A Desk-Book of Errors in English/S
's: "The sign or suffix of the possessive or genitive case singular and of the same case plural when the noun ends in n; as, men's lives; children's books; shortened since the 17th century from Middle English -es. The apostrophe now replaces the e. Some words ending in a sibilant omit the s of the possessive to avoid the disagreeable repetition of a hissing sound. The rules formulated for this work are as follow: (1) Singular monosyllabic nouns ending in a sibilant sound (s, x, ce, se, or dental ge) add the apostrophe and s except when the following word begins with a sibilant sound; as, James's reign; Jones's hat; a fox' skin. (2) Singular dissyllabic nouns ending in a sibilant sound add the apostrophe and s, unless the sibilant is followed by another sibilant or the last syllable is unaccented; as, Porus' defeat; Moses' face; Jesus' disciples; Laplace's theory; Hortense's fate. (3) Singular polysyllabic nouns ending in a sibilant sound add the apostrophe and s only when a principal or secondary accent falls on the last syllable; as, Boniface's mistake; Quackenbos's Rhetoric; Orosius's History."—Standard Dictionary.
same: This word should not be used, as it is in commercial correspondence—in substitution for it. If "the same" is correctly used, a noun is implied; as "it is the same (referring to an illness) as he suffered from." However, do not say, "Tell me what you wish, and the same (meaning it) will be attended to." Same is also often used where similar is the proper word. A gale blowing to-day with a velocity of 60 miles an hour is similar to, but is not the same as, one that blew with a velocity of 60 miles one year ago, although it has the same amount of velocity.
sameness, similarity: Discriminate carefully between these words. Sameness is the state of being identically the same; absolute resemblance; similarity is likeness or partial resemblance. See same.
sappy: An undesirable colloquialism for "weakly sentimental; silly."
sass: Vulgar term for "impertinence"; "sauciness."
satire, satyr: Note the difference in the spelling of these words. A satire is a dramatic farce or medley; a satyr is a woodland deity.
saw, seen: In popular use, in some regions, often carelessly and inexcusably interchanged. Saw is the imperfect tense of see, and to be used as such only; seen is its past participle, and the form to be used, with the proper auxiliaries, in the tenses formed with the aid of the past participle. Not "I seen him," but "I saw him"; not "I have (or had) never saw it," but "I have (or had) never seen it."
say. Compare utter.
says I: A vulgarism sometimes heard from even the educated: entirely indefensible.
scan. Compare peruse.
scarcely, hardly: These words are not strictly synonymous. Scarcely is applied to quantity, hardly to degree; as, "Scarcely an hour has passed since we parted"; "He is hardly well enough to rise."
scared of should not be used for "fearful of." It should be used only when positive alarm, absolute fright is felt.
scholar: Alliteration is probably responsible for "Sunday-school scholar" for although the word originally signified one who attends school for instruction, it has now come to imply one who is distinguished for the pursuit and possession of knowledge; and, as such, it is a high-sounding title for a pupil, who may be a mere beginner, and is supposedly under the close personal supervision of a tutor.
school: A term which, apart from its use designating an educational institution, formerly also described "a large multitude or company" but is now restricted in its application to marine animals only; as, "a school of whales."
scrap: A vulgarism for "fight" or "quarrel."
screw loose, to have a: A slang phrase used sometimes as a substitute for "to be irrational or mentally weak."
sealing. Compare ceiling.
search me: A colloquialism used usually as a noncommital reply to an interrogatory and best rendered by a decisive answer as, "I don't know."
seasonable, timely: These terms are not synonymous. That which is seasonable is in harmony or keeping with the season or occasion; that which is timely is in good time. A thing may be timely in appearance that is not seasonable.
see, witness: These words are not synonymous. See is used of things, witness of events. Thus, we may see soldiers, but witness a review; see a man, but witness an assault.
seem. Compare appear.
