Archives for posts with tag: Grammar

A good while back I blogged about how to discern between its and it’s. Easy, right? Its is always the possessive pronoun, as in ‘the dog buries its bone’, and it’s is only ever an abbreviation of ‘it is’ – unless of course it is capitalised to IT, as in ‘IT’s role in shaping world economies’. And don’t be confused with those speech marks either, they’re not apostrophes!

And then I read this phrase, quite recently: ‘it’s more trouble than it’s worth.’ No, no, no! I said to myself, the second it’s should be its, as in ‘It’s more trouble than its value.’ Until I googled it, and discovered that the more commonplace version uses it’s, as in ‘It is more trouble than it is worth.’

Wrong all those years.

Fortunately, both versions are acceptable – and in fact both versions mean pretty much the same thing – but it gives you an idea of the differences between the economy of spoken English and the clarity of written English. I’d always heard the phrase and assumed the noun worth, and therefore the pronoun its, when in fact it is more commonly the verb ‘to be worth’.

Sheesh! Did you follow that? Panic over.

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind…sorry, bit of a tangent there. But, it’s a good question. When you’re using phrases like much appreciated, well versed, often forgotten and so on, when should you use a hyphen and when not? Here I’m really talking about attaching adverbs to verbs. There are many other instances when you have to decide on a hyphen, or not.

Tricky one, but here’s my rule of thumb on it. Could be wrong, but makes sense to me. When you’re using the supine – that’s the passive bit of the verb, but it applies equally well to a part of the verb like occurring, as in often occurring – in a verbal sense, then I don’t use it. When you’re using the supine in an adjectival sense, then I do plonk in a hyphen. It’s as much about directing the reader as anything.

A couple of examples might help. ‘Thanks, that’s much appreciated. It’s well thought out’ Appreciated and thought are verbal, so much and well are simply the adverbs, as in next to the verb.

‘He gave me a well-intentioned slap on the back’. Here, gave is the verb, and well and intentioned describe the slap, so they’re used adjectivally, so I hyphenate them.

‘Often fired, sadly missed.’ Bit of autobiography here. This sentence is actually engraved on a bench in the bowls club where my late father used to play. Here, both fired and missed are verbs, not adjectives, so no hyphens. Both clauses are a clever play on words, when you think about the context, eh? I can’t claim ownership, my youngest brother coined it.

So, with this poorly-exampled post, which I’ve often considered but never put down in print, I’ll take my well-earned but seldom-occurring leave and promptly sign off, until the next time.

I used the phrase ‘between you and I’ in an email the other day, thinking this was the correct version of the second pronoun in that colloquial clause. Fortunately, the subjective and objective pronouns for the second person – you – are the same.

Not so the first person singular – or plural for that matter – where we have to go with either I or me, or we or us. I thought that between you and I was slightly over-formal, but correct.

Wrong! Apparently it’s between you and me, because the you and me are objects of between, if you get the grammar there. Making this mistake appears to have vexed a lot of people, if you google the incorrect version of the phrase…

I guess I could argue that email is a hybrid form of spoken English and written English and, therefore, I can get away with it. Maybe I’m clutching at straws. Far better to do what one of my American bosses used to do a few years ago. ‘Between us girls’ he would say, even if there were no people of the female persuasion in the conversation.

Or is it between we girls? Argh! Same mistake as between you and ! :-).

In the last of this week’s cluster of posts on the spelling and meaning of a couple of words in this glorious language, I want to touch on the application called Grammarly, about which I profess to know very little.

I often see ads for Grammarly playing before I watch a video on the BBC international website, and by the American accents on the ad and the American base of the company, I assume the application helps with US-English phrasings, spelling, meanings, syntax and so on. There may well be a UK-English version too, though I doubt there’s an Irish-English version, or a Scottish-English, Welsh-English or any other variant that blurs the edges between language and dialect.

Two lads from the Ukraine founded the application, so perhaps its real benefit is for those for whom English is a second language. For many of us, however, we already have a lot of this functionality built into our office productivity applications and our browsing applications. For instance, if you erroneously search for ‘Grammerly’ – presumably an easy mistake to make if you’re the person who might need and want to use the correctly spelled version – on Chrome, you get returned suggestions for Grammarly.

Those of us who already get help from our everyday software and have a decent command of the language are using our skill and judgement on the grammar and phrasing side of things anyway. We use the tools to correct typos and omissions, and we use ourselves to correct the other more subtle areas of the language.

Which possibly explains why the application is probably very successfully catering to the vast numbers of people who need to converse in the dominant language which is not their dominant language.

