In my job as a sub editor I come across so many basic errors in grammar and the use of unnecessary words.
These are exhibited by junior writers with no more than six months of cub training to senior writers and even contributors who are academics in their respective fields.
These are just a few of the most common.
There’s not much to say about incidence and incident except that temptation (also read auto brain) to misuse the two words is quite common.
It’s one of those cases in the English language where words sound the same with different spelling.
I find these the most challenging in the language and tend to make the most mistakes with this type of English trickery. I find when I am busy, a word sound in a sentence can pass for the right word because the brain picks up the sound if one reads aloud.
Incident is a noun, meaning event or happening. For example: There was an incident during the student protest.
The word incidence, a close neighbour in the Paperback Oxford English Dictionary (2001), just one above, is also a noun. It means the occurrence of something, or frequency of occurrence, for example to form patterns. Such as: The incidence of student protests at South African universities has been high of late.
Both have a plural with the simple addition of an ‘s’.
Thus, there have been many incidents since violence erupted at universities throughout the country.
And, The incidences of violence have students, parents, lectures and police extremely worried.
And, The incidences of violence and injury have students, parents, lectures and police extremely worried.
Although this would be better said as, The incidents of violence and injury have students, parents lectures and police extremely worried.
However, you would say, Studies will compare the incidences of violence at UCT and Wits to suggest solutions (in other words two sets of incidences). However, you could just as well use incidents and the sentence would be correct.
Incidence in its plural form is a less preferred usage and should be avoided if at all possible.
Please add your views or leave a comment
English demands that its users know more than just the meaning of a word.
They also must know how it’s used. It’s not okay to slap just any words together. Some have special ‘partners’.
While subbing an article yesterday, I happened upon the phrase ‘pay their condolences’. I knew instinctively that condolences were not paid. However, I forgot for a second what it was that you did with them.
So of course, you offer them. Thus the phrase was corrected to ‘offer their condolences’
While gathering information on the matter, I discovered that one can offer condolences in the singular, as in I offer my condolence. There is also the verb, to condole.
Lifesomundane has explained the difference between the singular and plural usage so well that I’ve just copied it in.
Now this is a tricky one. I have always preferred ‘condolences’ because that is how I often hear it from native English speakers. It is not, apparently, as straightforward as I used to think.
First of all, the word condole is derived from the Latin ‘condolere,’ meaning to ‘suffer with one another.’ It means to ‘express one’s sympathetic grief, on the occasion of someone’s death.’ (Advanced English Dictionary)
Condolence, therefore, is an expression used to commiserate or sympathise with a person who has just lost a loved one.
To get back to the gist of the matter, does one say ‘condolence’ or ‘condolences’ when expressing sympathy to the bereaved?
If used as part of an adjective phrase, there is no question that ‘condolence’ is more correct. Hence, one gives a ‘message of condolence’ rather than a ‘message of condolences.’
There also is no question when condolences are offered to the bereaved on behalf of a group of persons. Hence, you can say my family’s, my company’s or my office’s condolences. Likewise, one can just say OUR condolences.
The tricky part is when one says MY condolences. There seems to be something not quite right about a singular person offering the plural of condolence on his or her behalf alone.
However, as a matter of convention, it is perfectly correct to do so and this is, in fact, how native English speakers condole with the bereaved.
Similarly, ‘my sympathies’ is often preferred to ‘my sympathy,’ the latter grammatically correct but not quite sounding so conversationally.
Most online English dictionaries that I referred to before writing this article do not state outright that ‘condolences’ is more correct than ‘condolence’ when used by a person on behalf of himself alone.
Instead, what they say is that ‘condolences’ is how the word is OFTEN used to express sympathy when somebody dies.
To conclude, ‘my condolence’ is perfectly correct and especially so from the grammatical point of view. That said, ‘my condolences’ is just as correct and particularly so because this is how it is often stated by native English speakers.
To me the word ‘dove’ brings to mind the soap brand and the birds referred to in one of Prince’s better known songs, When Doves Cry.
So I was a little taken aback when, reading a book by an American writer, he used the word dove to indicate the past tense of dove. This is what sent me on my search for correctness.
I have the contention that the American version of the English language is a lazy one (using practise as the spelling of the verb and noun, leaving out the u in colour, and so on).
