A Dose of Pedantry

Or . . . A few things that irritate me about the way words are used.

Or . . . Journalists, if nobody else, please pay attention.



I have decided to dip my toes into a pool of pedantry with this post. I do this knowing full well that pedants can find themselves quickly hoisted by their own petard if an even bigger pedant lurks around. Consequently I can not accept responsibility for any grammar or spelling mistakes that may have crept in.

So, here are my current suggestions for major sins of written usage, in no particular order:

Number One
A principle is a truth you live by.
A principal is the head of a school, organisation, or a business. It can also be an adjective that means ‘main, or major).
Confusing the two is a principal source of stress and agitation for some people (pedants mainly).

Number Two (often found in emails)
‘Your’ is an adjective refering to something you own. ‘You’re’ is a contraction of ‘you are’. They are completely different words and can not be used interchangeably. Writing ‘your stupid’ when you mean ‘you’re stupid’, is like switching on a neon sign telling your readers ‘you’re ignorant’. (Your ignorance is not in doubt). Get it?
When you write ‘you’re place or mine’, do you really mean ‘you are place or mine’? Writing ‘your right’, invites your readers to ask, ‘your right what?’

Number Three
An apostrophe is used either when a letter is left out or when we want to show ownership. For example, ‘Two Car’s’ means that the cars own something or that something belongs to these cars. ‘Two cars’ is written without an apostrophe between r and s.
‘It’s’ means ‘it is’. However ‘its’ is used without an apostrophe when we mean it owns something. Tricky hey?
‘Potatoe’s are $2 a kilogram’ might make pedants wonder what part of the potatoes costs $2 a kilogram? Maybe they would even wonder what belongs to the potatoes that costs $2 per kilogram?

Number Four (this one really bugs me)
Something cannot be ‘more unique’ than anything else. ‘Unique’ means that there is nothing else like it. The word unique should not be used in a comparison. Either something is unique or it is not unique. What it can’t be is more or less unique than something else. A bit like being pregnant I suppose. Either you are or you are not. What you cannot be is more or less pregnant than anyone else! (Well, ok, I suppose you can be more pregnant in the sense that you have been pregnant for longer, but you get my drift, right?)

Number Five
In English, and most other languages, a verb needs to agree with its subject.
I go to town. She goes to town. ‘I goes to town’ is not right. Neither is ‘she go to town’. So, when you have two things in a sentence that look like they may be subjects and one is singular and the other plural, you need to ask yourself which is the main subject, and choose the verb accordingly.

So, a short exit test to keep you on your toes:

Select the correct sentence in this pair:
(a) Which one of the contestants is correct?
(b) Which one of the contestants are correct?

Select the correct sentence in this pair:
(a) The ship of fools are sinking?
(b) The ship of fools is sinking?

What is wrong with this sentence?
The artist has one of the most unique styles I’ve ever seen.

Correct these sentences:
1. You’re a complete dill!
2. The principle expelled me.
3. The dog eats it’s food.

How’d you go? Does you enjoy this sort of thing, or do it annoy you?


3 thoughts on “A Dose of Pedantry

Add yours

  1. Yeah, the “unique” thing always bothers me. That and “preventative,” which is only a word now because dictionaries are surrendering to those who can’t say “preventive.” Ah well.

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