Grammar Wednesday

Sorry, you guys; I’ve got nothing for you today (remember that Mrs. Chili takes Grammar Wednesday requests!!). I had to resort to my old standby material trick; I grabbed a style guide, set it upright on its spine, and let it fall open where it may. Today, I’m going to write a little bit about how to use the words good and better properly.

Good is an adjective. Adjectives modify nouns. Good should be used to describe the positive quality of SOMETHING – an actual thing, not an action or a behavior. For example; she is a good swimmer is correct. She swims good is not. If you’re describing the positive quality of a behavior or action, you need an adverb; well will do just nicely.

It’s gotten to be quite common to hear the answer to “how are you” as “I’m good, thanks.” While this is certainly clear – I don’t think anyone would be confused by the structure – it’s not, strictly speaking, correct. “How are you” is a question about your state of being, your condition. State of being is a verb and, as such, should be answered with an adverb.

I’m going to talk about better by clarifying the difference between then and than. Then is an adverb that generally modifies time. I was a lot younger then or let me finish this sentence, then I can help you move the couch. Than is a conjunction that is generally used to indicate a choice, an exception, or a preference. She is prettier than I am, but I have more friends than she does. Something is never better then something else – it is always better than something else. I like hot fudge better than I like butterscotch, for example, or she is a better swimmer than I am.

Finally, let’s look at some words that don’t have degrees. Something is never more better than anything else; it’s either better or it isn’t – there aren’t degrees of better. The same is true of unique, though I hear people use modifiers – fairly, very, most – with unique all the time. Perfect can be modified in the approach to perfection – he has a nearly perfect attendance record - but one can’t be extremely perfect.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. What about wreak havoc vs. wreck havoc. I’ve always been a proponent of the former but have seen the latter around all my life.

  2. “good” has been an adverb since the 13th century. We use in constructions like “feel good, look good”, and “a good 50 years”.

    Saying that you have to use “well” after “be” because “well” is an adverb is exactly the opposite argument some people make about “bad/badly”: you have to use “bad”, not “badly” after linking verbs, because “bad” is adjective.

    “unique” has meant “unusal, rare” for over a hundred years and has been modified for over a hundred years. A similar extension has occurred with the word “singular”.

  3. “…but one can’t be extremely perfect.”

    Obviously you don’t know me well enough because once people know me, they realize that one CAN be extremely perfect! Ha!

  4. nhfalcon

    I always think of the old George Carlin bit…

    “When people ask me, ‘How are you?’ I like to say ‘I’m not unwell, thank you.’

    That always pisses them off because now they have to figure it out for themselves.”

  5. I hate, hate, hate the then/than errors. It makes me cringe and then it makes me want to take a BIG RED PEN and stab it through the offender’s hand.

  6. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union”

  7. Exactly – a more perfect union, but not an extremely perfect one. Lord knows, not that…

  8. drtombibey

    mrschili,

    I now have three things in my Wednesday routine.

    1. Play golf.

    2. Take my wife out to eat.

    3. Check Grammar Wednesday.

    How do you make a plural of a name that ends in an “S” such as the last name Terres?

    Dr. B

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