Jean Cleans out a Folder

I have a folder where I jot down ideas, tips, likes, and dislikes related to writing. The folder is starting to fill up! So here’s a random sampling:

  • The word sank is disappearing. I hear many people using sunk as the past tense of sink: “In the last minute of the game, Greg sunk the ball.” (Dictionaries accept sunk as the past tense, but sank is preferred.)
  • My friend Margaret Swanson commented that many people use “would have” where “had” would be preferable: “I wish he would have told me the tickets were so expensive before I agreed to go.” (I’m wondering if that usage sometimes finds its way into my own speech! It’s common in New York. Margaret is right: it’s not a good choice for professionals.)
  • Margaret asked me what I thought of using any more to mean nowadays or lately, as in “Everyone is doing that any more.” Good question! I suspect that it’s a regionalism. A high school friend who grew up in Pennsylvania often used it. I’m wondering if it appears in other regions as well.
  • In a recent post I mentioned that I always check Fowler’s Modern English Usage for answers to my usage questions. My friend Darrell Turner sent me a link to a terrific New York Times article about H. W. Fowler:
  • Speaking of Fowler – last month I used his Modern English Usage to settle an argument about “the number” (which takes a singular verb) and “a number” (which takes a plural verb). Guess what – variety works the same way! I came across this sentence in a New Yorker article called The Secrets of Sleep“Once we’ve finally nodded off, a variety of things occur.” I looked it up, and the New Yorker is right (as usual): “a variety” takes a plural verb; “the variety” takes a singular verb.
  • Lists can be confusing. In the following sentence, someone might think you’re talking about spinach dressing, broccoli dressing, and cornbread dressing: Side dishes include spinach, broccoli, and cornbread dressing. To avoid confusion, I’d put “cornbread dressing” first, like this: Side dishes include cornbread dressing, spinach, and broccoli.



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