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Picture of Hic et ubique
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Sign seen on public transportation:

Due to the recent events in London, we ask our customer's to immediately report activity ...

Is this an implicit comment on the sort of writer's who like to blithely split infinitives? Wink

What signs have you seen?
 
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Can we finally get over the rule than we can't split infinitives? Splitting infinitives is completely grammatical in the descriptive sense, since any person will understand what you are saying without a doubt. The rule itself appears to be contrived by Englishmen in an effort to mimic Latin, where infinitives can't be split, for good reason.

In fact, most people I know, college students, those in every major but Literature/English, don't even know what a split infinitive is. However, if I asked them if the introduction to Star Trek was grammatical, I'm sure they'd say yes. I hesitate to do such a thing, since it would simultaneously display my obsessions with SF and language, and most people are only tolerant of one such obsession, or at least, only one per conversation.

I somewhat enjoy people who are bothered by 10 items or less, vs. 10 items or fewer, since despite having heard such arguments scores of times, I always forget which is right, and it takes me a minute to figure it out. I'm not sure I even say the correct things, though I'll have to wait for such an occasion to come up naturally, since if I'm thinking about it, it will ruin the experiment.
 
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Picture of zmježd
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Ironically, if Latin infinitives were like the English, Roman writers would split them. It is a common enough stylistic device in Latin to interpose another word between a preposition and the noun it governs, e.g., De rerum natura, a poem by Lucretius is usually translated into English as Concerning the Nature of Things. Literally, it is Concerning Of-Things Nature. Old English had an unsplitable infinitive, like German and Latin, but present-day English makes due with a prepositional phrase.

Come to think of it Greek had a process called τμησις (tmesis) 'cutting' where a verb and its preverb could be split, similar to how German handles a class of its verbs.

The injunction against split infinitives is only slightly older than two centuries and was made up out of dubious whole cloth by Bishop Lowth. It's just too silly to even take seriously.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Picture of arnie
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It's worth mentioning the Apostrophe Protection Society and its associated message board for the benefit of newcomers.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Picture of Richard English
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Sadly the apostrophisation of plurals is becoming so common as to almost rival the apostophisation of the pronoun "its" - which I have even seen done on this august board.

"Less" versus "fewer". If you can count them it's fewer; if you can't count them it's less.

"There are fewer icebergs around now, so it is less cold"

Now, that didn't hurt, did it?


Richard English
 
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Picture of Kalleh
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Can we finally get over the rule than we can't split infinitives?

Sean, I suspect that Hic was being facetious because of the apostrophe error. While most of us have gotten over the alleged no-no of splitting infinitives, the plural apostrophe rule stands firm and strong in all style books, I believe.
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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quote:


The injunction against split infinitives is only slightly older than two centuries and was made up out of dubious whole cloth by Bishop Lowth.


Being a trinitarian, I'm surprised that he was Lowth to split the infinite.
 
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"Less" versus "fewer". If you can count them it's fewer; if you can't count them it's less.


I just don't know anyone who makes that distinction. Having a degree in mathematics, I can tell you that mathematicians typically use 5 is less than 6, and you can definitely count out to 5 and 6. Or does the abstraction mean we use less? 5 apples is fewer than 6 apples, or is it 5 apples are fewer than 6 apples. Neither of those sound particularly right to me, but maybe it is because I've never heard the terms used correctly.

I just don't see the difference between "10 items or less", and "10 items or fewer". If you have 8 items, that is fewer items than 10, or, if you have 6 items, 6 is less than 10. I can't imagine this rule applying past my generation, regardless of the correctness. Sorry Richard, I've just been illiteratized by the Times.
 
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Sean, I suspect that Hic was being facetious because of the apostrophe error.


I'm sure your right, I was just ranting because early yesterday someone try to tell me that you couldn't split infinitives.
 
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Picture of Richard English
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If you have 8 items, that is fewer items than 10, or, if you have 6 items, 6 is less than 10.

By using the adjectives correctly in this sentence you have just proved the point! Just try changing them around:

If you have 8 items, that is LESS items than 10, or, if you have 6 items, 6 is FEWER than 10. That no longer makes sense.

As regards the "5 is less than 10" If you spell the sentence out to put in the implied words it is actually saying "(the number) 5 is (a) less(er number) than (the number)10". But if the expression were to refer to actual items rather than abstractions, then your "5 apples are fewer than 6 apples" is correct.

