Know Thy English: Who’s vs Whose

If you’ve never been confused between who’s and whose, then congrats – you don’t have to continue reading this post. Otherwise, read on!

From what I’ve seen, the only thing consistent about English language is its inconsistency. While this is also the case for any other language, it is especially true in English which goes by the motto – “nothing is true, everything is permitted”. Ha!

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. I think I’ve partly handled this in my lesson on the mighty apostrophe, but you just cannot slap an apostrophe and an s (‘s) at the end of a word and pronounce it a possessive. Life just isn’t that easy. There is something called a Contraction, because we humans are inherently lazy and would rather say Who’s than Who is.

So then I suppose the word ‘Whose’ was coined just to circumvent this confusion in intent. I’m laying out the definitions once and for all –

Who’s  –> Who is? or Who has? Example: Who’s hungry? Who’s fallen asleep?

Whose –> Possessive. Example: Whose slice of pizza is this??

There you go. Now you don’t have an excuse to mix these both up, do ya?

Grammar-ease: ‘Used to’ vs ‘Use to’

I know I haven’t had a Know Thy English for so long. This is an interesting confusion that even I used to face… 🙂

Live to Write - Write to Live

Today’s topic is one that I found curious, and think you might, too.

When do you use used to and when is it use to? Both statements are used when speaking about something done in the past and both are followed by an infinitive in a sentence.

It’s amazingly simple!

UseToWhen used in a positive sentence, it’s used to; when used in a negative sentence (with didn’t), or as part of a question, it’s use to.

What do I mean by that?

Positive sentence examples:

  • The dog used to bark at every person passing by.
  • We used to go camping for two weeks every year.
  • I used to candlepin bowl every weekend.
  • He knows there used to be a convenient store on the corner.
  • She used to love living in the city.

Negative and question-form sentence examples:

  • The cat didn’t use to scratch the furniture.
  • We didn’t use…

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Know Thy English: Animalistic Verbs!

When was the last time you chickenedout of something?

Or has somebody been badgering you lately?

What is common in the above two questions? You guessed it right (Well I kinda gave it away in the title) But welcome to the world of “animal verbs” !!

I love using these as they make descriptions fun and more vivid, so let’s jump right into the words then –

Ape

imitate the behavior or manner of (someone or something), especially in an absurd or unthinking way.

Hey! Stop aping your friends and think of something on your own!

Badger

ask (someone) repeatedly and annoyingly for something; pester.

The insurance guy kept badgering me all day.

Beaver

work hard

He beavered away at his desk all day to keep his customers happy.

Bull

push or drive powerfully or violently.

He bulled the motorcycle out of the ditch

Crab

move sideways or obliquely.

The dance routine involved a lot of crabbing movements

Crane

stretch out one’s body or neck in order to see something.

I craned my neck to spot any familiar face.

Cock

tilt (something) in a particular direction.

She cocked her head slightly to one side.

Dog

follow (someone or their movements) closely and persistently.

“He seemed to dog my every step!”

Fox

baffle or deceive (someone).

“The bad light and dark shadows foxed him.”

Hog

keep or use all of (something) for oneself in an unfair or selfish way.

“I have a tendency to hog all the limelight”

Hound

harass, persecute, or pursue relentlessly.

Peter hounded Lily all throughout college to go out on a date with him.

Monkey

behave in a silly or playful way.

The kids are monkeying about again.

Parrot

repeat mechanically

The little girl learned to parrot back anything her mom says.

Rabbit

move quickly; run away

He rabbited as soon as he saw us.

Weasel

achieve something by use of cunning or deceit

He weaseled his way into the organization’s inner circle.

Wolf

devour (food) greedily

He wolfed down his breakfast.

 

So, there you go! That’s my list of some of the favourite verbs derived from animals. Do you have any other favourite verb that I missed? Do let me know!

 

Know Thy English: Why is Bob your uncle?

Recently I came across this wonderful phrase that goes “and Bob’s your uncle!” I found it amusing so looked it up online. And what do you know? It apparently is the French equivalent of “Voila!” i.e something you say to indicate how easy it is attain something or when you want to say ‘everything is alright’.

For example, when you are explaining a recipe to your friend you say –

“Then you put the spices, leave it on a medium flame for about ten minutes, and Bob’s your uncle!! The curry is done.”

