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As promised, a literary post. This one is a common misconception. I was disappointed when it appeared on the Big Bang Theory because the show is normally fairly accurate when making its witty jokes. I’m not sure why this one is so persistent when all grammarians agree that this claim is false.
So, what’s a preposition? Well, simply put it’s a word that creates a relationship with another word. Here are a few common ones: for, of, about, in, to, with, on, at, by, after, over, etc.
To use the Big Bang Theory’s example, Dennis Kim the genius Korean boy tells Leonard that his English is pretty good, except for the tendency to end his sentence with a preposition. Leonard replies: “What are you talking about?” (Which ends with a preposition).
Now, is this wrong? Certainly not. To avoid ending with prepositions, one would have to talk like Yoda. It would be “About what are you talking?”.
Apparently this convention for not ending sentences with prepositions began in the 18th century when some grammarians believed that English should follow Latin grammar. Regardless, it is not wrong to do it.
The only time you shouldn’t end with a preposition is when that preposition is extraneous (unnecessary). An example would be “Where are you at?”, where the “at” is unnecessary because “Where are you?” is perfectly proper by itself.
I’m just here to quickly express a little gripe I have. It may seem like nitpicking but it ruffles my feathers when people use the word “inception” to mean something multi-faceted. Even little amalgamations like “forkception” annoy me because they operate on the misunderstanding of the actual word, inception. No, it does not mean mind fucked, or something in something in something, or confusing or anything close to those. Inception is, quite simply, a noun denoting the start/beginning/commencement of something. To my great anguish, dictionary.com has now included this definition due to the movie’s popularity:
3. (in science fiction) the act of instilling an idea into someone’s mind by entering his or her dreams.
I just want everyone to know that definition is wrong, and if it ever becomes an acceptable usage of the word inception, it will be due to society’s overarching ignorance of the English language forcing academics to bow to stupidity and amend definitions (much the same way “swag” is constantly used incorrectly).
So yes, everyone is doing it. Stand out by being one of the few intellectuals that realises everyone is wrong.
So there seems to be a bit of confusion on this topic but it is essentially quite simple (at least compared to irony versus coincidence, which is a highly subjective topic).
Sarcasm is a subcategory of irony. That’s the first thing you need to know and it makes a lot of sense when you understand this. The similarity comes from the root of the definition of irony – a subversion of expectations. Basically, anything said or done, or an event that occurs, which goes against expectations. Like if I set fire to a haystack and the wind blew the cinders on to my neighbour’s house, setting it on fire instead. I wasn’t expecting that to happen so it’s ironic. I could layer this irony with another level by adding some context – say that we were burning the haystack because it was a fire hazard to our houses. Irony can be verbal, situational or dramatic. The first two are self-explanatory. As for dramatic irony, that’s actual a technique often used by playwrights in which the audience knows a certain fact but the characters don’t. This can be applied to real life though is a stronger tool in literary texts.
Anyway, sarcasm is similar in that you are saying something that goes against expectations. There’s two key differences with sarcasm though; first of all, sarcasm can only be verbal (whereas irony can be situational or dramatic). Secondly, sarcasm is designed as an attack. Irony can be innocent but sarcasm is used with the intent to mock or hurt somebody. The degree to which you are doing this can vary. Friends can be sarcastic with each other because friendship can withstand a bit of good-natured barbing, but again, there is an intent to single out a person or persons and ridicule them when it comes to sarcasm.
As for the whole irony and coincidence debate, I remember the Oatmeal did a good post on it. The gist of it is anything coincidental can arguably be ironic because it is subjective on the observer’s expectations. Since irony is a subversion of expectations, anyone could argue that any coincidence is ironic to them. The only thing I would add to this is that people do use the word “ironic” too frivolously, and there are times where if you consider a coincidence ironic, it really just shows that you’re stupid.
I remember an article a while back condemning our future generations to a world where English literacy has suffered at all levels – particularly spelling. The cause is technology’s “auto-correct”.
In the interests of keeping English literacy at an acceptable level, I’m going to tell you 10 words that people still can’t seem to spell and how I remember it. It would suck to survive a massive global recession and be remembered just for butchering the English language.
This overlaps a bit with one of my other posts so I’ll try to make these words different.
- Since we’re talking about misspelled words, let’s start with that: Misspelled. Remember it this way – the prefix “mis” alludes to being wrong. “Mispelled” would be wrongly “pelled”. In the same way, it’s misstep not “mistep”.
- Next up is accommodate. It’s double “c” double “m”. Straight forward enough – if you’re not sure just double them because there’s enough room to accommodate them all.
- Professor is a crowd favourite. It’s often the butt of jokes on TV shows. I just think of the short term “Prof.” and consider that all the “f” I need.
- This one is definitely a problem. People are always saying “definately”. This is mostly due to how people pronounce the word these days. Remember it this way: the word “finite” is in it.
- A lot and never mind are both two separate words! Stop combining them! I think the culprit here is the word “anyway” which makes you think you can combine all the words that you say quickly.
- Don’t be embarrassed when spelling this word – just remember it’s double “r” and double “s”.
- Per se does not come from English (it’s Latin), so remember, it’s not “per say”.
- Lightning is the electrical discharge. Lightening is the process of making something lighter. Remember this by remembering that you “lighten” something.
- A principal is the position for a person and he is not your pal. It’s the principle of the matter.
- It’s separate. Remember the “par”!
