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Spelling and Grammar Q&A

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"Aha. Persistence pays off again. Wear them down, I says, says I."

Wear them down? Des just rolled right over and exposed his...tummy, without any persuasion at all. :icon_geek:

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Not at all. He's like a cute kittycat. Rub him too much on his tummy, and he'll take your hand off.

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If I had only known vs. If only I had known...

I wonder if there's a transatlantic difference in usage here?

In the UK, splitting an infinitive carries the death sentence, but I believe in the US it is acceptable (to boldly go where no man has gone before...).

Here we're not considering an infinitive, but it's a verb clause.. 'I had known'.

I think in the UK it would be preferable not to split it by putting 'only' in the middle. Better to put it outside.

I agree with earlier posters that the word 'only' is used here idiomatically. The word 'just' could be used with similar effect - 'If I had just known' - but to my ear it doesn't work as 'If just I had known', that way it means that 'I' am the only person who had known. Like it would if 'only' were used literally rather than idiomatically. I'm getting myself tangled up in my own verbiage here. Get out while the going's good, Bruin.

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Split Infinitives are frowned upon in the US, or they were when I was growing up.

Okay, thanks for that info. I guess Star Trek scriptwriters are exempt, though, for obvious reasons.

That being so, perhaps my comments apply both sides of the big pond, then.

Bruin :lol:

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Okay, thanks for that info. I guess Star Trek scriptwriters are exempt, though, for obvious reasons.

That being so, perhaps my comments apply both sides of the big pond, then.

Bruin :lol:

Only on Earth can you split infinity. :lol:

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Split Infinitives are frowned upon in the US, or they were when I was growing up.

I'm sure the rules are still the same. It's still thought to be careless and improper to split your infinitives. However, as we all know, with the advent of emails and blogging and IM and all, a new way of expressing ourselves is rapidly developing, and a much more casual approach to writing is flourishing. I'm regularly seeing things now, written in the newspapers and books, that I'd never have seen fifty years ago.

I was a lot more conservative when I was younger, and felt that anyone writing in English simply had to abide by the rules. I have a looser approach these days, and so do most people. Maybe life has sped up to the point we don't have time to be as fussy as we once were. Maybe the education system is more lax when it comes to teaching this stuff, though Colin seems to have gotten a better English education than I ever did, so that's questionable.

I think people should follow the rules, all of them, except the ones I don't agree with (like Wibby's silly Oxford comma conundrum), and cerrtainly not split their infinitives, or end their sentences with prepositions, or let dependent clauses stand alone as sentences. However, I no longer get overly exercised when I find these rules butchered in printed matter. People will do what they will, and why try to stem the flood like the little Dutch boy? In realitiy, I'll bet he was washed away with the tide. And the tide seems to be washing away strict observance of the rules of proper English usage.

C

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Nicely said Cole. Beautifully, said actually.

Of course there is a new world variation on English usage. The Internet is expanding the language, but that does not mean we should not lament to some degree, what is being lost.

Rules as taught in the US, UK, Australia and Canada all seem to be at odds with each other at times.

Appeals to the formidable resources of Oxford and Cambridge are no longer sufficient to stem the tide of improperly written sentences, let alone the mispronunciation of the words themselves.

The language is changing and from a classical dramatic point of view, the music of the spoken word has been sacrificed on the altar of ignorance by daggers sharpened with callous accents.

It is thought and reason that suffer most however, for they must withstand their now tortured and lost companions, the guides of definition.

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I'm sure the rules are still the same. It's still thought to be careless and improper to split your infinitives. However, as we all know, with the advent of emails and blogging and IM and all, a new way of expressing ourselves is rapidly developing, and a much more casual approach to writing is flourishing. I'm regularly seeing things now, written in the newspapers and books, that I'd never have seen fifty years ago.

I was a lot more conservative when I was younger, and felt that anyone writing in English simply had to abide by the rules. I have a looser approach these days, and so do most people. Maybe life has sped up to the point we don't have time to be as fussy as we once were. Maybe the education system is more lax when it comes to teaching this stuff, though Colin seems to have gotten a better English education than I ever did, so that's questionable.