seldom or ever: A very common error for "seldom if ever." One may say "I seldom if ever speak so," meaning to imply doubt; thus, "I seldom speak so if indeed I ever do." An alternative form is "I seldom or never speak so," which is more emphatic and implies personal opinion, as "I speak so very seldom or (according to my belief) probably never. "
semi-occasionally: A meaningless expression for "once in a while" which is decidedly preferable.
sensation should not be used for "noteworthy event."
sensual, sensuous: These are not synonymous terms. A sensual man is one who is given to the inordinate indulgence of his animal appetites; a sensuous one is one who has a warm appreciation for the beautiful and is keenly alive to sense-affecting influences.
separate: One of a class of words which are persistently misspelled. Note that it contains only two "e's", one in its first syllable and one in its last; and that "a" forms its second syllable.
serial. Compare cereal.
session. Compare cession.
set, sit: According to strict grammatical rule, sit when referring to posture is always an active intransitive, and set an active transitive. "To sit on eggs" has been characterized as colloquial English, but is sanctioned by the translators of the King James version of the Bible. "As the partridge sitteth on eggs and hatcheth them not" (Jer. xvii. 11). Shakespeare wrote "Birds sit brooding in the snow" (L. L. L. act v. sc. 2). On a poultry-farm the farmhand sets the hen but the hen sits.
settle: Do not speak of settling a bill unless there is some matter in dispute concerning it that requires settlement. Under ordinary circumstances you pay an undisputed account.
severally. See respectively under respectfully.
sewage, sewerage: These words are often confounded. Sewage is the waste matter which is carried off through drains and sewers; sewerage is the system of piping and draining by means of which the sewage is carried off.
shakes, no great: An undesirable colloquialism for "not much good," "of no great importance."
shall, will: "Often erroneously interchanged. In general simple futurity is expressed by shall in the first person and will in the second and third, while determination is expressed by will in the first and shall in the second and third. In interrogations in the second and third persons the usage is not so simple, the speaker often putting himself in the place of the one spoken to or spoken of, and using shall or will, as if for the first person."—Standard Dictionary.
Sheeny: An offensive appellative for a Jew used only by the illiterate and vulgar.
shire: As this word means county, do not say "county" when speaking of any "shire." "Oxfordshire" and "the county of Oxford," are correct, but not "the county of Oxfordshire."
shoal: In general this word is applied to an assemblage, a multitude or a throng, but, specifically it designates a number of fish that move together; as, "a shoal of porpoises." Compare school.
should seem, would seem: Terms used chiefly to soften requests, orders or directions. The use of should in such a remark as "It should seem so"—implying that something suggested was correct—dates from pre-Elizabethan time. Here would should be substituted for should.
should, would: These words follow in the main the usage of shall and will, but with certain modifications required by their common use in dependent sentences. In general, in indirect quotation, should is to be used after a historical tense where the speaker quoted employed shall, and would where the speaker quoted will. Thus:
|Direct quotation:||"He said to me, 'You shall go.'"|
|Indirect||"||"He said that I should go."|
|Direct||"||"He said to me, 'Will you go?' "|
|Indirect||"||"He asked me if I would go."|
The mixture of direct and indirect is always wrong; avoid, "He asked me would I go."
shut up: A coarse expression often too commonly used instead of "keep quiet." Compare forget it.
sideways should not be used for sidewise.
siege, seige: Discriminate carefully between these words. A siege is an investment as of a city by military forces; as, "the siege of Paris"; a seige is a flock of birds; as, "a seige of cranes." Note especially the orthography of these words.
sieve, seive: Homophones of widely different meaning. A sieve is a utensil for sifting; a seive is a rush or rush-wick.
sight: As a colloquialism meaning a very great quantity, number, or amount; as, "a sight of people," the noun is to be avoided, as in the still more objectionable expression, "powerful sight," in which the adjective is altogether misapplied.
similar. Compare same.
