How to avoid these mistakes in English


By Prof. Kev Nair

When you speak or write English, do you make many mistakes? Do you often fail to use words and word-groups in the way in which they’re currently used in English?

In fact, almost everyone makes some mistake or other -- at some time or other. This is a fact. Most advanced learners do. Even expert-level users of English sometimes do. Yes, almost everyone tends to make mistakes. This happens especially when they use words and word groups in particular contexts. Only, some people make fewer mistakes, and others, more.

These mistakes take several forms: Many people tend to use words and phrases in ways that modern English usage does not accept as correct or proper. Many give words and phrases meanings that are different from their meanings in current usage. Many go against the currently accepted grammar of those words and phrases. Many use two or more words together in ways that are considered unacceptable in current usage. Many use word combinations that the current usage considers unacceptable. Many confuse one word with another.

Why you should avoid these mistakes

1). These mistakes prevent the English you speak or write from being accepted as good English.

2). And worse, these mistakes prevent you from being clear to your listeners or readers -- because the listeners and readers expect words and phrases to carry only those meanings that the current usage has assigned to them. And they expect only those words to be used together that sound right (according to the current usage) when used together.

3). And there’s yet another problem. If you’re not sure of the principles of current usage, you’ll run into a serious difficulty: Suppose you’re in the middle of saying something or writing something. And suppose a doubt comes up in your mind whether it’s acceptable to put words together in a particular way. Then this is what happens: Your attention gets diverted from what you’re saying or writing -- to the language you’re using to compose it. That is, you’re now concerned not about the content, but about the form. And you lose the thread of what you’re saying or writing. And the result? The flow of your speech or writing gets cut off -- slowed down. And you falter. And all this makes it difficult for you to remain fluent.

How correct usage helps you communicate effectively

The tips on usage I’ll be posting here have two related aims:

(i) To make you become aware of the common usage-related mistakes -- mistakes that even highly educated people tend to make in English; and

(ii) To tell you how to avoid those mistakes.

Study these notes carefully. And don’t let the lack of awareness of current English usage prevent you from speaking and writing English fluently. And accurately, clearly and effectively. That is, as accurately, as clearly and as effectively as the situation needs -- and permits.

English Usage Tip for the week

Posted on January 29, 2020

Copyright © Kev Nair 2020. All rights reserved.

“historic” OR “historical”? (Continued): What’s the correct usage?

We’ve already seen one thing in the posting dated 22-01-2020:

We saw there that if something is old and is considered important in history (or not old, but might be considered important at some time in the future), you can refer to it with the word “historic”.

And we saw that the other word “historical” refers, on the other hand, to something that actually existed or happened in the past. (Therefore, something historical is usually something thought to be part of history – though not necessarily considered important).

Now here is an important point:

Just as something (= a thing or situation) can be said to be “historical”, someone (= a person) can also be said to be “historical”. That is, if someone actually existed in the past, that person is a historical person.

But mind you, you must not say that someone (= a person) is a historic person. You mustn’t. Don’t use “historic” to describe a person. Use “historical” instead.

Here are some examples:

Is his new novel about historical/ historic figures or about contemporary people?

Most of the characters in that movie are historical/ historic people.

Is King Vikramaditya a historical/ historic personage?

Sherlock Holmes was not a historical/ historic detective; he was a fictional detective.

Do you think Robin Hood is a historical/ historic person?

Are they historical/ historic kings/ queens/ revolutionaries? Or are they characters in old legends?

Copyright © Kev Nair 2020. All rights reserved.

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