The Grammar Logs
#586

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Question

We often request in a business letter, using the expression "we would appreciate," that the addressee take a specific action.

I write the sentence in the following manner:

"I would appreciate if you would sign and return the letter."

My boss corrects my sentence as follows:

"I would appreciate it if you would sign and return the letter."

(In other words, my boss adds the pronoun "it" before the "if" clause.) Is one form correct or are both acceptable in written language?

Source of Question, Date of Response
Jacksonville, Florida # Thu, Jan 8, 2004
Grammar's Response

I always hate when I have to agree with bosses, but I do in this case. We need the object "it" after the verb "appreciate." I would suggest, furthermore, that constructions like this involving "appreciate" would be greatly improved by using "please," instead, as in "Please sign and return the letter."


Question

How is sometime spelled when used as follows:

We believe that a sustained uptrend could occur sometime in 2004, which should bode well for you.
Source of Question, Date of Response
Louisville, Kentucky # Thu, Jan 8, 2004
Grammar's Response

Sometimes it's very hard to tell whether you want the adverbial "sometime" or the adjective + noun construction (two words). One trick is to try inserting the word "quite" in front of the word "some"; if it fits, use two words, as in "He hasn't used that car for [quite] some time." In your sentence, you want the adverbial one-word sometime to modify the verb "occur."

By permission, From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage © 1994 by Merriam-Webster, Inc. (www.Merriam-Webster.com).


Question

When something is done twice a week, is it proper to say bi-weekly?

Source of Question, Date of Response
Baltimore, Maryland # Thu, Jan 8, 2004
Grammar's Response

You have to be very careful of those "bi-" terms because half the people reading your sentence will think you mean twice a week and the other half will think you every other week. I doesn't really matter which is correct (and most dictionaries will give both definitions for "biweekly"). I wouldn't use "bi-" at all, ever. Use "twice a week" or "every other week," depending on your meaning.


Question

Within the following sentence, is there an example of the use of an appositive or of an adjective phrase? It was used in a textbook that I recently reviewed and "he could succeed" was identified as an appositive.

The idea that he could succeed carried him through.
Source of Question, Date of Response
Stillwater, Pennsylvania # Mon, Jan 12, 2004
Grammar's Response

I don't see any way that we can regard that phrase as an appositive. What "carried him through"? The idea. And what idea was that? "The idea that he could succeed." The clause "that he could succeed" is modifying the subject, "idea," so it's an adjective clause, not an appositive phrase. The textbook is wrong. Luckily, you asked someone who has never been wrong.


Question

I'm having trouble with agreement with "one." I have consulted some grammar books, which explain that if the subject of the sentence is not "that" or "who," then "one" should take a singular verb. However, in my example, the word "lest" seems to alter the usage. Am I correct?

I hide it, lest one of my snooty friends see it and scoff.

(My editor maintains that it should be "sees it and scoffs" and wants to know the grammar rule supporting my version.) Thank you for your help!

Source of Question, Date of Response
Ridgefield, Connecticut # Mon, Jan 12, 2004
Grammar's Response

If you used "unless" instead of "lest," your editor would have a good point: "one" is the subject and it's looking for singular verbs, "sees" and "scoffs." However, you've used "lest," which means "for fear that," which throws everything within the subsequent clause into the subjunctive mood (pointing to something that is merely possible, not definite). We would say, for instance, "Prepare the fondue on a low heat, lest it burn" (not "burns"). Your version of the sentence is correct.

From Garner's Modern American Usageby Bryan Garner. Copyright 2003 by Bryan A. Garner. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc., www.oup-usa.org, and used with the gracious consent of Oxford University Press.


Question

The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer has the following sentences in two separate Eucharistic prayers:

  • Form A: "By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory IS yours..."
  • Form D: Through Christ, and with Christ, and in Christ, all honor and glory ARE yours..."

Is "all" is the subject or "honor and glory"? If the former, what are "honor and glory"? Should the verb be singular or plural?

