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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Grammar Rules: How to Sound Smarter

I was amused by the title for this article by Paul Silverman and Sarah Wharton from Reader's Digest. Its subtitle also prompted a chuckle:
Think you know how to talk real good? Test yourself: These grammar rules will surprise even the experts.
Why did I chuckle? Few of the items in their list are about grammar rules. Most are about word usage--choosing the correct word for the meaning you're trying to convey.

Still, the writers provide good advice. I'll add to their advice with my related entries below from Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manualbut please check their column because my manual doesn't cover all the topics they discuss:

Root Rivalry
preventative Not a word. Replace with preventive.
evoke, invoke Sometimes confused verbs. Evoke means "to produce or arouse a strong memory, mental image or reaction by stimulating emotions." Invoke means "to cite a law, principle or other authority to support opinions or actions" and "to call on god or other higher power for help": He invoked the name of God.
disinterested, uninterested Commonly confused. Disinterested means "impartial, objective and unbiased." Uninterested means "not interested": A disinterested person has no personal stake in the outcome of an event. An uninterested person doesn't care.
Grammar 101
myself Often misused. Use this word to refer to yourself or for emphasis: I dressed myself. I'd rather do it myself. But don't use it self-consciously as a substitute for me. Incorrect: He asked Tina and myself for a ride home. Give it to him or myself. He talked to Tina and myself. The horse carried Tina and myself. Correct: He asked Tina and me for a ride home. Give it to him or me. He talked to Tina and me. The horse carried Tina and me.
To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving myself; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He asked myself for a ride home. Give it to myself. He talked to myself. The horse carried myself." 
former, latter Avoid forcing your readers to reread something by using these words. Instead, restate the item. If you must use these words, they apply to only two things; former is the first, and latter is the second. 
either, neither Use either when writing about one or the other of two people, places or things: I've visited both Los Angeles and Chicago, but I wouldn't enjoy living in either city. Use neither when not including one or the other of two people, places or things: Neither city appeals to me. When used as the subject of a sentence, both words take singular verbs: Neither of the candidates was found guilty. When used as adjectives, the nouns they modify always take a singular verb: Either answer is correct. 
Also, either means "one or the other," not "both": Either plant will look good in the garden. And be careful where you put either in a sentence. It should go just before the first thing you're comparing: They wanted to honeymoon in either Hawaii or Mexico. Not: They either wanted to honeymoon in Hawaii or Mexico.
Confused & Misused
desert, dessert Sometimes confused or misspelled. As a noun, a desert is a dry, barren, sandy, often hot region. A desert(often deserts) is also a deserved reward or punishment: She got his just deserts. As a verb, desert is to abandon or leave one's post without permission. Somewhat like this definition, a dessert is a tasty treat that comes at the end of a meal.
modern Don't overdo it when describing something as modern. Simplify these redundant, wordy phrases: modern instead of modern-daymodern world instead of modern world of todaymodern instead of modern, state-of-the-art
so-called [My manual doesn't include an item for correct use of so-called, but the authors make a good point! I'll be adding this term to my manual.]
Shades of Meaning
exorbitant Commonly misspelled. Also, try using simpler excessive. [The authors note that exuberant is sometimes confused with exorbitant.]
envy, jealousy Sometimes confused. Use envy or envious to describe feelings of desire for someone else's qualities or things. Use jealousy or jealous to describe unhappy or angry feelings about not having someone else's qualities or things--or fear that someone else wants something you have.
The Grammar Rules article is featured today, March 28, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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