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 on: Today at 12:45:27 AM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
Not that they couldn’t think logically, but sometime ago, I casually asked my two school-age sons whether they had been formally taught logical thinking sometime in their studies. The elder, now 22 (he attended primary school in a leading sectarian university and is now in college taking information technology), said the only time it was taken up was in Grade IV—and only in passing in language arts (“jumping into generalities is illogical”); there was no further discussion of it ever after. The younger, now 14 and in Grade VII in another sectarian school, said he hadn’t heard the word “logic” in class ever; neither was it taught in Montessori school during his kinder. In short, except perhaps in a very few schools in parts unknown in our country (and I’ll be grateful to know where they are), logical thinking is not formally taught to our young children at all.  

We can be sure, though, that our children are taught many other things our educators deem more important, such as religion and physical education and civics and ethics. On these the instruction—indoctrination is perhaps a better word—is forceful and intense, very successfully for the first two I must say, yet mostly middling for the other two. Formal instruction in logical thinking, however, is surreptitiously made to wait till first year college. It is, in fact, difficult not to suspect that many schools—particularly the sectarian ones—don’t really want to teach logical thinking to children, fearing perhaps that it could undermine the teaching of the dogmas and beliefs they want to implant unchallenged in young minds.

Thus, by the time our young people enter college and take Logic 101, they could only look at the strange new discipline with great suspicion and distaste. Their mental armor of unthinking habit, religion, superstition, and wishful thinking is already well in place, so what’s the point of replacing it with a new one? Fortunately, some survive the unrelenting assaults on their rational thinking and get to understand how things in our world and in the known universe really work. They are the precious endangered few that keep our country’s tiny fires of rational thinking burning. But most of our children, like most of our generation before them, develop mindsets with little capacity for critical thinking at all.

That our educational system fails to teach us to think logically early enough is very much in evidence around us, resulting in too many fallacious behaviors among the populace. And based on some history readings that I have done lately, the situation in our country seems to be very much like what Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematician and schoolteacher, saw in England toward the end of the 19th century—a situation that prompted him to write a book introducing elementary logic to children.

Dodgson, who taught at Christ Church, Oxford, is, of course, better known as Lewis Carroll, the pen name he used for two enduring children’s books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Although a clergyman, he had a passion for recreational mathematics, using whimsy and satire to show the illogical ways of English society in his time. Finally, in 1896, two years before his death, he published Symbolic Logic, formally setting out his ideas on how children could learn to think clearly and logically.

Here’s what Carroll said in his introduction to the book: “Mental recreation is a thing that we all of us need for our mental health. Symbolic Logic will give you clearness of thought—the ability to see your way through a puzzle—the habit of arranging your ideas in an orderly and get-at-able form—and, more valuable than all, the power to detect fallacies, and to tear to pieces the flimsy illogical arguments, which you will continually encounter in books, in newspapers, in speeches, and even in sermons, and which so easily delude those who have never taken the trouble to master this fascinating Art.”

Carroll made classical logic easy for children by expressing it through riddles, amusing problems, and mathematical puzzles. He made his riddles perplexing but thoroughly engaging exercises in semantics, which of course is the discipline upon which the basic foundations of logical thinking are built.

How delightfully revolutionary it would be if our educators took the same tack in educating our schoolchildren! (circa 2008)

This essay first appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo circa 2008 in The Manila Times and later appeared as Chapter 147 of the author’s book Give Your English the Winning Edge © 2009 by Jose A. Carillo. All rights reserved.

 on: April 23, 2017, 08:44:38 AM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
We’re now in the midst of college graduation season in the Philippines and I thought it would be timely and appropriate to share with Forum members two memorable and truly inspiring commencement speeches.

The first is that of the late Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, during the 114th commencement exercises of Stanford University in the United States on June 12, 2005; its video is shown on YouTube and I am presenting it with together with the complete prepared text of his speech. The second is that of John Gokongwei Jr., a leading Filipino businessman and industrialist, during the 2004 Ateneo de Manila University graduating exercises in the Philippines; I commented about it (but, make no mistake, definitely not in an unfavorable light) in a column I wrote for The Manila Times in 2004, “The sorry English of our graduation rites,” that I later posted in the Forum.

