Archive | September, 2012

That, which and who

14 Sep

Many people think “that” and “which” are interchangeable (and we’ll get to “who” later), but they really are not.

As The Economist Style Guide explains, “that defines, which informs”. For example, in the sentence, “This is the house that I bought several years ago”, I am simply stating (defining) a fact, but if I were to say, “I bought this house, which was built in 1825, several years ago”, I am giving you additional information about my house. “Which” is introducing that additional information (a subsidiary clause) and subsidiary clauses usually have commas around them. If you’re unsure, check to see if the sentence you have written works with a comma before “which” (“This is the house, which I bought several years ago”, clearly does not.)

And now on to “who”. David Cameron was recently reported as saying, “It is this government who have cut the deficit”. Leaving aside whether one agrees with that statement or not, he should have said, “It is this government that has cut the deficit”: government is a singular entity, Mr Cameron, and it is a thing, not a person.

Today’s picture

I took this in Barcelona a few years ago, primarily for the lettering above the shop.Image

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Common errors

3 Sep

There are certain grammatical errors that are made so often that they become common usage. This is partly because English is a “jackdaw” of a language, partly because it is not taught well. Here are four of the most common; others will – no doubt – follow.

Criterion/criteria, from the Greek kriterion, are often used the wrong way round: criterion is singular, criteria plural. While agenda and data, both from Latin, have become accepted as singulars (rather than agendum and datum), criteria has not.

Farther/further. Farther should be used for distance (think “thus far and no farther”), further for time. “It is farther from London to Glasgow than it is from London to Leeds”; “The discovery of a cure for this disease is further away than is sometimes predicted”.

Myriad, from the Greek murias, means innumerable. There are myriad reasons why one should never say, or write, “there are a myriad of reasons”.

None is singular (no one), so it should be “none of these solutions is correct”, not “none of these solutions are correct” (“none” is the subject of the sentence and the verb should agree with the subject). According to thefreedictionary.com, “…the plural usage appears in the King James Bible as well as the works of John Dryden and Edmund Burke and is widespread in the works of respectable writers today”, but in my opinion, it’s still wrong!

Today’s picture

The sky is blue today. Is this the beginning of an Indian summer?

“Indian summer”, incidentally, refers to the US, not the Indian sub-continent. Fine, sunny autumn weather was said to be more common in the areas formerly occupied by native (Indian) Americans than in those occupied by the white population. This picture, however, is from India: it is the Lake Palace Hotel at Udaipur.

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