Too often do I get carried away championing the Grammar Nazi cause that I forget to educate in a less scathing way. This is an odd habit of mine considering I used to be an English tutor – a patient and encouraging one too (I’d like to think). I blame the impersonal nature of the internet for my blunt, borderline-mockery of those that commit errors relating to English syntax, although I’ve mentioned before that I generally don’t bother correcting people unless they’re trying to correct someone else – and getting it wrong. I’d like to think this absolves me of some of the gravity of my crime – I leave the oblivious alone and hunt the self-proclaimed Grammar Nazis who obviously need a bit of a lesson themselves.
Anyway, to amend my sins I’ll quickly throw together some of the most common errors that I see so that this can be used as a reference for those trying to fix up their English (to whom I give my utmost respect – props for your effort). I don’t believe absolutely perfect grammar is necessary, and I have many well-educated, intellectual peers who have problems with English syntax themselves, but a good degree of English writing is necessary for professional credibility, and also for its own sake. What I find hilarious are people who attempt to be deep and meaningful with incorrect grammar – it sort of undermines your credibility when you don’t know what you’re saying. I think it would be plagiarism for me to go linking funny grammar fail photos, so I’ll let you guys Google them yourselves. I also don’t want to offend my Facebook friends by using theirs. Suffice to say, in a world comprised mostly of idiots, it’s nice to be able to stand out by using proper English. By the way, for those who don’t know, in linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and processes of constructing sentences. I use the word syntax because I don’t want to be incorrect by calling something a grammar mistake when it’s actually spelling, punctuation or diction, for example (so yes, the term Grammar Nazi is actually a misnomer, which I find ironic). Syntax sort of encompasses all of that.
Ok, I ramble a lot; my posts are way too long. If you avoid all of these errors, your English is passable and you should be left alone by all but the most seasoned of Grammar Nazis. These are off the top of my head so I may miss some conditions. Here’s the list:
10 Common English mistakes:
- You’re means “you are”. Your means something belongs to or is associated with you. (You’re always late to your classes.)
- An apostrophe followed by the letter “s” ( ‘s ) is used to indicate possession, except for the word “it’s” which means “it is”. I find this one particularly amusing because people often say “Grammar Nazi’s” to indicate plural, which is incorrect. To indicate the possessive of a plural, you put the apostrophe after the “s”. However, if it’s a name ending with “s”, you still put an apostrophe with an “s” after the name. (Jess’s grammar is horrible. It’s quite obvious that she never paid attention in school; the teacher claims that she always got on the other students’ nerves.) Edit: Actually, there’s some debate over whether you need to add the apostrophe “s” after a name ending with “s”. My academic view is that you should, but it would take up too much space to support that argument here. Suffice to say, just make sure you’re consistent in your own writing.
- To indicate the plural of a word, generally you add an “s” to the end. If the word ends with the letter “y”, you change the “y” into an “ie” and then put the “s” on the end (-ies). Some exceptions include the plural form of “he” and “she”, “that” and “this” (they, those and these, respectively). (The baby’s eyes glared sinisterly at the other babies. They stared back with equal menace.)
- Words should be capitalised at the beginning of every sentence and after ever period/full-stop. Names and significant terms should also be capitalised (which is why Grammar Nazi should be capitalised, as it is an established term used to name somebody who corrects other peoples’ grammar). This should be pretty obvious so I’m not going to give an example. If you can’t do this correctly, I honestly think you need to go back to primary school – and I say that without any hint of insult intended. Also, capitalising randomly in the middle of your words and sentences makes you look like a douche.
- Then is used to indicate the next event after a certain time. Than is used to compare things. (He read the poorly constructed comment, then realised that he was far more educated than the other guy.)
- A liar is somebody who lies. I have no freaking clue what a lier or a lyer is. The act of committing a lie is lying.
- Affect is a verb; it is the action of causing an effect, which is a noun. (His atrocious grammar affected the Grammar Nazis’ sensibilities to good effect.)
- Farther is used to indicate a measurable distance. Further is used for abstract distances, such as time or events. (He ran farther ahead but could predict no further catastrophes).
- Multiple negatives can be used for dramatic effect, but most of the time people use them incorrectly. If you use more than one negative in a sentence, you’re complicating things and you’re cancelling out the effect of your negatives. “He hasn’t never done nothing wrong” actually means he always does things wrong. See how confusing and stupid that is? If you want to say “He’s never done anything wrong” then just freaking say it normally.
- I’m not actually sure what the proper name for this error is but please, never say “more better” or anything along those lines. More is an adjective. Adjectives are used to describe nouns and pronouns only. Better is an adverb. You do not use adjectives in front of adverbs. Just say “better”, it already has the meaning of “more” incorporated into it.
Obviously, there’s many more mistakes that people make, but if you can manage to avoid these then congratulations! You are now the top 10% (a statistic that I can’t back up with any sources, but seriously, you’re now special because you’re no longer just another incoherent writer whose comments speak poorly of your education).
As a reward, here are some cool words (in my opinion) that you can try using to make yourself sound even more awesome.
- Ubiquitous – Omnipresent; found everywhere
- Pulchritudinous – Physically pretty; appealing to look at
- Paradigm – A set of forms and processes that is used as a model or example
- Paramount – Of great importance or impact
- Tantamount – Equivalent; equal to
- Guile – Cunning; deceitful
- Machiavellian – Characterised by the traits of deceit, manipulation and cunning
- Effervescent – Bubbly; lively
- Comeuppance – A consequence that one has earned, usually negative
- Enthrall – To captivate; to hold power over
With great grammar comes great responsibility. Enjoy your newfound power and may it help you in your social life, academic life and professional life (and it probably will if you used to tork lyke dis).