Watch and listen to Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement address on YouTube now!  

Read the full prepared text of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement address now!

Read the full text of John Gokongwei’s 2004 Ateneo de Manila University commencement address now!

Read my commentary in the Forum on John Gokongwei’s 2004 Ateneo de Manila University commencement address now!

 on: April 22, 2017, 08:38:16 AM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
Playlist Update (April 16-22, 2017) for the Forum Gateway on Facebook

To My Facebook Friends and Fans,

For quick access to the Forum’s featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories, simply click their indicated web links below:

(Latest down to earlier postings)

1. “Why we often get into trouble using the verbs ‘lie’ and ‘lay’” (April 22)

2. “The real wonder is that humans ever discovered science at all” (April 21)

3. “Getting reacquainted with the coordinating conjunctions” (April 20)

4. “No need to hold ‘celebrant’ in a straightjacket” (April 19)

5. “Let’s be firm on whether the name ‘Philippines’ is singular or plural” (April 19)

6. “35 zany quotes and sayings” (April 18)

7. “Aristotle the world’s first scientist and Plato an anti-scientific mythmaker?” (April 18)

8. “Hyphenating for clarity” (April 18)

9. “Why legal documents are not in plain and simple English” (April 16)


1. Two magnificent performances of “The Prayer,” spaced 10 years apart
     (Originally posted January 22, 2017)

2. “The Lovely Clichés Worth Keeping”
     (Originally posted circa 2002   Reposted December 16, 2016)


3. Conversations (4): “The real score about Valentine’s Day”
    (Originally posted February 10, 2010   Reposted February 1, 2014)

4. “Did Rizal ever speak and write in English?”
    (Originally posted January 28, 2010, latest update December 30, 2016)

5. “Conversations (2): A serious bad-grammar syndrome”
   (Reposted January 18, 2017)

6. “Anatomy of media stories that Filipina women have the world’s smallest breasts”
    (Posted July 11, 2016)

7. “Lost in Translation” - 1 and 2
    (Posted December 30, 2016)

8. “Indignities in American minor”
    (Posted October 27, 2016)

Click this link to earlier Playdate features!

 on: April 20, 2017, 06:24:22 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
We will recall that the basic connectives for linking two or more grammatically equal sentence elements are the so-called coordinating conjunctions. There are seven of them, namely “for,” “and,” ‘nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so” (the “fanboys” for short). Their use creates what’s known as a compound element, which can be in the form of a compound subject, a compound predicate, or a compound sentence.

Let’s start from the simplest coordinating conjunctions:

1. “And” to form a compound subject: “Arts and sciences are staples of Western liberal education.” “Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s play.”

2. “Or” to form a compound predicate: “From here you sail to Puerto Galera or fly to Puerto Princesa.” Here, “or” combines the verb phrases “sail to Puerto Galera” and “fly to Puerto Princesa” to form a compound predicate.

3. “But” to form a compound sentence: “They find their new boss not really likable, but they find him an improvement over their previous bumbling boss.” Here, “but” connects the independent clauses “they find their new boss not really likable” and “they find him an improvement over their previous bumbling boss” to form a compound sentence.

From the preceding paragraph, we can see that forming a compound sentence isn’t as simple as just forming compound subjects and compound predicates. It requires not just linking words or phrases spatially but using logic and semantics to form ideas. In particular, it needs a clear understanding of what independent clauses and dependent or subordinate clauses are, and what makes particular sentence elements coequal or parallel. We must firmly keep in mind that coordinating conjunctions can work only to combine independent clauses and coequal or parallel sentence elements.

Remember now that an independent clause can stand its own as a complete sentence, while a dependent or subordinate clause can’t do so and must depend on another clause to acquire meaning. Consider this first clause, “we voted for her,” and this second one, “believing she was competent.” The first, which can stand on its own because it forms a complete thought, is an independent clause; the second, which must latch on to another clause to make sense, is a dependent clause. Now see what happens when we make this second clause subordinate to the first: “Believing she was competent, we voted for her.” Combined they make a complete and logical sentence.