I think people should follow the rules, all of them, except the ones I don't agree with (like Wibby's silly Oxford comma conundrum), and cerrtainly not split their infinitives, or end their sentences with prepositions, or let dependent clauses stand alone as sentences. However, I no longer get overly exercised when I find these rules butchered in printed matter. People will do what they will, and why try to stem the flood like the little Dutch boy? In realitiy, I'll bet he was washed away with the tide. And the tide seems to be washing away strict observance of the rules of proper English usage.

C

Excuuuuse ME! The Oxford comma is NOT a conundrum, dear sir! It is a valuable and necessary tool in the writer's kit that should have the respect of those who may not know better at the moment.

Colin :lol:

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Perhaps it isn't a conundrum, it just masquerades as one. It's total nonsense, but you probably won't buy that, either.

We all have to make decisions in our lives, and our decisions help define us as poeple.

I decided not to follow the dicates of Oxford as far as comma usage goes.

Let that define me. If that makes me a rebel, I'll have to accept that label.

C

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"If I had only known." ~ That doesn't split an infinitive, just an auxiliary verb (had) and the past particile (known). "To boldly go" should technically be, "to go boldly" or "boldly, to go." But I'll bet you understood it, even if it doesn't sound quite right to you.

I regret that I have but one last common comma comment to give for my country.

Actually, I missed WBMS' Oxford comma commentary. I'll have to look it up.

Yes, it's still bad form to split infinitives. Yes, it's still considered bad form to end a sentence with a preposition, although that is due more to Latin/Norman-French-based grammar than Germanic/Anglo-Saxon-based grammar. Who/whom is practically a lost cause. But I see these and others done so much, and so many people object when it's corrected (including when I've edited for paying customers) that I have to consider it's changing. As long as the meaning's understood, the essential need has been met.

I used to be very picky about ending a sentence with a preposition. But I had more than one project in which the dialogue and the narrative would sound funny if that were strictly applied. There are cases where a sentence wouldn't make sense if you swapped the position of the preposition from the end to the start or middle, because the verb form is essentially a fixed idiom with a preposition after it. (English typically puts its prepositions after the verb, these days. That makes them postpositions, technically, and yes, there are languages that do that by default, as their proper way.) -- I'll get back on topic, now.

The rules of a language are defined by how the majority of speakers use the language; not by how a textbook defines the standard written form, which is typically more formal and archaic, and which is sometimes describing rules that are seldom used in casual conversation or writing.

I know the rules, and I can often tell you what they are and why. I also have to go by what people actually use. If an author refuses my advice, that's his or her prerogative, even if the intended audience will look at it and think it looks/sounds wrong, and whether or not the textbook usage would say it's proper.

The language is changing. Yes, the web and other mass media communications have started English to merge again. We are about due for a language shift, which is arbitrarily divided about every 400 or 500 years, whether we need it or not. I'd guess that in another couple of generations, we might reach that point.

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More on the placement of only. James Kilpatrick has a column on it today. While you could look it up yourself, I'll past it in. His column reads as follows.

"IF WE COULD ONLY REMEMBER ...

Sun Jan 20, 7:59 PM ET

Tradition! It was the message of "Fiddler on the Roof," and it works for this column whenever a new year rolls around. This is when you get the "only" column, continuing a tradition that began in the 1980s.

This is the annual message to writers: No little dog trick will do more to improve your prose than mastering the placement of "only." The rule is to snuggle the defining "only" close to the word it modifies. In that regard, we recall a fracas in a schoolyard. There ...

Only John hit Peter in the nose. Other assailants may have hit him in the eye or on the back, but only John ...

John only hit Peter in the nose. He did not stab him or shoot him; he only hit him.

John hit only Peter in the nose. John may have hit Reginald in the back and Billy on his rump, but John hit only Peter in the nose.

Finally, John hit Peter only in the nose -- not in the eye or chin or chest, but only in the nose.

As Constant Reader knows, I wear one hat in writing about English usage and another in writing about the Supreme Court. Wearing both hats, I turn to a petition filed in the high court by counsel for certain property owners in Ames, Iowa. They were appealing from an opinion by Justice Michael Streit in the Supreme Court of Iowa. He began:

"In an effort to stem the flow of students into residential areas, Ames, the home of Iowa State University, passed a zoning ordinance which only permits single-family dwellings in certain areas of the city."

