10 Non-Errors to Stop Correcting

Have you been correcting non-errors? Test your knowledge in the 10 items below. Only two sentences contain an error in grammar or usage. Can you recognize which two? Those two represent errors editors sometimes introduce into sentences that were originally correct. 

Do not edit for style–focus on true errors. Choose the two sentences with errors. Then compare your answers with mine. 

  1. I feel bad about the way I handled your questions at the meeting. 
  2. Please ask to speak with whomever is in charge of printing the programs. 
  3. This is a historical event that children should learn about in school. 
  4. Let's home in on the most urgent issues we are facing. 
  5. Ranodda has offered to give Clarice and I a ride to the luncheon. 
  6. The group is composed of two project managers and two training specialists. 
  7. The error appears farther down the page. 
  8. We have got to find a November date for this workshop. 
  9. If I were Pathmasiri, I would move rather than commute so far.
  10. She has been teaching English for over 20 years. 

Note: This article appeared in last month's Better Writing at Work. Subscriptions are free. 

 

Answer Key

  1. "Feel bad" is correct. Just as we would correctly say "feel happy" rather than "feel happily," and "feel sad" rather than "feel sadly," we correctly use "feel bad."
  2. This sentence contains an error. The word "whomever" should be "whoever." The reason is that the verb phrase "is in charge of" needs a subject pronoun, which is "whoever." Some people would incorrectly choose "whomever" (and mistakenly correct others) because it follows the preposition "with." However, the entire clause "whoever is in charge of printing the programs" is the object of that preposition.
  3. "A historical" is not an error–it's correct. Some people do use "an historical" because they pronounce the word "istorical." Their use is also acceptable. It's correct to use "an" before words that begin with a vowel sound.
  4. "Home in" is correct. Many people use "hone in" because they have grown up using it; however, careful writers use "home in," and experts recommend it.
  5. The use of "Clarice and I" is wrong. The sentence requires the object pronoun "me." You can recognize the correct pronoun by removing Clarice from the situation: "Ranodda has offered to give me a ride to the luncheon." Do not correct the object pronoun "me" used correctly. 
  6. "Composed of" is correct. Some people would incorrectly change it to "comprised of," but "comprise" means "contain" or "include." If you prefer using "comprise" in your own writing, you can restructure the sentence this way: "The group comprises two project managers and two training specialists." Do not "correct" other people's use of "composed of."
  7. This sentence includes a correct use of "farther," which involves actual distance. "Further" is appropriate for figurative distances, such as "Let's take this discussion further." Most people would also accept "further" in the example. 
  8. The use of "have got" is correct in this sentence. Changing it to "have" rather than "have got" would lessen the emphasis of the statement. Both "have got" and "have gotten" are correct as past participle forms of "get." Both forms have their places.
  9. "If I were" is correct in this sentence. It is the subjunctive form of the verb. Careful writers use the subjunctive form to indicate wishes ("I wish I were") and things that are contrary to fact ("if she were your mother").
  10. "Over" is correct as a synonym for "more than." There is no reason to change "over" unless it is for word variety. 

Surprised? Confused? How did you do? You can get more information in a current dictionary or style guide. The style guides I recommend appear on my website.

If you would like to improve your proofreading skills, take Proofreading Like a Pro on February 11. 

Lynn
Syntax Training 

16 COMMENTS

  1. I didn’t know the bit about composed vs. comprised. Thanks for that!

    I’m pretty outspoken about the “more than” correction, but even I have allowed myself to use “over” when “more than” seemed too formal or repetitive.

  2. Anne, excellent observation!

    The two errors are ones that people often correct the wrong way, changing “whoever” to “whomever” and “me” to “I.” I will revise the article to explain that point.

    Thank you for taking the time to mention that discrepancy.

    Lynn

  3. On #3, would you kindly give your source on that? I can find no support for an educated American or British speaker to pronounce “historical” as “‘istorical.”

  4. Thanks Lynn! Love these. I got one of the two right. Didn’t know about ‘further’ vs. ‘farther’ but now I do! The ‘me’ and ‘I’ error is one I have such trouble hearing and seeing others misuse, especially since it seems so easy to determine which one to use. I think it came from years of correction by teachers in elementary school, so everybody just started using ‘friend and I’ to be on the safe side.

  5. Jim, thank you for the question about the pronunciation “istorical.”

    In the past, words such as “historical,” “habitual,” and “hysterical” have been preceded by “an” because of the unstressed first syllable in which the “h” is barely aspirated and barely heard.

    I myself have heard “historic” and “historical” pronounced without an audible “h” sound.

    In “Fowler’s Modern English Usage,” the author writes “not to demure if others use ‘an’ with minimal or nil aspiration given to the following ‘h.’ He gives as examples “historic” and “horrific.”

    Although my reference manuals support the use of “a” before “historic” and “historical,” people may have a reason to use “an” because of the words’
    pronunciation.

    Lynn

  6. Hone and home are two completely different verbs. Hone means to sharpen. People started to misuse these words verbally when both homing in on results and honing one’s skills began to appear frequently in business advice books. The similarity in sound made it easy to get away with using the wrong one in speech. Carrying over the mistake to the written word was inevitable. I disagree that this is merely a preference of experts, however. It’s a mistake to use them interchangeably, and one that may cost the writer credibility.

  7. Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks for commenting. I agree with you and will adjust my blog entry to strengthen the statement about experts.

    I want to clarify, though, that the examples you gave, “homing in on results” and “honing one’s skills,” are correct. Because you gave them as examples in a sentence about misuse, I wasn’t sure of your intention.

    Lynn

  8. Ah, I can see the lack of clarity now. Thanks for helping me sharpen my writing with every article you write. I have subscribed to your newsletter for years, and recommend it to all of my employees.

    Speaking of using the wrong word, here’s an oldie but goodie that takes it to its comical extreme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJ0nFQgRApY

  9. I took English classes in England. We were taught that we should use “an” and not “a” for all words beginning with an “h”. An hour, an historical, an honour, an house hmmm maybe not that one, etc.

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