Even the best speakers and writers are sometimes caught napping. Many of

our standard authors to whom we have been accustomed to look up as

infallible have sinned more or less against the fundamental principles of

grammar by breaking the rules regarding one or more of the nine parts of

speech. In fact some of them have recklessly trespassed against all nine,

and still they sit on their pedestals of fame for the admiration of the

crowd. Macaulay mistreated the article. He wrote,--"That a historian

should not record trifles is perfectly true." He should have used an.

Dickens also used the article incorrectly. He refers to "Robinson Crusoe"

as "an universally popular book," instead of a universally popular


The relation between nouns and pronouns has always been a stumbling block

to speakers and writers. Hallam in his Literature of Europe writes,

"No one as yet had exhibited the structure of the human kidneys, Vesalius

having only examined them in dogs." This means that Vesalius examined

human kidneys in dogs. The sentence should have been, "No one had as yet

exhibited the kidneys in human beings, Vesalius having examined such

organs in dogs only."

Sir Arthur Helps in writing of Dickens, states--"I knew a brother author

of his who received such criticisms from him (Dickens) very lately and

profited by it." Instead of it the word should be them to agree

with criticisms.

Here are a few other pronominal errors from leading authors:

"Sir Thomas Moore in general so writes it, although not many others so

late as him." Should be he.--Trench's English Past and Present.

"What should we gain by it but that we should speedily become as poor as

them." Should be they.--Alison's Essay on Macaulay.

"If the king gives us leave you or I may as lawfully preach, as

them that do." Should be they or those, the latter

having persons understood.--Hobbes's History of Civil Wars.

"The drift of all his sermons was, to prepare the Jews for the reception

of a prophet, mightier than him, and whose shoes he was not worthy

to bear." Should be than he.--Atterbury's Sermons.

"Phalaris, who was so much older than her." Should be she.--Bentley's

Dissertation on Phalaris.

"King Charles, and more than him, the duke and the Popish faction were

at liberty to form new schemes." Should be than he.--Bolingbroke's

Dissertations on Parties.

"We contributed a third more than the Dutch, who were obliged to the same

proportion more than us." Should be than we.--Swift's Conduct of the


In all the above examples the objective cases of the pronouns have been

used while the construction calls for nominative cases.

"Let thou and I the battle try"--Anon.

Here let is the governing verb and requires an objective case after it;

therefore instead of thou and I, the words should be you (sing.)

and me.

"Forever in this humble cell, Let thee and I, my fair one, dwell"


Here thee and I should be the objectives you and me.

The use of the relative pronoun trips the greatest number of authors.

Even in the Bible we find the relative wrongly translated:

Whom do men say that I am?--St. Matthew.

Whom think ye that I am?--Acts of the Apostles.

Who should be written in both cases because the word is not in the

objective governed by say or think, but in the nominative dependent on

the verb am.

Who should I meet at the coffee house t'other night, but my old


"It is another pattern of this answerer's fair dealing, to give us hints

that the author is dead, and yet lay the suspicion upon somebody, I know

not who, in the country."--Swift's Tale of a Tub.

"My son is going to be married to I don't know who."--Goldsmith's

Good-natured Man.

The nominative who in the above examples should be the objective


The plural nominative ye of the pronoun thou is very often

used for the objective you, as in the following:

"His wrath which will one day destroy ye both."--Milton.

"The more shame for ye; holy men I thought ye."--Shakespeare.

"I feel the gales that from ye blow."--Gray.

"Tyrants dread ye, lest your just decree Transfer the power and

set the people free."--Prior.

Many of the great writers have played havoc with the adjective in the

indiscriminate use of the degrees of comparison.

"Of two forms of the same word, use the fittest."--Morell.

The author here in trying to give good advice sets a bad example.

He should have used the comparative degree, "Fitter."

Adjectives which have a comparative or superlative signification do not

admit the addition of the words more, most, or the terminations,

er, est, hence the following examples break this rule:

"Money is the most universal incitement of human misery."--Gibbon's

Decline and Fall.

"The chiefest of which was known by the name of Archon among the

Grecians."--Dryden's Life of Plutarch.

"The chiefest and largest are removed to certain magazines they call

libraries."--Swift's Battle of the Books.

The two chiefest properties of air, its gravity and elastic force,

have been discovered by mechanical experiments.--Arbuthno.

"From these various causes, which in greater or lesser degree,

affected every individual in the colony, the indignation of the people

became general."--Robertson's History of America.

