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USE AND MISUSE
The Use and Misuse section is open to all Forum members for discussing anything related to English grammar and usage. It invites and encourages questions and in-depth discussions about any aspect of English, from vocabulary and syntax to sentence structure and idiomatic expressions. It is, of course, also the perfect place for relating interesting experiences or encounters with English use and misuse at work, in school, or in the mass media.
A letter from a purchaser of my English-usage books six years ago
Early this month, I received a very interesting letter from someone who bought my English-usage books six years ago. I thought of presenting and answering it right off, but as regular readers of this column know, I gave precedence to a two-part column that presented my enlightening Facebook conversation with Mr. Maximo Tumbali on communication as the art of conveying one’s thoughts and ideas clearly and simply in the appropriate language register. That gave me more time to think out how to answer that letter that came in like a blast from the past, so to speak, requesting as it did a critique of the English of that letter itself to check if the letter-writer had actually been learning from my books.
Here’s the letter:
“This is Nina O____. I hope you still remember me. We met at PC Supermarket at Pioneer St. in Mandaluyong City while I was doing my groceries and you were also buying something. I think that was sometime in the year 2010. When you introduced yourself to me, I was surprised because I had previously bought two books of yours, English Plain and Simple and Give Your English the Winning Edge. I really love these books. Truth is, I will miss one third of my life if I lose these books. They are great!
“You know, Mr. Carillo, I am a software engineer and English is not my forte, but I love to write. Right now, I need your help about three things:
“(1) What is the difference between a verb phrase and a phrasal verb? Are these two one and the same thing?
“(2) About the statement ‘I look forward to hearing from you.’ The sentence ‘I look forward to hear from you’ sounds good to the ears as well. Why is it that the ‘-ing’ form is always used and not the regular verb? What is the grammar rule behind this?
“(3) Which is correct: ‘I intend to see you’ or ‘I intend to seeing you’? I always hear TV newcasters and news anchors and a lot of other people using the latter form. For instance, they would say ‘They met together to sharing their expertise.’ Is it also correct to say ‘They met together to share their expertise’? Which is preferable?
“(4) Which is correct: ‘I would be very happy to hear from you again’ or ‘I would be very happy to hearing from you again.’ In my opinion, the sentence ‘I would be very happy to hear from you again’ sounds better to the ears than the latter.
“Could you please give me a critique of my writing above? Are my sentences grammatically correct and the paragraphs well-written? I would be very happy to hear from you again because this is my test if I am learning from your books.”
My reply to Nina:
Thank you so much for the compliment about those two English-usage books of mine, Nina. When you said that you love them and that you’d miss one third of your life if I you were to lose them, the image that came to mind is that of an upward-mobile young woman just past her mid-20s confident in her career track because of her good command of English. I must confess that I don’t have a clear recollection of that encounter of ours over six years ago, and being considerably older than you, I’ll really need to trust your memory more than I could trust mine.
First, the broad picture about your writing skills. You have a very good grasp of English. Your sentences are definitely all grammatically correct and well-written, needing only minor restructuring for better, more free-flowing continuity.
We’ll take up the expository details and your specific grammar concerns as we go along.
Last week, I presented an appreciative letter from a young software engineer who bought my English-usage books six years ago and this time requested two things from me: to critique the English of her letter to find out if she had actually been learning from my books, and to clarify certain grammar terms and usage.
I assured Nina O. that her letter showed she has a very good grasp of English, with grammatically correct and well-written sentences needing only minor restructuring for better, more free-flowing continuity.
Now let’s proceed to the first of her four grammar questions: What’s the difference between a verb phrase and a phrasal verb? Are they one and the same thing?
No, they are actually different. A verb phrase is one that consists of a main verb and any auxiliaries but excludes whatever modifiers, objects, or complements are used. A verb phrase can be the predicate of the sentence, as in “The missing treasure has been found intact in the farmhouse.” Here, the verb phrase consists of the main verb “found” and the auxiliaries “has” and “been”; together, these three grammar elements form the present perfect tense of the verb “find.”
A verb phrase can also function as an adjective phrase, as in “They found him writhing in pain from a bad fall,” where the adjective phrase “writhing in pain from a bad fall” modifies the object “him”; and as an adverbial phrase, as in “The woman was eager to meet her Facebook friend in person,” where the prepositional phrase “to meet her Facebook friend in person” serves as an adverbial complement of the verb phrase “was eager.”
On the other hand, a phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and an adverb or a verb and a preposition, or both, that yields a meaning different from those of the component words considered separately; in short, a phrasal verb is idiomatic or figurative. For example, the phrasal verb “make up for” means to do something to make a bad situation better, as in “She attended remedial classes to make up for her absences”; and the phrasal verb “face up to” means to accept and try to deal with a problem, as in “The company finally faced up to the fact that its technology had become passé.”
About the statement “I look forward to hearing from you” (gerund version) as opposed to “I look forward to hear from you” (infinitive version): The latter may sound good to the ears as well, but the former is the widely accepted idiomatic way of saying it. Because the difference is almost imperceptible, there’s really not much sense to argue to death whether to use the gerund version or the infinitive version.
As to the choice between “I intend to see you” and “I intend to seeing you,” go tell those TV newscasters and news anchors that it’s bad form and bad sounding to say the latter. There’s actually a rule that says use the infinitive form as complement for single action, as in “I plan to visit you,” and not to use the gerund, which is for ongoing action, as in “We find resting called for at this point.” In the same token, tell them never, never to say “They met together to sharing their expertise” and to simply say “They met together to share their expertise.”
The same rule above—the infinitive form for single action, the gerund form for ongoing action—applies to the choice between “I would be very happy to hear from you again” and “I would be very happy to hearing from you again.” It’s grammatically elegant and—as in your experience—it sounds much better to say “I would be very happy to hear from you again.”
A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all!
This essay appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times in its December 24-31, 2016 issue, © 2016 by Manila Times Publishing. All rights reserved.
What’s the semantic difference between “onset” and “outset”?
Question by Michael E. Galario, Forum member (July 5, 2016):
Hi Sir Joe,
Could you please explain the semantic difference between onset and outset and how to use them correctly in a sentence. Also, can these be used interchangeably?
My reply to Michael:
The nouns “onset” and “outset” mean the same thing, which is “beginning,” “start,” or “commencement,” but their usage and syntax differ so they can’t be used interchangeably. We say “Inspection of the city’s drainage canals were done at the onset of the rainy season” but not “Inspection of the city’s drainage canals were done at the outset of the rainy season.” On the other hand, we say “We told you at the outset that she will surely lose” but not “We told you at the onset that she will surely lose.”
Rejoinder from Michael (July 5, 2016):
By your explanation sir Joe, it gives me an impression that “outset” has a meaning that something would be happening or would be unfolding in a discussion while “onset” gives me an impression that something happens in the beginning and ends there. The action/motion is quantified during the said period. “Outset,” on the other hand, seems it forewarns or foretells what possible things a reader or listener can expect from someone’s argument/statement. It’s like it carries an idea of action/motion.
My reply to Michael:
I find that the meanings you discerned from the words “onset” and “outset” are not reflected in authoritative English dictionaries. Both are just shades of meaning of the nouns “beginning,” “start,” and “commencement” and none intrinsically carries the additional senses you described. It’s in their actual usage—meaning how they are combined with other words—that they evoke particular senses or impressions. To avoid wrong semantics, I think it’s advisable that we leave the matter at that.
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