Tag Archives: English grammar

“And” and “But”

9 Apr

I hate to read sentences that begin with “and” or “but”, both of which are conjunctions. The clue to how conjunctions should be used is in the name: a conjunction connects one part of a sentence with the next. To my mind that means that conjunctions should not be used at the beginning of sentences, as they so often are.

I have to admit that Fowler’s Common English Usage disagrees: it comments that, “this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times”, but the fact that something is, or has been, done frequently doesn’t make it right. A bit of judicious punctuation invariably removes the apparent need to break a long sentence and start a new one with “And” or “But”.

An example in today’s Guardian: “Under this process, an independent parliamentary commissioner investigates complaints against an MP and submits a report to the committee, including proposed penalties. But it is for the standards committee…” Why not, “Under this process, an independent parliamentary commissioner investigates complaints against an MP and submits a report to the committee, including proposed penalties; but it is for the standards committee…”?

The useful, but increasingly ignored, semi-colon connects the two threads of the sentence together to make a more coherent whole.

Today’s picture
This year’s mild, wet, winter has encouraged everything to come into flower – rather early.



This sign takes the biscuit

20 Jan

An official-looking sign in York Way, Islington:


All I can say to that is, oh dear!

Today’s picture

After that, I need cheering up. This is the lighthouse at Hartland Point, Devon, with Lundy Island on the horizon – and blue sky! Image

Remember what that looked like?


20 Nov


Cutting out the jargon

23 Aug

Cutting out the jargon.

Bored with “bored of”

10 Jul

A double-page ad (for Volvo) in today’s newspaper asks, “Bored of German techno?” Actually no, I’m not, but I am exceedingly bored with “bored of”. You can be “tired of” something, but you can’t be “bored of” it, only bored with it.

How do we expect children to learn decent grammar when they’re bombarded with illiterate advertising headlines?

While I’m at it, I’ll include “should of”. This, of course, comes from mishearing “should’ve” (should have) – more understandable than “bored of”, but equally grating.

Today’s picture

I’ve recently discovered the Culpeper Community Garden in Islington, London. This was taken on a rather dull day – before the sun decided to come out in England – but it’s still possible to see how beautiful it is.


Was and were

1 Jul

I continue to be amazed by the basic grammatical errors made by people who are reputed to be well educated. One of the most recent to make me cross was Sir Philip Hampton, Chairman of RBS – who graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford, with an MA in English, subsequently qualified as a chartered accountant and has an MBA from INSEAD.

On 16 June, The Observer reported: “Sir Philip Hampton…admits that [Stephen] Hester would still be in the top job [at RBS] if the plans for privatisation were not on the table. ‘If the privatisation wasn’t there, we’d be rolling on, probably looking for Stephen to have a successor (later) in 2014’.” No, Sir Philip, as The Observer’s reporter wrote, that should be “if the privatisation were not there…”. “If” should always be followed by “were”. Why?

The use of “if” indicates an hypothesis – something that, according to The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, is “imagined, wished, demanded, proposed, exhorted, etc. Its main contrast is with the indicative mood. It is plainly recognizable in modern English…principally in the third person singular present tense…and in the use in various circumstances of be and were instead of the indicative forms am/is/are and was.”

Today’s picture

I visited my sister in the beautiful medieval town of Ludlow last weekend (the only problem was that the wi-fi and mobile reception at The Feathers hotel were also medieval). The weather was pretty awful too, but on Monday we went for a walk around the perimeter of the 11th-century castle where I photographed this beautiful beech tree. (I’ve promised to go back to see it in its autumn colours.)


Who writes this rubbish: 2?

2 May

Who writes this rubbish: 2?.

Who writes this rubbish: 2?

2 May

I went to Colchester on a Greater Anglia train yesterday. A sign at Liverpool Street station reads:

“Customers are advised not to leave luggage unattended at any time – items left unattended may cause unnecessary security alerts and may be subject to removal by staff or police.”

The sign, and the type, were small.

