Tuesday, March 30, 2010
How Much Do You Know About the English Language? A Quiz.
My mother was a stickler for the proper use of English. She came from immigrant origins and never went to college, but prided herself on her "good English." She was shocked when well-educated people made what she considered common errors in grammar. And she was not above correcting them when they did!
I, too, have my little pet peeves when it comes to the misuse of the language.
And there are now so many English words that have been misused for so long that their real meanings have been forgotten.
So my peeps, dare you take this little quiz to see if you are one of the many perpetrators mangling the mother tongue?
Which of the following sentences are grammatically correct and/or use words correctly? And if the sentence is incorrect, why?
1. My whole life, I have been disinterested in math.
2. The party was so noisome, I left early.
3. Between you and I, this is a fabulous quiz and the person who put it together should get wonderful comments about it.
4. The golfer hit the ball literally a mile, I mean really, it traveled 5,280 feet.
5. I found a bracelet at an antique shop that is the most unique bracelet I have ever seen. Of course, I had to have it.
6. For all intensive purposes, it is a good idea to put on your shoes before your socks.
7. There were less cold days this last winter than the winter before.
8. My children keep moving further and further away.
Is it me?
9. I tried to teach my dog to lay down, but he sits instead.
10. "The rich are different from you and me."
(This is a quote from a famous book. Do you recognize it?)
11. The guilty man was hung at dawn.
Now here are some for extra credit:
1. When I scanned the article, I read every line.
2. The road was tortuous.
Here are the answers.
1. The use of the word "disinterested" is used incorrectly in this sentence.
This is one of my all time pet peeves, and you hear it so much these days, no one blinks an eye. "Disinterested" means impartial or not taking sides, as in "a good referee is impartial." It does not mean "uninterested." If you are "uninterested" in something, then that is what you should say.
2. Well, if the party was very smelly, then you were right to leave and this sentence would be correct. "Noisome" means foul smelling, not noisy.
3. This is a grammatical error you hear all of the time, the use of "I" when it should be "me" and vice versa.
Here's an easy way to mentally catch yourself: When you have two pronouns after a preposition, mentally place each one directly after the preposition to test it out. "Between you" sounds OK, but does "between I" sound correct? What you are actually saying is "Between you and between me," so "between you and me." And while I am on this rant, you can do this for other prepositions as well - for, to, from, with, etc. If something is for her and for me, it's "for her and me," not "for she and I."
4. This one is actually correct.
"Literally" (along with "Like" as in, "I, like, am so over the rain, like, really, like, why does it rain so much...?") is probably one of the most overused words in the English language. But in this case, the ball really did go a mile, so using "literally" is correct. Like, really, it is.
5. Redundancy is also a problem.
Something is either unique or it isn't. It can't be "more" or "most" unique. It's like the word "pregnant."
6. Another misuse but this time, almost as if people are not hearing the phrase correctly. Should be "intents and purposes," meaning "in every practical sense."
7. OK, I have to admit. I am a total snob about this one.
But I know it is easy to mix these two words up because they mean the same thing - the opposite of more. However, they are used in different circumstances. You use "fewer" with countable nouns such as hats, dogs, pencils.
"You have fewer poodles than I do."
"Less" is used for uncountable, more abstract nouns such as time or rain.
"I have less time than you do."
Bottom line: if the noun can be preceded by a number, it should be modified by "fewer."
So what does that say about the ubiquitous sign in the supermarket? "15 items or less." You are right. It's wrong. It should actually say "15 items or fewer." But I would bet that sounds strange to you, which reinforces how the misuse of the language has become almost acceptable.
(And yes, there are exceptions...so I expect to hear from you grammar aficionados out there).
8. This sentence is incorrect.
"Farther" is all about distance; "further" is about more time, quantity or metaphorical distance. Just remember "farther" has the word "far" in it.
Here is the correct usage: "My children keep moving farther and farther away. Perhaps it is because I keep correcting their grammar. I think I need to look into that further."
9. Maybe if you ask him to "lie" down, he would do it.
"Lie" is used when you are in a horizontal position or you want to place yourself (or you want your dog to place himself)in a horizontal position. "Lay" is used when you put or cause something to be in a certain position. You can lay your dog down yourself, but if you want him to do it on his own, tell him to "lie" down.
(I learned this at a young age, because whenever I would use lay incorrectly, my parents would ask me if I was laying eggs).
10. F.Scott Fitzgerald used proper English here, but the rest of us can't seem to tell the difference between "from" and "than."
I feel strongly about this one, too, but, again, proper usage is going the way of the dinosaur.
"Different" comes from "to differ." You wouldn't say "Mary differs than Tom," you would say "Mary differs from Tom." The use of "from" here is considered Standard English, but "than" has become commonplace.
11. OK, this one is a losing battle, because it has been misused for so long, but here it is.
A picture is hung; a person is hanged.
For the grammar nerds among us, here is the more lengthy explanation. The rest of you can skip to the next answer.
(One uses "hang" when the meaning is to execute by suspending by the neck, so the past tense and past participle of hang is hanged; "hung" is the past tense and participle of hang when the meaning is to suspend from above with no support from below).
Usage for both of these sentences is correct.
The word "scan" actually means to read carefully, line by line, but most people think it means to skim.
"Tortuous" means bending and twisting, not tortured.
Nine out of 11 were incorrect and both of the extra credit questions were correct.
So how did you do?
If you were correct on all counts, you are hereby proclaimed as
Word Nerd Extraordinaire, and I mean that as a compliment.
My mother would be so proud.
Share your pet peeves about grammatical errors and the misuse of words.
Do we even care anymore?
And I am sure some of you will want to share some exceptions to my rant, er...I mean, quiz.
And you know who you are!
Bring it on!
If you want more information on this topic, here is a great article, and here are some Library Resources.