Jose Carillo's Forum


This page seeks to promote good English usage in everyday life—whether at home, at school, in the workplace, in public platforms, in the mass media, in books, and anywhere else where the printed or spoken word is used. In short, this page will serve as some sort of grammar police against blatant or grievous public misuses of English.

So, whenever you encounter such misuse, share it through this page in the spirit of constructive criticism. Our ultimate goal, of course, is to bring the misuse to the attention of those responsible so they can make the necessary correction.

“The same to you” not catch-all reply to expressions of best wishes

Question by Mwita Chacha, Forum member (July 21, 2012):

My country’s president was being interviewed by a local radio presenter on the day he was celebrating his birthday. On that special show, the interviewer allowed listeners to make calls to the station to wish their head of state a happy birthday. As expected, virtually all listeners uttered the common social expression “Happy birthday to you,” but it was the president’s reply to the greeting that left me particularly puzzled. Indeed, I could hear him saying “The same to you”' in response to each I-wish-you-a-happy-birthday greeting, which suggests that his replication was not just a slip of the tongue. My question is: Don’t we have limits concerning the use of the expression “The same to you” as a polite reply to those who are giving us their best wishes?

My reply to Mwita Chacha:

The social expression “The same to you” is, of course, a polite reply by a greeted person to a wish or greeting that’s also applicable to the one who made the greeting at the first instance. When the greeting is “Have a nice day!” or “Have an enjoyable evening!”, it’s perfectly acceptable to reply “The same to you!” or “You, too!” (Of course, “The same to you” would also be an appropriate response to such collectively applicable greetings as “Happy Thanksgiving Day!” and “Merry Christmas!” I’d say, though, that it’s more socially graceful to return the same greeting by saying “Happy Thanksgiving Day, too!” “Merry Christmas, too!” Saying “The same to you” in such situations just sounds socially off-key and lazy to me.) But when the wish or greeting applies specifically and uniquely only to the person being greeted, as “Happy birthday to you!” to a birthday celebrator, the expression “The same to you” is obviously off-tangent and terribly inappropriate. The most common and suitable response to a birthday greeting is, of course, “Thank you!” or “Thank you very much!” The president of your country was therefore ill-advised in using “The same to you” to respond to his birthday well-wishers. 

For nonnative English speakers, however, it takes time and adequate exposure to get conversant with the social graces in English. This is why it behooves those who are good in English, whether native or nonnative speakers of the language, to be tolerant and forgiving of people who make public conversation gaffes like the one you cited. We obviously can’t correct them to their face—certainly not those in power or in high places—when they make such social booboos, but indirectly educating them is obviously desirable and acceptable. This is why I think this feedback of yours about the inadequate social graces of your country’s president is a step in the right direction. Who knows, this feedback just might reach him without offending him and thus start doing wonders to his English-language social conversations.

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Previous Feature:

When do we omit the relative pronoun “that” in a sentence?

Question by Miss Mae, Forum member (June 25, 2012):

What should be the guideline when omitting “that” in a sentence like this one from a news story in The Manila Times?

“While China said it would also ask its fishermen to leave the area, it stressed it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there.”

Because with the phrase “while China said it would also ask its fishermen to leave the area,” having no “that” between “said” and “it” sounds natural. But with the phrase “it stressed it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there,” it isn’t. Why is that?

Reply of Forum member Mwita Chacha to the above question (June 25, 2012):

They say that the word “that” can be omitted after a verb of attribution (“said,” “stated,” “announced,” “disclosed,” “stressed”) without a loss of meaning. For instance, it’s not inaccurate to write “The minister has said he would open a case against the newspaper.” On the other hand,  “that” is not optional in the sentence “The president announced that his new tax plan would be introduced soon.” This is because without including “that” in that sentence, the clause “his new tax plan...” can be mistaken for the direct object of verb “announce.”

