Posts Tagged ‘Adjectives’


It’s been a while since I wrote a post about abuse of the written word. I’ve mentioned some of the following unfortunate trends in posts from years past — and these trends continue to irritate — so, if you’re a longtime subscriber, please forgive any repetition.

To start with the equivalent of discharging a shotgun into a 55-gallon drum of mackerel:

  • English is not German. Of late, a lot of writers seem not to realize this. Thus there’s the regrettable trend of capitalizing Common Nouns for no apparent Reason, or for the transparent but unspoken Reason that the Writer can’t think of a better Way to add Emphasis.
  • Perhaps even worse is the ever-more-common practice of placing hyphens between adverbs and adjectives. The most extreme example of such semi-literate usage is placing a hyphen between an adverb ending in “ly” and a following adjective. As I mentioned ages ago, the “ly” ending is almost literally jumping in the air, waving its arms, and screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m part of an adverb!” This type of barbaric, worse-than-useless hyphenization reveals that all too many people don’t know the parts of speech, nor how to properly use them.  This is a very-bad thing.
  • Misuse of punctuation is rife, particularly the misuse of semicolons. There are only two correct ways of using semicolons: the first is to link two closely related complete sentences; the second is to separate items in a list (usually beginning with a colon). Unfortunately, a lot of writers seem to regard semicolons as an exotic type of spice and toss handfuls of them, seemingly at random, into their verbal stews, at times in place of commas. Or should that be,  “. . . into their verbal stews; at times in place of commas”? No, it shouldn’t. That; would be wrong.
  • Another regrettable example of the Germanization of English is the entirely unnecessary and increasingly common placement of commas between the words in age-old compound nouns comprised of separate words. Or should that be compound-nouns comprised of separate-words? No, it shouldn’t; that wouldn’t make “common-sense.” (The final stage in this trend is the fusing of two words into one. Occasionally this produces a sonorous result, as in “motorcycle,” but more often produces a cacophonous one, as in “thinktank.”)
  • Finally, “and” is not part of the infinitive. Again, most people seem not to realize this, and would see nothing wrong with the following: “I’ll try and write a grammatically correct sentence.” If that’s not ugly enough to convince you, please consider that, in addition to being the correct word, “to” is shorter than “and,” and conciseness is a good thing. If you doubt this, please try and tell us why.

(We recently began running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. We’re currently featuring blasts from the past from 2013, and will be for the next few months; we’ll intersperse them with new material.)

Bad Writing Trends

Bad writing trends come and go in written English. (We’re not talking about, like, you know, spoken English.) Over the last few decades, one of the most prominent has been the use of apostrophes to form plurals, as in, “Idiot’s form the plural by inserting an apostrophe before an ‘s.'” Fortunately, this manner of forming plurals is now regarded almost universally as semi-literate, and it seems to be fading away.

Another really bad trend is use of wordy, pretentious “of” constructions in place of adjectives (mostly those ending in “ed”), as in “horse of disease” rather than “diseased horse.” Fortunately, this type of construction also seems to be fading away. If the contrary was true, we’d likely find ourselves reading sentences such as, “The girl of size in the dress of stripes bought a balloon of color.” Fortunately, such constructions are becoming increasingly rare, and the adjectival “of” form survives today primarily in the mandatory PC usage, “people of color.”

As noted in a previous post, “and” is increasingly used in place of “to” in the infinitive, as in the barbaric, “I’m going to try and write literate-sounding sentences.” This usage seems to be on the upswing, but it’s so ugly that one suspects (well, fervently hopes) it will disappear in short order. Just remember, “and” is not part of the infinitive.

(As a side note, I was dismayed a couple of nights ago, while rereading Heart of Darkness, to see that even Joseph Conrad used “and” as part of the infinitive — in 1899! [The horror! The horror!] There’s only one instance of this in the book, but still . . . . . So, while I detest this mangled form of the infinitive and wish it would go away, I’m not holding my breath.)

Another really bad and ascending trend is the overuse of hyphens, what one might term “hyphen glut” (or should that be “hyphen-glut”?). Hyphens are creeping into places where they simply should not be, where they’re simply unnecessary. The primary example is “well-known.” In this usage, “well” is an adverb, a word that modifies an immediately following adjective. Hence, the hyphen is unnecessary; it’s ugly clutter. It’s even common nowadays to see hyphens inserted between adverbs ending in “ly” and following adjectives, as in “friendly-sounding.” This is even worse than inserting hyphens after other adverbs. The “ly” ending is figuratively leaping into the air, waving pom poms, and screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m part of an adverb!”

Just remember, do not use hyphens between adverbs and adjectives; rather, use them in adjectival phrases that precede the noun being modified, as in, “Bubba downed five shots of tequila in his end-of-the-day ritual.” And omit the hyphens if the phrase comes after the noun, as in, “Bubba’s ritual consisted of downing five shots of tequila at the end of the day,” (which after an hour of writing about verbal atrocities sounds like a pretty good idea — cheers).


American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover

by Chaz Bufe (author of the revised and expanded American Heretic’s Dictionary, scheduled for June 2016)

Bad usage trends come and go in written English. (We’re not talking about, like, you know, spoken English.) Over the last few decades, one of the most prominent has been the use of apostrophes to form plurals, as in, “Idiot’s form the plural by inserting an apostrophe before an ‘s.'” Fortunately, this manner of forming plurals is now regarded almost universally as semi-literate, and it seems to be fading away.

Another really bad trend is use of wordy, pretentious “of” constructions in place of adjectives (mostly those ending in “ed”), as in “people of size” instead of “fat people,” or “horse of disease” instead of “diseased horse.” Fortunately, this type of construction also seems to be fading away. If the contrary was true, we’d likely find ourselves reading sentences such as, “The girl of small size in the dress of stripes bought three balloons of color.” Fortunately, such constructions are becoming increasingly rare, and the adjectival “of” form survives today primarily in the mandatory PC term, “people of color.”

As noted in a previous post, “and” is increasingly used in place of “to” in the infinitive, as in the barbaric, “I’m going to try and write literate-sounding sentences.” This usage seems to be on the upswing, but it’s so ugly that one suspects (well, fervently hopes) it will disappear in short order. Just remember, “and” is not part of the infinitive.

(As a side note, I was dismayed a couple of nights ago, while rereading Heart of Darkness, to see that even Joseph Conrad used “and” as part of the infinitive–in 1899! [The horror! The horror!] There’s only one instance of this in the book, but still . . . . . So, while I detest this construction and wish it would go away, I’m not holding my breath.)

Another really bad and ascending trend is the overuse of hyphens, what one might term “hyphen hysteria” (or should that be “hyphen-hysteria”?). Hyphens are creeping into places where they simply should not be, where they’re simply unnecessary. The primary example is “well-known.” In this usage, “well” is an adverb, a word that modifies an immediately following adjective. Hence, the hyphen is unnecessary; it’s ugly clutter. It’s even common nowadays to see hyphens inserted between adverbs ending in “ly” and following adjectives, as in “friendly-sounding.” This is even worse than inserting hyphens after other adverbs. The “ly” ending is figuratively leaping into the air, waving pom poms, and screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m part of an adverb!”

Just remember, do not use hyphens between adverbs and adjectives; rather, use them in adjectival phrases that precede the noun being modified, as in, “Bubba downed five shots of tequila in his end-of-the-day ritual.” And omit the hyphens if the phrase comes after the noun, as in, “Bubba’s ritual consisted of downing five shots of tequila at the end of the day.”