Sunday, May 26, 2013

Native writers: please learn English!

Dear speakers and writers native to English: Please learn your language!

There is a whole section of the language begging for your acquaintance and it's called intransitive mode.

Too many times, I see items like:

  • Phone launches in 11 countries
  • Items are copying

It usually has to do with computers, mobile devices, or cameras but isn't restricted to those.  We know what's meant but the English is incorrect.  Transitive mode relies on a subject performing an action.  However, in the cases I've used, "Phone" and "Items" are objects, not subjects.
  • The Phone is being launched in 11 countries
  • Items are being copied

Perhaps, the difference seems too subtle for most people, but the difference is a matter of being correct versus being incorrect.


The forced use a a noun as an adjective

  • woman doctor

I see this one used even by skilled journalists, and they must know that it's incorrect.  They'd be talking about a female doctor, as opposed to a male doctor.  There are adjectives for almost any noun, especially nouns such as "woman" that have been around as long as the language has.

The use of contractions

  • There's problems with the structure.
  • Its stewing in it's own juices.

Please remember that the apostrophe (') is used to denote missing letters.  Do you say "There is problems with the structure."?  If you do, you should hear the singular-plural disconnect in the combination.  "There are problems with the structure." is correct; therefore, "There're problems with the structure." would be correct, even though it looks odd.

"It's" and "its" present interesting problems because once you learn the forms incorrectly, they're difficult to forget.  I've even seen people use "its'", which isn't a word or a contraction at all.  "Its" is possessive and "it's" is a contract for "it is".  Just remember to say "it is" every time you write "it's" and if it doesn't sound correct, it probably is not.

Then and than

This is a newer problem that people have recently created.  How they've done it, I don't know.  "Then" is a time-based conjunction.  "Than" is part of a comparison.

Go, come, give, take

These words are vague issues and scholars debate them far too often.  I find my use of multiple languages to define the issues simply.

  • If you're there, someone or something can come to you.
  • If you're not there, you can go to them.

  • If you're in possession of the object, you can give it to someone.
  • If someone else possesses it, you can take the object from them.

While English is not simple by any means, it could be much easier to understand if instructors would apply clearer ways of explaining it, rather than using "time-honored" methods.  I see no reason why anyone who only uses English shouldn't at least be a "B" student in the language.  Precise use of language can avoid conflicts by avoiding vague wording.  Not many people want to sound like a professor but you shouldn't want to sound like a 5 year old, either.

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