Saturday, March 4, 2023

Eight Tidbits for National Grammar Day

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In honor of National Grammar Day, I present this year’s list of my grammar and usage pet peeves—some new ones, but a few old favorites, too. 
  1. “Thru” is not a replacement for “through.” It is an informal, non-standard word and should be avoided at all cost. 

  2. “Below” is a preposition that means “lower than:” The subway runs below the street. It may also be used as an adverb, following a noun, to describe something that will be shown later: The chart below shows the difference between adverbs and prepositions. Although the tide may be shifting, “below” should not be used as an adjective, a usage that seems to be gaining in popularity: The below email… but sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me. 

  3. Use “unique” sparingly. If something is unique it is the only one of its kind. As my friend, Peter Schaktman, wisely advises, “Something is either unique or it isn’t. [It] cannot be ‘very unique.’” 

  4. Don’t confuse “ensure,” “assure,” and “insure.” The first means to make certain: Joe must ensure he is home by 6 p.m. to relieve the babysitter. Assure means to dispel doubts: Joe assured Mrs. Seligson he would be home by 6 p.m. Insure is related to “insurance;” Sue insured her new necklace with a rider on her homeowners insurance policy. 

  5. Although “deep dive” is (over)used informally to mean an in-depth investigation of a topic or scenario, in my book, it is what happens only when you jump off a high diving board or go underwater in scuba gear to see colorful fish and coral reefs. When you study something intently, you investigate, search, inquire, or probe. 

  6. Know the difference between “diffuse” and “defuse.” The former is to spread over a wide area: By the time Sergio left the office, the scent of his cologne had diffused into every corner of the room. The latter means to remove the fuse from an explosive or reduce danger or tension. The HR manager was responsible for defusing the tension between Tess and her supervisor. 

  7. As my paternal grandmother was fond of saying, “It bears repeating,” and so it is with this tidbit from a previous post on National Grammar Day: “Use” and “utilize” are not interchangeable and using the longer word in place of the shorter one doesn’t make you sound smart. “Use” is the correct word when employing an object for its intended purpose: Sally used a hairpin to keep hair out of her eyes during the exam. When describing an object used for other than its intended purpose, “utilize” is the correct word: After the exam, when Sally found herself locked out of her car, she utilized a hairpin to jimmy the lock.

  8. Finally, keep an eye on your grammar (capitalization and punctuation, too!), even when texting. In other words, don’t send me a text like this: 

Happy National Grammar Day, friends!

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