In an earlier blog post we looked at compounds and and noted that some are written with one or two hyphens. Here are a few examples:
Brother-in-law (your sister’s husband or your wife’s or husband’s brother) Runner-up (one who finishes in second place) Cul-de-sac (a street that is closed at one end) Editor-in-chief (the manager of an editorial staff)
How should you write the plural form of such compounds? The answer is fairly logical: add the plural -s to the main part of the compound, the significant part.
Brothers-in-law Runners-up Editors-in-chief
Cul-de-sac has two plural forms: culs-de-sac or cul-de-sacs
When we write the genitive form, the -s comes at the end when we talk about people:
My brother-in-law’s new car The editor-in-chief’s wife
However, you can also write
The wife of the editor-in-chief
When we talk about things, we use the genitive form with of:
Two years later he remarried. The votes had to be recounted. After the installation you have to restart your computer. All components are reusable.
Since re here means again, you must avoid writing He remarried again or The votes had to be recounted again (that would mean that he married at least three times or that the votes were counted three times). You can read more about unnecessary words here.
Re can also mean a change in the position or state of something:
relocate = locate in a new place rearrange = arrange in a different way
Some words with re have two versions, one with a hyphen and one without, and there is a difference in meaning.
get back health, ability,
change or improve something
subdue, not allow feelings,
etc., to be expressed
make a new copy of a recording
dislike or be annoyed at
someone or something
as in 'He re-sent the parcel'
arrange for something to be
kept for your future use
Use a hyphen if re means again and if omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word.
You can read more about using a hyphen here and about the difference between a hyphen and a dash here.
The two phrases with respect to and in respect of both mean regarding, concerning. While both are used in British English, in respect of is seldom used in American English.
With respect to your enquiry we can deliver the items by Friday. The two novels are very different in respect of the development of their respective characters.
Both these expressions are used in formal writing. When we speak, we have other ways of expressing regarding, as you can see here.
To a non-native English writer, the use of prepositions in English is often confusing. In the phrases we are looking at here, we cannot change the prepositions and say, for example *in respect to (for the use of the asterisk see the comment at the end of this text).
To have respect for someone is to show consideration or respect towards a person or admire someone for their qualities, ideas, actions, etc.
She has great respect for her grandfather’s long experience. I have no respect for people who keep interrupting others.
As we have seen in another blog post, the -ing form, the present continuous, indicates that something is going on just for the moment.
I’m writing an email on the balcony (momentarily). He writes articles for monthly magazines (a regular activity).
He is living in France (temporarily). I live in Sweden (Sweden is my home country).
To say that someone is only temporarily in a place, the verb stay is often used.
He is staying at a small hotel in Lyon.
Non-native speakers of English whose mother tongue only has the present simple sometimes tend to overuse the present continuous when they speak English, since they believe that to be the common form. Even if they intend to convey a permanent state, they may say or write sentences such as the following (for the use of the asterisk read at the end of this text):
*I’m travelling to work by bus every morning all year round. (Since this is what happens regularly you should say I travel to work by bus every morning.)
*He is designing cars. (This is his permanent job, hence the correct sentence would be He designs cars.)
*They are playing golf every weekend. (This is a habit, so it should be They play golf every weekend.)
*That book is costing nine dollars. (That is a fixed price, so the correct version is That book costs nine dollars.)
*They are making washing machines. (Unless this is a temporary production and they normally make refrigerators, we must write They make washing machines.)
You should think twice before using the -ing form in English!
Names of the states in the USA are abbreviated to two uppercase letters. You can find them here. The capital Washington is in the District of Columbia, abbreviated DC.
Abbreviations can also become words in their own right and we no longer realise that they are abbreviations.
Hankie (or hanky) is short for handkerchief.
The American colloquialism nabe comes from neighborhood.
Pram is short for perambulator, a carriage for a baby.
Soccer is an abbreviation of association football, which is different from American football.
In American English abbreviations are usually followed by a full stop. In British English this generally applies to abbreviations that are formed by the first letter or the first few letters of a word as in the first table above.
There are many Latin abbreviations in the English language, which you can read about here and here.
