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NOV 9

Infinitive (to) or gerund (-ing) form: which is better?

Filed on: November 9, 2010 | Written by Editage | 2 comments

Which is better in the following sentences-infinitive or gerund? A detailed explanation will be much appreciated.

1-a: The beaker will be filled up to the mark with the mixture to prepare ABC solution. 1-b: The beaker will be filled up to the mark with the mixture for preparing ABC solution.

2-a: The area below the lower chest was palpated a few times with the thumb and forefinger to observe the muscle tone. 2-b: The area below the lower chest was palpated a few times with the thumb and forefinger for observing the muscle tone.

3-a: To determine the concentration, the acceptable range is set at 50.0%. 3-b: For determining the concentration, the acceptable range is set at 50.0%.

Actually, there is no thumb rule for the use of infinitives and gerunds in these constructions. Their use is primarily governed by the meaning of the sentence: if both infinitive and gerund forms convey the intended meaning, then either can be used. Now, let's analyze each of the examples you have provided to determine which form is more appropriate.

1-a. The beaker will be filled up to the mark with the mixture to prepare ABC solution. 1-b.The beaker will be filled up to the mark with the mixture for preparing ABC solution.

In these sentences, both gerund and infinitive forms convey the same meaning, i.e., the beaker is filled for the purpose of preparing the solution. Since there is no ambiguity in either sentence, both forms of the verb can be used.

Now, let's look at the second set of sentences.

2-a. The area between the lower chest was palpated a few times with the thumb and forefinger to observe the muscle tone. 2-b. The area between the lower chest was palpated a few times with the thumb and forefinger for observing the muscle tone.

These sentences have the same structure as the first set of sentences. Therefore, the gerund and infinitive forms have the same impact on their meaning. Both forms convey the intended meaning, and therefore, either can be used.

Let's move on to the third set of sentences.

3-a. To determine the concentration, the acceptable range is set at 50.0% 3-b. For determinng the concentration, the acceptable range is set at 50.0%.

The same rationale for using gerunds and infinitives can be applied here. However, in this set, the problem is not the choice between gerunds or infinitives, rather it is the way in which both have been used. Infinitive or gerund phrases, such as "To determine the concentration" or "For determining the concentration," are said to dangle if the sentences containing these phrases do not include the person or thing that performs the action implied. Dangling phrases are a common problem in sentences framed in the passive voice. Such sentences can be corrected by specifying the person or agent performing the action. For example, in this case, the sentences can be revised as follows:

3-a. To determine the concentration, we set the acceptable range at 50.0% 3-b. For determining the concentration, we set the acceptable range at 50.0%.

As you must have noticed by now, both sentences convey the intended meaning. Therefore, either can be used.

AUG13

English articles part 4: too many articles!

Filed on: August 13, 2010 | Written by | 1 comment

Our three posts so far have been about using articles in English. Many people don’t have articles in their first language, so the hardest things are deciding whether to use an article at all, and whether that article should be definite. Some people, however, do have articles in their first language, but use them very differently.

My knowledge of article use in other languages is limited to French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and a small amount of German, so this is where you can contribute to the comments section and help each other. You might also want to correct what I say, as I am a native speaker only of English.

My impression is that other languages use the definite article more. For instance, you might put an article in front of a country name: “la France,” “o Portugal.” Many languages also seem to use articles before abstract nouns, when we usually don’t in English. For example, French, Spanish, and Portuguese have articles in “l’amour,” “el amor,” and “o amor,” but I don’t think German uses an article here. (Since German and English are closely related this makes sense, though the rules can’t always be transferred directly.) Portuguese as spoken in Portugal generally seems to use lots of articles, even before possessives (“a minha tia”) and names (“o Nuno”). Can anyone tell me where that influence comes from?

On the other hand, you may not use an article in the same place in your language. In English, “I play the violin” (badly, in my case!), but in Portuguese “toco violino,” or in German “ich spiele Geige” with no article. American bloggers can tell me here whether “I play violin” without the article is acceptable in American English.

It seems, then, that there is great variation in the way we use articles. Do add your comments to the blog, as it would be really interesting to make comparisons and perhaps draw up a chart to help each other.

[Julia Miller works at the University of Adelaide and is a contributor to the Grammar Gang blog. The blog is the new electronic home for Purdue University's OWL (Online Writing Lab) Help Nest, a forum for discussing difficult questions about grammar, style, and usage.]

JUL27

English articles part 2: “a”

Filed on: July 27, 2010 | Written by | 2 comments

Last time in this blog we looked at that tricky word “the.” This time we’re going to look at the indefinite article “a.” We mentioned earlier that “the” is the definite article, and that deciding what is definite in English can be very difficult. “A” is not definite, so we use it when we are referring to something that is not specific.  Remember that we use “a” before a consonant sound, not just before a consonant, and we use “an” before a vowel sound. We can say a uniform because “uniform” starts with a consonant sound, even though the letter “u” is actually a vowel; we say an hour because the “h” here is silent.

In general, we use “a” the first time we refer to something which is singular and countable (i.e., there is only one of something, although the noun could be made plural if necessary). For example, if we say “I went to a lecture,” this is the first time we have mentioned the word “lecture,” so it is not specific. It is also a singular, countable noun. Therefore we use the word “a.” The next time we refer to the same lecture, however, it is now specific, so we say the lecture.

We use “a” in measurements or rates, such as twice a day or three litres an hour. We also use “a” the first time we mention something which is part of a larger entity, as in a slice of cake or a molecule of hydrogen. Job titles take “a” too: “She is a lawyer.”

You can see from these sentences that “a” is used slightly less than “the,” but it still is an important word. If you need more examples of article use, check an advanced learners’ dictionary, which not only tells you if a noun is countable or uncountable but also provides examples of usage. There are six advanced learners’ dictionaries available free online.

[Julia Miller works at the University of Adelaide and is a contributor to the Grammar Gang blog. The blog is the new electronic home for Purdue University's OWL (Online Writing Lab) Help Nest, a forum for discussing difficult questions about grammar, style, and usage.]

