Stephen King on words:
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Thank you to our readers for continuing to submit great topic suggestions and pet grammar peeves. In this issue we share comments from readers regarding the use of ‘bad’ versus ‘badly’, and we set the record straight. We also look at American versus Canadian spelling.
Stephen King avoids using adverbs, while J.K. Rowling, he says, “never met (an adverb) she didn’t like.” Author M.J. Ryan has observed Rowling is prone to modifying every “he said” with politely, dejectedly, resoundingly, and the like. While there is disagreement among writers on the value of adverbs, they can be very useful, even in business communications, by adding context to a verb and answering how, where, when or why. Example: “John stressed that point repeatedly throughout his keynote.”
There are some words which can be adjectives or adverbs depending on how they are used. Tip: Remember adjectives modify nouns and adverbs modify verbs. For example, the title Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, uses ‘deathly’ as an adjective, while the line “She was deathly afraid,” uses it as an adverb that adds detail and answers ‘how afraid?’
Readers weigh in on ‘bad’ versus ‘badly’:
One common adverb error is to use the wrong form of a word, and one common source of confusion is the use of ‘bad’ versus ‘badly’. Reader June requested we look at this, and asks if “I felt bad when I heard about x…” is correct. Another reader, Samantha Campbell, replied with “It should be; “I feel/felt badly.” Anyone who agreed with Samantha is in good company since it is an extremely common error. In fact, June was correct. It should be “I felt bad….” You would only use ‘badly’ with ‘felt’ if you were describing your ability to physically feel something, as in the correct but awkward, “Since I burned my fingers, I feel badly.”
The same is true of using ‘smell’ and ‘bad’ together. If you are describing someone’s offensive fragrance, you might say, “She smells bad.” If you are describing her ability to smell because for example, she has weakened olfactory senses, you might say, “She smells badly.” This is a big topic we will revisit later and look at other aspects of adverb use. In the meantime, remember this Tip: Adverbs modify verbs and answer the questions how, where, when or why.
American versus Canadian spelling
If your business communications involve writing for both Canadian and American audiences, as mine often do, it is important to be aware of the subtle differences in spelling. I’m looking beyond the obvious, such as having a ‘u’ in many words ending in ‘our’ in Canadian and British spelling (honour, behaviour, colour, for example).
Consider the double “l”. In Canadian spelling, traveller takes a double l, while in American spelling it does not. There has been a blurring of differences and now both are used in Canada, although the double l is more correct. In formal writing, Canadian spelling is still closer to British spelling, but increasingly, Canadians are favouring the American version.
For words that use either an ‘s’ or a ‘z’ – like capitalise/capitalize, analyse/analyze – Canadians use the ‘z’ American version. And regarding those Canadian ‘our’ words, there are exceptions. “Candour” is spelled with a ‘u’ here and without one in the U.S., but has come to be acceptable as ‘candor’ here too. Test your knowledge of Canadian vs. American spelling in this mini quiz from the Government of Canada portal.
Pet Peeve Grammar Fails
The following peeve was submitted by our readers:
“You see it in ad copy. People post it on Facebook, and Twitter. They write, ‘we celebrated our one-year anniversary’,” says reader Christine Smith. She points out ‘anniversary’ means an annual milestone, so it’s more correct to say, “We celebrated our first anniversary.” New York Times writer Ben Zimmer agreed when he looked at this in “Is One-Year Anniversary Redundant?” He observed ‘anniversary’ is one of those words for which the meaning has been clouded over centuries of use. Linguists call this ‘semantic bleaching’ – the lessening of a word’s force through generalization.
Share your Pet Peeve Grammar Fails! What errors make you cringe?