Professionals' Mistakes in Writing and Speaking British English: Writers' and Presenters' Errors; Keeping up Standards
Professionals Shouldn't Make Mistakes
I don’t jump down the throat of everyone I see or hear making the occasional mistake with the English language but one thing guaranteed to make me seethe is a professional writer or presenter making such errors. Professionals should know their trade. If they don’t match up to the job, they shouldn’t be there.
Let’s look at some of these errors which crop up time and time again and have me screaming at the screen, the page, the television or the radio.
Abbreviation of could have = could've NOT could of!
There is no such phrase as ‘could of’, it doesn’t exist, it’s not correct English. It comes from the way we pronounce the contraction of ‘could have’ which is written ‘could’ve’. The ‘ve’ part can sound like ‘of’. Please, please don’t say or write ‘could of’! It was said by someone today; I could’ve screamed when I heard it!
This applies equally to ‘should’ve’ and ‘would’ve’.
Is it less or fewer?
This couldn’t be simpler.
We should try to use fewer plastic bags. (implying fewer than we’ve used so far)
There was less traffic on the roads tonight. (implying less than, say, last night)
How do you know which one to choose? Simple!
Can you count plastic bags? Of course you can. Therefore you use ‘fewer’.
Can you count traffic? No, you can count the cars, buses, etc but not the abstract word ‘traffic’. Therefore you use ‘less’. You don’t know how many there were.
Things like sugar, money, sand, love....; we can’t count these things. You’re going to tell me you can count money. No, you count the notes or the pounds or the coins. You don’t count the abstract word ‘money’.
There was a pile of money on table 1.
Table 2 held less money; there was a smaller pile.
Much, Many, Lots, Few......
Comparative and Superlative
Oh and by the way, you need only two comparatives (things to compare) when using the ‘...er’ comparative adjective.
More than two and you need the superlative, the ‘...est’ words. e.g. Out of these five cars, this is the prettiest (or prettiest one).
good (adjective), better (comparative adj.), best (superlative adj.)
pretty (adjective), prettier (comparative), prettiest (superlative)
There are, of course, irregular endings for some. Sorry, that’s English for you!
Verb after the word 'none'
So often I hear presenters on television or radio saying something like, ‘None of them were travelling by train.’ Wrong! ‘None of them was travelling by train.’
Although ‘none’ has no apostrophe, it’s a contraction (a squeezing together) of ‘not one’; the ‘t’ and the second ‘o’ have been dropped. A contraction is usually due to a word constantly being uttered quickly, lazily, so becoming shortened. 'None' can also mean 'not any', also from an Old English contraction.
Therefore ‘none’ is singular and must take the third person singular part of the verb.
None of the cars is expensive.
If you’re not sure, trying substituting ‘not one’ each time and you will have your answer.
Do we try to.. or try and..?
‘So what’s the problem?’ I hear you ask.
Look at these sentences:
I’m going to try to sort this out. The sorting out is the bit you’re trying to do.
I’m going to try and sort this out. You’re trying something and you’re sorting out something but not the same thing! There is no question that you’ll sort out something, whereas if you’re trying to sort it out then you might not succeed.
However, the following has a different meaning:
I’m going to try and see if I can do it. You’re going to try, say, to assemble a flat-pack table and at the same time see if you’re able to do it. It might not work. One effort is being made and at the same time, an observation.
Most of the time you should say, ‘I’m going to try to do this.’ It implies you’re not sure if you can do it.
I’m trying to help you but it might not work!
What's the Difference between who's and whose?
Please, please understand that these words mean different things!
They sound the same but have different spellings and different meanings.
Who’s = who is or who has (the apostrophe indicates the missing letter ‘i’ or letters ‘ha’)
Who’s making that noise? (Who is making that noise?)
Who’s been eating my porridge? (Who has been eating my porridge?)
Whose = who does this belong to?
Whose car is this? (Who does this car belong to?, or if you want to be really picky ‘To whom does this car belong?’)
Who's / Whose
Same Sound, Different Spelling: there/their/they're
Isn't it annoying when they all sound the same? Such is English but you can rise to the challenge!
there (in that place)
This is easy to remember - ‘here’ and ‘there’, both are places and correspond in spelling.
their (belonging to them)
It’s only the ‘ei’ part which causes the problems, but it’s easier to remember if you think of the ‘hei’ part. You have a brother (yes you do!). You can say ‘he’ and ‘i’ are their children (i.e. your parents’ children). Easy, eh?
they’re (short for ‘they are’)
This is the easiest of the three. If you can substitute ‘they are’ then you’re laughing.
So there you have it. They’re words which present their own difficulties but you can overcome them. Well done!
Which One Do I Choose?
Two Words: a lot
There is no such word as ‘alot’; ‘a lot’ has not yet been contracted into one word. It can mean many or it can mean an item up for auction.
Technically, like ‘none’, it is single and therefore should also take the singular corresponding part of the verb.
‘A lot’ is followed by ‘of’; a lot of money, a lot of laughter....
In the plural, it becomes ‘lots of’ and, guess what? Yes, the verb corresponds. ‘There were lots of people in the room.’ ‘There were many people in the room’ is, though, better English.
Apostrophes and Other Punctuation
Did you mention ‘apostrophes’? Can you see me cowering, warding off the devil against such bug-bears? I can’t bear to go there at the moment. I have to be really calm and composed before even thinking about them and it’s my bedtime. Let me sleep on it. I might be in a calm enough mood tomorrow to tackle their misuse or even their lack of use.
Make sure you have commas, full stops, question marks, exclamation marks in the right places! Don’t write long sentences without any punctuation - I get out of breath too quickly.
One more thing; please, please give my eyes a rest! Proof-read your work! You might be amazed but even I make mistakes; they’re only typing errors of course. Just in case, I proof-read each article more than once. I’ll do that for this hub. If I’ve missed any then you can shout at me, ok?
I don’t expect perfection but neither do I expect consistent mistakes where they shouldn’t occur.
If, after that, you’re still not sure, get a reliable person to proof-read for you. It’ll pay dividends and you’ll learn in the process.
Check, Check and Check Again
Spread the Word!
I hope those of you whose writing is excellent aren’t offended by my pointing out all this. Who’s going to do it if I don’t?
Well, ok, several hubbers have pointed out quite a few common errors already but I’m giving you some revision. I’m still seeing basic mistakes left, right and centre so the message obviously needs reinforcement. When the errors stop, I'll stop nagging.
I’m not saying that you personally, dear reader, are guilty of any of these errors but even if just one person reading this has learnt anything, I’ll sleep more easily in my bed and we’ll all have a good read.
Proof-reading & Checking
How often do you check your work?
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© 2014 Ann Carr