 

JUL22

English articles part 1: “the”

Filed on: July 22, 2010 | Written by | 2 comments

Did you know that “the” is the most used word in the English language? If you’re a non-native speaker of English, you will know that this tiny word causes some of the biggest headaches when you’re writing an academic paper. You will probably also know that “the” is known as the definite article.

What do we mean by “definiteness”? I think that is one of the hardest things for a non-native speaker to comprehend. “Definiteness” refers to shared knowledge. For example, if I say, “I went to a lecture. The lecture was about grammar,” then we know that “a lecture” and “the lecture” are the same thing. The first time I mention it I use “a,” because you do not know which lecture I am talking about; it could be any lecture. In the second sentence, though, the article has become definite, because we both know which lecture is being referred to. In another example, I could say, “I went to a concert on Saturday. The orchestra played beautifully.” Although we only mention the word “orchestra” once, we associate it with the concert I attended, and I assume you will understand which orchestra I am referring to, so I use the definite article again.

There are many other cases where I assume that we share the same knowledge. For example, there are some things, places or people that are unique: the earth; the equator; the Ganges; the Queen of England. In other cases, I may have used a superlative or an ordinal number: the best; the second. Many organizations also take “the”: the World Health Organisation; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. (Notice here that when we refer to an organization by its acronym, then we don’t add “the”: NATO, UNESCO.) Often, the word “of” causes us to use a definite article: the use of this procedure; the completion of the survey; none of the people in the study. Decades, centuries and currencies also take “the”: the 1990s; the twentieth century; the dollar; the rupee.

One major problem is that what is definite in one culture or context may not be definite in another. If I say, “X is the prime minister,” you would need to know which country I’m talking about. The examples above, however, give some idea, and it really is worth working on your articles and checking example sentences online to see if you’ve got it right. Try feeding your sentence into a search engine, and see if similar patterns come up in texts by native speakers.

If you find articles difficult, don’t despair. Remember that your content is the most important thing. If you can get most of the articles right, though, you are well on your way to writing excellent English.

[Julia Miller works at the University of Adelaide and is a contributor to the Grammar Gang blog. The blog is the new electronic home for Purdue University's OWL (Online Writing Lab) Help Nest, a forum for discussing difficult questions about grammar, style, and usage.]

 

NOV14

Tactics for explanatory writing, 2: use analogies

Filed on: November 14, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

An earlier blog discussed the use of examples in explanatory writing. However, when it comes to explaining how something works, analogies often work better. Take quantitative information, for instance: to chemists, such expressions as a 0.4% solution, a limit of 80 ppm, and 4 µg/litre are clear enough but to the general reader, they do not mean much—saying that a 0.4% solution is like dissolving a teaspoonful of sugar in a litre of water goes a long way in helping readers to get a better idea of the strength of the solution.

Analogies help by linking what is new to what is known, a common enough principle in teaching. To explain why seeds taken from a perfect fruit do not always grow into plants that give perfect fruit, you can point out that children are not replicas of their parents. Knowledge and information are abstract concepts but one way to explain the difference is to compare knowledge to proteins and information to amino acids: even when we eat foods rich in protein, the body has to break the proteins into amino acids and re-build the proteins from scratch—just as we access information but build knowledge inside our heads.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins presents excerpts of science writing at its best, and you will see how often good science writing uses the power of analogies.

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew. ]

AUG30

Why Editing

Filed on: August 30, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

For a person who is writing on any topic, expression is the most important thing. As it has been said, it is not enough to have good ideas; what is more important is to be able to express them well, for the expression is almost as important as the idea itself. For a person who is a not a native English speaker, the difficulty that lies in expression may be even greater. This is where editing comes in.

It is generally understood that any written expression benefits from another pair of eyes. Even though the author may be very conscientious in writing and reviewing, there are some things, especially in regard to language and structure that he may miss out. Since every person has a different knowledge set, getting the expression reviewed by another person for language and structure is generally helpful in bringing a greater degree of clarity to the author's intended meaning. This is where the editor comes in.

An editor is specialist trained in looking at language and is familiar with its nuances. He can screen through the written words and like a sculptor chisel out the rough edges. An editor can polish your work, so that it has better expression, more clarity and greater appeal to the intended audience.

Editing is for everyone, whether you are a seasoned writer or an amateur; whether you write research papers or novels. It is as important for the business executive as it is for the government official.

 

[This is a part of a series of posts, titled Open Space, where we talk about things that generally interest us, and hopefully you as well.]

AUG22

Read any good book lately?

Filed on: August 22, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Want to be a better writer? First, be a good reader. The simplest and most effective way to improve your writing is to read books written by good writers. If you are a researcher, your reading is probably restricted to the relevant journals, reports, and so on-and a daily newspaper and a magazine or two. But the compelling demands of newspapers and news magazines make little allowance for revising and polishing text-speed is everything. Whereas it takes much longer to publish books, and their writers have more time to craft their prose. Read about twenty books written by good writers, and you will notice a distinct improvement in your writing.

English abounds in good science writing. Two good series are The Best American Science Writing and The Best American Nature and Science Writing-although anthologies of good writing taken from magazines, the series will get you started. Also check winners of the Aventis prize given annually to the best-written science book for the general public from among the books published in Britain. A modern anthology is Richard Dawkins's The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing.

How does it work? It works the way you picked up your first language-by immersion. If you read a thousand correctly written sentences, chances are that your mind will pick up the correct patterns and start using them. The important thing is to find the time to read good books: but then, don't you want to be a better writer?

 

[This is a part of a series of posts, titled Open Space, where we talk about things that generally interest us, and hopefully you as well.]

JUL30

Native Eigo-juku: English Words Borrowed from India

Filed on: July 30, 2008 | Written by | 2 comments

India was a British colony for many years. So most of the Indian words came into English during the period of the British rule. Below are 3 of them.