We will also remember that for two sentence elements to be coequal, none of them should be dependent on or subordinate to the other; and that for them to be parallel, both should have the same grammatical and structural form. This isn’t the case with the two sentence elements we’ve combined above; thus, they aren’t coordinate elements.   

We can now discuss the role of the coordinating conjunctions in compound sentence construction:

1. “And” to establish an additive relationship between two independent clauses: “The feuding politicians couldn’t find common ground, and they ended up demolishing each other.”

2. “But” or “yet” to indicate contrast or opposition between ideas expressed by two independent clauses: “Many online trollers mercilessly bash certain personalities, but/yet the personalities funding these trollers are often even more contemptible.”

3. “Or” to indicate alternatives indicated by two independent clauses: “We can leave right now, or we can go when the rain stops.”

4. “Nor” to indicate negation of the ideas conveyed by two independent clauses: “She doesn’t want to marry her fiancé nor wish to give back their engagement ring.” (The full form of this construction: “She doesn’t want to marry her fiancé nor does she wish to give back their engagement ring.”)

5. “So” to indicate an outcome expressed by an independent clause: “He’s an old hand in politics, so he’s biding his time after his latest defeat.”

6. And last, “for,” in the sense of “because,” to express a cause-and-effect relationship between two independent clauses: “They kicked him out, for he had obnoxious habits.”

It's important to keep in mind this general rule in compound sentence constructions: the independent clause being combined must be set apart by a comma from the other independent clause, as shown in all of the six examples given above.

Next: Getting reacquainted with the subordinating conjunctions (April 27, 2017)

This essay first appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of the April 20, 2017 issue of The Manila Times (print edition only), © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

 on: April 20, 2017, 08:07:14 AM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
The Philippines being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, there’s a tendency for the supposedly English-savvy among us to scoff at people who describe as a “celebrant” someone celebrating a birthday or some other auspicious occasion. “Oh, no, that isn’t right!” they would often cut off and gleefully heckle the speaker. “The right word is ‘celebrator’; ‘celebrant’ means a priest officiating the Holy Mass!”

But are people who use “celebrator” in that context really wrong? Do they really deserve all that heckling?

Although I don’t usually join the wicked ribbing that often follows, I myself used to think that people who call birthday celebrators “birthday celebrants” are—if not actually unsavvy in their English—at least ill-advised in doing so. Indeed, my Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary defines “celebrant” as “one who celebrates; specifically the priest officiating the Eucharist.” Likewise, the Collins English Dictionary—Complete and Unabridged defines “celebrant” as “a person participating in a religious ceremony” and, in Christianity’s ecclesiastical terms, as “an officiating priest, esp at the Eucharist.”

On the authority of these two dictionaries, I had never really bothered to check the validity of the conventional wisdom that anybody who’s not a priest or cleric should never be called a “celebrant” but only a “celebrator.” By “celebrator,” of course, practically everybody uses it in the context of someone observing or taking part in a notable occasion with festivities.

Recently, though, after witnessing yet another savage if good-natured ribbing of someone who used “celebrant” to describe a birthday celebrator, I decided that perhaps the issue was serious enough to look deeper into. I therefore resolved to check the usage with at least two other lexicographic authorities, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD).

The OED gives two definitions of “celebrant,” first as “a person who performs a rite, especially a priest at the Eucharist,” and, second, citing North American usage, as “a person who celebrates something.” For its part, the AHD primarily defines “celebrant” in essentially the same vein as the first OED definition, as (a) “A person who participates in a religious ceremony or rite”; (b) “A person who officiates at a religious or civil ceremony or rite, especially a wedding”; and (c) “In some Christian churches, the cleric officiating at the celebration of the Eucharist.” Like the OED, the AHD also makes a second definition of “celebrant” as “A participant in a celebration.”

