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Posts Tagged ‘Grammar


Bangalore-based startup Plustxt has designed a messaging application that not only offers an alternative to standard text messaging, but also allows users to do so in regional language.

Pratyush Prasanna, co-founder of Plustxt Mobile Solutions, is of the view that conventional messaging will soon be redundant. “For the amount of data used for sending an sms, the charges are exorbitant,” says the 32-year-old IIT-Kharagpur and IIM-Calcutta graduate who earlier worked with Microsoft, startup venture Gupshup and Xerox. “With increased penetration of smart phones and data there are other ways to communicate.”

In January, the company launched two apps on the Android platform: Plustxt, an English-language messaging app similar to the globally popular Whatsapp, and Plustxt India, which allows users to communicate in eight regional languages. Within months, the apps have recorded 60,000 downloads encouraging Prasanna and his team to work on versions for other platforms like Apple’s iOS and Nokia’s Symbian.

The regional language app, which the company is focusing on, allows users to combine English with a vernacular language. The user can type out with the regular mobile keyboard and the app transliterates the word to the chosen local language and English. The app is integrated with SMS so an app to app message will be sent over data, but a sms will be sent if the recipient has not downloaded the app. Read more in this report by Radhika P Nair.

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Many of us get troubled when we have to use English as a means of communication ¾ in conversation and in writing. Quite often the confusion (more in writing than in speech) is how and when to use or not use the article ‘the’.

A travel website, for example, has displayed a highlighted note for its readers: Log your road travel experiences here. Be sure to include the interesting pictures as well. This is an example of how articles are wrongly used, even on websites that are otherwise well designed and look sleek.

Similarly, “Which is right answer?” “She is the French lady” “The guard failed to catch thief” ¾ these are a few examples of wrong placement/omission of the article ‘the’ which are often used – intentionally or unintentionally.

Arijit, a friend of mine who works as a technical editor in a multinational IT company, feels the problem occurs either because “people don’t know the difference between articles a, an, and the” or because “they are non-native speakers of English”.

Recounting his experience, he says: “People usually use the article ‘the’ with proper nouns, such as names of applications. For example, ‘use the Enterprise Manager’ (it should be ‘use Enterprise Manager’). Or they use it without introducing the thing they refer to. ‘The following scan methods can be used for IOTs that contain the large objects.’ In this sentence, we don’t need ‘the’ as it is a generic reference to large objects and not specific to any large objects that we already mentioned. Disgustingly, ‘He is playing the tennis’ is normal Indian usage.”

His views are shared by Deb, a friend who is a sub-editor for a national magazine. She says, “Many times I come across sentences such as ‘Apart from academic refinement initiatives, school has been organizing several cultural and sports activities.’ The omissions take place even when it is necessary to retain the article. And I think that’s because people haven’t been taught properly at the primary level and therefore they don’t know the correct use of articles.”

Do you also find the use of ‘the’ bewildering? Here are some tips to learn when to use the article.

RULES MADE SIMPLE

The easiest way to use ‘the’ is to remember to use it

  • When you know that the listener/reader knows or can guess what particular person/thing you are talking about. For example, The burger you ate was mine or Did you watch the match?
  • When you have already introduced the person/thing you are talking about. For example, Maya teaches two batches. One in the morning and the other in the evening.
  • When you are referring to specific rivers, oceans and seas and when the word river is omitted. For example: River Nile, the Brahmaputra, River Tapti, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific.
  • Before particular nouns which we know are only one of a kind. For example: the rain, the sun, the Earth, the Taj Mahal, the world, etc.
  • Before class nouns which show one thing as a representative of the class to which it belongs. For example, the fields, the sparrow, the last days of the spring.
  • When you are mentioning a particular person or thing which is the best or most famous. For example, Karim’s is the place to go for fresh kababs. I saw the Taj Mahal when I went to Agra this summer.
  • In place of possessive personal pronouns such as his, her, etc. For example, The eyes twinkled as the baby smiled.
  • When you want to emphasize a word almost equal to its descriptive adjective. For example, Here is the tower that shall remind coming generations of our sacrifice.

