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Published by: api-19962936 on Dec 03, 2009
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What is an error in English?The concept of language errors is a fuzzy one. I'll leave to linguiststhe technical definitions. Here we're concerned only with deviationsfrom the standard use of English as judged by sophisticated users suchas professional writers, editors, teachers, and literate executives and personnel officers. The aim of this site is to help you avoid lowgrades, lost employment opportunities, lost business, and titters of amusement at the way you write or speak.But isn't one person's mistake another's standard usage?Often enough, but if your standard usage causes other people to consider you stupid or ignorant, you may want to consider changing it. You havethe right to express yourself in any manner you please, but if you wishto communicate effectively you should use nonstandard English only whenyou intend to, rather than fall into it because you don't know any better.I'm learning English as a second language. Will this site help meimprove my English?Very likely, though it's really aimed at the most common errors of native speakers. The errors others make in English differ according tothe characteristics of their first languages. Speakers of other languages tend to make some specific errors that are uncommon amongnative speakers, so you may also want to consult sites dealingspecifically with English as a second language....Aren't some of these points awfully picky?This is a relative matter. One person's gaffe is another's peccadillo.Some common complaints about usage strike me as too persnickety, but I'm just covering mistakes in English that happen to bother me. Feel free tocreate your own page listing your own pet peeves, but I welcomesuggestions for additions to these pages.What gives you the right to say what an error in English is?I could take the easy way out and say I'm a professor of English and dothis sort of thing for a living. True, but my Ph.D. is in comparativeliterature, not composition or linguistics, and I teach courses in thehistory of ideas rather than language as such. But I admire good writingand try to encourage it in my students.Why do you discuss mainly American usage?Because I'm an American, my students are mostly American, most
English-speaking Web users are Americans, and American English isquickly becoming an international standard. I am slowly reworking thesite to take note of American deviations from standard British practice.However, the job is complicated by the fact that Canadians, Australians,and many others often follow patterns somewhere between the two. If thestandard usage where you are differs from what is described here, tellme about it; and if I think it's important to do so, I'll note thatfact. Meanwhile, just assume that this site is primarily about AmericanEnglish.Isn't it oppressive of immigrants and subjugated minorities to insist onthe use of standard English?Language standards can certainly be used for oppressive purposes, butmost speakers and writers of all races and classes want to use languagein a way that will impress others. It is interesting that in the debateover Oakland, California's proposed "ebonics" policy, African-American parents were especially outspoken in arguing that to allow students toregard street slang as legitimate in an educational setting was to limitthem and worsen their oppressed status. The fact is that the world isfull of teachers, employers, and other authorities who may penalize youfor your non-standard use of the English language. Feel free to denouncethese people if you wish; but if you need their good opinion to getahead, you'd be wise to learn standard English. Note that I oftensuggest differing usages as appropriate depending on the setting: spokenvs. written, informal vs. formal; slang is often highly appropriate. Infact, most of the errors discussed on this site are common in thewriting of privileged middle-class Americans, and some arecharacteristic of people with advanced degrees and considerableintellectual attainments. However you come down on this issue, note thatthe great advantage of an open Web-based educational site like this isthat it's voluntary: take what you want and leave the rest.But you made a mistake yourself!We all do, from time to time. Drop me a line if you think you've foundan error in my own writing. If I think you're right, I'll correct it; but be prepared to be disagreed with. If you write me, please don't callme "Brian." My given name is Paul.For instructions on how to write me, see the bottom of this page.This resource is copyrighted by Paul Brians. Permission is granted toreprint or photocopy it in its entirety or in part for all nonprofit,educational purposes provided that the author is cited and the URL of this page is included. As a courtesy, please notify the author if youcopy or link to this material. Because the content changes frequently,and I need to maintain control over the site, requests to create Webmirrors of the site are usually declined.
Recommended in "Yahoo Internet Life Magazine," July, 1997, pp. 82-83 andcited as a Yahoo "Site of the Week." It has also been recommended in the pages of "The Weekend Australian," The Bangkok Post," the "Los AngelesTimes," the "Seattle Times," the "Indianapolis Star-Tribune,", theHalifax Chronicle-Herald," Ziff-Davis" "Inside the Internet,"newsletter, "Netsurfer Digest," and "The Web" magazine.AM/PM"AM" stands for the Latin phrase "Ante Meridiem"--which means "beforenoon"--and "PM" stands for "Post Meridiem": "after noon." Althoughdigital clocks routinely label noon "12:00 PM" you should avoid thisexpression not only because it is incorrect, but because many peoplewill imagine you are talking about midnight instead. The same goes for "12:00 AM." Just say or write "noon" or "midnight" when you mean those precise times.It is now rare to see periods placed after these abbreviations: "A.M.", but in formal writing it is still preferable to capitalize them, thoughthe lower-case "am" and "pm" are now so popular they are not likely toget you into trouble.Occasionally computer programs encourage you to write "AM" and "PM"without a space before them, but others will misread your data if youomit the space. The nonstandard pattern of omitting the space isspreading rapidly, and should be avoided in formal writingABJECT"Abject" is always negative. You can't experience "abject joy" unlessyou're being deliberately paradoxical.ABOUT"This isn't about you." What a great rebuke! But conservatives sniff atthis sort of abstract use of "about," as in "I'm all about good taste"or "successful truffle-making is about temperature control"; so it's better to avoid it in very formal English.ABSORBTION/ABSORPTIONAlthough it's "absorbed" and "absorbing" the correct spelling of thenoun is "absorption." <p>ACCEDE/EXCEEDIf you drive too fast, you exceed the speed limit. "Accede" is a muchrarer word meaning "give in," "agree."

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