Monthly Grammar Tips: May 2016

Building a brand depends on every point of contact that each employee has with customers, prospects, and partners. And despite being experts within respective disciplines, everyone is still occasionally bedeviled by a common high school nemesis: GRAMMAR! To help with the challenge, Opus sends out weekly “Friday Grammar Notes,” addressing misspellings, misuses, and misnomers in everyday communication. This quickly became the source of much dialogue around the proverbial water cooler, so we decided to make it a recurring feature on our blog. We hope you find it as useful as we do!

This month we were nauseated by nauseous mixups, mustered some mnemonics for maddening misspellings, and did some wishful thinking about the subjunctive mood

THROW UP YOUR ARMS (AND MORE): NAUSEOUS vs. NAUSEATED

If you are about to throw up, you are nauseated. Perhaps because you were walking down the street and encountered a three-day-old squirrel corpse crawling with… crawly things. That is nauseous.

It’s pretty straightforward; unless you are disgusting enough to make someone else vomit, you are not nauseous.

That lesson is now over, so we’ll share two related lessons we have learned.

  1. When someone is nauseated, it is not advisable to correct their grammar.
  2. This rule is broken more often than not, which makes it a fairly weak rule in a language that evolves. Much as we grammar lovers hate to admit it, we expect nauseous will eventually become standard usage and nauseated will fade. That truth is out of our control and somewhat difficult to stomach (and now we’ve come back around to politics).

CAST A SPELL ON YOU: COMMON MISSPELLINGS

We’re constantly running into these commonly misspelled words. We’ve drummed up some helpful mnemonics to help you remember the correct spellings:

  • Accommodate is a big enough word to accommodate two c’s and two m’s.
  • Consensus is not related to the census, so it only has one c in it.
  • Guarantee — I remember this one because the cafeteria at my first job was run by the company, ARA, and they had a “good service guARAntee”.
  • Restaurant — that ARA was a cafeteria, not a restaurant. “Eh, you! Get back in this restaurant and pay your check!
  • Commit/committee/committed/commitment — Double the t before the e in committed and committee, so that it still sounds like mitt, not mite. There are also two consonants before the e in commitment.
  • Itinerary — this word isn’t as old as the Bronze Age; it originated in the TIN ERA: i-TIN-ERA-ry.
  • Changeable/interchangeable — these words need to keep the e before the –able suffix so that the g retains the j sound. The vowel i has that same effect on g in the word changing. A similar thing happens with danceable, where you need the c to retain the s sound, rather than changing to a k sound.
  • Quinoa — we have no idea why anybody would ever want to spell this word. If you need to use it, look it up.

IF I WERE IN CHARGE, WE’D TALK ABOUT THE SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD EVERY DAY

Have you ever wondered when to use the phrase if I were vs. if I was?

Probably the most famous example is from the classic 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof, where the impoverished patriarch Tevye laments how much easier life would be “if I were a rich man,” but the question of which phrase to use remains relevant to this day. So which of the following is correct?

If I was going to be onsite at the event, I’d be able to help out with registration.

If I were going to be onsite at the event, I’d be able to help out with registration.

It sounds funny, but verbs have moods, and in this case it’s called the subjunctive, or “aspirational.” Which is the key—aspirational thoughts (look for words like wish, if, would, or could) necessitate the subjunctive mood of to be, so I were is correct. In fact, generally this language structure refers to something wishful or unreal, so when in doubt, default to were.

CORRECT:

If I were you, I would document that discussion in an email.

I wish I were better with technology, so I wouldn’t have to pester our IT department so often.

Being onsite at an event would be less tiring if I were still in my 20s!

If I were on the grammar team, I’d tell those nags my esteemed colleagues these rules can get complicated!

For more grammar goodness, check out the rest of our tips. Until next month, fellow grammarians, good writing!

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