PROBLEMS WITH INCORRECT WORDS or PHRASES
This is my FOURTH post on Essential Strategies For Revising Problems in Grammar. Here, my focus is on:
- Vague Or Ambiguous Reference
- Gender-Neutral Language
- Wrong Words Or Phrases
- Double Negatives
Good writing does not exist without good sentences, so the saying goes.
A pronoun is a word that can substitute for a noun or a noun phrase. Pronouns can be singular or plural. Examples include: I, you he, she, it, they, we, me, him, her, them, us
Pronouns are used in place of nouns. Use pronouns to avoid repeating the same names, words in a sentence, or words in a group of sentences.
Incorrect: Pearl is reading a new book, and Pearl likes the book.
Correct: Pearl is reading a new book, and she likes it.
The antecedent of a pronoun is the noun or nouns the pronoun refers to replaces.
The antecedent can be in the same sentence – Ruth has a speech to give, and she would to practice.
The antecedent can be in a different sentence – Hady wants to make a video. He is looking for good scenes to include in it.
KEY: Be sure the pronoun agrees with the antecedent in gender (male or female) and number (singular or plural).
Mrs Taylor wants to see original presentations. They need to be creative.
There are several common types of mistakes made in pronoun usage.
This particular section will cover mistakes in the use of relative, personal, and reflexive pronouns, as well as pronoun reference, and in the use of gender-neutral language.
Relative Pronouns – Who / Whom / Whose
When used in questions, who is the nominative form of the pronoun, and it should be used when the pronoun is the subject.
Correct: Who is finished with the first assignment? He is finished with the assignment.
Whom should be used in questions when the pronoun is the object of the verb or preposition.
Correct: Whom do you like best? I like him.
Correct: Whom did you meet at the conference? I met them.
Who, whom, and whose are also used to introduce clauses. Whom should be used when the pronoun is the object of the verb in the clause or the object of the preposition. Whose expresses possession.
Correct: I do not remember whom my friend recommended.
Correct: I do not remember whose recommendation it was.
Correct: John was the person who was recommended for the internship.
Personal and Reflexive Pronouns (I, me, myself)
Incorrect: The teacher asked Anne and myself to do a peer review of each other’s writing.
Here, the pronoun myself is used incorrectly. Myself is a reflexive pronoun. Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and the object are the same. It can also be used for emphasis.
The sentence above should be corrected to:
Correct: The teacher asked Anne and me to do a peer review of each other’s writing.
The reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject.
Here are examples when the reflexive pronoun is used correctly:
Correct: I will do this assignment myself.
Correct: I, myself was scared to go into the dark room.
Another error occurs when, instead of using the objective form of the personal pronoun (me, him, her, etc.), we use the subjective form (I, he, she, etc.).
Incorrect: This peer review needs to be completed by Anne and I.
The phrase completed by requires an object, so we should use the objective form of the first person pronoun — me.
Correct: This peer review needs to be completed by Anne and me.
In order to make the sentence sound more formal, users often substitute I with myself incorrectly.
Incorrect: John and myself will join you later at the reception.
In the above sentence, we should use I instead of myself. Both John and I are subjects in that sentence; therefore, the subjective form of the pronoun should be used. We certainly cannot say:
Incorrect: Myself will join you later at the reception.
Here’s the corrected sentence:
Correct: John and I will join you later at the reception.
Vague Or Ambiguous Reference
Vague (or no) reference to the antecedent is one of the most common errors made by writers at many levels, as is the ambiguous use of pronouns as the subjects of sentences.
Ambiguous: Tina and her mother went out, even though she didn’t want to.
Here it is not clear who she refers to. To correct this error, simply make it clear who she is:
Preferred: Tina and her mother went out, even though Tina didn’t want to.
Consider the following example:
Ambiguous: Cough syrup and cold pills are cheap. This is what you can use to fight your cold most effectively.
What this refers to is vague. It could either mean the cough syrup or the pills, or even both. To make the second sentence less ambiguous, remove this and clarify. There are many possible solutions; here is one:
Preferred: Cough syrup and cold pills are cheap. Patients need both to fight cold most effectively.
You should be used only when referring directly to the reader.
Ambiguous: Doctors recommend that you should take multivitamins on a regular basis.
Preferred: Doctors recommend taking multivitamins on a regular basis.
Ambiguous: She sang beautifully. This made the audience cheer her.
Preferred: Her beautiful singing made the audience cheer.
KEY: If a pronoun can refer to more than one noun, the antecedent may be unclear. When this happens, rewrite the sentence to fix the unclear antecedent.
Gender-neutral language or gender-inclusive language is language that avoids bias toward a particular sex or social gender.
Not neutral: Each person has his preference as to what he puts on his hamburger.
The use of gender-neutral language, while not specifically a grammatical issue, can be an important stylistic concern. It is good practice not to use either he or she as the default third person pronoun.
The example above uses the masculine pronoun to represent each person. There are also several ways to fix this; here is one:
Neutral: Everyone has a preference as to what to put on a hamburger.
- Forefathers – ancestors, forebears
- Gentleman’s agreement – unwritten agreement, agreement based on trust
- Girls (for adults) – women
- Housewife – shopper, consumer, homemaker (depends on context)
- Manpower – human resources, labour force, staff, personnel, workers, workforce
- Man or mankind – humanity, humankind, human race, people
- Man-made – artificial, manufactured, synthetic
- Man in the street, common man – average/ordinary/typical citizen/person
- Right-hand man – chief assistant
- Sportsmanship – fairmess, good humour, sense of fair play
WRONG WORDS OR PHRASES
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Words or phrases that are suitable in one context may be inappropriate in another.
Make sure that the literal meaning of a word or phrase expresses your meaning precisely.
In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley tells how it all began.
In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley describes the circumstances of the novel’s genesis.
Be sure that your language is appropriately formal or informal, depending on your writing context
We use formal language in situations that are serious or that involve people we don’t know well. It is used is more common when we write Informal language is more commonly used in situations that are more relaxed and involve people we know well. It is commonly used when we speak
However, there are times where writing can be very informal, for example, when writing postcards or letters to friends, emails or text messages. There are also examples where spoken English can be very formal, for example, in a speech or a lecture. Most uses of English are neutral; that is, they are neither formal nor informal.
Formal language and informal language are associated with particular choices of grammar and vocabulary.
Contractions, relative clauses without a relative pronoun and ellipsis are more common in informal language.
- The speaker has been urging people not to accept death like a wimp.
- The speaker has been urging people not to accept death
A double negative uses two negative words in the same clause to express a single negative idea:
- We didn’t see nothing. [= We saw nothing.]
- She never danced with nobody. [= She didn’t dance with anybody.]
The rules dictate that the two negative elements cancel each other out to give a positive statement instead, so that the sentence ‘I don’t know nothing’ could literally be interpreted as ‘I do know something’.
Double negatives are standard in many other languages and are still widely used in English dialects where they don’t seem to cause any confusion as to the intended meaning. In Shakespeare’s day, double negatives were considered emphatic, but today, they are considered grammar mistakes.
Nevertheless, they aren’t considered acceptable in current Standard English and you should avoid them in all but very informal situations.
Just use a single negative instead:
- We didn’t see anything.
- She never danced with anyone.
These words that are regarded as negative. If you use them in your sentences once, your statements will be negative.
No, not, none, nothing, nowhere, neither, nobody, no one, hardly, scarcely, barely
Thus, do not use but in its negative sense with another negative. Also do not use barely, hardly, and scarcely with another negative word.
It may not be possible to take all this at one go. Practicing will make things easier. Good luck.
As old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL