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updated: 1/3/2016 7:11 AM

Grammar Moses: Rein, reign, go away, unless you spell it right today

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  • COURTESY OF JANE WOODJane Wood of Sugar Grove says she has started a photo collection of grammar gaffes, misspellings, and misplaced punctuation she notices. "The subtlety of this one would be lost on most people. If I were so gifted, I would include a cartoon of a guy standing on the roof, watching the falling snow and ice," she said. This sign was photographed outside the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora.

    COURTESY OF JANE WOODJane Wood of Sugar Grove says she has started a photo collection of grammar gaffes, misspellings, and misplaced punctuation she notices. "The subtlety of this one would be lost on most people. If I were so gifted, I would include a cartoon of a guy standing on the roof, watching the falling snow and ice," she said. This sign was photographed outside the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora.

 
 

Today, I hand over the reins to two sagacious people -- one of whom I've never met and one with whom I share a wall and an abiding love for words.

But first, I've seen too many people use "reigns" when they should have used "reins."

"Reign" is a verb, meaning to rule. It also has a noun form.

A "rein" is a strap of leather attached to a horse's bit, with which you steer the beast. And, yes, "rein" also has a verb form (to rein someone in.)

'Til or till?

My anonymous contributor, with whom I've had a few conversations, writes:

"'Til" is an abbreviation for 'until' -- thus, the apostrophe -- means for now, pending some future event. The future event can be any of a lot of things, as a clock attaining a reading of 8 p.m. or a herd of cows making it back to their barn. 'Till' can be a noun, meaning a cash drawer, or a rather inexact verb describing what growers do to the soil so as to produce crops or decorative plants."

Mr. Anonymous continues:

"In the announced legalities of, notably, televised sporting events, reference is usually made to what ought to be the ' ... expressed written permission of ...' but which usually comes out as the ' ... express written permission of ...'.

"The legalities are meant to state that permission must be granted in a definite, positive way, and not merely by guesswork, implication or deduction. It is meant to protect ownership rights to the telecast. One needs to use an adjectival form, and 'expressed' is it.

"In contrast, while there is certainly a verb 'express' meaning to 'render one's thoughts,' such does not fit the bill herein. Likewise, the adjective 'express,' as in reference to a fast train that doesn't stop at all stations, does not fit, either.

Just as important(ly)

Jim Slusher is our Opinion Page Editor. We occasionally giggle like school girls over the horrid way people abuse English.

He writes:

"Often, people will write a sentence like the second sentence in this paragraph:

It's critical that elected officials be honest. Just as importantly, they should care about their constituents.

"In that construction, the adverb 'importantly' describes how they should care about their constituents. I'm not sure how one cares importantly. But that's what it means.

"Instead, the grammatically correct construction would be: It's critical that elected officials be honest. Just as important, they should care about their constituents.

"In that construction, grammarians would say that the 'Just as important' phrase is a shortened version of 'Just as important as that' or 'It's just as important that ...' where, 'important' modifies 'it' just as 'critical' modifies 'it' in the first sentence.

"Whenever I try to use the term correctly, I almost invariably get flak and, since it does sound a little odd not to use the '-ly' form, and since it's an almost arcane rule that most readers would probably never care about, I sigh and use '-ly' anyway. But it's not correct."

Boy, and you thought I was a word nerd.

Sign of the times

Jane Wood of Sugar Grove tells me she has started a photo collection of grammar gaffes, misspellings and misplaced punctuation she notices around town.

She shot a photo of a sign posted outside the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora that reads: "CAUTION: Please watch for falling snow and ice from above."

"The subtlety of this one would be lost on most people," she wrote. "If I were so gifted, I would include a cartoon of a guy standing on the roof, watching the falling snow and ice."

Thank you, contributors.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is assistant vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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