The "If you can count them it's fewer; if you can't count them it's less." is an easy way to distinguish which to use and, I can assure you, there are many that make that distinction, including, believe it or not, The Times". Their style guide says of "fewer":

Fewer: of numbers (fewer people, fewer goals); less of size, in quantity or singular nouns (less population, less meat)(see less)

And the entry for "less" is:

Less: in quantity; fewer in number (see fewer).

As a mathematician you must agree that you can't count quantity but you can count numbers - so my shorthand rule does work.

That many people get it wrong doesn't make it right; it just makes it a common error.


Richard English
 
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That many people get it wrong doesn't make it right; it just makes it a common error.


I completely buy your explanation, but for some reason my brain doesn't do to well with two very similar words. I struggle with affect/effect like you wouldn't believe. Mostly because I pronounce them nearly identically.

Are there other good examples of two terms blurring like less/fewer?
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Seanahan:

Are there other good examples of two terms blurring like less/fewer?


The one I have a problem with is like/as, and I didn't realize I had a problem with it until Asa called me on it quite early in our relationship. I still don't understand the difference, and I swear I was absent the day we discussed this one in English class! Frown
 
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Picture of arnie
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Are there other good examples of two terms blurring like less/fewer?

'Which' and 'that' is another example.

I understand that many American pedants insist that, when introducing relative clauses, 'which' must always be used. The British are far less restrictive, however, and usually allow either.

Example of a relative clause: The exhibition, which was held in the museum, contained some interesting sculpture.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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I understand that many American pedants insist that, when introducing relative clauses, 'which' must always be used. The British are far less restrictive, however.
Ah yes. But how do American pedants compare with British pedants? And how do general Americans (not-pendants) compare with general British folk? Wink
 
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Picture of arnie
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Perhaps I should have phrased that 'The British pedants are far less restrictive...' Smile

However, I'm sure there are plenty of British pedants out there who also get their knickers in a twist about which/that. Wink


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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I don't have a problem with which/that, but I DO have a problem with who/that. When I see, in the newspaper, "people that. . ." it bothers me. I think it should be "people who. . ."
 
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Picture of Caterwauller
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I have that same pet peeve, Sunflower!


*******
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
 
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I seem to have problems with all of these. I see nothing wrong with saying I have nothing against people that use that/who incorrectly. I probably don't use as/like correctly either, but my generation seems to generally overuse the word like.
 
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Picture of Kalleh
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I am sure we have had this same discussion before. Where is jheem when we need him?! He definitely convinced me that none of those make any difference because language and grammar evolves. While "fewer" and "less" distinctions do bother me, I admit, one surely can understand the sentence either way. Many of the linguists now, if I understand correctly, are becoming less (not fewer!) pedantic about the rules.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Kalleh,
 
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Picture of Richard English
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becoming less (not fewer!) pedantic about the rules.

Another good example of how the correct word is important.

"People seem to be becoming LESS pedantic since we are seeing FEWER pedantic comments".

Again it makes no sense if you change the words around.


Richard English
 
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I agree that "People seem to be becoming fewer pedantic" is nonsensical. However, I understand "we are seeing less pedantic comments" just fine, although it would sound better to me as "We are seeing less pedantic comments than we used to". That is probably my problem with this whole mess.
 
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Picture of BobHale
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Originally posted by Seanahan:
I agree that "People seem to be becoming fewer pedantic" is nonsensical. However, I understand "we are seeing less pedantic comments" just fine, although it would sound better to me as "We are seeing less pedantic comments than we used to". That is probably my problem with this whole mess.


And that's exactly where the problem lies. To me that sentence doesn't mean that the number of pedantic comments has fallen it means that the comments aren't as pedantic as they once were.
 
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I think there is a subtle difference in intonation when saying that, to make it distinguishable. I'll have to test this at some point.
 
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Picture of Kalleh
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Bob, that is a really good point about the difference between "less" and "fewer." It doesn't always work though, does it? For example, if one said, "He gave me less dollars than he should have," it doesn't sound right to me; but I don't take it to mean that the dollars aren't worth as much as they used to be.
 
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and just to confuse things a bit more...

There is a subtle but important difference between "The comments are less pedantic" vs. "There are less pedantic comments." It could be argued that the latter statement requires "fewer" rather than "less", which I suppose is the crux of this whole thread.
 
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Picture of Richard English
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I think there is a subtle difference in intonation when saying that, to make it distinguishable.

But we using the written word here where intonation has no meaning. That is why it is best to use the correct construction to avoid ambiguity or misunderstanding.

Are we seeing less ambiguous comments - comments that are less ambiguous - or are we seeing fewer ambiguous comments - that is, they are now less in number?

The right descriptor make everything clear.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Richard English,


Richard English
 
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