Also, “that” is not optional when one verb of attribution is shared by two “that’s.” For example, in the sentence “The minister said that he would open a case against the newspaper, and he would drag to the court all his attackers,” the word “that” should have been inserted after the second “he” for the sake of parallelism.

As to whether the sentence you have given is correct or not, my view is yes, it is grammatically airtight for one reason—it has used two different verbs of attribution, “said” and “stressed,” in two different clauses, one independent and the other dependent. You might recall that a clause is defined as a construction consisting of a subject and a verb that has a complete meaning. Even if those two clauses had used the same verb of attribution, the inclusion of the word “that” in either clause would still be optional for as long as the two clauses have different subjects.

My comment on Mwita Chacha’s posting (June 26, 2012):

Great explanation, Mwita Chacha! Thanks for your instruction support to the Forum!

Rejoinder of Mwita Chacha (June 27, 2012):

I acknowledge your compliments, Sir! But does it not seem that I have somewhat botched my explanation, especially in the final part of it? Indeed, I have come to think that in order to help the reader not mistake the clause “it had no intention of pulling...” for a direct object of the verb “stressed,” the word “that” is really necessary before “it,” as Miss Mae has suggested.

My reply to Mwita Chacha’s rejoinder (June 29, 2012):

Many journalists and professional writers with a journalistic background routinely omit “that” in modifying clauses, as in this sentence taken by Miss Mae from that news report:

“While China said it would also ask its fishermen to leave the area, it stressed it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there.”

Such sentences are a common elliptical form, particularly in spoken English. The unellipted form of the sentence above is, of course, this construction with the two missing “thats” restored:

“While China said that it would also ask its fishermen to leave the area, it stressed that it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there.”

A rule of thumb I use for such sentences is to avail of the ellipsis only (1) if the elimination of “that” won’t confuse the reader, and (2) if the resulting elliptical sentence reads and sounds better than the full-blown sentence.

I would say that if read aloud, the following fully ellipted version of that sentence would handily meet the two conditions I cited above:

“While China said it would also ask its fishermen to leave the area, it stressed it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there.”

Even if “that” is absent after the verb “stressed,” there should be no problem understanding what is meant by the ellipted clause “it stressed it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there” as articulated. 

But what about if that sentence is silently read in print? My perception is that even if “that” is absent, there’s still no real danger of misconstruing the intended sense of the modifying clause “it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there.” I would therefore say that the following doubly ellipted sentence is semantically airtight both in its written and spoken form:

“While China said it would also ask its fishermen to leave the area, it stressed it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there.”

Still, it’s prudent to observe this caveat in doing elliptical constructions: When in doubt, don’t.

The virtue of elliptical constructions

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Need for parallelism when doing serial enumeration in sentences

Question by Miss Mae, Forum member (March 15, 2012):

What should we consider when enumerating things in a sentence? Should every kind of room specified in this particular sentence be introduced by the article “the”' or is the construction just fine?

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room €140 ($182), and Caribbean at €105 ($137).”

I asked because I wish to construct the sentence like this:

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room at €140 ($182), and the Caribbean at €105 ($137).”

My reply to Miss Mae:

When making a serial enumeration in a sentence, the listing should be kept parallel by ensuring that every item listed is in the same grammatical form—whether all noun forms, all adjective forms, all verbal forms (infinitives, gerunds), etc.* As to article usage, “the” or “a”—or none of them—can be used for each item or used only once at the beginning of the serial list; the choice is largely a matter of style on the part of the writer.

When evaluated using these two grammatical yardsticks, the original construction and your revised construction fail either the parallelism test or article-usage test, or both.

Take a close look at the original construction:

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room at €140 ($182), and Caribbean at €105 ($137).”

The serial list above is unparallel because the fourth item in the list, “Caribbean,” is an odd-man out without the word “room” right after it. It should be listed as “Caribbean room” to be parallel with all the proper names of the rooms in the list, as follows:

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room at €140 ($182), and Caribbean room at €105 ($137).”