Shampoo: Even today, in many hair salons in India, you will find barbers giving their customers a vigorous head massage with oil. This oil massage is called champi, in Hindi. It is derived from the Hindi word champo or champna, which means "to knead or massage." Getting such a head massage is always followed by a long bath. Perhaps, this is how the word shampoo (derived from champo) came to be associated with washing and, in particular, washing one's head. In English, shampoo first came to be used as a verb, e.g., You should shampoo everyday. It was later used as a noun that refers to the preparation used to wash one's hair-the liquid soap that we all recognize now.

Example: A preservative commonly found in cosmetics such as shampoo and moisturizers harms developing nerve cells, according to a controversial study. (Source: An article from Nature magazine)

Bangle: Most Hindi words have their roots in Sanskrit. Even today, most people in India find Sanskrit words very hard to pronounce. Naturally, it was worse for the foreign rulers who tried to use these words in their conversations. This is why the English words that made their way into dictionaries are anglicized (or English-ed) versions of the original Hindi words. Bangle-which is an ornament worn around the wrist-is derived from the Hindi word bhangdi. Just like wearing rings signifies matrimony in Western cultures, wearing bangles around their wrists is a sign of marriage for women in some parts of India.

Example: Sarika Watkins-Singh was banned from classes at Aberdare Girls' School in south Wales as she would not remove the bangle, which is a symbol of her faith. (Source: BBC)

Catamaran: As many as 23 languages are spoken across India. The English word catamaran has its origins in Tamil-a language spoken in southern India. It is born from the Tamil word kattumaram-kattu means "to tie" and maram means "wood." Put together, these words tell us the way in which a catamaran was built. A catamaran consists of two hulls (or frames) and a sail. In the olden days, these hulls were made of wood, and tied together.

Example: Over the past five years, teams of sailors and naval architects around the world have built, by hand, a new breed of multimillion-dollar racing catamarans that defy what you expect of a sailboat. (Source: CNN)

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUL23

Native Eigo-juku: English Words Borrowed from Greek

Filed on: July 23, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

"That's Greek to me!" This is what a lot of people say when they don't understand something. Why Greek? Perhaps because it is one of the most ancient languages. And, as any other ancient language, it has a lot to offer to other languages. Let's look at three words that English has borrowed from Greek.

Technology: The Greek civilization is recognized as one of the oldest in the world. The Greeks have significantly contributed to the fields of language, art, science, and philosophy. The word technology is actually from the Greek words techne (art) and logia (speaking). The Greek word tekhnologia literally means "systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique." Technology, as we use it in English largely refers to similar concepts. It is the name given to a collection of devices, techniques, or systems that are used in certain fields, e.g., recording technology or drilling technology.

Example: Microsoft Research has a group in Redmond and another in Beijing working together to improve spoken language technologies. (Source: From the Microsoft website.)

Narcissism: Greek mythology is very popular. The gods, goddesses, and mythical creatures of Greek stories are characters with unique features and traits. One such character is Narcissus who was well known for his handsomeness. Once when he went to a stream to drink water, he fell in love with his own reflection. Although he was thirsty, he didn't touch the water for fear that he would damage his reflection. Eventually, he died of thirst. The English word narcissism refers to concept of liking oneself excessively. In fact, in some cases, narcissism is considered to be a personality disorder.

Example: Interestingly, celebrities with the most skill (musicians) were the least narcissistic; those with no skill (reality-show stars) were, as Pinsky says, "off the narcissism charts." (Source: An article in The New York Times.)

Crisis: This oft-used English word comes from a similar sounding Greek word, "krisis." Krisis refers to the "turning point in a disease." A related Greek word is "krinein," which means "to decide or judge." The English meaning of the word is a combination of all the original meanings. In English, crisis refers to a difficult point or situation that calls for an immediate change or decision. A situation that is not stable or favorable is also called a crisis. The plural form of the word is crises; it is pronounced as "cry-sees."

Example: The food crisis is being compounded by growing populations, extreme weather and ecological stress, according to a number of recent reports. (Source: An article from The Guardian)

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUL16

Native Eigo-juku: English Words Borrowed from French

Filed on: July 16, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Time for the French to take charge...

Avant-garde: The story goes that this French word was first borrowed into English for use as a military term. That is because avant-garde stands for "advance guard." With time, the meaning attached to the word was extended to refer to anything that was "advanced." By the 20th century, avant-garde came to be used as a noun to refer to the pioneers or inventors of a particular period. It is also used as an adjective that means "pioneering" or "ahead of its times." 

Example: The psychology of the avant-garde artist was founded on public rejection and was destroyed by acceptance. (Source: An article from Comparative Studies in Society and History, JSTOR)

Faux pas: Faux, pronounced as "faw," means false or fake; this French word is used even without pas in English to mean fake, e.g., faux fur coat refers to a fur coat made of fake fur. The phrase faux pas literally means "false step." If you make a mistake in public, or in other words, if you make a blunder, it is known as a faux pas. This phrase is mostly used in relation to fashion-committing a fashion faux pas refers to wearing something inappropriate in public. The plural form of the phrase is the same as the singular form, e.g., He is known for his many fashion faux pas.

Example: It is unthinkable that she would make a fashion faux pas. (Source: An article from The Telegraph)

Entrepreneur: This word is used so often in English that few realize that it is not originally an English word. Entrepreneur comes from the French verb "entreprendre," which means "to undertake." Both in French and in English, entrepreneur is used as a noun to refer to a person who undertakes the responsibilities of running a business. This word in English has now to come to be used as a unisex term-one that can be used to refer to a man or a woman.

Example: In order to illuminate the position of Asian women in business, a series of qualitative interviews were undertaken with two particular groups: Asian women entrepreneurs in their own right; and Asian women working in family enterprises. (Source: An article published in Women's Studies International Forum)

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUL 9

Native Eigo-juku: English Words Borrowed from Chinese

Filed on: July 9, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

The most popular class of borrowed words in any language is related to food. We all know that cuisine is very specific to a region-names of dishes and their ingredients have a regional flavor to them. However, you don't have to visit a particular "region" to taste its food.