So this supported my initial theory.
Merriam Webster had this to say:
Dive, which was originally a weak verb, developed a past tense dove, probably by analogy with verbs like drive, drove. Dove exists in some British dialects and has become the standard past tense especially in speech in some parts of Canada. In the United States dived and dove are both widespread in speech as past tense and past participle, with dove less common than dived in the south Midland area, and dived less common than dove in the Northern and north Midland areas. In writing, the past tense dived is usual in British English and somewhat more common in American English. Dove seems relatively rare as a past participle in writing.
Just imagine saying the car nose-dove into the river. The only possibility for the past tense of dive in this usage is dived.
And as I continue in my efforts to keep the English language pure, I hope that dove will remain rare in its usage as I cannot concede that thrive becomes throve, or hive becomes hove and there is no possible way that live becomes love.
So I say, dove, know your place!
Knowing the difference between fewer and less
English is a complex language and there is often confusion between words that seemingly have the same meaning but are particular in their usage. Such is the case with the words fewer and less.
It’s tempting to be lazy about these words.
You might be happy to say, ‘There are less clouds in the sky today’, and most people would know exactly what you meant. But to be technical about it, the correct statement is, ‘There are fewer clouds in the sky today.’
If I say, I have lost less weight this month than last month, the statement is correct. But if I want to talk about the number of kilograms I have dropped, I would say, ‘I have lost fewer kilograms this month than last month.
So what’s the difference? A body or mass of materials is spoken of as less. There is less water in the swimming pool than there was before the rainy season.
But it is correct to say, I have drunk seven cups of water, two cups fewer than yesterday.
Fewer is used in instances where items can be counted as singular units, i.e. in the discussion, clouds, cups, kilograms. Less is used where quantities cannot be broken down into units.
Less is used with abstract nouns such as sunshine, rain, thunder etc.
Here’s an exercise for practice. Fill in fewer or less.
Jane’s wardrobe has _______ clothing in summer than in winter.
Peter has ___________ dogs than his best friend.
Mary wears ___________ perfume on week days.
There is _____________ heat in the mild curry.
Tea is _____________ expenses than coffee.
There are ___________ dollars left after a shopping spree.
How can there be______ money in my account after I paid a deposit?
There are much___________ pieces of paper in that draft document.
Writing good English requires a depth of knowledge of the language.
English is full of tricks: words that sound the same and are spelled differently and words that are spelled the same and have different meanings – and that’s just two.
There are many areas of confusion in the English language so let’s just clear up one.
Licence is a word that is spelled two ways. Licence and license. It starts out being quite simple using licence as the noun and license as the verb. And even that only works if you follow the UK English system. In America, license is used as a verb and a noun.
In UK English all derivatives of the verb from of license are spelled with an S, such as licensing and licensed. It’s really quite tricky so pay close attention to your writing.
If you can’t manage, get hold of an editor or a proofreader to help you out.
Here’s to better English.
As a provider of professional English writing services I have always found both a bother in the language. I find that is used in many, many phrases as a redundant word. However grammarians do not seem to have cause to edit this word out and some of the most highly respected publications throw in the word bother with gay abandon, not paying heed to its redundant placing in a sentence.
Having spent many years as a sub-editor working to a ‘less is more’ protocol, every word must count.
Thus both is bothersome because it is so often superfluous. For example, in the sentence ‘Joan and Mary both have measles,’ the sentence can stand and mean the same thing if you write, ‘Joan and Mary have measles’. And, is a very efficient little word and does the job just fine. However, if you write ‘Joan and Mary are sick, they both have measles,’ both is functional in its own right.
If your write,’Catherine has two kids. Both are at nursery school’ both has a perfectly good function. But, in most cases where the word ‘and’ is used to couple two nouns, both is unnecessary and does not add to or clarify the meaning.
I particularly dislike, ‘Both Jake and Bill are top business men’, when ‘Jake and Bill are top businessmen,’ does the job adequately. I do not see a fit purpose for ‘both’ in this sentence.
I urge all practitioners of written English to dispense with an over-reliance on both, and only use it when absolutely necessary.
I also welcome discussion on this topic and would like to learn more about the origins of the usage of the word ‘both’.
All grammarians and practitioners of the English language welcome.