Then the AHD goes one step further and makes the following usage note for “celebrant”: “Although ‘celebrant’ is most often used to describe an official participant in a religious ceremony or rite, a majority of the [AHD] Usage Panel accepted the use of ‘celebrant’ to mean ‘a participant in a celebration’ in an earlier survey. Still, while ‘New Year’s Eve celebrants’ may be an acceptable usage, ‘celebrator’ is an uncontroversial alternative in this more general sense.”

This being the case, I think people who use “celebrants” to describe people celebrating birthdays and other special occasions aren’t really wrong, and they certainly don’t deserve to be cut down and needled when using that word. And there’s no need for anyone to get upset either when called a “celebrant”—whether as principal or guest—during such occasions. I dare say that “celebrant” is as good a word as “celebrator” in such contexts, and except perhaps in the company of hidebound Christian fanatics, we need not hold the word “celebrant” in a straitjacket to describe only the Christian clergy doing their rituals.

In short, we can freely use “celebrators” to describe people celebrating or attending a birthday party or any other happy occasion, and I think the English-savvy among us need to get used to the idea that the usage of “celebrants” is actually par for the course and doesn’t deserve all that bashing as if it were bad English. (2010)

This essay, 697th of a series, first appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the July 3, 2010 issue of The Manila Times, © 2010 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

 on: April 19, 2017, 04:05:16 AM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
Not long after President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, his growing popularity (or notoriety, as his detractors prefer to call it) as the country’s forceful and tough-talking chief executive would firmly place the Philippines in the international spotlight. Now I think it’s safe to assume that most everybody in the world knows what and where the Philippines is, but I have a sneaking suspicion that as in the years before Mayor Duterte became President, many foreigners and not a few Filipinos themselves still don’t know or aren’t sure whether the name “Philippines” is singular or plural. This became uncomfortably clear when even as recently as 2011, certain leading international and domestic media as well as high-ranking international and national officials mistakenly treated “Philippines” as a plural noun, with all its serious subject-verb disagreement consequences. In the hope of forestalling the recurrence of these egregious errors, I am taking this occasion to repost a Media English Watch commentary I made in July of 2011 on this subject, together with six notable responses from people who shared their knowledge about the correct usage.  

As far back as I can remember, Filipino students are taught that although the proper noun “Philippines” ends with the letter “s,” it is not grammatically plural but singular. The country became known by this common name when it was an American colony from 1898 until the Commonwealth period. The name “Philippines” is, of course, short for the full name the American colonial authorities had given it—the “Philippine Islands,” which in turn was a direct translation of the Spanish name “Las Islas Filipinas.” Going by its sense as a collective noun that stands for a single entity, “Philippines” has since been established in usage as a singular noun.

This is why I was nonplussed when I saw that the Philippine Daily Inquirer apparently considers “Philippines” a plural noun, as shown in the following lead passage from a news story in its July 25, 2011 issue (all italicization for emphasis mine):

Philippines urged to leverage key competencies

Instead of complaining about how the Philippines tend to rank low in various competitiveness surveys, both the public and private sectors should consider collaborating to capitalize on the country’s key competencies and address inadequacies.

According to Center for Industrial Competitiveness executive director Virgilio Fulgencio, what was often noticed was the country’s low overall position in these surveys, neglecting to see where the country excelled and which areas could be leveraged for better ranking results in the future.

In the lead sentence above, unless the use of the present-tense plural verb form “tend” is simply a proofreading oversight, the Inquirer has committed a serious subject-verb disagreement error. Frankly, though, I would not have seriously entertained this latter possibility if not for the fact that almost a month ago, on June 28, 2011 to be exact, Malacañang copied me an e-mailed media release quoting [then] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as having cited the Philippines in a CNN interview as among “the countries that have made a lot of progress” in the global campaign against human trafficking. The pertinent passage is as follows:
“Look at what the Philippines have done in a change of administration,” Mrs. Clinton told Jim Clancy of CNN International’s Freedom Project. “The Philippines probably export more people of their citizenry than nearly any other country in the world. They go all over the world to work in many different settings. And until the new administration of President Aquino, we didn’t really have the level of commitment we were seeking. We do now, and we see a sea change of difference.”