Thanks to restaurants that serve "international cuisine," food from one part of the world is very easily available in another part. And I suppose to make everyone's life simple, people just stick to the original food descriptions instead of coming up with new ones in their own languages. This explains why words like chop suey require no explanation in the West or in the East. In fact, Chinese food is very popular across the world.

This week, we'll look at three other Chinese words that have been borrowed into English. It's no surprise that two of them are related to food!

Tossed in a wok and topped with ketchup, the food was served in a restaurant that was designed according to the principles of feng shui.

No one in the West would have any trouble understanding this sentence even though it has three Chinese words-wok, ketchup, and feng shui.

Wok: Wok is a special type of utensil used in cooking. It is usually large, made of metal, and has a round bottom. It is mostly used for stir-frying, which is a popular method for cooking Chinese food. A wok also has ears or handles that allow a cook to hold on to it while tossing the ingredients. Wok is originally a Cantonese word that has now come to be used as a singular noun in English.

Example: It [the Lunar New Year] is considered the most auspicious time to buy a new wok or other cooking tools. (Source: An article in The New York Times)

Ketchup: This word has both Malay and Chinese roots. The Chinese version koechiap is derived from the Amoy dialect. Originally, ketchup was not a tomato sauce; it was actually a fish sauce. Travelers from the West added many new ingredients to the fish sauce and gave it a new twist. The tomato ketchup, as we know it now, was first made in America. These days, the word ketchup has become synonymous with tomato sauce. In the US, catsup is also used to refer to ketchup.

Example: We had a dozen complaints from residents about people squirting ketchup over doors, windows and vehicles. (Source: An article from the BBC website)

Feng shui: Feng shui literally means wind and water. It is an ancient Chinese practice that aims to balance the influence wind, water, fire, metal, and earth in a given location to induce positive energy. Practitioners use the principles of feng shui to change the orientation of a space or the placement of objects in a space.

In fact, using these principles to design houses or buildings has now become very popular in all parts of the world. In India, many real estate developers claim to have buildings that are "feng shui compliant." Feng shui consultants and shops that sell only feng shui products have mushroomed in many parts of the country.

Example: Dr Naik wants to change our country with feng shui. (Source: An article in The Times of India.)

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUL 4

Tactics for Explanatory Writing - 1: use examples

Filed on: July 4, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

So far, this blog has been dealing only with the minutiae of writing. But nobody can learn to write well simply by knowing all the rules. It's time we gave some thought to writing, that is, choosing and arranging words that express our ideas.

We may know a topic well enough but how do we explain it readers? Good writers use many tactics to put across their ideas to readers in ways that make it easier for readers to take in the ideas. And the most common tactic is to use examples.

In fact, we understand a concept only when we build (or re-build) it in our minds from examples. From an array of examples, we extract the feature common to all of them as an abstraction. If we understand right, we have no problem giving more examples on our own. Try explaining the concept of the colour red without referring to any red objects, and you will see what I mean. Think coal, oil, and natural gas-and you know what ‘fossil fuels' are. Think rice, wheat, and maize-and you know what a ‘cereal' is.

Hard put to explain a concept? Start with examples, and you will find that words come easier to you.

 

[This is a part of a series of posts, entitled Publish and Prosper, which talk about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit their papers to journals published in English. The series will touch upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JUL 2

Native Eigo-juku: English Words Borrowed from Japanese

Filed on: July 2, 2008 | Written by | 1 comment

Haven't you always felt that origins of words make for interesting discussions? It is amazing to discover that a word you have been using without thought has very relevant and insightful origins. Our theme for July is borrowed words. Throughout this month, we will look at words borrowed from other languages into English.

Our three borrowed words for the day are completely unrelated-one refers to a natural calamity, the other refers to a sense of taste, and the third to a mode of transport! However, what they have in common are their Japanese origins!

Tsunami: The first thing that you notice about the word is the unusual spelling. The letter t is silent though. Literally, the word tsunami refers to waves that hit the harbor (tsu = harbor; nami = waves). And if you go by the literal meaning, the word doesn't seem all that threatening.

However, tsunami, as used popularly, refers to huge tidal waves. It is almost synonymous with other forms of natural calamities like earthquakes and floods. Also, in English, tsunami is treated as a countable noun. It is preceded by "a" when used in the singular form; the plural form is tsunamis.

Example: The tsunamis that struck after an earthquake under the Indian Ocean took the world by surprise. (Source: CNN)

Umami: Umami is a legitimate, scientifically recognized sense of taste! It is Japanese for "deliciousness," and was discovered by Professor Ikeda when he studied the taste that was common to tomatoes, cheese, and meat. Thus was born umami-an addition to the four basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

We have all tasted food that has an umami taste to it, but we just don't know it. The umami taste is produced by food that contains glutamates, e.g., monosodium glutamate. Although, umami is not yet used as the other senses of taste, I'm sure that it's just a matter of time before things change.

Example: A search with the Google engine found more than 4000 web pages containing the phrase "umami." Some of these pages were from restaurants advertising umami food. (Source: A letter titled The Discovery of Umami in the journal Chemical Senses)

Rickshaw: If someone told me a year ago that the word rickshaw originated from Japanese, I wouldn't have believed him or her. But now, I know better. Most city-dwellers in India use this very popular medium of transport blissfully unaware of its origins. Rickshaw is the shortened English version of jinrikisha in Japanese, which means "a carriage pulled by hand." The English variant is used to refer to all types of rickshaws-cycle rickshaws, hand-drawn, and even automatic ones.

Example: Three-wheeled auto-rickshaws are generally half the price of a taxi. (Source: Travel information on India from the Lonely Planet website.)

Note the use of the plural form, in the example.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUN25

Native Eigo-juku: How to Use a Style Guide

Filed on: June 25, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Last month's theme was mistakes by nonnative speakers of English. In any scenario, once you have discussed mistakes, the topic that naturally follows is ways to correct these mistakes. So naturally, the theme for this month had to deal with correcting mistakes. To correct language mistakes, you need to learn more about the language, and the best way to learn any thing is to refer to resources on the subject! So the theme for this month is "How to use language resources." This week's language resource is a style guide.

