Grammar Wednesday!

Another “confused words” edition:

This one comes from Kizz; she wants to know the difference between inquire and enquire.

These words both mean “to ask.”  The use of enquire has pretty much fallen out of Americans’ vocabulary – it’s mostly a British word now – though a few old-schooler American grammar snobs still use enquire when they’re being general and inquire when they’re being all formal and official about the asking:

“When my old high school sweetheart saw me in the grocery store, he enquired about my family and my job.”

“The insurance agent called to inquire about the accident I witnessed the other day.”

I’m throwing this one in because, a few weeks ago, one of my students challenged my use of the word disinterested;

A disinterested person is someone who is objective or neutral about something.  An uninterested person is just plain bored.

“We consulted a disinterested mediator to help us work out custody arrangements after our divorce.”

“I was entirely uninterested in the chatter coming from the guy in the airplane seat next to me.”

Lastly, I saw this one a few times in research papers:

Compliment – with an i –  is either a verb that means to praise or congratulate or a noun which is that praise or congratulation.  Complement – with an e – means to complete, enhance, or round out.

“I was complimented by my boss for the presentation I made to the board last week.”

“That scarf really complements your coloring.”

As always, Grammar Wednesday subject fodder is greatly appreciated!  You’ve got questions; I’ve got answers.  Happy Wednesday!

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Grammar Wednesday!

  1. I can’t remember where but recently I saw complement misused by someone who REALLY should know better. That KILLS me.

    The fact that there’s a one letter difference in a word to make it more formal? STUPID! Who made up this language anyway?

  2. HAHAHAHA!!!! I agree with Kizz…..this is a dumb language.

  3. Jane

    Do you take requests? Do “insure” vs. “ensure”!

  4. Is “that’s” proper grammar?

  5. bowyer1

    If I remember correctly uninterested is not necessarily bored, but merely indifferent.

  6. Yes, Jane – I most EMPHATICALLY take requests! Bring ‘em on!

    I covered the insure/ensure question in January. Go here for the entry:

    http://teacherseducation.wordpress.com/2007/01/17/grammar-wednesday-7/

  7. Bowyer, you’re right; “bored” is only one facet of the definition of “uninterested,” but it’s my favorite. : )

  8. I’m sorry, Cassie – you asked me this before and I never got back to you…

    “That’s” is proper English, though not terribly FORMAL English. It’s a contraction for “that is” or “that has.” For example;

    “That’s the third time I’ve asked you to stop kicking me under the table. The next time you do it, I’m stabbing you with my fork.” (that is)

    “That’s been the problem all along; I keep forgetting the peanut butter!” (that has)

    I tended to avoid using contractions in formal writing when I was in college – and continue to avoid it in business letters or things like resumes or cover letters – but grammatically, it’s perfectly correct.

  9. This is awesome! I just found your blog recently, but I am already digging it!!! I don’t have a grammar question at the moment (I teach introductory journalism writing to college sophomores and it amazes me the grammar they don’t know), but I will have some at some point. But, I thought you would appreciate this little story… I went to a friend’s child’s school play today. One of the lines in the play was about a radio station and the various things it gave people to “listen to.” The script had the child list off five or six different things, each sentence ending in “to.” I turned to my friend and commented that I understand a little more why I struggle to teach college students that they can’t end sentences in prepositions–because they are taught it is ok in elementary school plays! YIKES! Just a random story to share with you.

  10. Jane

    “I covered the insure/ensure question in January.” Ah,
    so you did!

    ffbgirl, you might be interested in these essays on why it’s not always wrong to end a sentence with a preposition (I don’t have a problem with it myself):

    http://www.grammartips.homestead.com/prepositions1.html

    http://www.grammartips.homestead.com/prepositions2.html

    I’ve been thinking about grammar more than usual lately because I’m currently learning a foreign language (my fourth, but the first in, oh, 30+ years). It’s so much easier if you understand the basics of English grammar, but I see a lot of puzzled looks from my classmates, especially the younger ones. How can people make sense of the accusative and dative cases if they don’t understand the difference between direct and indirect objects?

