Archive for the '<diction>' Category

The White Stripes and an Error in Diction: “very unique”

June 13, 2006

A producer who claims to have played a crucial role in the development of the White Stripes' very unique sound is suing the band for a share of its royalties.

This sentence contains an error in diction. "Unique" is an absolute adjective, which means that it cannot be modified in a comparative manner. "Unique" means "unlike anything else; having no equal." Someone or something is either unique or not unique. Someone or something cannot be very unique or more unique than others, just as someone or something cannot be very dead or more dead than others.

A new meaning of "unique" has developed: the definition of this word has come to include "unusual," which is not absolute and can be modified in a comparative manner. However, standardized examinations test knowledge of standard written English, and this meaning of "unique" is not presently standard. You should be aware of this usage so that you can identify the error on an examination, and you should avoid using a comparatively modified form of "unique" in your writing.

Correct the sentence by removing the comparative modifier "very."

A producer who claims to have played a crucial role in the development of the White Stripes' unique sound is suing the band for a share of its royalties.

Britney and an Error in Diction: liable/likely

June 8, 2006

Britney Spears is liable to develop a line of clothing bearing her son's namesake, for she recently filed a trademark application for the words "SEAN PRESTON."

This sentence contains an error in diction: "liable" has been used in place of "likely."

"Liable" means "responsible," as in "Parents are liable for their children's behavior." It can also mean "probable," but only when it precedes an infinitive that would cause a negative outcome for the subject, as in "You are liable to fall if you walk on a wet floor" or "If he does not study, he will be liable to fail."

In this sentence, the infinitive is "to develop." While her endeavor may possibly fail, developing a line of clothing is not a negative outcome. It would be something that Britney planned and desired. A better word to use in this sentence is "likely," which means "probable" but without the negative connotations of "liable."

The sentence should be written as follows:

Britney Spears is likely to develop a line of clothing bearing her son's namesake, for she recently filed a trademark application for the words "SEAN PRESTON."

Janet and a Two Errors in Diction: “being that” and adverse/averse

June 1, 2006

Being that the FCC is adverse to the broadcasting of profanity and nudity, the commission issued fines totalling over half a million dollars to television stations that aired Janet Jackson's exposure of her breast during the halftime show of the 2004 Super Bowl.

This sentence contains two errors in diction.

The phrase "being that" is colloquial and inappropriate in formal speech and standard written English. Use "because" or "since" instead.

The word "adverse" means "unfavorable to one's interests, harmful." Replace it with "averse," which means "reluctant about or opposed to."

The sentence should be written as follows:

Since the FCC is averse to the broadcasting of profanity and nudity, the commission issued fines totalling over half a million dollars to television stations that aired Janet Jackson's exposure of her breast during the halftime show of the 2004 Super Bowl.

Sarah and an Error in Diction: affect/effect

May 24, 2006

Has being out of the limelight effected Sarah Michelle Gellar's sense of style? She was recently seen wearing a very unflattering dress.

This sentence contains an error in diction. The word "effect" has been used instead of "affect."

"Effect" can be used as a noun or a verb. The more common noun form means "a result," while the transitive verb form means "to bring about." The use of "effect" as a verb in the first sentence does not make sense. Being out of the limelight did not bring about Sarah's sense of style.  The sentence could be modified to maintain the use of this verb by adding an object that can be effected: "Has being out of the limelight effected a change in Sarah Michelle Gellar's sense of style?"

"Affect" is most commonly used as a verb, meaning "to influence." It can be used as a noun in psychology, meaning "a person's mood or emotions." This latter usage is rarely seen outside of a psychological context.

To correct this sentence, use "affect" as a verb.

Has being out of the limelight affected Sarah Michelle Gellar's sense of style? She was recently seen wearing a very unflattering dress.

Read an example of "effect" used as a verb at Celebrity Vocabulary.

Angelina, Brad, and an Error in Diction: imminent/eminent

May 23, 2006

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have become imminent figures in Namibia: half of the Namibians who voted in a poll believe that the day that Angelina gives birth should be declared a national holiday.

This sentence contains an error in diction. The word "imminent," which means "likely to happen in the near future," is often confused with the word "eminent," which means "famous and admired." Fix the sentence by replacing "imminent" with "eminent."

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have become eminent figures in Namibia: half of the Namibians who voted in a poll believe that the day that Angelina gives birth should be declared a national holiday.

Britney and an Error in Diction: lay/lie

May 19, 2006

Britney Spears gives her baby ice cream before he lays down to sleep.

This sentence contains an error in diction: the improper use of a form of the verb "to lay."

"To lay" is a transitive verb that means "to place something on a surface" and requires an object. You lay something down.

"To lie" is an intransitive verb that means "to be in or take on a horizontal position." Since it is intransitive, it never takes a subject. You lie down to sleep.

There is no object in the clause that begins with "before." The baby is reclining, not putting something down. Correct the sentence by replacing "lay" with "lie."

Britney Spears gives her baby ice cream before he lies down to sleep.

Alternatively, you can change the structure of the sentence to form a direct object and use the transitive "lay."

Britney Spears gives her baby ice cream before she lays him down to sleep.