Grammar Wednesday

Another “Commonly Confused Words” edition!

My students are really cute.  They try so hard, but the often fall just short of the mark, Goddess love them.  Here are some words that my students still aren’t quite sure about, and this post will form the backbone of a lesson I’ll give next week as my classes work on the drafts of their second major paper.

Everyday / every day:

Everyday – all one word –  is an adjective that means “ordinary” or “regular.” 

These are my everyday clothes; I dress up when I’m going out. 

All of the everyday dishes were in the sink, so she had to use the china for dessert.

Every day – two words – is used to indicate something that happens regularly.

She has classes every day.

I know we’ve gone over this in a previous Grammar Wednesday (maybe more than one, now that I think of it), but my students still choke on the difference bewteen loose and lose.

Loose (rhymes with “moose”) is an adjective that describes something as being not tight;

The knot was too loose to hold my bathrobe closed and, as a result, I flashed the UPS guy this morning. (Not really, but it’s a good sentence.)

Lose (rhymes with “dues”) is a verb that means to misplace something or to fail to win.

There’s no way we can lose next week’s game; the other team is a disaster on defense.

If I lose my keys again, I’m going to be in deep trouble with the building manager.

I was a little surprised that a mix-up between alter and altar came up in a student’s writing last week.

Alter is a verb which means to change or influence

I wouldn’t alter your approach to the problem; I think you’re right on track.

She altered her commute this week to avoid the nightmarish construction downtown.

An altar is a sacred platform, the sort of which one usually finds in a church.

As she approached the altar, the bride’s nerves got the best of her and she fainted.

There are a bunch more, but this is enough for today. I’m still trying to figure out how to get my students from starting the largest percentage of their sentences with “by,” “with,” or “in,” (“By citing a lot of credible sources, it shows that the author was careful in his research”) but I’m confident that I’ll at least get them to cut back, even if it means running a style and readability workshop about it.

I’ll leave you today with a question that Suzanne asked me in an email last week (and I’m writing this from L.U., which means two things; one, I don’t have the email with me – I’m working on memory here – and two, I can’t figure out how to link to her blog. Sorry, Sooza). She wanted to know which of these two structures was correct:

More than 20,000 tons of cargo passes through the port every year.
More than 20,000 tons of cargo pass through the port every year.

How would YOU have answered this question? I’ll edit this post in a few days to tell you how I responded to Suzanne’s question.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!



Filed under concerns, General Griping, Grammar, Teaching

13 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. … tons pass. The of signals a prepositional phrase, so you know the noun we need to agree with is not cargo.

  2. And Loos (rhymes with lose) is a British word meaning multiple bathrooms. 🙂

    I agree with wordlily.

  3. I would agonize and then have to rewrite the sentence in order to convince myself I had it right. My inkling would be to go with pass.

  4. Dudley

    What wordlily said. She (he?) beat me to it.

    The loose/lose mixup drives me up a wall (for what thay may be worth)

  5. I’m gonna buck the trend and say ‘passes’. It simply feels more natural. But more specifically, the semantic subject of the sentence is ‘cargo’, ‘12,000 tons’ is just a quantifier, which ‘cargo’, being a mass noun, requires.

    Imagine there was a unit of mass that equalled 12,000 tons, call it a ‘ship’, then you’d all be bound to say ‘a ship of cargo passes…’, but the amount is the same, it’s just the way it’s been quantified that has varied.

    Another piece of evidence, ‘a strong cup of coffee’ is syntactically the same frame as ‘12,000 tons of cargo’ but it’s clearly describing the coffee, not the cup. I don’t really care how strong the cup is, as long as the coffee is heavily caffeinated.

    On the commonly misused words topic, let’s not forget alright, ‘mediocre’, ‘neither good nor bad’, versus all right, ‘entirely correct’.

  6. Jangari, I get what you’re saying – that “cargo” is the syntactic subject of the sentence (because we’re really talking about cargo, tons is a modifier), but I’m still going to say that “tons pass”. The substitution of “ship” for “tons” doesn’t work, because a ship, being singular, “passes” anyway.

    And you KNOW that someone is going to come and jump all OVER “alright.” Some of the most stern reprimands I’ve gotten on this site have come from people who are absolutely adamant that “alright” is entirely ungrammatical.

  7. Only tangentially related (but I couldn’t wait to share with you), we got an invitation to some sort of Halloween event recently. The following message was at the bottom:

    “Free Well Donations Accepted”

  8. drtombibey


    I got in on this late, but I would say tons of cargo pass, ’cause that is what I think my mama the English teacher woulda said.

    Dr. B

  9. I’m thinking “tons … pass.” Is the confusion coming from mistakenly thinking of “More” as the subject?


  10. There’s another good reason that ‘passes’ can be preferred over ‘pass’ (notice I’m not saying either is correct, as each work, but individuals may prefer one over the other). Not only is it the semantic head of the noun phrase – the phrase is about cargo, 20,000 tons is just a quantifier – but also verb inflection can be affected by proximity, as in, verbs may quirkily inflect due to the number of the closest noun phrase.

    This is classically ‘incorrect’ if you base your opinion on the specific job of verb inflection being to identify what the subject of the sentence is, but this criterion only really applies to non-past tense, 3rd person singular subjects as opposed to all the rest (which are inflected identically). Eventually, the -s suffix on verbs may end up being determined purely by phonological environment, say, whether or not the following word begins with a vowel. This is a purely hypothetical suggestion, but stranger things have happened in historical linguistic variation.

  11. In fact, Connie brings up an excellent point. The confusion isn’t actually anything to do with ‘more’ here, instead whether 20,000 tons or cargo should determine the number agreement of the verb. But, it’s interesting, that people who argue that it should be ‘pass’ because the subject is 20,000 tons, and is plural, in turn argue that 20,000 tons is the subject, and not cargo by citing that cargo is bound in a prepositional phrase and so cannot be the subject. But if you look closer, 20,000 tons is also bound in a prepositional phrase (of sorts). The phrase that it is a part of is than 20,000 tons of cargo and it is headed by this other quantifier thingy, whatever you want to call it, more.

    My point is, if you argue against cargo being the subject based on its being syntactically embedded in a PP, then the same argument rules out 20,000 tons from being the subject.

  12. pass, because tons is plural! Had she written ‘a large amount of cargo’ it would have been singular, thus passes.

  13. quero pasar para o plural (i am a teacher)

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