Sometimes it is also expanded to add “and Fanny’s your aunt.” Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean says something similar in one the movies.

It’s a fascinating phrase for sure and something I wish to use everyday but unfortunately us Indians aren’t really aware of this phrase and I’d get weird looks or worse -a “Who the hell is Bob??”

It also seems to be exclusive to the UK and some parts of Australia, so there probably are more people on this planet who don’t know this phrase than those who do. As for the etymology, no one seems to be sure about it so let’s not worry about that. 🙂

Know Thy English: Why you always go “home”, and never “to home” ?

This is one of those things we all get right subconsciously, and yet it somebody were to ask why, I doubt many of us would be able to provide a conclusive answer!

Let me explain with example –

I’m going to school. 

I’m going to the movies. 

I’m going to party. 

but,

I’m going to home. X  

Woah, what just happened here? According to the rules of English, the above sentence has to be accepted, right? One might think so. Only, it’s not.

See, ‘home’ is one of those special words in English which can act as an adverb of place. (Quick recap: Adverb modifies a verb). So ‘home’ is a noun, but can also act as an adverb if it wants to. Hey, I’m not making the rules here!

So, the sentence

I’m going home. 

is perfectly alright because ‘home’ is modifying the verb ‘going’. I’m going towards home.

Here are some more examples which sound awkward when you try to insert any preposition:

Is he home?

I called home but nobody picked up.

She is staying home today.

I’m driving home.

And here are some more words that are also adverbs of place

abroad
anywhere
downstairs
here
in
nowhere
out
outside
somewhere
there
underground
upstairs

Keep in mind to not use any prepositions with the above words too!

Cheers!

Know Thy English: Reduce the Redundancies

Are you guilty of saying “return back”, “discuss about”, “cousin brother/sister”? Let’s correct that today.

To begin with, what is a redundancy? Well in English usage, it means a phrase that has two or more words which say the same thing,  but we also use the term to refer to any expression in which a modifier’s meaning is contained in the word it modifies.

A bit woolly? Example to the rescue.


Return back

Return = come or go back to a place or person

So you don’t “return back”, you just “return” (quoting that trainer from the movie English Vinglish 🙂 )


I won’t lie, I’m guilty of slipping this one in from time to time as well. Maybe we do it to add emphasis (as is the case with all redundancies, I see now) and no one would probably ever hold it against you, as redundancy is more of a stylistic issue than a grammatical error.

You might pass off saying these in spoken English, but please do be wary while writing as that stays for posterity.

The below are some of the other commonly used redundant phrases. Do a self check.

1. Discuss about

discuss = to talk about something

2. Cousin brother

Cousin is a gender-neutral noun and it is actually a very Indian thing to say cousin-brother or cousin-sister. But if you think about it, it really is not required to add the gender as this is usually implied by some other pronoun in the sentence.

For eg: He is my cousin-brother.

(Here, “he” indicates that the person is male so the extra modifier “brother” is not required.)

3. Added bonus

A “bonus” by definition is something that is added.

4. Chase after

To “chase” is to go after someone.

5. Future plans

This one is curious. All plans pertain to future. But when somebody asks you, “What are your future plans?”, they actually mean, “What are you planning to do with your life?”

6. Free Gift

Are there any paid gifts? Hmmm.

7. Past experience

All experience is in the past.

8. Enter into

Enter = come or go into

9. Blend together

Blend= bring stuff together

10. End result

Result is something that happens at the end.


So there you go, the above are some of the most interesting redundancies and there are hundreds more floating around. But this is one of the first steps you can take to remove the clutter and become a better writer. Cheers!

Know Thy English: “May” vs “Might”

So what is the difference between may and might? 

If you answered, “Duh, might is the past tense of may” – then you’re not entirely wrong, but you’re not entirely right either!

Because in today’s English, the distinction between the two words has become blurred as far as tense is considered.

Fact #1: Both ‘may’ and ‘might’ can be used interchangeably when talking about an event in the present or the past.

For example:

Present Tense –

  • I may be going crazy. (correct)
  • I might be going crazy. (also correct)

Past Tense –

  • I might have gone crazy. (correct)
  • I may have gone crazy. (also correct)

Now, technically speaking, the above rule holds good for future tense as well. But there’s a slight preferred distinction between the two words when talking about a future possible event. And it is good to keep this in mind as this has become the acceptable norm.

