October 2012 Archives

Good English: spelling

Spelling English words correctly is the bane of many people's lives. I once read that a Frenchman said he would rather spend six months doing hard labour than try to learn how to spell in English.  German looks to be difficult to the untutored eye because the words can be so long. But, in fact, what you say is what you write. There are no silent letters such as in 'knife' or 'gnat' or confusions with pronunciation caused by words that look similar such as 'laughter' and 'daughter'.

There was an article in the Guardian recently discussing the length of German words and how practical they are - until you come across such gems as Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz which almost made me laugh when I was once confronted with it. Long as it is, it is easy to spell as every letter is pronounced:  Rindfleisch etikettierungs überwachungs aufgaben übertragungs gesetz.

As part of Topping's Autumn Book Festival in Bath, David Crystal, the well-known linguist, academic and author, will be speaking about spelling. On a journey from sixth century monks to the language of text messaging, he will explain why certain words are spelled the way they are and, with a bit of luck, help us with remembering how to spell the words that catch us all out.

The event will take place on 26 November.

Good English. Using the apostrophe

I have been asked to write a few words on the correct use of the apostrophe. I am only too pleased to do so!

The apostrophe seems to cause endless problems for many people. So much so, that one type of incorrect usage has even acquired its own nickname: the greengrocer's apostrophe.

The apostrophe is used to denote possession, amongst other functions.  We could say, 'the dog of my sister is brown' or 'the dog belonging to my sister is brown'. It is very common to say 'my sister's dog is brown'. Here we use an apostrophe to show the possessive. In languages such as German, Latin, Russian it is known as the 'genitive case'.

If I had two sisters who both owned the same dog, how would this be expressed? Answer: 'My sisters' dog is brown'. By putting the apostrophe after the plural of 'sister', we can see that the dog belongs to both sisters. In speech this idea is not clear because the two sentences ('my sister's dog is brown' and 'my sisters' dog is brown') sound the same.

Correct usage is vital when documents are to be translated. It might not be very important to know how many sisters own the dog (apart from to the sisters themselves) but consider the implications for the following sentences:  'the sum of the company director's bonus is £10,000' and 'the sum of the company directors' bonus is £10,000'. A misplaced apostrophe could be considered to be crucial!

Correct English grammar is vital to your company's image. If you would like further information about apostrophes (including why greengrocers have one of their own) or you would prefer me to do your proofreading, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. Lessons can be provided in Bath or via Skype.

If there is an area of English grammar that you find confusing, let me know via the comments section and I'll consider writing a blog post about it.

Next time, find out why less is more...

Good English grammar: when to use 'they're'

English has a number of homophones. The word comes from two Greek words: 'homo' meaning 'the same' and 'phone' meaning 'sound'.

Examples of homophones are 'there', 'their' and 'they're'. What is the difference? They all have a different function in the sentence. When speaking, we understand from the context which one is meant but if they are incorrectly used in a written text they can impede comprehension.

'They're going there with their children' is an example of a sentence that uses all three versions of this particular homophone. How do we know which one to write? 'They're' is simply a contraction of 'they are'. Therefore by writing the words out in full, fewer mistakes will be made. It is considered better to put 'they are' in formal writing, so the problem is solved!

It is essential to the image of your business to ensure that your documents and presentations are written in correct English. If you would like to learn about when to use 'their' and 'there' and some tricks for remembering which is which, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. Lessons can be provided in Bath or via Skype. Alternatively, I will be happy to proofread your documents for you.

The next post has been requested by a reader of my blog and is on the subject of apostrophes.