WordPlay

Be Nice

“Nice” is one of those words that seem to have lost depth of meaning over the years.  We say “That’s nice” in reference to almost any object or situation not grossly objectionable.  “Have a nice day!” we say, “Have a nice life!”

The adjective “Nice,” like the adjective “great,” used to carry a secondary meaning.  Up until the early twentieth century, being “nice” often meant to be “precise,’ “exact,” “fastidious” [even “overly fastidious”].  Nicety was a commonly used noun form for “niceness” in this sense.(OED)

Though somewhat archaic, “nicetyis still a handy word to knowIt’s the very word to head up for the following list…

Seven Grammatic* Niceties

Quote vs. Quotation

“Quotation” is a noun.  “Quote is a verb and should not be used as a noun.  For example, one should not say or write “The senator’s quote after his arrest was humorous but unprintable in a family newspaper.”  Unprintable or not, the senator’s remark is a quotation, not a quote

One vs. You

The following sentence is proper English usage:  “One should not swim immediately after eating.”

You should not swim after eating” is incorrect unless one is addressing a specific group or specific individuals.

Shall vs. Will

The distinction between these two words is rather moot these days.. Indeed, the word “shall” has practically disappeared from the American vocabulary.  The following two sentences illustrate proper usage as taught in past centuries:

“Tomorrow afternoon, I shall probably take a short walk.”

“Despite my wife’s objections, I will visit Miss Kitty’s tonight.”

Less vs. Fewer

“Less,” as a descriptive adjective, pertains to amounts.   “Fewer” pertains to numbers.

Examples:  “There is less gin in the bottle than there was last night.”  “There are fewer

tar balls on the beach  this year.”

Which vs. Who

The relative pronouns “which” and “who” are often confused and misused.  “Which” should be used for things.  “Who” should be used for people.

Examples: “The man who came to dinner didn’t notice the fly which was in the gravy bowl.”

Like vs.  As

In general, “like” should be used before nouns, as in the following example:

“It looks like a real mess!”

“As” should to be used before clauses or phrases:  “As I said, ‘It looks like a real mess.’”

May  vs. Can

“Mother, may I” was a children’s game back in the good old days.  In those days, there was a
strict distinction between May I? and Can I?   In the question, “Mother, may I go to the circus?” a child is asking for Mother’s permission to go.

Can I go to  the circus?” is not a question of permission, but a question of ability.  Anybody  can go, if he or she has the ability to get there and buy a ticket.

-E.S.

*”Grammatic” is a semi-archaic spelling of grammatical [Oxford English Dictionary]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: