A Desk-Book of Errors in English/I


I, and me: "They had come to see my sister and I" is a common error. In this sentence "they" stands in the nominative case, and "my sister and I," being the objects of the action of the nominative "they," should be noun and pronoun in the objective case. To be correct the clause should read "my sister and me." "They have come to see my sister and me."

ice-cream, ice-water: Common English idioms sometimes condemned as incorrect. The Standard Dictionary recording usage recognizes the forms ice-cream and ice-water as correct. Inasmuch as iced means "made cold with ice; as iced milk or iced tea," it would seem that by analogy the correct phrases should be iced cream, iced water, for one would not think of asking for ice tea or ice milk, but these idioms are so firmly established that it is doubtful if they will ever be changed.

idea. Compare opinion.

ie, ei: The rule governing the use of these letters in spelling is commonly expressed "I before E except after C." Therefore, remember believe is correct, not "beleive"; receive and not "recieve"; brief, and not "breif"; reprieve, not "repreive"; retrieve, not "retreive."

if, or: Do not say "seldom or ever," say, rather, "seldom if ever," or "seldom or never."

if. whether: Sometimes if is incorrectly used for whether. It is used correctly when supposition or condition is implied; whether, chiefly when an alternative is suggested or presented. "If he sends the money I shall then decide whether or not I will go."

ill: The Standard Dictionary says: The use of ill and sick differs in the two great English-speaking countries. Ill is used in both lands alike, but the preferred sense of sick in England is that of "sick at the stomach, nauseated," while in the United States the two words are freely interchangeable. Still Tennyson and other good writers freely use sick in the sense of ill. The tendency of modern usage is to remand ill and well (referring to condition of health) to the predicate. We say "A person who is ill," rather than "An ill person"; "I am well, but not "I am in a well state of health." Ill in the abstract sense of bad or wicked is obsolescent, or rather practically obsolete except in poetic or local use. Compare illy.

illusion. Compare delusion.

illy: This word should never be used for ill since ill is both an adverb and an adjective. Say, "He behaved ill"; not "he behaved illy." Illy is now obsolescent.

immerge. Compare emerge.

immigrant. Compare emigrant.

imminent. Compare eminent.

immunity and impunity are sometimes confounded. They are both from the Latin, the former being produced by in, not, + munus, service, and the latter by in + pœna, punishment. Freedom from any burden, or exemption from evil, duty or penalty has perhaps not unnaturally, been associated with freedom from punishment. A boy may insult his brother with impunity but can not expect to enjoy a like immunity from strangers.

impending. Compare eminent.

imperative, imperious: Discriminate carefully between these words. That which is imperative may be either mandatory or authoritative; while that which is imperious may be domineering or overbearing.

implicate. Compare involve.

inaugurate: Phelps declares that this word in the sense of "introduce" is improper and restricts its meaning to " investiture in office " But lexicographers disregard this distinction and declare that inaugurate may be correctly used to mean also " to set in operation; to initiate; to originate; as to inaugurate reforms."

"Indeed!" "Is that so?" Discriminate carefully between these terms. "Indeed" expresses surprise. "Is that so?" like "you don't say?" implies disbelief and calls for the reiteration of the statement made. As these interrogations are used chiefly to discredit or disconcert the speaker they may be characterized as specimens of "refined" rudeness.

indentation, indention: An indentation is a notch in an edge or border; it is also a dent; and indention is a setting of type in such manner as to leave a blank space on the left side of a margin of typematter as at the beginning of a paragraph.

The printers' indention is not (as it is often said to be) a shortened form of indentation, but an original word from dent (dint), " a denting in, a depression," and hence is the proper word, rather than indentation, to express the idea.

indices: A plural form of index, generally and more properly reserved for use in science and mathematics. In other cases the plural indexes should be used.

indict, indite: Although the pronunciation of these words is identical their meanings, in modern practise, differ materially. Both words are from the Latin in + dico, say. The first means to prefer an indictment (or formal written charge of crime) against. The second means "to put into words in writing" but it does not carry with it, the legal signification of the preceding.

induction. Compare deduction.