What is a style guide: Style is a broad word used to refer to a great number of aspects related to writing. Style in writing can refer to anything-from the tone that a writer should use to the correct format for presenting a piece. A style guide addresses all these issues. Typically, a style guide is published by a publication house to educate writers about the stylistic policies followed by the house. It is usually used by writers and editors of articles, theses, and manuals and even by corporate organizations for their documentation-related rules.

How to use a style guide: A style guide is like an exhaustive collection of instructions to authors-instructions about writing, punctuation, grammar, and format. It also includes information about the conventions followed in a particular field. If a style guide is published by, say, a medical association, then it will include notes on ethics in medicine. On the other hand, a style guide published by Microsoft will tell you how to deal with IT-related terms. 

The first step in referring to a style guide is to choose a style guide that is appropriate to your field. There are different style guides for different fields of study; and writing conventions also differ by subject area.

  • For what kind of information do you refer to a style guide? For any information related to writing conventions. A style guide will give you details about spacing, punctuation, citation styles, referencing styles, how to use quotations, and even writing formats. For instance, some style guides feature sample letters, proposals, and research articles.
  • A style guide is not meant to be read from start to finish. It is a resource that you refer to when you have doubts. Most style guides have a very detailed index at the end. So if you want to know whether the word by in your title should be capitalized, you should go to the last few pages of the guide and look under T for titles, and then under C for capitalization of titles.

Prominent style guides: As mentioned earlier, style guides are published by different authorities. For instance, there is a style guide by the American Psychological Association, which deals with conventions in psychology. The American Chemical Society has published a style guide known as the ACS Style Guide that deals with the style and conventions to be followed by technical writers.

  • The Chicago Manual of Style is considered to be one of the most authoritative style guides. Although, it is mostly used by writers in the field of humanities, even other style guides recommend its use for certain stylistic issues.
  • Scientific Style and Format is a very well-known scientific style guide. Published by the Council of Science Editors, it is used by individuals dealing with any aspect of scientific writing.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUN18

Native Eigo-juku: How to Use a Usage Guide

Filed on: June 18, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Last month's theme was mistakes by nonnative speakers of English. In any scenario, once you have discussed mistakes, the topic that naturally follows is ways to correct these mistakes. So naturally, the theme for this month had to deal with correcting mistakes. To correct language mistakes, you need to learn more about the language, and the best way to learn any thing is to refer to resources on the subject! So the theme for this month is "How to use language resources." This week's language resource is a usage guide.

What is a usage guide: A usage guide is not a commonly used resource; it's not as popular as the earlier resources that we have featured here-the dictionary and the thesaurus. So what is a usage guide, and who uses it? An English usage guide is a reference resource that has informative notes about writing style, word usage, and even grammar. It is especially useful when you want to know the difference between similar-sounding words.

How to refer to a usage guide: Any language is always in a state of evolution. Existing words acquire new uses, new words evolve, they acquire different connotations,-words are always in a state of flux. A usage guide clarifies the "present condition" of words and their uses.

A usage guide is not exhaustive; it is not like a dictionary or a thesaurus that has thousands of words. It will usually contain notes on selected words whose meaning and/or uses are in dispute.

Like most other language resources, even a usage guide is alphabetically arranged.

Below is an excerpt from an entry in Fowler's Modern English Usage. It is for the word academic.

Academic: A little more than a century ago, it [the word] developed a depreciatory meaning as well, ‘unpractical, merely theoretical, having no practical applications', e.g. All the discussion, Sirs, is-academic. The war has begun already-H.G.Wells, 1929.

With the help of examples from prominent publications and famous writers, a usage guide explains the current "status" of a word or a set of words. Thus, it helps readers to use a given word appropriately.

Prominent Usage Guides: There are a number of well known English usage guides, of both American and British origin.

Fowler's English Usage is considered to be one of the most authoritative reference resources. There are several editions and versions of Fowler's English usage guides.

Practical English Usage is a widely recommended resource for learners of the English language. It contains many insightful tips on how "not" to use a word.

The American Heritage Book of English Usage also has useful advice on word choice, terms, and grammar.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUN11

Native Eigo-juku: How to Use a Thesaurus

Filed on: June 11, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Last month's theme was mistakes by nonnative speakers of English. In any scenario, once you have discussed mistakes, the topic that naturally follows is ways to correct these mistakes. So naturally, the theme for this month had to deal with correcting mistakes. To correct language mistakes, you need to learn more about the language, and the best way to learn any thing is to refer to resources on the subject! So the theme for this month is "How to use language resources." This week's language resource is the thesaurus.

What is a thesaurus: From the last issue, we know that a dictionary is useful for finding the meanings of a word. A thesaurus is a resource that is used for finding "the word"! Often, we struggle to find the right word to express something. We usually think of a word that is close to the intended meaning, but not the perfect word. It is at these times that a thesaurus can help you!

A thesaurus gives you a list of all the words that are related or similar in meaning to a given word. A thesaurus contains synonyms for any given word. And these synonyms are grouped by parts of speech. Read the next section to know what this means.

How to use a thesaurus: In this section, we will look how you can refer to a thesaurus. Imagine that you are the writer of the following sentence:

  • I misspelled my professor's name in the report. That was the cause of my shame.

Shame is not exactly correct word to be used here, though the emotion was close to shame. If you look up the word shame in a thesaurus, you will see something like this:

Part of speech: noun

Definition: Disappointment or an unfortunate fact

Synonyms: pity, crime

Part of speech: noun

Definition: Feeling of guilt or discomfort for doing something wrong

Synonyms: degradation, disgrace, dishonor, embarrassment, humiliation, infamy, modesty, mortification, opprobrium, prudishness, reproach, stigma

Part of speech: verb

Definition: To cause feeling of guilt or shame

Synonyms: degrade, discomfit, disconcert, disgrace, dishonor, embarrass, guilt, humiliate, mortify

In a thesaurus, the synonyms of according parts of speech and then meaning. There are two entries for shame as a noun because each noun has a different meaning. To choose an appropriate word, you

  1. Confirm the part of the speech of your word. In sentence shown above, shame is a noun.
  2. Then find the meaning that is closest to your context. The second definition of shame as a noun is closest to our context.
  3. As the last step, sift through the synonyms and find the one that is most appropriate. And in our case, the word embarrassment seems to be the most accurate!