In addition to the fact that I hate being called a customer, rather than a passenger, the type could have been much bigger and easier to read if it had been more concise. For example:

“Passengers please note: for security reasons, luggage left unattended could be removed by staff or the police.”

When I got back to the station later in the day, two men standing on the platform were wearing uniforms that had “Train presentation” written on the back. Since they were carrying buckets, brushes, etc, I assumed they were not about to present the train to me, but were going to clean it.

Today’s picture

I’ve been sorting out and scanning old family photographs. This, believe it or not, is my Dad – in 1902.


Misusing words

25 Apr

Why does using exactly the right word matter? The simple answer is, because it makes your meaning clear.

There are many words that are commonly misused. In speech that often doesn’t matter: no-one can hear that you’re confusing draft with draught, flair with flare, or practice with practise, but it does matter when you write. These are a few of the most commonly misused or confused words.

“Affect” (verb, to influence or change), “effect” (noun, the result of the change). Effect is also a transitive verb, to do or make something, but is rarely used.
“Biannual” is twice a year, “biennial” is every other year.
“Continuously” (uninterrupted), is often used when what is meant is “continually” (regularly or frequently), or “constantly” (happening repeatedly). If, for example, the sun shone “continuously” on holiday, it never stopped; if a neighbour “continually” complains about noise, he does if frequently; if a person often has colds it might make him or her “constantly” absent from work.
“To compliment” is to praise, “to complement” is to add something, to complete it.
“Disorganised” is something that was organised, but has been muddled, “unorganised” was not organised in the first place.
“To distract” is to divert someone’s attention, “to detract” is to diminish or to take something away.
A “misanthropist” hates everyone, a “misogynist” hates women.

There are, of course, many, many more but, as always, make sure you say/write what you mean and be sure that the word you use means what you think it does.

Today’s picture

I have a new camera, a Sony XH300 – a lightweight SLR with an integrated zoom lens. I’m trying it out. These swans were on the Serpentine in Hyde Park.



More mangled English (and mangled logic), courtesy of Francis Maude

16 Apr

In a comment on Radio 4’s Any Questions, reported in today’s Guardian, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, once again proved that an expensive education is no guarantee of an ability to speak coherent English. (He was educated at Abingdon School, Cambridge and the College of Law; was called to the bar in 1977 and became an MP in 1983, at the age of 30.)

Maude is reported to have said, “that reports that [Margaret Thatcher’s] funeral will cost £10m had mistakenly included the costs of police and soldiers who would be working anyway. ‘These are costs which are people doing their ordinary jobs which are costs which are being borne in any event. There is no one who has been hired who should not be doing their ordinary jobs which they would not be doing in any event. We are not hiring more police’.”

Let’s deal with the mangled English first: The Guardian might have been unkind in not attempting to punctuate that piece of verbal diarrhoea – although they might simply have given up in despair. Maude commits the common errors of using “which” where he should have used “that”, of repeating a (meaningless) phrase, “in any event”, and of simply not making sense. He must have anticipated that a question about the cost of the funeral would be asked and should have paid the questioner, and the programme, the courtesy of preparing a coherent reply.

Now, the mangled logic: it is reported that 3,000 police officers have had leave cancelled in case they are needed to help secure the route of the funeral procession (and after yesterday’s bombs in Boston, I imagine they will be used). They – I hope – will be paid overtime, so they won’t be “doing their ordinary jobs”, nor will all the other police on duty who would not normally be standing about in the City – so who is doing their “ordinary jobs”? More police on overtime, or is it just a good day to commit crime? The service people who will be on duty? I assume they don’t normally spend all day lying on their bunks waiting for a ceremonial occasion to come along, so they are not doing their “ordinary jobs” either.

I think the spending of any public money on Thatcher’s funeral is indefensible, but I expect those who disagree with me to be able to defend their position in good English.

Today’s picture
I drive through Hyde Park each Sunday and Tuesday morning. There are still no leaves on the trees – in mid-April. Perhaps there might be some by next Sunday and I can take a photograph. In the meantime, here is a wild flower meadow that I photographed in Connecticut in 2011.