"The extremest parts of the earth were meditating a submission."

--Atterbury's Sermons.

"The last are indeed more preferable because they are founded on some new

knowledge or improvement in the mind of man."--Addison, Spectator.

"This was in reality the easiest manner of the two."--Shaftesbury's

Advice to an Author.

"In every well formed mind this second desire seems to be the strongest

of the two."--Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.

In these examples the superlative is wrongly used for the comparative.

When only two objects are compared the comparative form must be used.

Of impossibility there are no degrees of comparison, yet we find the


"As it was impossible they should know the words, thoughts and secret

actions of all men, so it was more impossible they should pass judgment

on them according to these things."--Whitby's Necessity of the Christian


A great number of authors employ adjectives for adverbs. Thus we find:

"I shall endeavor to live hereafter suitable to a man in my station."


"I can never think so very mean of him."--Bentley's Dissertation on


"His expectations run high and the fund to supply them is extreme

scanty."--Lancaster's Essay on Delicacy.

The commonest error in the use of the verb is the disregard of the

concord between the verb and its subject. This occurs most frequently

when the subject and the verb are widely separated, especially if some

other noun of a different number immediately precedes the verb. False

concords occur very often after either, or, neither, nor, and

much, more, many, everyone, each.

Here are a few authors' slips:--

"The terms in which the sale of a patent were communicated to the

public."--Junius's Letters.

"The richness of her arms and apparel were conspicuous."--Gibbon's

Decline and Fall.

"Everyone of this grotesque family were the creatures of national


"He knows not what spleen, languor or listlessness are."--Blair's


"Each of these words imply, some pursuit or object relinquished."


"Magnus, with four thousand of his supposed accomplices were put

to death."--Gibbon.

"No nation gives greater encouragements to learning than we do; yet at

the same time none are so injudicious in the application."


"There's two or three of us have seen strange sights."--Shakespeare.

The past participle should not be used for the past tense, yet the

learned Byron overlooked this fact. He thus writes in the Lament of


"And with my years my soul begun to pant With feelings of strange

tumult and soft pain."

Here is another example from Savage's Wanderer in which there is

double sinning:

"From liberty each nobler science sprung, A Bacon brighten'd and a

Spenser sung."

Other breaches in regard to the participles occur in the following:--

"Every book ought to be read with the same spirit and in the same manner

as it is writ"--Fielding's Tom Jones.

"The Court of Augustus had not wore off the manners of the republic"

--Hume's Essays.

Moses tells us that the fountains of the earth were broke open or

clove asunder."--Burnet.

"A free constitution when it has been shook by the iniquity of

former administrations."--Bolingbroke.

"In this respect the seeds of future divisions were sowed abundantly."


In the following example the present participle is used for the infinitive


"It is easy distinguishing the rude fragment of a rock from the splinter

of a statue."--Gilfillan's Literary Portraits.

Distinguishing here should be replaced by to distinguish.

The rules regarding shall and will are violated in the following:

"If we look within the rough and awkward outside, we will be

richly rewarded by its perusal."--Gilfillan's Literary Portraits.

"If I should declare them and speak of them, they should be more

than I am able to express."--Prayer Book Revision of Psalms XI.

"If I would declare them and speak of them, they are more than can

be numbered."--Ibid.

"Without having attended to this, we will be at a loss, in understanding

several passages in the classics."--Blair's Lectures.

"We know to what cause our past reverses have been owing and we

will have ourselves to blame, if they are again incurred."--Alison's

History of Europe.

Adverbial mistakes often occur in the best writers. The adverb rather is

a word very frequently misplaced. Archbishop Trench in his "English Past

and Present" writes, "It rather modified the structure of our sentences

than the elements of our vocabulary." This should have been written,--" It

modified the structure of our sentences rather than the elements of our


"So far as his mode of teaching goes he is rather a disciple of

Socrates than of St. Paul or Wesley." Thus writes Leslie Stephens of Dr.

Johnson. He should have written,--" So far as his mode of teaching goes

he is a disciple of Socrates rather than of St. Paul or Wesley."

The preposition is a part of speech which is often wrongly used by some

of the best writers. Certain nouns, adjectives and verbs require

particular prepositions after them, for instance, the word different

always takes the preposition from after it; prevail takes upon;

averse takes to; accord takes with, and so on.

In the following examples the prepositions in parentheses are the ones

that should have been used:

"He found the greatest difficulty of (in) writing."--Hume's

History of England.

"If policy can prevail upon (over) force."--Addison.

