I came across a newer Western the other day where someone talked about someone getting hanged. I had to rewind to make sure I heard that right. Yep, the cowpoke said, “hanged.”
The reason I rewound was that “hanged” was the wrong word to use in that instance.
People are hung. Everything else is hanged.
There are two past tense forms of to hang–hanged and hung. The reason is Old English had a couple of different words that merged into the one we have today, which of course, is confusing.
The way I learned to know which word was correct was to think of the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas story where the narrator says, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.” Stockings are things, not people, so they were hung.
If someone committed murder or horse theft in the Old West, they were hanged.
Incorrect: Dale was hung for stealing his neighbor’s horse.
Correct: Dale was hanged for stealing his neighbor’s horse.
I was teaching an ESL* class not too long ago, and we came upon a word that confused people. The word was “gray.”
Some folks, especially those who liked to drink Earl Grey tea, insisted that grey was the correct spelling. And in some countries, it is. In fact, grey is the preferred spelling for our cousins across the pond (and north of the border).
But, as I tactfully told everyone, we’re in America now. In America, the correct spelling is gray. Just look on any Crayola crayon if you don’t believe me.
My high school refresher grammar teacher, Alfrava Latham, had a great trick to help those of us who read a lot of English classics remember which spelling is correct.
Gray has an A in it; America starts with an A.
Grey has an E in it; England starts with an E.
My class understood quickly. I hope you do, too.
*ESL is the acronym for English as a second language.
Nothing takes me out of the flow of a story faster than an ill-constructed sentence. When I was reading the other evening, I came across a sentence with a double that in it. Now, even though double thatsoften are correct, especially when spoken, they are usually very awkward when read. I have had more than one English teacher in my past pound into my head that writing a sentence with a double that construction was just plain lazy writing and a rewrite was in order.
I think the problem is the word that can be so many different parts of speech.
That can be a conjunction: It’s a matter of opinion that pitchers should ice their arms after every baseball game. (Correct.)
That can be an adjective: Bring that pitcher some ice for his arm! (Correct.)
It’s a matter of opinion that that pitcher actually needs to ice his arm after the baseball game. (Correct, but ill-constructed.)
It’s a matter of opinion pitchers need to ice their arms after every baseball game. (Correct, but better.)
Now, that can also be an adverb and a pronoun, so be careful when constructing your sentences. When in doubt, read your sentence aloud. See if you even need that in the sentence.
That as a demonstrative pronoun (not following a noun) — Who gave you that?
That as a relative pronoun (forms the subject, object, or complement or a relative clause) — Baseball’s a game that my mother taught me.
That as an adverb (before an adverb or adjective) — I can’t wait that long.
That as a determiner (followed by a noun) — Give me that bat.
English can be such a tricky language to learn as I discovered when I was teaching an ESL (English as a Second Language) course not too long ago. We have so many words that sound exactly alike but are spelled differently and mean entirely different things.
One word that tripped up people in my ESL class was stationary. The majority of the class knew about the one with the –ary ending but not about the –ery ending, so I was marking up papers left and right. They thought the word that conveyed something was standing still was the same word that conveyed the type of letterhead a person was choosing. But that’s just not the case.
Let me give you an example, (and I have a great trick to help you remember which is correct):
The soldier remained stationary even through the rainstorm.
The stationery I chose for my business is beautiful.
In the first sentence, I describe someone standing still, so –ary is the ending of choice. I the second sentence, I describe a paper product, hence the –ery ending is used.
The easy way to remember which ending to use is to remember that stand has an a in the word as does stationary, and paper has an e in it just as stationery does.
I truly wish I could remember which English teacher taught me that trick because he or she deserves credit, but I’m drawing a blank when I try to think back. I hope this trick sticks with you as it has stuck with me for so many years.
I had an interesting debate with my better half the other day. He seems to think that a double “is” is correct when used with phrases such as, “The reason is is…” or “The problem is is…” or “The question is is…“.
Is that what you think, too?
Well, hate to be the one to break it to you, but the rarified time a double “is” is correct is when you’re using it like I just did or when the second “is” starts a question.
Let me give you some examples. (Read these aloud to yourself.)
The point is is I would like you to stop using a double is. — Incorrect.
The point is I would like you to stop using a double is. — Correct.
The question is, is a double is correct in this sentence? — Correct. (And, yes, it’s correct.)
There’s an easy way to get yourself to stop using a double is. It’s really about what word you’re emphasizing in the sentence.
In the first example, if you had read it aloud, you would have found that you emphasized the first “is” and then said the second “is” almost like an echo. There was almost a hesitation to make the point of the sentence.
In the second example, the emphasis was on “point.” There was no hesitation about making the point of the sentence.
In the third example, the heaviest emphasis was on “question,” and then you breezed through to make the point of the sentence.