sin. Compare crime.
since, ago: Since is used generally to imply time only recently lapsed; ago, to imply time long past. "How long since did he call?" "Nelson fought Trafalgar a century ago."
siree; sirree Bob: Vulgar and silly intensives of affirmation.
site. Compare cite.
skidoo: Recent slang for "get out" which is to be preferred.
skin, to: A vulgarism for "to deprive by extortion or trickery; get the better of," either of which is preferable.
skunk: As applied to a person of mean disposition or of objectionable character the term is to be condemned as unsuited to polite society no matter how fittingly it may apply to the individual designated by it.
slob: A vulgar equivalent for "a careless, negligent and incompetent person," and as such one to be avoided.
so. Compare such.
soap: A vulgar euphemism for "wealth"; used usually interrogatively as, "How's he off for soap?" A vulgarism for "How rich is he?" which is to be preferred.
so far as. Compare as far as.
sojourn: This term formerly obsolete has recently been revived as meaning to "have a residence, definite though temporary, in some place that is not one's home. Sojourn is better than stop, which may imply merely cessation of motion and does not express even temporary residence; more specific than stay, which may apply to a delay of an hour between trains or the passing of a night.
some: This word should never be used for "somewhat." In such sense, some is dialectal and provincial. Do not say "He has grown some" but "grown somewhat," that is "in some degree" or "to some extent." "Is he better?" "Yes, some:" avoid such a locution.
someone else, somebody else. See under else.
some place. Compare any place.
somewhat. Compare kind of and like.
soppy: A vulgarism for "emotional": expressive but inelegant.
sorry, grieved: Distinguish between these words in their use. If we are sorry, it is for a matter concerning ourselves; but when we are grieved, another is in some way connected with the case.
sort of. Compare kind of.
sparrow grass sometimes abbreviated grass are common corruptions in domestic use for asparagus. There is no excuse but lack of education or lack of intelligence and courage to use the right word when the majority prefer the wrong for this vulgar provincialism.
speciality, specialty: These words should not be confounded. The distinction between them is clearly illustrated by the editor of the Standard Dictionary as follows: "Speciality is the state or quality of being special; specialty is an employment to which one is specially devoted, an article in which one specially deals, or the like."
spectator. Compare audience.
spell should not be used for " period of time. " Do not say "I shall stay a spell" if you mean you will "remain a little while," the latter is to be preferred.
splendid: Often used indiscriminately and inanely especially by women; as in the expression "perfectly splendid," to express very great excellence. Splendid means imposing; as, "a splendid woman"; shedding brilliant light or shining brightly; as, "a splendid sun"; "a splendid diamond." A heroic deed may be called splendid but a good story hardly so.
split or cleft infinitive: A form of expression in which the sign of the infinitive "to" and its verb are separated by some intervening word, usually an adverb, as in the phrase, "to quickly return": severely condemned by purists.
spondulix: Vulgarism for "money," now passing out of use.
spoonfuls, spoons full: These words have distinctive meanings. Spoonfuls means one spoon filled repeatedly; spoons full means several spoons filled once. Compare -ful.
spout, up the: A vulgarism for "with the pawnbroker," or "out of sight."
spree, to go on a: Formerly this phrase designated indulgence in boisterous frolic and excess of drink: latterly the term has been used to denote "going on an outing for the day."
square, on the: A colloquialism for "with fair intention or with reputation for fair dealing; honest."
stake, steak: Exercise care in the use of these homophones. A stake is a stick or post, as of wood; a steak is a slice of meat. Note the difference in spelling.
standpoint should not be used for "point of view."
stationary, stationery: Exercise care in the use of these words. Stationary is remaining in one place or position; stationery, writing-materials in general. These words are pronounced alike.
statue, statute: These words are sometimes confounded; a statue is a plastic representation of a human or animal figure as in marble or bronze. A statute is a properly authenticated legislative enactment, especially one passed by a body of representatives.
