rogersgeorge on December 2nd, 2013

This use of “whom” is correct. Why does it sound wrong?

blondie whomGood old Dagwood. From Sept 2013

The reason is because word order is important in English. The rules of word order aren’t absolute in English, but we pretty strongly like to have the subject come right before the verb. Since we don’t use many inflections, word order steps in to tell us the function of a word. Lots of times we spell nouns and verbs exactly alike. Without word order, we can’t tell. Take “run,” for instance. is it a noun or a verb? Depends.

This dog run looks pretty clean.

Would you run to the store for me?

In front of the verb, “run” is a noun, a place for dogs to hang out. After the subject, it’s a verb, something you do.

Highly inflected languages, such as Greek, care less about word order. In fact in Greek, they have a figure of speech called “chiasmus,” which means to arrange the words in a symmetrical order by part of speech. For example: adjective, noun, adverb, verb, adverb, noun, adjective. You use the inflections to tell what goes with what. It’s pretty hard (though not utterly impossible) to do this in English.

So on to the Dagwood cartoon. “Whom” is in front of the verb “talking.” That makes it feel wrong, even though it’s right. Actually, the “to” is out of place. Literally the sentence is “Do you realize to whom you are talking?” Of course, that’s even stiffer than the original.

Ah English. Sometimes you just can’t win.

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grammar comic

rogersgeorge on November 30th, 2013

I like comics about our language. here’s another. Can you tell his two mistakes?



I like to give credit whenever I post someone else’s work; see the info in the upper left corner.

Now down to business. Did you catch the solecisms? Obviously the joke wouldn’t be as good, but to stay with the possessive, he should have said “myPod.” And since he started with the singular, the last one should also have been singular; his, her, its-Pod.

I’m such a curmudgeon…

S-V agreement

rogersgeorge on September 15th, 2012

I have mentioned subject-verb agreement before, but I found a comic that gives a good example of doing it wrong, so I’ll bring it up again.

The rule is that a singular subject gets a singular verb, and a plural subject gets a plural verb.

The problem is that sometimes you can lose track of the subject. Forgetting that you have a singular subject is fairly easy when the subject is part of a group. For example, if you say, “One of the students…” you might be tempted to use a plural verb because “students” is plural. Now maybe not, because the subject, “one,” is still pretty close, especially if you’re thinking carefully about your writing. But when the stuff between the subject and verb gets more voluminous, you can lose track fairly easily. The name for this is “attraction,” and I understand it’s okay in Latin, but it’s not in English.

So here’s the comic:

Jerry Van Amerongen’s Ballard Street is an excellent off-the-wall single panel cartoon

Now the caption to this comic is tricky. The main subject and verb are “Gary is.” Then we have five words between the subject and verb of the subordinate clause. If you said, “One of those guys has a problem,” you might get it right, but throw in the “who never” and you have a pretty good distraction from the actual subject, “one,” not “guys.”

You can find Ballard Street on gocomics.com, and I recommend it for a nice break from the conventional. And thanks for the good goof, Jerry.

Here’s what might be an exception to this rule. You would say that “many” is a plural, right? So it should get a plural verb, right? Even with a singular-feeling prepositional phrase between “many” and the verb, right? Then what about this:

Many a man likes to get his grammar correct.

Yes, the singular verb, “likes,” is correct! Sigh. That there English language, it just ain’t always gonna make sense.

A comic by a curmudgeon

rogersgeorge on February 18th, 2012

The curmudgeon isn’t me, either. A colleague from work texted me the link to this graphic. Looks like it’s from a Canadian who is acting decidedly un-Canadian, but he’s right on the money when it comes to content.

It looks like the link in the comic doesn’t work. Try angryflower.com for the site (big white labels are links to comics), and angryflower.com/bobsqu.gif for the comic.

My kind of comic

rogersgeorge on February 4th, 2012

XKCD is a comic for all kinds of geeks, intellectuals, nerds, mathematicians, developers, linguists, polymaths, and other brainy types. If you read The Writing Rag with any regularity, you would probably like XKCD, too if you don’t already subscribe. Here’s the link to this stripĀ http://xkcd.com/1010/

And here’s the strip. You have to go to the actual site to see the alternate text (that pops up when you hover the pointer over the picture).

They say an etymologist is someone who knows the difference between etymology and entomology