By using the clauses “what the Philippines have done” and “The Philippines probably export more people,” it’s clear that Secretary Clinton thinks that “Philippines” is a plural noun that needs the plural form of the verb. I therefore e-mailed the following note to the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson in Malacañang suggesting that the error be rectified:

May I suggest that you might as well…correct the repeated faulty grammar in US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement as quoted. Everybody knows that the word “Philippines” is a proper noun in the singular form, but Secretary Clinton wrongly uses it in the plural sense in “what the Philippines have done” (“have” should be “has” instead) and in “The Philippines probably export more people of their citizenry” (“export” should be “exports” instead). I’m sure that Secretary Clinton won’t mind the copyediting. In any case, I’m afraid that if that statement is published as is, it could needlessly create a grammar furor that might just detract from the import of what she is saying.

I didn’t get a response from the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson to that note, so I presumed that they didn’t consider the subject-verb disagreement errors in the use of the name “Philippines” serious enough to disturb the favorable quote, or that they thought the matter was simply a stylistic difference in English usage that can be legitimately glossed over.

Now that the grammatical situation has cropped up again in the case of the Inquirer story,  I wonder if the time isn’t ripe for the Philippines to officially and categorically decide—for all the world to know—whether its name is to be treated as singular or plural. (July 25, 2011)


Feedback e-mailed by Gemma Cruz Araneta (July 25, 2011):

Dear Mr. Carillo,

There are maps circa 16th and 17th centuries where this archipelago is labeled Philippinensis or Philipinensis, something like that, derived from Latin according to some historians. Perhaps that is why we are called Filipinas and not Felipinas. I suppose the North Americans who came preferred the Latin name to the hispanized one.

Gemma Cruz Araneta

Feedback posted in the Forum by Ed Maranan (July 25, 2011):

Dear Joe,

Wikipedia uses “Philippines” in the singular form. Actually, from time to time we read foreign accounts referring to the Philippines as a plural noun. You might come across a report which states that “The Philippines are about to enter a new phase in its search for the straight path,” etc. Often we have no way of correcting (who has the e-mail address of people like Hillary Clinton?) what to our mind, or minds, would be a grammatical error, in which case I would let it pass. In fact our ears and sensibilities are so used to the singular form that we naturally find nothing amiss with the theoretically incorrect subject-verb agreement in “The Philippines is bracing itself for another political season,”, etc. But even Wikipedia seems to be confused. It says “The Maldives is…” but it also says “The Antilles are…” I won't quarrel with non-Filipinos who say “The Philippines are…” What I cannot accept, understand, appreciate—despite my 15 years in London—is the British way of pluralizing what is patently a singular word, just because it represents a group of people, or a team in sports. “Chelsea win!” “Manchester rally to win cup!” “England bow down to Azkals!” (For illustration purposes only, the last one). Then there are the other Britishisms that Americans and Americanese-speaking people like Filipinos would find quaint, if not grammatically awkward: “in future,” “in hospital,” “cater for,” etc.

Ed Maranan

Feedback posted in the Forum by Menie Odulio (July 25, 2011)

Of course the name “Philippines” is singular.  Isn’t the name “United States” singular as well? The noun “Philippines” refers to a country—one country, therefore singular.  I don't see how it can be considered as plural.  People who think it’s plural are simply misled by the “s” at the end.  It’s a proper noun, and it does not matter if it ends in an “s” or not.  

Also, our country’s full name is “Republic of the Philippines,” and “Philippines” is our country’s short name.  So if you substitute the full name for the nickname, then I think there will no longer be any arguments about the name being plural, “Republic” being clearly singular.

On the other hand, if you consider the name “United States of America,” the noun is “States” that is described by the adjective “United” and the phrase “of America.” “States” is a plural noun. But even then, nobody ever says “the United States are...”  One country, therefore singular.