As you can see, the thesaurus is a good resource to use when you are looking for that "correct" word.

Useful thesauri: There are many useful thesauri (the plural of thesaurus) that you can use.

  • Roget's Thesaurus is the oldest and the most popular English thesaurus. It is also considered to the most comprehensive. You can access the Roget's thesaurus online

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUN 4

Native Eigo-juku: How to Use a Dictionary

Filed on: June 4, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Last month's theme was mistakes by nonnative speakers of English. In any scenario, once you have discussed mistakes, the topic that naturally follows is ways to correct these mistakes. So naturally, the theme for this month had to deal with correcting mistakes. To correct language mistakes, you need to learn more about the language, and the best way to learn any thing is to refer to resources on the subject! So the theme for this month is "How to use language resources." And the first language resource that we will look at is the dictionary.

What is in a dictionary: A dictionary is not always that big, heavy book that occupies a large corner on our bookshelves. With the advent of online and digital versions, dictionaries, these days, have become much more handy and user-friendly. There are also various types of dictionaries, such as medical, technical, bilingual, and idiomatic. Essentially, the purpose of a dictionary is to tell its readers about the words contained in it.

How to use a dictionary: In this section, we will look at how you can refer to a standard English dictionary. Any English dictionary will have the following details about a word:

  • Meaning and usage: Imagine that the word solemnize is new to you, in this sentence: Jane and Philip will solemnize their marriage on July 9, 2008. To know what it means, you should look up the word in a dictionary. Since words are alphabetically arranged, solemnize will be under words beginning with s. In fact, dictionaries follow the alphabetical order down to the last letter. So the word solemnize, which begins with so, will be listed after all the words beginning with sa, se, sh, si, etc., are listed. 

In English, a word can have many meanings and uses. Therefore, every meaning of the word is numbered. For instance, the meanings of the word solemnize, according to Merriam Webster's dictionary, are 1) to observe or honor with solemnity 2) to perform with pomp: to celebrate a marriage with religious rites. If there is a very slight difference in the meanings of a word, then the meanings are subdivided, using letters, such as 1 a) and 1 b). For instance, an entry under the word think is as follows: 4 a) to reflect on; 4 b) to determine by reflecting.  

  • Word function: Next to every word, in print dictionaries, you will also see some letters in parentheses, such as (v), (adj), and (n). These letters indicate the part of speech; that is, they tell you if the word is a verb (v), adjective (adj), or noun (n). 
  • Pronunciation: Most English dictionaries also indicate the pronunciation of a word with the help of phonetic symbols. For instance, \'sä-ləm-ˌnīz\ is the phonetic spelling of solemnize.

Useful dictionaries: Some of the most popular dictionaries are available online and can be accessed for free. Given below are their links:  

  • Oxford English Dictionary: http://www.askoxford.com/ (This is a British dictionary. Online users can access only the concise version of the dictionary.) 
  • MS Word dictionary: The MS Word program also allows you to look up a word in multiple dictionaries. To launch the dictionary, press Shift + F7 on your keyboard, and type the word in the search bar.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

MAY30

The En Dash

Filed on: May 30, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

If there is a single mark that sets apart professional technical writing from amateur efforts, it is the en dash. Properly, the en dash belongs to the toolbox of the typesetter and the printer: because the en dash is almost like the hyphen, only a little longer, it is seldom seen in handwritten or typewritten matter. Some authors and typists, however, type two hyphens in a row to indicate the en dash. But what is it used for?

The most common use of the en dash is to indicate a range: when set between two numbers, it simply replaces the preposition 'to', as in 'numbers 10-99' for 'numbers 10 to 99'. If you scan the lists of references cited, you will notice that the dash between page numbers is slightly longer (and thinner) than the hyphen. That dash is the en dash, and its use between page numbers is universal in professional publishing. Similarly, the en dash is used between pairs of place names in names of roads, trains, flights, and journeys, as in 'Mumbai-Bangalore expressway', 'London-Edinburgh Express', 'New York - Washington shuttle', and so on.

Also universal, but not as straightforward, is the en dash that separates two nouns of equal importance that occur together, as in the 'environment-development debate' and 'cost-benefit analysis'. In these pairs, either member can come first without any change in the meaning.

Lastly, there are pairs of en dashes used to indicate asides or parenthetical expressions when the idea is to highlight those expressions. Such pairs occur in the middle of a sentence with - usually in British English - each partner or member of the pair flanked by a space.

Keep the following tips in mind when using the en dash.

# The single en dash that separates two numbers 'rubs shoulders' with the numbers as it were: there is no space either before or after the en dash (10-99 and not 10 - 99).

# The same convention, namely the 'spaceless' en dash, holds good for the en dash that separates two place names or other nouns. However, when either or both the nouns run to more than one word, and therefore contain a space, I believe the en dash should also be spaced out ('the North-South divide' but 'New York - San Francisco flight')

# The en dash is used with a single number (usually a year) to indicate that the second number is as yet uncertain, as in life spans of those who are alive at the time of writing: 'Charles Darwin 1809-1882' and 'Albert Einstein 1879-1955' but 'James Watson 1928-' and 'Stephen Hawking 1942-'.

# The keyboard shortcut for the en dash in Windows is Alt+0150: to type it, press and hold down the Alt key and type 0150 from the numerical keypad, and release the Alt key. For this shortcut to work, the Num Lock should be on. Alternatively, in Open type fonts, use the code 2013: type 2013 from the numerical keypad, press and hold down the Alt key, type x (lowercase x), and release the Alt key. (Again, make sure that the Num Lock is on.)

An earlier blog in the series was about the colon (:).

 

[This is part of the "Grammar" series of posts, which covers everything and anything related to English language grammar.]