DO NOT USE ‘THE’

  • When you talk about things in general. For example, “The trees fell in the storm” mean only those trees fell to which you are referring to, whereas “trees fell in the storm” will mean many trees fell in the storm.
  • When you refer to a sport. For example, My daughter knows swimming not the swimming; Skating is expensive not the skating; cricket is his favourite sport not the cricket.
  • When you use uncountable nouns. For example, I will have coffee not the coffee; She needs information on global warming not the information.
  • Before names of countries and companies except where they indicate multiple areas or union, such as state(s), kingdom, republic, or union. For example, Infosys, Wipro, the India Today Group, Italy, Mexico, India, the UK, the US, and the Netherlands.

Hope these points help. If you have more examples to state or suggestions to use ‘the’ correctly, please share them by writing comments.

FOR MORE READING

Learn English

Lousy Writer

OWL


It is strange how fast things change. Technology is ever evolving and so is language ¾ the change has become constant. In my school days we used to be taught that English language evolved over many years but now there were certain standard forms of words, letter writing, and phrases used in “formal” conversations and writings and denoted the usage of “good quality” language.

Now that school of thought is history. Everything has changed from what I learnt in school and the way I edit/write today. The language style, spellings, punctuation uses, and many such things have changed from the way I understood them in my childhood and used to be grilled in by the teachers. And I am not in my 30s yet!

As an editor, therefore, it has become imperative for me to keep updated with the changes in English language. I have been reading a lot past few weeks about editing lessons and what some of the forums have to say on editing guidelines. I found some good links which I thought it best to share here.

In one of my regular visits to Poynter.org, website for journalists and editors, I happen to click on News University. And that opened a plethora of lessons on editing, writing and what not. A must see.

I registered and took a course on “Cleaning Your Copy”. The course teaches everything an editor needs to be skilled with: Grammar, Style, Punctuation, and Spellings. Each section is a pack of lessons. It also teaches you things like proper sentence construction, active/passive voice, modifiers, pronouns, etc. Moreover, the website offers tips on reporting, writing, management, and everything you can imagine related with journalism and media.

Obviously books are a big help when it comes to editing. Style manuals such as Chicago Manual of Style are followed by most (non-technical) publishing houses in India. But to test yourself or for a fast access to grammar lessons you can visit Protrainco.com. I found this website’s grammar archives very useful. You can get some very good language tips here.

Wanted to provide a Youtube.com video on books editing, but there’s nobody there giving tips on that one.

Here’s one from me: It is always good to keep grooming your language skills and the best way is to keep practicing (conversing) with people who speak the language better and more fluently than you do. And sign up with some good language forums. Hope this helps. I may suggest some such forums next time.

While I go back to reading some more grammar newsletters, enjoy life!

 

Useful Links

Mayfield Handboolk

Good Grammar, Good Style Archive at Protrainco.com


Putting an apostrophe, the standalone single quote punctuation (’), in the right place is a difficult and puzzling task when we write in English.

To many of us it is, I would say, as confusing as the comma.

But there are ways to master the art of placing the apostrophe correctly. Understanding and learning some basic rules of the confusing punctuation can help us reduce our errors faster. (Please note that the following information is based on my understanding and some extra reading, therefore, it is not a complete study on correct use of apostrophe.)

BASIC FUNCTION

Mainly, the apostrophe has two uses in English: to indicate possession/ownership and to show omission of words or numbers (also called contraction).

Apostrophe Showing Possession

Vivek’s bike
Maya’s father
Chandra’s pen
Its (see the explanation for it’s)
The examples show that the punctuation is placed with the possessor and not the object.