Feedback e-mailed by Isabel Escoda from Hong Kong (July 26, 2011):


Re your long piece about whether the country’s name should be thought of as singular or plural, for a long time I’ve thought it peculiar that in international listings, “Philippines” may or may not be indicated with an article before it, unlike the names of most other countries. It’s treated like what’s done in the case of “the UK,” “the US,” “the Seychelles” (because the latter is a group of islands?), and a couple of others that I can’t think of right now. Would the Philippines be difficult to categorize because our country is also a group of islands?

Have I told you that the majority of migrant workers in HK refer to the homeland as “PI”? It seems quaint since that’s a colonial designation, and most of these women are from the younger generation that usually have no consciousness of that era.
It seems to me to make sense that as the Brits often say, “the Philippines are … (a developing country) “ and I don’t think it’s such a grammatical blooper for Hillary Clinton to have used the plural herself. Maybe this is a non-issue?


Feedback e-mailed by Ed Gomez (July 26, 2011):

Dear Joe,

I occasionally read your e-mail but am generally too tied up with other work that I cannot regularly do so. After scanning what you sent, which I generally appreciate, I normally delete without further ado.

On this particular occasion, I thought I would share with you that whether a country’s name should be treated as singular or plural is a matter of usage. In my readings, particularly of European writers, there is a tendency to treat to countries names as plural nouns, with or without an “s” at the end. You will sometimes note this in reference to sports articles in the Herald Tribune and, probably, the Financial Times. I cannot remember for sure, but I am sure having seen this practice during some of my foreign trips when I am waiting to catch a plane or am in the air.  

Just to share.
Ed Gomez

Feedback posted in the Forum by scoylumban (July 26, 2017):

“Philippines” is singular. A colleague of mine who edits the Sunday Examiner, the English Catholic weekly in Hong Kong, always give “The Philippines,” “The” with a capital “t,” as the name of the country, no matter where it occurs in the sentence.

To Ed Maranan: “The Antilles” is not the name of a country but of a group of islands in the Caribbean that include, among others, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. And the examples you give, “Chelsea win!” “Manchester rally to win cup!” “England bow down to Azkals!” are correct usage in British English. However, I can understand your being unable to “accept, understand or appreciate” this after 15 years in London because after 40 years in the Philippines. I cannot bring myself to say “Good noon” or “thanks God”!

P.S. Ed Maranan, I’m from Ireland, where we use British English.
Fr. Sean Coyle

 on: April 18, 2017, 03:16:13 PM 
Started by eman40 - Last post by eman40
Help! I can't pass the TOEFL  structure and written expression part

 on: April 18, 2017, 01:16:37 AM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
The clarity and precision of our written sentences are greatly dependent on how well we modify their various elements. Usually, of course, we modify nouns and pronouns with single adjective or adjective phrases (“The long wait is over.” “It was worth the trouble.”) and verbs with single adverbs or adverb phrases (The day was exceedingly bright.” “The fugitive was summarily brought to justice.”). Such grammatically simple modifications rarely leave room for doubt as to our intended meaning.

Every now and then, however, we need more complicated modifiers to convey precisely what we have in mind, as in this sentence: “Give me a real world example of a nation that was able to lift itself by its bootstraps.” The problem is that while the noun phrase “example of a nation” looks like it’s being modified by another noun phrase, “real world,” the context is so difficult to pin down. Are we referring to a “world example of a nation” that is real, which sounds nonsensical, or to an “example of a nation” in the real world, which seems to make sense but only vaguely?

Thankfully, English has a handy grammatical tool for fixing problems caused by the unusual compounding of its words: the hyphen. When we use the hyphen to form the composite word “real-world,” in particular, the semantic problem with the sentence we examined earlier simply vanishes: “Give me a real-world example of a nation that was able to lift itself by its bootstraps.” This time, it’s clear that “real-world” is meant to be a compound noun modifying the noun “example.”

Hyphenation can help us achieve clarity in meaning in two major grammatical situations: (1) when we use nouns to modify adjectives, and (2) when we use phrases to modify nouns. There are some generally accepted rules for hyphenating such compound modifiers.

