ or ‘Proven’?

There are two past participles of prove: proven and proved. Mostly, they can be used interchangeably, though in British English, proved is more commonly used.

‘The effectiveness of their mind control helmets hasn’t been proven.’

‘The effectiveness of their mind control helmets hasn’t been proved.’

Both are correct.

Embed from Getty Images

The exception to this is that proven should always be used before a noun.

‘They had a proven talent for kitchenware  adaptation.’

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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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Morphemes

Morphemes, not be be confused with Morph memes.

Morphemes, not be be confused with Morph memes.

Morphemes are the smallest unit of language that can convey meaning; they cannot be broken down any further into meaningful units.

For example, the word unshockable is made up of three morphemes
un-,  shock, and -able.

Shock is a free morpheme because it can be used alone as a complete unit – it is free of other morphemes.

Un- and -able are bound morphemes because they modify a free morpheme. Even though they are not words in their own right, they do have meaning: un- means ‘not’ and -able means ‘able to be’.

Understanding morphemes has been shown to improve spelling – do you remember teachers saying, ‘break it down into chunks’? For example, the suffix
-ian usually refers to a person, so we known that magician is spelt magic
-ian
, rather than magic -ion.

funny-magician-Abra-Kadabra
As a writer you can broaden your vocabulary, or even invent words more cogently, by breaking them down and combining the appropriate morphemes. 
Sometimes, flow can be improved by looking at words that have multiple morphemes and replacing them with a single morpheme. One example would be replacing uncomplicated (three morphemes) with simple (one morpheme). 

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Auto-antonyms

An auto-antonym, also known as a contranym, is a word that has two opposing  meanings. It has a homograph (a word of the same spelling) that has a contradictory or opposite meaning. They usually result from the word, or similar sounding words, arriving in English from two separate languages and retaining both meanings. However, sometimes they are a result of a old word taking on a new colloquial meaning.

Here are some examples:

Cool can mean good or pleasant, but it can also mean less than agreeable. Compare the following:

‘The play was cool.’
‘The play received a cool reception.’

Dusting can mean removing dust or, in the case of fingerprints, applying dust.

Fast can either mean to do something quickly or not to move at all as in ‘holding fast’.

Left is another: ‘after he left she was left.’ It means both to go and to remain.

Weather as a verb has the contradictory meanings of withstanding and wearing away.

‘They weathered the storm.’
‘It was weathered by the storm.’

For your writing, it is worth being aware of auto-antonyms so that you can spot any usage that might be confusing. Additionally, you can purposefully use words with contradictory meanings to give ambiguity or intrigue to your text. This is sometimes seen in poetry.

Can you think of any other auto-antonyms or good examples of their usage? Tell me in the comments!

As always, if you have found this interesting, please do like and share.

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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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‘Who’s’ or ‘Whose’?

These two words are often confused. We’re used to using apostrophes for possessives and this is not the case here, so this mistake is easily made. It is a similar issue to ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ and is very easy to read past and overlook in your own work. Here’s how to get it right.

TomBakerDrWho

Who’s is the contracted form of who is.

Who’s that wearing the magnificent scarf?

The Doctor, who’s a Time Lord, has a particular fondness for Earth.

Whose is the possessive form of who, it means belonging to whom. 

Whose TARDIS is that?

It belongs to the man whose bow tie is very cool.

tardis-matt_00428408

That’s it for who’s and whose, illustrated by Doctor Who. Any questions, thoughts or Doctor Who memes, you know who to come to! As always, please do like and share if this was at all helpful!

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