Apostrophe Showing Contraction

1990s     = ’90s
Can’t     = Cannot
Hadn’t   = Had not
Hasn’t   = Has not
I’m        = I am
It’ll        = It will (similarly, we’ll = we will)
It’s        = It is (Note: It’s is a short form for ‘it is’ whereas Its indicates possession. For example, It’s great that she finally got a job. The machine works on its own at the push of a button. Therefore, in case of it’s and its, we must identify the function of the apostrophe to place it accordingly)
I’ve       = I have
Let’s     = Let us
Mustn’t = Must not (similarly, shouldn’t = should not, couldn’t = could not)
She’s    = She is/has (similarly, he’s = he is/has)
Should’ve = Should have (similarly, could’ve = could have)
There’s = There is
We’re   = We are/were (similarly, they’re = they are/were)
Who’s   = Who is (Note: Who’s is a contraction of Who is whereas Whose is a possession. For example, Who’s in the other room? Whose desk is this?)
The examples show the contraction of words.

RULES OF POSSESSION-INDICATING APOSTROPHE

  1. A noun is a word that refers to a person, place or thing. A singular noun refers to one person, place or thing, for example: boy, desk, book, etc. To show possession to a singular noun, we mostly add apostrophe and s (’s) (as shown in examples above). Plural nouns (which refer to more than one person, place or thing) that do not end in (s) also follow the same rule. For example: The children’s park, the men’s room, the women’s club.
  2. Common nouns refer to general objects, a non-specific person, place or thing, for example: cars, winter, dog, chance, tables, etc. Both singular and plural common nouns that end in (s) can form the possessive by using only an apostrophe after the s. For example, tables’ legs, cars’ parking. The common nouns that do not end with s will use ’s, e.g., dog’s food, girl’s dress.
  3. Proper nouns (names of people, cities, countries, for example: Sagarika, India, Bangalore) can form the possessive either by using the ’s or simply adding the apostrophe () if the name ends in s. Now it is acceptable to use either form (James’s or James’). For example: Mr James’s car, The Bakers’ cookies.
  4. When you need to show two people owning/sharing the same thing, the apostrophe and s (’s) should be placed after the second person only. For example: Rohit and Veena’s trekking to the forest was exciting. Neha and Shalini’s friend has returned from the US.
  5. If two people do not share/own the same thing, the apostrophe and s (’s) should be used for both. For example: Neha’s mother and Shalini’s aunt are good friends.
  6. Indefinite pronouns are words which replace nouns without specifying which noun they replace, for example: both, few, most, none, some, everybody, nothing, etc. They form the possessive by using the apostrophe and s (’s). For example: everybody’s concern, a day’s work, a moment’s notice.
  7. Many name or terms are either possessive or descriptive. In such cases, we should use an apostrophe and s (’s) if the name is a singular/plural possessive noun or an *irregular plural noun. For example: Levi’s jeans, Westside Women’s Store, Blossoms’ kids wear. [*Most nouns are made plural by adding an s to the singular form. If the noun ends with an s, ch, sh, or x, an es is added to make the noun plural. Plural nouns that are not made plural in this way are irregular plural nouns. For example: men, women, city, etc.]

To further enhance your knowledge about the use of apostrophe, you can read more on the websites under My Pick.

My Pick

Apostrophe

Online Writing Lab


For a minute, just try and recollect when you heard proper, formal, nice English sentences in your conversation? I doubt it was recent. There is nothing like “proper” English these days. We hardly think about our usage of words or pick them consciously. Gone are the days when people used to pay attention to using strictly formal or proper English and grammar for writing letters and in official communication. Nowadays sms English is in and slang fill the mailbox.

 

Even when some of us do stick to speaking good English, we tend to get superfluous and use too many words in place of one. And that has a place in dictionary:

 

Tautology: a statement in which you say the same thing twice in different words, when this is unnecessary, for example ‘They spoke in turn, one after the other.’ 

Pleonasm: (technical) the use of more words than are necessary to express a meaning. For example, ‘see with your eyes’ is a pleonasm because the same meaning can be expressed using ‘see’.

