Monthly Archives: February 2015

Whether … or not.

When using “whether,” it is usually unnecessary to add the words “or not.” Compare these examples:

  • Kaleen asked whether or not it was too late to pick a different kitten.
  • Kaleen asked whether it was too late to pick a different kitten.

In the first example, the words “or not” are superfluous because they add nothing to the sentence’s meaning. That’s because, ordinarily, “whether” implies “or not.” So the next time you use “whether,” pause … and then ask yourself if “or not” is necessary. It probably isn’t.

That is all for now …

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Collective nouns: singular or plural?

A collective noun is a word in singular form that names an aggregate of individuals or things. Some examples are “jury,” “group,” “faculty,” and “crowd.”

The problem is whether to treat a collective noun as a plural (“the jury are deliberating”) or as a singular (“the jury is deliberating”).

According to Bryan Garner, “there is little ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ on this subject.” But, generally, collective nouns take singular verbs, as in “the committee is meeting” and “the panel is in session.” But the most important point is this: be consistent. Decide on the style you’re going to use and stick with it.

That is all for now …

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Gibe, jibe, and jive!!

Similar sounding words can be problematic. Let’s look at three fun examples: gibe, jibe, and jive.

A gibe is a taunt or tease: “The angry audience hurled gibes at the speaker.” Gibe can also be a verb: “The Ducks and Beavers gibed each other.”

To jibe with something is to agree with it: “Sam’s job interview jibed with her resumé.”

Jive generally means either to deceive by fast talking or to tease or taunt. This example is best illustrated by the Bee Gee’s classic song from 1975, Jive Talkin’:

It’s just your jive talkin’, you’re telling me lies
Jive talkin’, you wear a disguise
Jive talkin’, so misunderstood
Jive talkin’, you’re really no good

That is all for now …

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Punctuating introductory words and phrases.

If you’re like me, lots of your sentences begin with an introductory word or phrase.  It could be a single transition word (e.g., meanwhile), a phrase (e.g., on the other hand), or a dependent clause (e.g., if you’re like me).  But how do you punctuate that introductory word or phrase?

According to most authorities, the general rule is that an introductory word or phrase should be set off by a comma.  For example:

  • Without music, life would be a mistake.  (Friedrich Nietzsche)
  • If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.  (Mark Twain)
  • The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.  (Bob Marley)
  • Meanwhile, the President of the United States has to contend with a possible invasion from Mars.

As with most rules of English, there is an exception to the general “use a comma” rule.  A very short introductory phrase—such as brief modifying phrases involving time (“Yesterday I went to a baseball game” or “In 1955 the Dodgers won the World Series for the first time”)—can appear with or without a comma.  The Scribe, however, prefers the use of commas with all introductory words or phrases, so as to avoid the seemingly arbitrary application of the rule (how long does the phrase need to be before a comma is needed?  Three words?  Four?).  This avoids comma-use drama—at least in this application.

That is all for now …

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Filed under Punctuation