Your revised construction is in even worse grammatical shape:

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room at €140 ($182), and the Caribbean at €105 ($137).”

It fails the parallelism test because three of the items—Moroccan room, English room, and Swedish room—have the word “room” in them but the fourth item, “Caribbean,” doesn’t have it. It also fails the article-usage parallelism test because two items—“the Moroccan room,” “the Caribbean”—have the article “the” but the other two items—“English room” and “Swedish room”—don’t have it.

Here’s how that sentence can be made parallel and consistent in article usage through and through:

“Choose from these rooms: Moroccan, €105 ($137), English, €125 ($163), Swedish, €140 ($182), and Caribbean, €105 ($137).”
“Choose from these rooms: the Moroccan, €105 ($137), the English, €125 ($163), the Swedish, €140 ($182), and the Caribbean, €105 ($137).”

Using parallelism to achieve structural balance in writing

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Proposed rewrite of inscrutable English of magazine’s foreword

New Forum member Menie made the following posting that offers a suggested rewrite of the seriously flawed English of a college magazine’s foreword that was sent to me last August 8, 2010 by Prof. R. Muthukumar of the Department of Business Administration of NMSSVN College in Nagamalai, Madurai, India:

I see that no one has taken up the challenge of translating this to something which can be understood at first reading, so I will give it a try. Step one is a literal translation: substituting the weird words and phrases with understandable words or phrases, but retaining the general style of the sentences.

Dear Readers,

We are proud to say that this College Annual Magazine is a product of the hard work of qualified people.

It is an announcement that our college has a collection of versatile people who have clear ideas about prevalent issues in society. We believe that our readers will be invigorated after reading these articles, which deal closely with sensitive and unique ideas.

The Editorial Board thanks the members for their meritorious and sincere effort in bringing this Magazine out. We also thank Management for their encouragement and cooperation toward the successful completion of this annual book.  

Once again we bow our heads in recognition of Management’s untiring effort to uplift the condition of the college staff and to continue the progress of our college.

We also thank M/s Edison Printers for their good and prompt service.

Having understood what they are trying to say, we can then attempt to rewrite it in a better style, but still retaining all of the ideas expressed above.

Dear Readers,

We are proud to present to you this College Annual Magazine.  

This is a collection of views on prevalent issues in our society, which are examined with sensitive and unique perspectives. We hope that you will find these articles interesting and that these will move you to take further action.

We wish to thank the contributors and magazine staff for their hard work and dedication.

We also thank the school administration for their encouragement and support toward the successful completion of this magazine. We take this opportunity to acknowledge their untiring effort toward the betterment of the college staff and the continuing progress of our school.

Lastly, we thank M/s Edison Printers for their excellent work.

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“Sick books” issue goes off the deep end, then bubbles up again

There was this story in two of the broadsheets last November 9 that Education Secretary Armin Luistro visited “sick books” crusader Antonio Calipjo Go recently and encouraged him to resume his terminated crusade. This was after Mr. Go announced a few days back that he was shelving his one-man advocacy for good, having been intensely pilloried instead of being thanked for it by the publishers, authors, and editors of the targeted textbooks.

Well, what a coincidence! Just two days before that, a new member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum—his username is pedestrian—asked me to explain what those textbook errors were all about in the first place. He was belatedly responding to a June 6, 2009 editorial of The Manila Times that commented on the several dozens of questionable English passages that Mr. Go had found in six locally produced English-language textbooks. Pedestrian was saying that since there was no explanation for those errors, it’s difficult for him to learn from them.