 

We are so used to pleonasm that we don’t even realize using or listening to it. We often use extra vocabulary either to emphasize our point or to show good communication skills, whereas it reflects the opposite. 

Following are some common groups of words which can be replaced by a single word in our speech as well as writings.

 

A large proportion of

many

Absolutely essential 

essential

Added bonus

bonus

Advance warning 

warning

At this moment

now

Attach together

attach

By virtue of the fact that

because

Close proximity

close

Close scrutiny

scrutiny

Collaborate together

collaborate

Combine together

combine

Consensus of opinion

consensus

Exact replica

replica

Exactly the same

the same

Free gift

gift

Future plans

plans

In conjunction with

and

In order to

to

In the absence of

without

In the event that

if

In the field of biology

in biology

Minute detail

detail

Most unique

unique

New innovation

innovation

Oblong in shape

oblong

Patently obvious

obvious

Personal opinion

opinion

Placed under arrest

arrested

Prior experience

experience

Prior to

before

Razed to the ground

razed

Red in colour

red

Revert back

revert

Shorter in length

shorter

Subsequent to

after

Successful achievement

achievement

Sum total

sum

Surrounded on all sides

surrounded

Temporary reprieve

reprieve

Tiny speck 

speck

Unexpected surprise

surprise

Very urgent

urgent

Was of the opinion that

thought

With the exception of

except

 

If you wish, you can add your examples in comment.


English is a funny language, undoubtedly. It is difficult too for some of us who are not native English speakers and have adopted it as our second language. Over the years, while working with different professionals I have observed that many of us still find English language confusing, especially when we have to deal with homophones (words that are spelled differently but are pronounced alike) and/or homographs (words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently).

Referring to such troublesome words, Don Phillipson, a Canadian member of an online language forum, said: “This is what North American newspapermen call ‘eluders,’ listed and discussed in The Canadian Press Style Book.

My discussion with some English language experts brought up a few common words that confuse many people in their day to day use of English language – in writing and speech, at work and in their private conversations.

“I think everyone has some spellings that are bugbears for them. For instance, I know how to spell ‘friend’, but whenever I write it something in my brain says, ‘that rhymes with ‘fiend’; it can’t be right,’ and if I am in a hurry I’ll sometimes change it to ‘freind’, which then looks very wrong to me,” said Dave Hatunen, member of the online group.

Another member, John Kane cited self example: “I consistently have to rewrite ‘wierd’ to ‘weird’, and it still looks wrong. Same with ‘guarantee’ ¾  I always try ‘gaurantee’ first. I have also had trouble all my life with -ent/-ant words, usually picking the wrong spelling first.”

One of my friends, a successful HR executive and businesswoman, said she finds “principal” and “principle” highly confusing. “I find ‘practice’ and ‘practise’ more problematic because I use them almost every day and it’s tough to figure out which one to use the one with ‘c’ or ‘s’,” she said.

“One of the most commonly misspelled words as spelled by otherwise good spellers is, in my experience, ‘aperture’. It often gets spelled and pronounced ‘aperature’,” said Bob Cunningham of the language forum.

Another group member said, “Wednesday. I still get it wrong (Wedensday), it’s a habit I have thus far found impossible to break. I’ve never pronounced it like ‘Wed Ness Day,’ or thought about it like that, or even known I was wrong until well into adulthood. I don’t recall ever been corrected (except by MS Word!).”

My confusing words would be: intention, millennium, and hassle.

My friend Saras, executive administrator at a magazine office, often gets confused in “advice”, “advise”, “whether”, and “weather”.

“If you ask me, I’ll say the entire English language is confusing. I have a long list of words that confuse me when I have to write emails, invitations, letters, newsletters, brochures and press releases on a daily basis. For example, I always write ‘table’ as ‘tabel’ first. Then ‘their,’ ‘there,’ ‘principal,’ and ‘principle’ put me into trouble all the time. I wish I didn’t have to write in English at all,” says Tabu, events manager of a media group in Bangalore.