Hizzoner mislaid his "only." He meant to say that the ordinance permits only single-family dwellings. On down the line, on page 14, we learn that an association of property owners "only challenges the zoning ordinance on equal protection grounds." His point was that the owners challenge the law only on equal protection grounds.

Justice David Wiggins dissented. Speaking for two colleagues, he said that "we must not only ask whether the ordinance serves a legitimate government purpose, but also whether the claimed state interest is realistically conceivable." A few pages on, he asked a rhetorical question: "Is Ames only interested in promoting traditional families?" Those "onlys" needed better housing.

It is hard to believe, but even writers for The New York Times have a problem with "only." Thomas Friedman writes trenchant pieces on foreign affairs, but he nodded last month in asserting that the world's energy problems "can only be solved by triggering massive innovation." His whole point was that the problems may be solved "only by triggering."

Friedman's brother columnist, Timesman Frank Rich, last month wrote about Oprah Winfrey's leap into presidential politics: "Most Beltway hands could only see Oprah Winfrey's contribution to Barack Obama's campaign as just another celebrity endorsement ..." One hesitates to improve upon Rich's copy (though one doesn't hesitate much), but he would have had a sharper sentence with, "Most Beltway hands could see her contribution ... only as just another ..."

Writers for The Washington Post have the same problem. A local winner in the "American Idol" competition, LaKisha Jones, "had only lived at Fort Meade for a few months." Actually, she had lived at Fort Meade for only a few months. Then she was whisked off to Hollywood. She may move back to her native Houston, but she leaves a useful "only" behind."

While I agree with him, he has also written at various times that you need to let your ear be the guide of how to phrase things. In the examples he lists it is quite easy to see why he wants the "only" in a specific place. In the example we were discussing, I still think the placement should be where the mood of what is being said dictates where it goes.

Technically, when talking about "If only I had known," the only is modifying the word "I", whereas in the example "If I had only known," it is modifying the word "known."

By the way, Kilpatrick quite often writes about the use of the language. His columns can be found on Yahoo by going to content, news, opinion, then scrolling down to Kilpatrick. For people who like to parse words, he is frequently an interesting read. If you happen to use Yahoo for a home page you can add him to your page by using the add content and then news, opinion, and so on.

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I'm sure the rules are still the same. It's still thought to be careless and improper to split your infinitives. However, as we all know, with the advent of emails and blogging and IM and all, a new way of expressing ourselves is rapidly developing, and a much more casual approach to writing is flourishing. I'm regularly seeing things now, written in the newspapers and books, that I'd never have seen fifty years ago.

I was a lot more conservative when I was younger, and felt that anyone writing in English simply had to abide by the rules. I have a looser approach these days, and so do most people. Maybe life has sped up to the point we don't have time to be as fussy as we once were. Maybe the education system is more lax when it comes to teaching this stuff, though Colin seems to have gotten a better English education than I ever did, so that's questionable.

I think people should follow the rules, all of them, except the ones I don't agree with (like Wibby's silly Oxford comma conundrum), and cerrtainly not split their infinitives, or end their sentences with prepositions, or let dependent clauses stand alone as sentences. However, I no longer get overly exercised when I find these rules butchered in printed matter. People will do what they will, and why try to stem the flood like the little Dutch boy? In realitiy, I'll bet he was washed away with the tide. And the tide seems to be washing away strict observance of the rules of proper English usage.

C

English is a living language. Living languages are constantly changing. Get used to it.

And Cole, the Oxford comma is not silly. It is now accepted by most of the current rule books. Look it up. Oh, and please note: I said current rule books. :sneaky:

Colin :icon_geek:

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"May husband and ay have been advised to slacken orf our tendency to speak orl posh lake, so we ahh replacing the plums in our mouths with small grapes."

:icon_geek:

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c001!

m34ns ya g0in2 sp34k m0r3 c134r1y fr0m n0w 0n. w007! d4+ jU5+ pwnZ d3m n00|3z sp33k3rz. W3 wr|+3rZ h4v3 2 5+iCk 2g3th3r, ykn0.

:icon_geek:

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