Written English

Omission of articles: Missing articles are the most easily recognizable mistakes in English texts written by Japanese speakers. Most of the mistakes pertain to the use of definite articles. There are two main problems that make it difficult for Japanese speakers to master the use of definite articles: the Japanese language lacks an article system; therefore, the speakers lack a point of reference and the rules for using the definite article are not concretely defined. In fact, the use of definite articles seems to be one of those skills that native speakers acquire almost unconsciously.

Nonnative: We interviewed 25 children with dyslexia for our study. Children were divided into two groups on the basis of weight and height.

Native: We interviewed 25 children with dyslexia for our study. The children were divided into two groups on the basis of weight and height.

Over use of transition words: On the one hand, you have mistakes of omission and on the other hand, you have mistakes of overuse. Words and phrases like consequently, on the one hand, and on the other hand help writers communicate the flow of thought. These words highlight the connection between two consecutive sentences or paragraphs. English texts written by Japanese speakers tend to have too many of these words. Native English writers also use these words, but sparingly.

Incorrect: We should establish an online system for registering new users. On the other hand, we should make the system simple and user-friendly.

Correct: We should establish an online system for registering new users. We should make the system simple and user-friendly.

Another problem with the use of transition words is that they are used incorrectly, as in the above example. A phrase such as on the other hand is used to indicate contrast or opposition. However, establishing a system and making it user-friendly are not opposing ideas. So the use of the phrase is incorrect.

Spoken English

Words with l, r, and s: While speaking, the Japanese sometimes confuse the pronunciation of words that contain the letters "l" and "r." For instance, some may pronounce the word "work" as "walk." Another common speech mistake pertains to words that begin with si. Instead of pronouncing it as "see," Japanese speakers tend to pronounce it as "shi."  

Incorrect: I have an older shister.

Correct: I have an older sister.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

Written English

Sentences without subjects: Any sentence in English has a subject, verb, and object. They are the essential components for drafting a complete sentence. A sentence that lacks even one of these parts is considered to be an incomplete sentence or a fragment. However, a typical mistake that is seen in the writing of Spanish learners is the absence of the subject. See the example below.

Incorrect: I called him in the morning. Said that was not feeling well.

Correct: I called him in the morning. He said that he was not feeling well.  

When writing in Spanish, it is not necessary to repeat the subject at the beginning of a sentence. The verb in the sentence indicates the person and the number of the subject. However, the verbs in English are not so informative. The tendency to omit the subject in English is the result of thinking in the native language. Writers assume that they don't need to repeat the subject, as it is clear from the previous sentence.

Word order: Many speakers of Spanish also tend to mix up the order of the words in English. Most sentences in English follow the subject-verb-object order. However, this is not the case in Spanish. Therefore, you may come across an example like the one below. 

Incorrect: A blouse red Stella was wearing.

Correct: Stella was wearing a red blouse.  

Spoken English

Words that begin with s: In Spanish, there are no words that begin with an "s" sound. Instead they begin with an "es" sound. In fact, the word for Spanish is Español. Speakers of Spanish tend to mispronounce words that begin with "s." For instance, they may pronounce "state" as "estate." This also leads to a problem with choosing articles.

Incorrect: My friend has an strange accent. (Strange is pronounced as estrange.)

Correct: My friend has a strange accent.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

Common Mistakes by Indian Speakers of English

We'll look at mistakes in both spoken and written English. Let's first start with written English.

Written English Mistakes

Overuse of the -ing form: Mistakes of this kind occur in writing and speech. There is a tendency to overuse the -ing form of the verb. For instance, in response to questions such as "Where do you work," speakers who are not fluent in English will write "I am working with an international law firm." Although the response is grammatically perfect, it may sound a tad unnatural to the native ear. A more appropriate answer would be "I work with an international law firm." Here's another example:

Incorrect: I am not knowing the password to the system; how can I access it?

Correct: I don't know the password to the system; how can I access it?

Overuse of the -ing form of the verb becomes a very grave issue in cases like the above. This is because some verbs like know, have, and hear are not commonly used in the -ing form. And such sentences, like the one in incorrect example, are grammatically incorrect.

Spoken English Mistakes

Incorrect use of reflexive pronouns: Many Indians tend use reflexive pronouns, especially myself, incorrectly. Myself can be used in a sentence only if the pronoun I has been used earlier, e.g., I built this house myself. However, a common mistake that people make is using myself without the I.

Incorrect: Myself, Rahul Verma; this is my colleague, Sheena.

Correct: I am Rahul Verma; this is my colleague, Sheena.

Using myself in place of I is mistakenly thought of as formal, though it is grammatically incorrect.

Misplaced stresses: There are no classic pronunciation mistakes that Indians make. However, sometimes, the influences of regional languages do creep into spoken English. For instance, people who speak Malayalam, a language spoken in southern India, tend to place additional emphasis on the vowels in words like sorry and water. Some pronounce it as sow-ree and waater. Further, Indians who speak Bengali tend to use a bh sound for words that begin with v, e.g., "bhery good" instead of "very good."

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

NOV28

Adjective-Adverb Placement II

Filed on: November 28, 2007 | Written by | 2 comments

This is the second part of my somewhat valuable insight-laden rant on adjectives and adverbs.

Typically, the word "enough" means "sufficient or adequate" and can be used as a quantifier or as an adverb. A quantifier is a word(s) used to describe the quantity of a noun, and it is usually placed before a noun. An adverb is a word that describes an adjective, a verb, or another adverb. Depending on the context of the sentence, it can be placed before or after an adjective, verb, or adverb.

When "enough" is being used as a quantifier, it should be placed before the noun, for example, "The President did not get enough votes to get re-elected." In this sentence, the word "enough" quantifies the noun "votes."

However, when the word "enough" is being used as an adverb, it is always placed after the adjective, verb, or adverb, for example, "Tabitha did not run fast enough to win the race." In this sentence, the word "enough" describes the adverb "fast."

Example

Incorrect: If the value is enough close to 1, it should be considered.

Correct: If the value is close enough to 1, it should be considered.

In the example above, "enough" describes the adjective "close," and thus functions as an adverb. Therefore, it is placed after the adjective.