inferior: In constant and approved use in such expressions as "an inferior man," "goods of an inferior sort"; corresponding to such expressions as "a superior man," "materials of superior quality"—all of which may be regarded as elliptical forms of speech. In reply to Dean Alford's challenge of this usage (Queen's English ¶ 214, p. 82), it is enough to say that life would be too short to admit of all such ellipses, being supplied, even if such supply would not make speech too prolix for common use.

inform. Compare post.

ingenious, ingenuous: Words sometimes used erroneously. Ingenious characterizes persons possessed of cleverness or ability; ready, skilful, prompt, or apt to contrive. Ingenuous means free from guile; candid; open; frank.

in, into: Discriminate carefully between these words. In denotes position, state, etc.; into, tendency, direction, destination, etc.

inkslinger: A vulgar term for a journalist, writer, or literary worker, and as such one to be avoided.

innumerable means "that cannot be numbered." Therefore, avoid such a locution as "an innumerable number," as absurd.

in our midst: An undesirable and ambiguous phrase for "among us" due to the misinterpretation of "in the midst of us," " in the midst of them" (Matt. xviii, 20) but with some literary authority for its use.

in so far as: In this phrase the word in is redundant and meaningless. Do not say, "In so far as I dared, I spoke the truth." Omit the in.

in spite of: A phrase which some persons declare not synonymous with notwithstanding, yet the Standard Dictionary authorizes its use and says, "formerly in contempt of; now, notwithstanding: used somewhat emphatically."

intend, mean: The use of intend for mean, as in explanatory sentences, is not commonly approved although it has the sanction of literary usage, and is considered correct by lexicographers who in defining the words treat them as interchangeable. When explaining anything that has been said it is preferable to say, "By this I mean," rather than "By this I intend." Do not say "Do you mean to come?" when you wish to know whether or not the person you address intends to come. Compare contemplate.

in the street, on the street: Distinctions between these phrases are invariably wiredrawn. Both forms are permissible; the writer's preference, which may be modified according to circumstances, is for the first. "His home is in Eighty-seventh street" is preferable to "on Eighty-seventh street." One should not say "his home is on Bermuda," but "in Bermuda." "He lives at Hamilton, in Queen street." Compare on.

invest: Properly used only of considerable transactions, and always with a suggestion of permanent proprietary right. One does not invest (except in a humorous sense) in a postage-stamp.

invite: Used in the sense of "invitation" this term, a colloquialism formerly in wide use, is condemned as illiterate and bordering on vulgarity.

involve is to be distinguished from implicate. The latter has a suggestion of wrong-doing or crime, whereas the former contains no such implication.

irritate. Compare aggravate.

irruption. Compare eruption.

I seen him: Vulgar and incorrect; say "I have seen him" or " I saw him."

Is that so? One of a class of vulgar phrases of which other examples are "You don't say"; "Don't you know"; "You know"; "Well I never," commonly used but all of which should be avoided as ill-bred and undesirable locutions.

is, are: The correct use of these words depends in a measure on the intention of the writer or speaker. Therefore, the choice of a singular or plural verb in cases where either form would be proper is often influenced by the writer's way of looking at the subject. "The purpose and conception of the scheme is to do good." Now the mistake with this sentence is that either "purpose and conception" represent a single idea (in which case they may, in combination, take a singular verb), or they do not (in which case they require a plural verb), and that in the former case, where the nouns express a similarity of sentiment, one of the words is superfluously used. "Jones and Smith is solvent": yes, as a firm, though as individuals they are solvent.

it: Used sometimes in such manner as to violate the principles of grammatical and rhetorical construction, as when referring to any one of several words or clauses preceding, or perhaps to some idea merely implied or hinted at in what has gone before, as in the following: "A statute inflicting death may, and ought to be, repealed, if it be in any degree expedient, without its being highly so." In this sentence "if it be" should be replaced by "if such repeal be," and "its" should be omitted.

In general, personal and relative pronouns with ambiguous reference to preceding words or clauses in the sentence are stumbling-blocks of inexperienced or careless writers.

ivories: A slang term used to designate the keys of a piano; hence, the phrase, tickle the ivories, a coarse way of expressing ability to play the piano.