"He made the discovery and communicated to (with) his friends."

--Swift's Tale of a Tub.

"Every office of command should be intrusted to persons on (in)

whom the parliament shall confide."--Macaulay.

Several of the most celebrated writers infringe the canons of style by

placing prepositions at the end of sentences. For instance Carlyle, in

referring to the Study of Burns, writes:--"Our own contributions to it,

we are aware, can be but scanty and feeble; but we offer them with good

will, and trust they may meet with acceptance from those they are

intended for."

--"for whom they are intended," he should have written.

"Most writers have some one vein which they peculiarly and obviously

excel in."--William Minto.

This sentence should read,--Most writers have some one vein in which they

peculiarly and obviously excel.

Many authors use redundant words which repeat the same thought and idea.

This is called tautology.

"Notwithstanding which (however) poor Polly embraced them all around."


"I judged that they would (mutually) find each other."--Crockett.

" having created a (joint) partnership between the two Powers in

the Morocco question."--The Times.

"The only sensible position (there seems to be) is to frankly acknowledge

our ignorance of what lies beyond."--Daily Telegraph.

Lord Rosebery has not budged from his position--splendid, no doubt,--of

(lonely) isolation."--The Times.

"Miss Fox was (often) in the habit of assuring Mrs. Chick."--Dickens.

"The deck (it) was their field of fame."--Campbell.

"He had come up one morning, as was now (frequently) his wont,"


The counsellors of the Sultan (continue to) remain sceptical

--The Times.

Seriously, (and apart from jesting), this is no light matter.--Bagehot.

To go back to your own country with (the consciousness that you go back

with) the sense of duty well done.--Lord Halsbury.

The Peresviet lost both her fighting-tops and (in appearance)

looked the most damaged of all the ships--The Times.

Counsel admitted that, that was a fair suggestion to make, but he

submitted that it was borne out by the (surrounding) circumstances.


Another unnecessary use of words and phrases is that which is termed

circumlocution, a going around the bush when there is no occasion for

it,--save to fill space.

It may be likened to a person walking the distance of two sides of a

triangle to reach the objective point. For instance in the quotation:

"Pope professed to have learned his poetry from Dryden, whom, whenever an

opportunity was presented, he praised through the whole period of his

existence with unvaried liberality; and perhaps his character may receive

some illustration, of a comparison he instituted between him and the man

whose pupil he was" much of the verbiage may be eliminated and the

sentence thus condensed:

"Pope professed himself the pupil of Dryden, whom he lost no opportunity

of praising; and his character may be illustrated by a comparison with

his master."

"His life was brought to a close in 1910 at an age not far from the one

fixed by the sacred writer as the term of human existence."

This in brevity can be put, "His life was brought to a close at the age

of seventy;" or, better yet, "He died at the age of seventy."

"The day was intensely cold, so cold in fact that the thermometer crept

down to the zero mark," can be expressed: "The day was so cold the

thermometer registered zero."

Many authors resort to circumlocution for the purpose of "padding," that

is, filling space, or when they strike a snag in writing upon subjects of

which they know little or nothing. The young writer should steer clear of

it and learn to express his thoughts and ideas as briefly as possible

commensurate with lucidity of expression.

Volumes of errors in fact, in grammar, diction and general style, could

be selected from the works of the great writers, a fact which eloquently

testifies that no one is infallible and that the very best is liable to

err at times. However, most of the erring in the case of these writers

arises from carelessness or hurry, not from a lack of knowledge.

As a general rule it is in writing that the scholar is liable to slip; in

oral speech he seldom makes a blunder. In fact, there are many people who

are perfect masters of speech,--who never make a blunder in conversation,

yet who are ignorant of the very principles of grammar and would not know

how to write a sentence correctly on paper. Such persons have been

accustomed from infancy to hear the language spoken correctly and so the

use of the proper words and forms becomes a second nature to them. A

child can learn what is right as easy as what is wrong and whatever

impressions are made on the mind when it is plastic will remain there.

Even a parrot can be taught the proper use of language. Repeat to a

parrot.--"Two and two make four" and it never will say "two and two

makes four."

In writing, however, it is different. Without a knowledge of the

fundamentals of grammar we may be able to speak correctly from

association with good speakers, but without such a knowledge we cannot

hope to write the language correctly. To write even a common letter we

must know the principles of construction, the relationship of one word to

another. Therefore, it is necessary for everybody to understand at least

the essentials of the grammar of his own language.

FURTHERFARTHER HARMONY facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail