Posts Tagged ‘Infinitive’


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from 2013. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

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by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

I recently read a short story by a well-known science fiction author, and found myself grinding my teeth as I plowed through it. Why? It was well plotted and the characters were well drawn, but it contained several common writing errors — errors that the editor should have caught, and that the writer should never have made. (She’s a major figure in the sci-fi genre, and the story collection was published by a major publishing house.)

The first error was misspelling of the past tense of the verb “lead”: it’s “led,” not “lead.”

The second was my current pet peeve, incorrect use of the infinitive: “and” is not part of the infinitive; “to” is. For example, “I’m going to try and get a job.” Wrong. “I’m going to try to get a job.” Right.

The third was misuse of both semicolons and colons.

Semicolons have only two uses: 1) to separate two closely related phrases that could stand as independent sentences; 2) to separate items in lists, especially within text. They can be used as separators in bulleted or numbered lists, but that’s optional.

Colons have a few more uses: 1) at the end of salutations in letters or e-mails; 2) to introduce lengthy quoted material; 3) at the end of a complete sentence when the following phrase, clause, or word illustrates or explains the preceding part of the sentence; 4) to introduce a list.

Everyone, at least occasionally, makes writing mistakes. But when abundant such errors indicate the following: 1) the author is simply a poor writer and doesn’t even suspect s/he’s making common errors; 2) the author takes little or no pride in his or her craft, is too lazy to learn proper usage, and doesn’t think it matters; or 3) the author is aware of his or her writing errors, knows they’re problems, and wishes to slough them off on lesser mortals (i.e., editors).

These are all excellent reasons for not wanting to work with an author.


(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.”