Hyphenating nouns used to modify adjectives. When we use a noun up front to modify an adjective, we need to put a hyphen between them for clarity: “The insulin-dependent patient lived an otherwise normal life.” “The country promoted labor-intensive industries instead of capital-intensive ones.”

Such noun-adjective modifiers, however, typically need to do away with the hyphen when they come after the noun they are meant to modify: “The patient is no longer insulin dependent.” “The industries the country went into are not labor intensive.”

Hyphenating phrases used to modify nouns. When a phrase is meant to modify a noun up front, we need to hyphenate the phrase for clarity: “The big-budget film took five years to finish.” “The astute entrepreneur took advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity.” (See what happens when we knock off those hyphens.)

When adverb-adjective phrases are used to modify a noun up front, we need to hyphenate them if the adverb doesn’t end in “-ly”: “Her long-ailing husband made a dramatic recovery.” “The short-tempered boxer got knocked out early in the second round.” But we should never do so when the adverb ends in “-ly”: “The US dollar is the nearest we have to a globally accepted currency.” “A hastily organized press conference was called by the beleaguered senatorial candidate.” 

When one of the adjectives in a two-adjective modifying phrase is meant to modify the other, we need to place a hyphen between them for clarity: “The man lost his light-red jacket in the mall.” When both adjectives modify the same noun, however, we need to skip the hyphen: “The man lost his light red jacket in the mall.” (Figure that one out.)

Using the suspensive hyphen. To streamline sentences, we can use the so-called suspensive hyphen for a series of two or more hyphenated compound modifiers with the same base element: “Small- and medium-scale industries deserve government subsidy.” “We need five-, six-, and nine-meter poles for this project.” Here, the words “scale” and “meter” are base elements of the modifiers that are used only once for conciseness.

With these guidelines, we should now be able to correctly hyphenate our compound modifiers for clarity. (2007)

This essay, 542nd of a series, first appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the June 25, 2007 issue of The Manila Times, © 2007 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

 on: April 17, 2017, 12:17:18 AM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
This very interesting question about the English of lawyers was posted in Jose Carillo’s English Forum recently by member BonRuiz: “I hope you can enlighten me on why legal documents and contracts use too many unnecessary words that are not direct to the point and are hard to understand. Is this a lawyer’s standard procedure so only he can interpret and make money out of them?”

I replied to BonRuiz that legal documents and contracts use a language called legalese. This is the jargon of lawyers when communicating with fellow lawyers and other law practitioners. It presumes that the target audience is adequately knowledgeable with legal concepts and the legal system. To laypersons not privy to this knowledge, however, legalese would be too wordy for comfort and, very often, beyond their understanding and comprehension.

It’s too harsh to say that lawyers make legalese their SOP so only they can interpret documents or contracts and make money from them. I think the following justification for legalese by lawyer-blogger WiseGeek ( is fairer and more levelheaded: “In law, words have very specific and clearly defined meanings, and lawyers are careful when drafting legal documents to say precisely what they mean, even if the meaning is only apparent to other lawyers. Some of the word use may appear unusual to people who aren’t familiar with the law, as ordinary words can have a different meaning in a legal context. For example, seemingly redundant phrasing actually isn’t, when the legal meanings of the phrase are considered.”

But more revealing is this insight about legalese by another lawyer-blogger, SoMeLaw Thoughts ( “Here’s one deep, dark secret about lawyers—we see risk everywhere. I can look at a picture of a man on a sidewalk and come up with a dozen potential lawsuits without batting an eye. And that’s before this hypothetical man crosses the hypothetical street. We lawyers spend years reading the most ludicrous cases you can imagine that involve chain reactions of people jumping onto moving trains, dropping bundles of fireworks that explode, and a concussive wave that tips over a large scale injuring a woman nearby (actual, famous case). It’s our job to see the worst potential outcome and help our clients avoid it.

“So when a client comes to an attorney and says ‘Hey, can you draft up some terms for my business so that we’re protected from lawsuits?’ then the lawyer’s mind starts spinning like a rickety travelling carnival ride that was installed without inspection, has no safety restraints in the cars, and is operating at twice the recommended speed. Our minds are now racing to give our clients the best possible defense to a future lawsuit.”