Source of Question, Date of Response
Austin, Texas # Tue, Jan 13, 2004
Grammar's Response

In both cases, "all" is a quantifier for "honor" and "glory." The question is whether or not these two things remain discrete elements — "all the king's horses and all the king's men" — or do they get lumped together as one thing (like "macaroni and cheese" [not to make light of the estimable "honor and glory"] ). In Form A, it would seem the writer is caught up in this theme of unity and lumps together "all honor and glory" and goes for the singular "is." That doesn't seem to happen in Form D. If I were actually writing this document, I would vote for consistency (the hobgoblin of impious minds) and use the singular in both cases. I don't think either is incorrect, however.


Question

I've had two proofreaders disagree with the wording of this sentence. Which one is correct?

  • I am also specifically influenced by the work of Matthew Ritchie, Takashi Murakami, Amy Sillman, and Dr. Seuss.
  • or
  • I also am specifically influenced by the work of Matthew Ritchie, Takashi Murakami, Amy Sillman, and Dr. Seuss.
Source of Question, Date of Response
Somewhere, U.S.A. # Fri, Jan 16, 2004
Grammar's Response

The second version could be ambiguous: it could mean you, too (in addition to someone else), are influed by these people. The normal placement for an adverb is between the auxiliary verb and the main verb (which is what your first sentence does). Some people think it's incorrect to break up the verb string with an adverb, but they're wrong about that. May I suggest eliminating the word "specifically"? I doubt if it adds much to your sentence.


Question

Which is the correct usage in the following sentence, and why:

Many Americans eat fewer/less high-cholesterol foods these days.
Source of Question, Date of Response
Unknown # Tue, Jan 20, 2004
Grammar's Response

This peculiar plural — foods — of a word that is usually a non-count noun, food, calls for the quantifier "fewer," not "less," precisely because it is countable. Readers understand that it means "kinds of food" just as the plural "wines" (of the usually non-count "wine") refers to varieties of wine.


Question

Is this sentence written correctly?

When Caleb asks Anna, "Did Mama sing every day?" Anna always replies; "Every single day."
Source of Question, Date of Response
Hollister, California # Tue, Jan 20, 2004
Grammar's Response

The logic of that sentence structure is screaming for a comma to come (somewhere) after "day?" — right after the question mark, in fact. But you simply cannot combine punctuation marks in that manner. Without the comma, however, that sentence becomes difficult to read and the two clauses lose touch with each other. I would recommend a rewrite using reported speech, something like

When Caleb asks Anna if Mama sang [used to sing] every day, Anna always replies; "Every single day."

Question

I cannot believe that I cannot find any reference to this usage issue anywhere! Someone please let me know whether I have gone loco.

I write user guides and procedural documentation. Someone sent a document to me to review and the document was littered with "Simply click..." Simply fill out..."

I have a problem with this kind of writing, but my opinion doesn't seem to carry a lot of weight without some kind of publication referencing what I feel to be incorrect usage of the word simply.

Not only does it look stupid when you really think about it — How do you simply click a button?… but it also seems condescending in certain scenarios where you as the writer are implying something is easy to do when it may not actually be so simple for the person you are instructing. Any thoughts?

Source of Question, Date of Response
Tampa, Florida # Wed, Jan 21, 2004
Grammar's Response

An interesting point! I think it was at Harvard University — MIT ?? — a couple of years ago, when writers of student "how-to" guides got in trouble for saying that some procedures were supposedly INTUITIVE, suggesting that clearly written explanations weren't even necessary because the users would intuitively know what to do when confronted with various situations. People strongly objected because this matter of intuition is ambiguous and relative and suggests that there's something wrong with you, the user — you're lacking some kind of fundamental and innate skill — if you don't grasp these matters "intuitively."

I think you're right, too, about "simply." It's a modifier that often serves no purpose, at least not in these contexts. And worse, it demeans both the act and the person doing it. Even when I'm doing something that is simple, I don't want or need people to remind me that I'm being simple. Obviously we don't want to banish the word simple from our vocabulary altogether: — without simple procedures I wouldn't make it to the breakfast table in the morning — but we are wisely cautioned not to overwork this simple word.


 


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