Fact #2: For a future event, the word ‘may’ is to be used for things that have a higher chance of happening. For things that are unlikely/unsure to happen, you use ‘might’. 

And I did not know this until I was 19 years old! Gah.

Examples:

  • It may rain. (Chances of raining are very high. In fact, the rain god himself has come and informed you so!)
  • It might rain. (You don’t know if it’s gonna rain. But your Weather app seems to suggest it.)

There are, of course, other usage rules for ‘may’ and ‘might’ but I think everyone knows them already. In any case, no one’s ever holding a gun to your throat for interchanging these two words so there’s no need to fret too much 🙂

Know Thy English: Perfect your ‘Past Perfect’

A short lesson this week, as I’m slightly short on time but this one’s an important lesson nonetheless.

I think a lot of people, my self included, are not clearly aware of the rules of the Past Perfect tense and make the mistake of using it even when it is not needed.

For example:

Take this simple statement.

I had gone to the beach today.

Looks absolutely correct, doesn’t it? But in reality, it is just complicating matters a bit. Let us see the definition of Past Perfect tense then:

The Past Perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past.

So this means that Past Perfect is only to be used when you have two events occurring in the past and you want to specify that one precedes the other. Or when one is a cause of the other.

To reiterate, the below is the correct usage of past tenses:

  1. I went to the beach today.
  2. I had gone to the beach today before I was summoned up in court.

Further Reading:

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html

http://www.perfect-english-grammar.com/past-perfect-use.html

Know Thy English: “Who” vs “Whom”

Let’s settle this baby once and for all.

I don’t remember that last time I’ve used whom. I guess it’s slowly becoming acceptable these days to simply use who in all cases. And I’ve seen that there are actually people who will argue that whom is antiquated and should be left at peace! Yet, I firmly believe that there are cases indeed where it pays to know the difference, and no one is killing you for using correct English anyway, so why not!

But before I get into the technicalities, there is in fact one golden rule of thumb: When in doubt, always use ‘who’. A misplaced ‘whom’ is worse than a misplaced ‘who’.

In the latter case, you would at best be thought of as naive but the former would just make you a pretentious snob!

Anyway, onto the details then –

who – used for the subject of a sentence

whom – used for the object

For example, consider the below sentence.

Jack saw Kate at the wedding.

Here Jack -> subject of the verb, Kate -> object. So if I were to ask questions about the identity of either of them, this is how I’d do.

  1. Who saw Kate at the wedding?
  2. Jack saw whom at the wedding? (or) Whom did Jack see at the wedding?

I also found online that a better way to remember this is to answer the question with a pronoun. And if the answer is he, she, they, I, we, etc., you use who. If the answer is him, her, them, me, us, etc., you use whom.

To revisit the above questions –

  1. Who saw Kate at the wedding? ( He saw Kate…)  Ergo, Who.
  2. Jack saw whom at the wedding? (Jack saw her…) Ergo, Whom.

So, there you go! Quite a simple but a very important lesson. Long live whom!! 😀

Know Thy English: “Than me” vs “Than I”

Now this is one of the things I thought I got absolutely nailed until I stared researching it. This rabbit hole definitely goes deeper than I thought it does!

Here, quickly identify the correct sentence out of the below:

  1. He runs faster than I.
  2. He runs faster than me.

If your answer was Sentence 2 then you should know that you have picked the one that is argued as incorrect English by many a grammarians around the world. Both forms are accepted in written English but the “than I” variant is more grammatically correct.

Surprised!? So was I.

To get into the technicalities of it, “than” is considered a conjunction which means that it joins two complete sentences.There are a bunch of people who will say that “than” is also a preposition but let’s not worry about that for now.

To put things into perspective, you can try to expand the sentence which will lay bare the fallacy –

  1. He runs faster than I run. (this is obviously correct)
  2. He runs faster than me runs. (Unless you want to sound like a “medieval English” person, best to avoid this :P)

There is also one interesting dilemma with using “than me”. Consider the below sentence.

He loves her more than me.

The above could mean ANY of the below two things!

  1. He loves her more than he loves me.
  2. He loves her more than I love her.

And that is exactly why it is always recommended to expand your sentences to wipe away any ambiguity whatsoever!

Hope you have learned something today, I definitely did! Until next time then.