I told pedestrian that then and now, I just didn’t have the time to critique all those problematic textbook passages, but I consented to doing the following four samplers just to give him some idea of what the problem is all about:

(1) “The rain and storm are needed to snuff out the heat in the air.” There’s nothing wrong with the grammar of that sentence, but its sophomoric use of the phrasal verb “snuff out” makes it sound infantile. To “snuff out” is much too strong and emotional a verb phrase in that statement, for it means “to extinguish (as in smothering the flame of a candle), make extinct, kill, or execute.” And to say that the rain and storm are “needed” to do that snuffing out action on heat is unwarranted personification, or inappropriately representing rain and storm as humans. Here’s a more objective, level-headed way of wording that sentence: “The rain and storm remove heat from the air.”

(2) “Just remember this acronym—DOCSiShQACNMN to make it easy for you to remember the order of adjectives in a series.” It should be obvious even to a preschooler that this is ridiculous advice—to use a tangled, tongue-twisting, terribly-hard-to-recall acronym as a mnemonic for remembering the order of adjectives in a series. We normally expect to get such advice from simpletons, not educators or textbook writers.

(3) “Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the novels ‘The Treasure Island’ and ‘The Kidnapper.’” This factually erroneous sentence is the result not only of the ignorance and laziness of the textbook writer but also the carelessness and cluelessness of the textbook editors. The correct titles of those very popular novels are Treasure Island—without the article “The”—and Kidnapped—not “The Kidnapper.” It’s really unthinkable for the author of that book not to know this, and this kind of factual error makes that textbook statement sound almost like a sick joke.

(4) “My sister is old. She can accompany me to the outing.” This statement is semantically faulty and almost laughable. It gives the idea that old age is a prerequisite for someone to qualify as a companion to an outing. This time, the problem is both semantic and grammatical. What the writer obviously wanted to say is, “My sister is old enough. She can accompany me to the outing.” The adjective “enough” would have been enough to make that statement logical, but the textbook writer evidently didn’t have enough semantic sensitivity to make that distinction.

I told pedestrian in closing that I wish someone would pick up after me and find time to dissect the remaining problematic textbook passages, which I daresay won’t be remedied by simply providing supplemental notes to the flawed textbooks, as had been done by the DepEd. Those textbooks should be withdrawn from circulation as soon as practicable, then replaced with textbooks written by semantically competent authors.

Read The Manila Times editorial on the textbooks with erroneous English!

Read “Luistro backs Go crusade” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer now!

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And we thought we’d find typos only in newspapers and books!

Mispelled Road Sign

I don’t think we can blame this one on the influence of too much short-cut texting on the mobile phone.

What do you think?

Here’s the story from Yahoo!

Cringe-inducing typo outside N.C. school
By Brett Michael Dykes

Well, here's something to make your old English teacher gasp in horror: A road contractor hired to paint the word “school” on a freshly paved stretch of road near Southern Guilford High School in North Carolina rendered the traffic area in question a “school” zone.

But fear not for the (surely confused) youth of Greensboro! The contractor, a company called Traffic Markings, has already corrected the error.  Here's visual evidence, courtesy of local TV station WXII.

WXII had some fun with the typo on the air too:

This isn’t the first such mishap on record. Last year, for instance, a Miami-area road crew offered the variant spelling of “scohol,” while in 2007, a team in Kalamazoo, Mich., managed the same “h” and “c” reversal.

Chalk it all up to a bad day’s wrok.

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Reporting English misuse:

You can report the English misuse by e-mailing a verbatim transcription or an image in GIF or JPEG format to When doing so, please be mindful of the laws against libel and oral defamation. Our interest is not to humiliate English-language offenders but to help them rectify the error, so there’s no need to identify them in your messages. Just indicate the city, district, street, and general location where you saw or found the particular English misuse to make it easier for those concerned to be alerted about it.

We will also need your full name, residence, e-mail address, and telephone number so we can confirm with you before the posting is made on this page. Just let us know if you don’t want to be identified in the posting so we can withhold your identity. Please keep in mind that this page will be moderated and will not entertain scurrilous reports nor those sent in by anonymous sources.

That said, you can now get started in doing volunteer police work for the sake of good English! It should be a truly gratifying educational experience and you and other English lovers can have lots of fun besides!

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