Acronyms and initialisms are also abbreviations. Read about them here.
Writers often say too much by adding unnecessary words. Phrases such as free gift and joint cooperation are examples of tautology (saying the same thing twice) or pleonasm (using more words than necessary). Words that do not add information are called redundant words. Get rid of redundancies!
Here are some examples of unnecessary words:
General consensus – if you have a consensus, all agree Foreign imports – imports are always from another country Unexpected surprise – it wouldn’t be a surprise if you expected it Personal friend – if you have a friend, you have a personal relationship. Someone who is not a friend may be an acquaintance Past history – history is about the past The two twins – would you expect them to be three? Four different colours – if something comes in four colours, you can be sure they are different Unsolved mystery – if you have solved it, it is not a mystery
I am sure you can see what’s wrong in the following examples:
Moment in time Period of time Few in number On a daily basis In actual fact Sum total Close proximity Necessary requirement New beginning Advance planning Outward appearances The reason why Return back
Combinations with together and each other are common – and unnecessary:
Combine together Collaborate together Join together Merge together Mix together Blend together Interact with each other
We might include end result and final outcome in the list of unnecessary words, but these combinations are acceptable, since it is possible to also talk about a preliminary result or a preliminary outcome.
Since LCD means liquid crystal display, you should not write LCD display.
In PIN and ISBN, N stands for number – writing number after the abbreviation is pleonastic.
RAM means random access memory – don’t add memory.
UPC stands for universal product code and therefore you should not write UPC code.
ATM means automated teller machine – write only ATM.
Pleonasm is sometimes used as a rhetorical device for emphasis:
Each and every Any and all First and foremost To all intents and purposes
Such emphasis is common in legal texts:
Null and void Aid and abet Fit and proper Cease and desist Sole and exclusive
Redundant words are so common that we often don’t notice them. Read your text with an eye on redundancies – and delete them!
When two or more words are combined to form a new concept with a new meaning, we talk about a compound.
A compound can be a combination of a noun and a noun (school nurse), an adjective and a noun (full moon), an adverb and a verb (far-reaching), a verb and an adverb (check-up), a preposition and a noun (underworld), a preposition and a verb (overestimate), an adjective and another adjective (blue-green) – and a few more combinations.
In English there are three ways to write compound words: as separate words (open compounds), as one word (closed compounds) or as words combined with a hyphen (hyphenated compounds). This can sometimes be rather confusing. We write head office as separate words, we write head-teacher with a hyphen and we write headmaster as one word. Likewise we have table knife but tablespoon.
This may seem frustrating, and if you are in doubt, you had better check a dictionary or a style sheet. (Actually, you can also write stylesheet. Some compounds can take any of the three forms. You can write life style, life-style or lifestyle.)
Unlike some other languages – German, Swedish or Finnish, for example – English often does not combine the separate words into one word. A breakfast table is in German Frühstückstisch; a hotel room is in Swedish hotellrum; a taxi driver is in Finnish taksinkuljettaja.
Here are some examples of open compounds in English:
The following are examples of compounds written in one word:
Compounds with words from Latin or Greek are written as one word:
Many compounds – especially those formed by two nouns – used to be hyphenated, but now most of them are written either as one word or two separate words. Here are some compounds that are still hyphenated (and you will notice that they are generally not of the noun+noun type):
Compounds with three or more words are usually written with hyphens:
Compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine are hyphenated:
My dad is forty-two.
Fractions also take a hyphen:
We had already driven two-thirds of the way. Less than one-fifth of the operators are women.
But with a instead of one there is no hyphen:
Less than a fifth of the operators are women.
Some compounds have changed from being hyphenated to a single word. We used to write on-line and world-wide, but nowadays online and worldwide are more common. This also applies to words such as cooperate and proactive.
To avoid confusion, a hyphen is used when the prefix ends and the base word begins with the same vowel:
COMPUNDS AS MODIFIERS
When compounds are used as modifiers, they are written with a hyphen. A modifier works as an adjective or adverb to add information about the word directly following it.
A six-year-old boy. But: The boy was six years old.
We rely on just-in-time delivery. But: I arrived just in time. The clock struck three when I opened the door.
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