    Last night I was just not getting the distinction between “legen/liegen” and “setzen/sitzen” as it was being explained, and then my helpful neighbor (who’s no spring chicken himself) leaned over and whispered, “The first is transitive, the second is intransitive,” and that cleared it right up. (And how convenient that those *i*ntransitive verbs happen to add an “i” as an aid to memory.)

    Sometimes I wish I had addresses for all my elementary school teachers so I could send them thank-you notes for teaching me the parts of speech and how to diagram sentences.

  11. IRT ffbgirl:

    1) Yer gonna love Mrs. Chili! She’s great. Just a warning though, she kinda geeks out whenever English is mentioned so just be careful. ;-)

    2) It’s funny that you mentioned the whole “ending sentences with prepositions” scandal. In Chi-town, that’s one of the primary ways to determine whether or not a person is a born and raised Chicagoan. “Where you goin to?”; “What time’s that at?”; “I’m planning to.”; and “Where’s that at?” are all perfectly appropriate questions.

  12. Language Log is perpetually addressing the issue of nonsensical grammatical rules and prescriptivism in English, here is a very recent example.

    Point 2 refers specifically to prepositions. It is a difference in style, much like that’s instead of that is or that has. Postposed adpositions have been around in English since “its earliest history”.

    I also like this quote from Tina Blue’s paper (linked above by Jane): “immense pains are sometimes expended in changing spontaneous into artificial English”.

    And no one could forget Winston Churchill’s famous remark in direct response to an editor’s enforcing of this rule: “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put”.

  13. Wow! Sounds like my annoyance with ending sentences in prepositions started a little discussion… I like it!

  14. Yes! This is what I LOVE about blogging – sometimes it’s very fun for me to sit back and watch you all “discuss amongst yourselves” the topics I throw out there…

  15. Reminds me of an old joke:

    A Texan oil mogul meets a young Harvard scholar at a dinner party. He asks “So, where are you from?” To which the scholar replies “I am from a place where you don’t end sentences with prepositions.” The Texan is taken aback, and rephrases his question “Well, where are you from, Jackass?!”

  16. *SNORT!*

    I remember that joke!

    I always strive to refrain from ending sentences with prepositions, but, alas, when blogging I sem to be sucked in to it. Another of ‘my bads’ is to begin sentences with “and”. *sigh*

    Mrs Chili is helping to keep me on the straight and narrow.

  17. Janari*, that’s VERY similar to MY favorite joke, which I posted here (and was part of the genesis for the whole Grammar Wednesday theme).

    *I know that’s not how to spell your name, but I don’t seem to have (or, for that matter, to even recognzie) the character that’s supposed to be where I put the ‘n’.

  18. Yeah, sorry about that; it’s a bit of a linguistics thing. It’s an engma, an n with a leftward hook descending from the right foot (Oh, hang on, you can see it, can’t you? I think I just misunderstood).
    The first time I saw it I immediately thought of a blend of an n and a g, which is apt, as it represents the velar nasal, ng sound (as in singer).
    The primary reason I use engma and not ng is I find most people will pronounce it “Jang-Garry”, which couldn’t be much more wrong.

  19. COOL! I’m filing this under the “something new I learned today” heading.

    Tell me about yourself, if you don’t mind. You’re a linguist, yes? What’s your background, and what do you do for a living?

  20. Well, this is getting deep.

    I’m a white, monolingual Australian who was an undergraduate (not sure of the appropriate AmE terms for the corresponding levels of academia) student until last November. I’ve found myself engaged in a long-term project in researching a highly-endangered aboriginal language from Australia’s top-end; it was my honours project and may end up constituting a Ph.D. as well.

    Yes, I’m a linguist, but I’m temporarily working in digital archiving of music and language audio materials from the pacific region. One cannot always find work in field linguistics, it seems. Not to worry, I greatly enjoy my work.

    Now, that was very private information, don’t tell anyone.

  21. Don’t worry, Janari, your secrets are safe with me.

    I’m envious of the avenue to the Ph.D. I keep thinking that I want to have one, but I may be too lazy – or too poor – to actually do it. That whole cost/benefit thing just doesn’t look like it’ll work out….

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