There’s something very comforting about proverbs. They’re rather like a comfy armchair to me, in the way a spreadsheet is to an accountant.

They are the shorthand of our language, as well as a useful guidance to living life by the numbers.

“A stitch in time saves nine.” “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” These phrases have been honed and shaped over time, a little nub of the collective experiences of humankind over the centuries.

They can serve you well in business too, as long as you understand them for what they are. One of my favourite business proverbs is “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It encapsulates the notion that everybody benefits from an improvement across the board.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. After all, actions speak louder than words. 🙂

As our beloved written and spoken languages evolve and become – dare I say it – a little more relaxed, we don’t seem to mind committing the formerly heinous crime of ending a sentence with a preposition. Back in the day – which itself is an odd idiomatic phrase – people used to get pretty worked up about grammar and syntax.

This was the one rule which caused the well known Churchillian reaction:  “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

They say that language neither progresses nor decays, it simply changes. Whatever it does, I think it serves us all better to be more flexible and less rigid. A great example of this is in poetry and songs, where ending a line with a preposition can help the writer out and make the line scan more elegantly. Who could forget the famous double preposition of Wings’ Live and Let Die: “…this world in which we live in…”?

More recently, but already a classic, is the Jay Z and Alicia Keys song Empire State of Mind with its line “concrete jungle where dreams are made of”.

Prepositions are handy little nodes connecting elements of a sentence together, so let’s continue to allow them to roam free, for which our language will be the better :-).



I’ve touched on our troubles with apostrophes in a previous post. Sometimes these rogue apostrophes appear in content without reason. Lest we forget, apostrophes can only be used for 2 principal reasons:

1) To signify possession, as in Paul’s house is rather small

2) To signify a missing letter, as in Paul’s a rather small man

As I’ve touched on in the previous post, you don’t need one when you’re using plurals with nothing possessed. The trees were swaying, for example. But you do see apostrophes with nouns, so the confusion is perhaps understandable.

Not so when you see the howler of an apostrophe with a verb. Just the other day I was reading a press release from a company I admire, and presumably it was written by someone who writes for a living. It began as follows: “Today see’s the launch of …”

What?! On what planet does that make sense? Hell’s bell’s … 🙂

Why oh why, dear reader, do folks put an apostrophe before the ‘s’ in your common-or-garden plural?

As we’ve talked about before, an apostrophe only ever signifies possession, as in the dog’s bone, or a missing letter or letters, as in the dog’s got a bone which is short for the dog has got a bone. But to start a sentence with ‘The teacher’s taught the pupils’ betrays an alarming lack of knowledge of that simple rule.

While we’re on the subject of plurals and apostrophes, let me just remind those unsure of how the possessives work with singular and plural nouns. The apostrophe goes immediately after the thing or things doing the possessing. So we write the dog’s bone, but the parents’ association. Where it gets confusing is where the thing doing the possessing has a built-in plural. So, we say the children’s toys, the and the couple’s daughter, but the couples’ children when it’s more than one couple doing the possessing :-). And then we get onto ‘folk’, from the German word volk, meaning people. Some people prefer to say folk, some say folks, so where do you put the apostrophe then? Wherever you like in my view.

Like I say, folk’s punctuation drives me mad…

Why do people use brackets, or parentheses as our American friends would say, in the written word?

We don’t use them verbally, other than an aside perhaps. For me, brackets are rarely used to explain some background detail, like something you might see in a footnote.

When I see content in brackets, I think it reduces the power of what you’re trying to say.  It feels like you know you should write less, but don’t have the courage to edit down, so you put your potentially superfluous text in brackets. Or maybe you just want to separate clauses out.  For that you could use the hyphen – or is a dash? – to get your reader to pause.

Remove the brackets and let your words go free, or lose them altogether (or not, as the case may be).

I checked my daughter’s homework today and her grammar questions were on the different uses of it’s and its. She’s 10. She got them all right.

It amazes me how many times you see the incorrect version used in emails and signed off communications from senior people and established companies. Have they forgotten the rule, or did they never know it? It must make every teacher or former teacher cringe when they see these kinds of mistakes.

Of course, the confusion lies in the fact that the apostrophe can denote both a missing letter and possession.  Paul’s a simpleton stands for Paul is etc, whereas Paul’s friend is a simpleton denotes the friend belongs to me. The exceptions to the ‘apostrophe for possession’ rules are – inconveniently – his, her and its, otherwise known as your possessive pronouns.

So, therefore, I offer you a primer.



Thus, you say: It’s a dog, and it’s got its bone.

Does this post help, or does it come with its own headache?