Recently in Specialisms: English grammar Category

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.


Good English: punctuation

Well, this is certainly music to my ears!

I see from Jill Sommer's blog that our cousins on the other side of the Pond celebrated National Punctuation Day yesterday (24 September).  Perhaps we Brits should follow suit?

I would caution against following all that the Americans say on this subject because not only do they spell certain words differently from us they also punctuate differently in some cases. (I believe an American would have written the previous sentence using 'differently than'...) Nevertheless, National Punctuation Day sounds like an excellent idea for raising awareness of all those little marks such as ! ? , ' and " . I wonder what we should do to celebrate the day? Have a plate of cakes decorated with punctuation marks and the person providing the best explanation of usage eats the cake, perhaps?

A request has been made for a post on commas. These little marks can be pesky things to get right so a blog post is being drafted on the subject. But hold on to your hats. Before we get to commas we will be considering when to use 'they're' or is it 'there or even 'their'?

Good English grammar: when to use 'I' and 'me'

English grammar appears not to be widely taught in British schools these days. Just because one grows up speaking a language it does not necessarily follow that one grows up speaking it correctly.  It seems to me that the confusion with when to use 'I' and 'me' may stem from a very early age and the confusion is not ironed out at school.

There is a convention in polite society that when talking about oneself and a friend, the friend should be mentioned first. Children often say sentences such as, "Mum, can me and Tommy go swimming?"  Mother then corrects the child to say "Can Tommy and I go swimming?" So far, so good (well, almost. There is another issue here... but let's tackle one thing at a time!). This is correct because if Tommy were not there the child would say "Can I go swimming?" The problem arises when the child, who has had the "Tommy and I" construction drilled into him, needs to use the word 'me'.

In Romance languages, grammatically speaking, 'me' is often referred to as the object of a sentence; in Latin, Greek, German and Russian it is known as the accusative. It's the same thing with a different name.

Here is an example I heard on the radio the other day. A solicitor, so one assumes reasonably well educated, said, "And the insurance broker asked my wife and I about our finances...."


The correct way of expressing this idea would be "And the insurance broker asked my wife and me about our finances..."

You would not say "The insurance broker asked I about my finances". Therefore, irrespective of how many other people are involved, it should be correctly expressed as  "the insurance broker asked me ...." When politely mentioning everyone else first it then becomes "the insurance broker asked John, Susan, Rebecca, Simon, my wife and me about our finances".

In a different situation the solicitor would be perfectly correct in saying "My wife and I are going on holiday to Cornwall this year." Why? Because "my wife is going on holiday to Cornwall" is correct and "I am going on holiday to Cornwall" is also correct. The two together, "my wife and I" is therefore correct. Nobody above the age of three says "Me is going on holiday" !

If in doubt, first construct the sentence in your head without friends and wives, etc. and decide if it should be 'I' or 'me' , then add the others. That way, you should get it right.

I hope this short explanation helps but if you are still unsure about aspects of English grammar, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. If you would like your documents proofread, I will be happy to provide this service. Alternatively, I can give lessons to meet your personal needs either in Bath or via Skype.

The next post looks at 'there'... or is it 'their' or 'they're'?

Good English grammar: an introduction

In the final New Testament Greek class, Claire let us loose on translating verses from the Bible. In pairs, we puzzled out all the elements of grammar she had taught us; tenses, genders, cases, exceptions to the rules and so we creaked our way through the actual text rather than the practice sentences that had been used to demonstrate the point we had been learning.

Grammar provides the scaffolding for building sentences. English grammar has its pitfalls - and because I hear so many mistakes made in the British media these days - I am going to write a series of short posts on correct usage. Shockingly, basic mistakes are not only made in speech when one might be forgiven for speaking quickly or forgetting what one has said at the beginning of a long sentence, I see these mistakes in print, too.

The first post to be published shortly will be on when to use 'I' and 'me'.

If you require personal tuition or help in the area of English grammar, 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.