You can go through the first part by clicking here.

 

[This is part of the "Grammar" series of posts, which covers everything and anything related to English language grammar.]

NOV26

Obtain Vs. Attain

Filed on: November 26, 2007 | Written by | 3 comments

This is perhaps one of the most common errors we at Cactus come across. People often confuse the two terms and use them in the inappropriate context. Hope the explanation given below clears the air a bit.

The verbs "obtain" and "attain" both mean "to gain or achieve something." However, the verb "obtain" is typically used to denote possession. For example, "Bill tried relentlessly to obtain tickets to the symphony." On the other hand, the verb "attain" is generally used in the context of achieving a state or condition (e.g., After practicing yoga for ten years, Sarah attained a state of calmness and happiness).

Therefore, while "obtain" is used in the context of gaining a physical object, "attain" is used when an abstract quality is achieved.

Example

Incorrect: She has obtained control over her temper.

Correct: She has attained control over her temper.

In the above example, "control over temper" is a condition that is gained and thus corresponds with the word "attain."

 

[Word/Phrase Choice is a series of posts dedicated to the appropriate and gentlemannerly usage of some of the more peculiar words and phrases in the English language.]

NOV23

Cultured Vs. Cultural

Filed on: November 23, 2007 | Written by | Add new comment

Another tid-bit... note that these may seem trivial but are frequent enough to merit a post... tit-bit nevertheless...

Both "cultured" and "cultural" are adjectives derived from the word culture; however, they are used in different contexts. "Cultured" is used to describe an individual who has received a good education and is well informed about art, music, and literature. For example, "Mr. Darcy was a refined and cultured man, who could recite Shakespeare and quote Eliot." However, the word "cultural" is used when referring to something that is related to music, art, theatre, literature, etc. For example, "The cultural activities of this school are admirable" or "During the Renaissance, the cultural scenario of England witnessed several changes." Thus, when referring to the arts and literary aspects of a community or its context at a social level, the word cultural and not cultured is appropriate.

Example

Incorrect: Before launching our food products in a new market, we consider the economic, social, and cultured factors.

Correct: Before launching our food products in a new market, we consider the economic, social, and cultural factors.

The above sentence indicates that certain factors specific to a particular society are considered before launching new products. Therefore, the word "cultural" should be used instead of "cultured."

 

[Word/Phrase Choice is a series of posts dedicated to the appropriate and gentlemannerly usage of some of the more peculiar words and phrases in the English language.]

NOV22

Employ Vs. Exploit

Filed on: November 22, 2007 | Written by | Add new comment

Tid-bits... this one's rather interesting...

The words "employ" and "exploit" have different meanings. In academic writing, employ typically means the use of something for a particular purpose. For example, "We employed a novel approach in this study." Exploit, on the other hand, has a slightly disapproving tone and implies a higher degree of use or using something as an opportunity for gaining an advantage. For example, "I hope to exploit this feature of the system." In other words, when something is exploited, it is used to a degree greater than necessary.

In the example given below, in order to take advantage of the vulnerability of the application, the attacker does not employ the vulnerability but rather exploits it.

Example

Incorrect: The attacker employs the vulnerability of the application.

Correct: The attacker exploits the vulnerability of the application.

 

[Word/Phrase Choice is a series of posts dedicated to the appropriate and gentlemannerly usage of some of the more peculiar words and phrases in the English language.]

NOV 5

Et al vs. Etc

Filed on: November 5, 2007 | Written by | 4 comments

The other day I was approached with a very peculiar query. The person wanted to know the difference between "et al." and "etc." The person also added, and I quote, "if there is any!" The term "et al." is an abbreviation for the Latin term et alia that means and others, the others being people and not things. It is affixed after the name of a person, e.g., a researcher to indicate that additional people were involved in the work or were acting in the same manner. For example, in the sentence "The work was completed by Shimazu et al.," the term et al. indicates that Shimazu and others (his co-workers or colleagues) were involved in completing the work. On the other hand, the word etc, the abbreviation of et cetera, means and the rest or and so forth. It is used at the end of a list to indicate that the list is not complete and only some of the involved items have been mentioned. Further, when a list is introduced using "such as" or "e.g.," the use of the term "etc" is redundant.

Example

Incorrect: It was reported that some metal ions such as zinc, copper, and vanadium, et al. were useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.

Correct: It was reported that some metal ions such as zinc, copper, and vanadium were useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.

Also Correct: Zinc, copper, vanadium, etc. were the metal ions reported to be useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.

In the above example, since the reference is being made to elements and not people the use of the term et al. is incorrect.

 

[This is part of a series of posts, titled Useful Links, which shall feature "essential" online tools, discussions, blogs, essays and references that we find over the Internet.]

NOV 2

The Shrinking World of Hyphen

Filed on: November 2, 2007 | Written by | Add new comment

As the byline to this post puts it, "It's small. It's flat. It's black. And according to the Shorter English Dicionary, it's numbers are shrinking!" Click here to find out more about the disappearing act the hyphen is pulling on the English language.

 

[This is part of a series of posts, titled Useful Links, which shall feature "essential" online tools, discussions, blogs, essays and references that we find over the Internet.]

NOV 2

Homophones

Filed on: November 2, 2007 | Written by | Add new comment

The English language contains several homophones (words that are pronounced like another word but have different meanings). For example, the words ‘principle’ (a law or rule) and ‘principal’ (most important or main) are similar in pronunciation but very different in meaning.

Further, several words are spelt differently in British English and American English. The words ‘annexe’ and ‘annex’ are peculiar—they are homophones and also carry different meanings in British English and American English.

In American English, ‘annex’ is both a verb meaning to attach and a noun meaning something that is attached. It can be used both in the political sense (to take control of a region) or in the general sense (a document or item attached to something). In British English, however, ‘annex’ can only be used as a verb in the political sense of taking possession of an area. When referring to an additional section of a document (like an appendix), only the word ‘annexe’ can be used.

Example

Incorrect: See annex I, table 1.

Correct: See annexe I, table 1.