stay and stop: Stay is sometimes used incorrectly for stop; do not say "I shall stay in Paris on my way to Berlin," but "I shall stop in Paris" etc. Do not say "How long will you stop there?" but "How long will you stay?" etc. Compare sojourn and stop.
step. See stop.
stiff is used for a "corpse" only by the very lowest type of humanity.
stile, style: Exercise care in spelling these words. A stile is a step or series of steps on each side of a fence or wall, to aid in surmounting it; style is fashion.
stimulant, stimulus: The first of these words denotes that which stimulates the system, as coffee does the action of the heart. A stimulus is that which impels or urges on; as, "a stimulus to hard work is offered by the pecuniary reward it yields."
stinker: A coarse term applied to an undesirable acquaintance only by the vulgar. It is a term that unfortunately has some vogue in commercial life.
stop: The word is frequently misused, both for step and stay. "Stop in next time you pass" or "stop off on your way down by car" are colloquial but objectionable expressions. The latter clearly means "step off and call in" and would be met by a simple "call in." Stop implies finality, and should therefore never be used in the sense of a temporary stay. The true meaning of the word stop was well understood by the man who did not invite his professed friend to visit him: "If you come at any time within ten miles of my house, just stop."—Mathews, Words, Their Use and Abuse, ch. xiv. p. 359.
straight, strait: Exercise care in spelling these words. That which is straight lies evenly between any two of its points or passes from one point to another by direct course; not curved. A strait is a narrow channel connecting two seas. In the plural, strait denotes a difficult or restricted condition; distress or perplexity.
street: According to law, land includes all above and all below. Thus a house on the land or a gold mine beneath is covered by the word land, and its possessor is entitled to both one and the other. In the same way a street includes the houses there built; and it is therefore not strictly correct to speak of a certain house as being on a certain street: it is in the street and is part of it. Compare on.
stricken: As a past participle of strike, archaic in England, except when there is an implication in it of misfortune; as, "He was stricken with paralysis." In the United States stricken, in general application, is not so distinctly archaic, and its use in reference to the erasure of words is very frequent; as, "It is ordered that the words objected to be stricken out." In the best literary usage of both countries struck is preferred to stricken when no implication of misfortune is conveyed in it. Stricken is the appropriate participial adjective; as, "a stricken man"; "a stricken deer."—Standard Dictionary.
string, to get on a: A harmless but inelegant equivalent for "to hoax," which is to be preferred.
subtile, subtle: "Subtile and subtle have been constantly used as interchangeable by good writers but there seems to be a present tendency to distinguish them by making subtile an attribute of things and subtle a characteristic of mind." A penetrating perfume is described as subtile, whereas a wily sage's predominating characteristic is subtlety.
succeed should not be used now in the archaic sense of "to make successful, promote"; as, "to succeed an enterprise."
succeed himself: An absurd phrase. A person who takes the place of a predecessor succeeds him; one who has occupied a public office for a term prescribed by law and is reelected to that office succeeds his own previous term of office but not himself.
such: This word is often erroneously used for "so." Do not say "I never saw such a high building"; say, rather, "... so high, a building. "
such another. Compare another such.
sucker for "sponger" or "parasite" is slang of the lowest type and should be avoided by all persons of refinement.
summons: You summon a person to court upon a summons. There is properly no such verb as summons, the colloquial use of the term being altogether unjustifiable.
superior. Compare inferior
sure: Often misused for "surely" in the sense of "certainly." Do not say "Sure I'm going"; say, rather, "I'm surely going."
surprise. Compare astonish.
sympathize with, sympathy for: The verb sympathize takes only with; the noun sympathy, in its secondary sense of "commiseration," is often properly followed by for. We have sympathy with one's aspirations, for his distress; the sound man has sympathy for the wounded; the wounded man has sympathy with his fellow sufferers.
sympathy. Compare pity.