It’s been about a year since I spoke of this (WAY down this column) but more anomalies have emerged.
Now I had a fair education, but as a writer, most of my usage tends to be instinctive – a practise that has generally stood me in good stead.
But there are still a few things that bamboozle even me.
The thing is, English is a living thing and subject to change – but there are still some immutable LAWS.
Like spelling. Encyclopaedia and paedophile are spelled with an A before the E (strictly, an Æ – if your keyboard possesses ligatures). Lose, as in not find, is spelled with ONE “o” – while loose, as in not tight, is spelled with TWO – but it is obvious, by context, that many do not realise this.
And “viscous” is spelled (not SPELT – which although technically correct, looks and sounds UGLY) “vicious”. I see these errors everywhere.
Then there are apostrophes. Even my (Japanese – but that’s no excuse) Sharp word-processor’s SpellChecker gets them WRONG. They are NOT used at the end of PLURALS – “I have two bull’s” – unless the word is POSSESSIVE – as in “the bull’s horns” – or “the bulls’ horns”, if there is more than one bull.
Okay, there is ONE group of exceptions. The plural of a SHORT word can have an apostrophe S in order for it to make SENSE. Like “There are two i’s in idiot.” Or “no’s and yes’s,” which looks and sounds better than noes and yesses – even though that is also correct, although [after Spell-Checking] WordPress’s (or WordPress’?) SpellChecker does not agree.
Of course, apostrophes (NOT apostrophe’s!) are also used in contractions – like “it’s”, “that’s” and “I’ve” (my personal favourite is “I’d’ve” – I would have – but that’s just me). I will demonstrate contractions, during the rest of this piece.
But while (whilst?) the above’s obvious, some questions remain.
F’rinstance, my son’s name is James. And if James wore a hat, would it be James’ hat (the “s” pronounced as “z”) or James’s hat (as in St James’s Park, London)? It’s not Jameses – that’s the plural. I’d say it’s James’ hat.
But if a bus has a dodgy wheel, is it the bus’ (s=z again) wheel or the bus’s wheel. Again, buses is the plural. Surely THIS time, it CAN’T be bus’ – whoever heard of “the BUZZ wheel”? The bus’s wheel MUST be right.
Then what if there’s more than ONE bus? The buses’ wheels? It CAN’T be the buses’s wheels!
According to Wiki, one should use “whichever one sounds best” – thanks a lot, Wiki.
And whilst (while?) proper nouns like John, Clyde and Mensa use the apostrophe S for possession – “John’s book”, “Clyde’s manner” and “Mensa’s reputation” – as stated above, the word “it’s” is exempt. “My dog is shaggy – it’s hair is long” is WRONG. “It’s” is reserved for the contraction of “it is”.
Sometimes contractions can CONFUSE. As an example, Americans often write “should of” instead of “should have” – this is caused by the use of the contraction “should’ve”. But although I’ve been using contractions throughout this piece, for demonstration purposes – they should be reserved for SPEECH and AVOIDED in writing.
One other thing – and I cannot find ANYTHING on this one in Wiki – generally, one uses “a” in front of a noun that begins with a consonant and “an” with one that starts with a vowel. Thus: a degenerate and an orifice. Basic grammar.
But this gets fuzzy when the word begins with an “h”. I mean, one is supposed to say “an hotel” and “an historic occasion”. One assumes this is in deference to the French, from where these words originated. But one doesn’t say “an History teacher” – does one?
Now I’m going to SpellCheck this piece. THAT should be fun!
Footnote: For the record, the worthy WordPress SpellChecker accepted “SpellCheck” (THAT was a surprise!) but while rejecting most of my contractions, it liked “noes” but distained “yesses” – and it did NOT like the grammar of “an hotel”, “an historic” or “an History”. But the BEST thing was – it rejected the word WORDPRESS!