The purpose of citing these quotes is to show that it is common to make mistakes in English language and those of us who find it difficult shouldn’t underestimate our capability to improve on it consciously. To make things easier, here are a few examples of some common troublesome words with their meanings:

HOMOPHONES: WORDS SPELLED DIFFERENTLY BUT PRONOUNCED ALIKE

Chord: (music) two or more notes played together; (mathematics) straight line that joins two points on a curve
Cord: strong thick string or thin rope

Complement: to add to something in a way that improves it
Compliment: a remark that expresses praise or admiration of somebody

Loose: not firmly fixed where it should be; able to become separated from something
Lose: to be unable to find something/somebody; to have something/somebody taken away from you

Read more examples

HOMOGRAPHS: WORDS SPELLED THE SAME BUT PRONUNCIATION AND/OR MEANINGS DIFFER

Bow     : The act of bending your head or the upper part of your body forward in order to say hello or goodbye to somebody or to show respect

: A knot with two loops and two loose ends which is used for decoration on clothes, in hair, etc. or for tying shoes

Content : The amount of a substance that is contained in something else; (computing) the information or other material contained on a website or CD-ROM

              : Happy and satisfied with what you have

Lead    : To go with or in front of a person or an animal to show the way or to make them go in the right direction; guide

: A chemical element Lead is a heavy soft grey metal, used especially in the past for water pipes or to cover roofs

Read more examples

WORDS THAT SPELL ERROR!

Accommodation not Accomodation
Foreign not Foriegn
Friend not Freind or Fiend
Guarantee not Gaurantee
Hassle not Hassel
Intention not Intension
Professional not Proffesional
Pronunciation not Pronounciation
Received not Recieved
Table not Tabel
Weird not Wierd

TEXT TWIST

Effect: a change that something/somebody causes in something/somebody else; a result
Affect: to produce a change in something/something

Forward: towards a place or position that is in front
Foreword: a short introduction at the beginning of a book

Moral: concerned with principles of right and wrong behaviour
Morale: the amount of confidence and enthusiasm, etc. that a person or a group has at a particular time

Read more examples

THE FUNNY SIDE OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE

IrelandOn-line
Funny Errors

Source: All word meanings have been taken from Oxford Dictionary


It is amazing how wonderfully some people can concentrate on the meaning of words and how clearly they can explain them, too. Recently, I posted a query in a forum of English language experts regarding the “seven days a week” phrase that I came across while editing a book.

I was a bit confused why “seven days a week” cannot be written as “all week” or “all days of the week”. The answers that I received were common sense and enlightening:

“‘Seven days a week’ was perfectly normal construction in American English,” said a member from Florida adding, “this way the phrase eliminates any ambiguity of what a ‘week’ is.” He meant that since in the US there are “week days” and “weekend days,” there is a possibility of ambiguity which the phrase gets rid of if clearly written as “seven days a week”.

Another member said, “seven days a week” implies that other establishments are open on fewer days each week, for example, “six days a week” or “five days a week”.

“The mention of seven days in the expression is important as some people reading the article may come from a culture in which the normal working week is less than seven days, six days for instance. Such a person might assume that ‘all week’ means a working week of six days,” said an elaborate post.

In the UK, the phrase is used as good English and is understood easily with no ambiguity. A member said, “The alternatives are not so good: ‘all week’ may mean seven days, or ‘the working week’, which many assume to be five days. ‘All days of the week’ is equally vague, plus is ungrammatical. Instead, ‘every day of the week’ would be a little better.”

In all these answers there are a few important points:

§ importance of the order of words,
§ importance of the meaning we wish to convey in our writings,
§ check whether our sentences convey the intended meaning,
§ understand different cultures and keep global readership in mind,
§ apply regular grammar and spell checks, and
§ bring clarity of thought for unambiguous writing.

It is important here to realise how loaded each word is, and how carefully an editor/reader must read. Thanks to everyone who cared to reply to my query.


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