I doubt very much if it’s standard practice by lawyers to deliberately or viciously make contracts and documents wordy, roundabout, confusing—and grammatically faulty. My personal view is that legalese is simply the outcome of centuries of overcareful, overzealous, overprecise, overwrought, and overbearing formulation, implementation, interpretation, and application of the law in evolving societies. I’d say it’s a confusing language that generation after generation of lawyers have institutionalized largely for their own convenience, using quirky English and archaic legal templates.

Would it be possible to make the English of contracts and legal documents simpler?

I think so, and that would be such a desirable development! In recent years, in fact, there has been a growing movement in North America and in the United Kingdom to use plain and simple English not only in contracts and legal documents but also in court litigation and in legislation (, the better for laypeople to understand, appreciate, and follow the law as well as to assert their rights and fulfill their responsibilities as members of society.

Let’s just hope that the plain English movement and legislation will soon catch on in the Philippines as well. (2014)

This essay first appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the March 14, 2014 issue of The Manila Times, © 2014 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
For a much richer appreciation of how legalese differs from plain and simple English, read:
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” (’Twas the Night Before Christmas), a poem by Clement Clarke Moore
then compare to:
“The Night Before Christmas, Legally Speaking” (Parody)

 on: April 14, 2017, 08:35:31 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
Playlist Update (April 9-15, 2017) for the Forum Gateway on Facebook

To My Facebook Friends and Fans,

For quick access to the Forum’s featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories, simply click their indicated web links below:

(Latest down to earlier postings)

2017 Lenten Season Special:

1. “Does religion confer a distinct survival advantage to humankind?” (April 15)

2. “Looking deeply into religious belief as a problem in international affairs” (April 14)

3. “Book of Revelation’s fantastic imagery are true events in code, says book” (April 14)

4. “Minority faiths in Middle East face extinction due to religious intolerance” (April 14)

5. “So now as it was then, this is the world in 854 words” (April 14)

6. “Twixt mathematics, technology, and religious belief” (April 12)

7. “On evolving Gods, prehumans as food, and grammar’s impact on thought” (April 11)

8. “The Tree of Life” (April 10)

9. “How the human brain establishes and reinforces beliefs as truths” (April 9)

REGULAR FEATURES (9 postings):

1. “Ateneo to host multi-awarded writer Luis H. Francia’s lecture-reading April 25 in Manila” (April 13)

2. “Seeking immortality through technology and primitive diet” (April 13)

3. “The disconcerting flux in scientific knowledge and how to cope with it” (April 13)

4. “Incredible e-trip of the Exploration Rover Mission to the Planet Mars” (April 12)

5. “29 best-selling fiction writers share their secrets to success” (April 11)

6. “Great titles in the making” (April 11)

7. “Young writer and memory buff shows how to remember most everything”] (April 11)

8. “Teaching writers to write better than they’ve ever written before” (April 11)

9. “Oh, the sweet bird of happiness finally looks like it’s in the bag!” (April 10)

10. “The Middle Ages weren’t just a time of long religious delirium and hysteria” (April 8 )


1. Two magnificent performances of “The Prayer,” spaced 10 years apart
     (Originally posted January 22, 2017)

2. “The Lovely Clichés Worth Keeping”
     (Originally posted circa 2002   Reposted December 16, 2016)


3. Conversations (4): “The real score about Valentine’s Day”
    (Originally posted February 10, 2010   Reposted February 1, 2014)

4. “Did Rizal ever speak and write in English?”
    (Originally posted January 28, 2010, latest update December 30, 2016)

5. “Conversations (2): A serious bad-grammar syndrome”
   (Reposted January 18, 2017)

6. “Anatomy of media stories that Filipina women have the world’s smallest breasts”
    (Posted July 11, 2016)

7. “Lost in Translation” - 1 and 2
    (Posted December 30, 2016)

8. “Indignities in American minor”
    (Posted October 27, 2016)

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