Sunday, November 25, 2012

A serious grammar discussion today!

Folks, this is about countable and uncountable nouns.  I'm getting really tired of hearing and seeing inappropriate uses of the word "less" when it should be fewer.   The one that bothered me most recently was a television commercial for a L'OrĂ©al product that's supposed to help you get rid of dark spots on your facial skin.  It promises that you'll see "less dark spots over time."  You know, if I'm going to pay a lot of money for expensive French remedies for my skin ailments, you would think they could use of my purchase price to sponsor ad writers that know the difference between countable and uncountable nouns!  Here it is with a more formal explanation.

Countable nouns: any noun that you count indvidually
  Example: potato (one potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, etc.)

Uncountable nouns: any noun cannot be counted
   Example: justice (here, you cannot say one justice, two justices, etc.)

Now, when you use nouns in comparison with each other, you have to decide whether to use "fewer" or "less". When you are using countable nouns, you need to use "fewer" and when using uncountable nouns, you need to use "less".

For example, which is correct?

There were less goblins under my bed last night.
There were fewer goblins under my bed last night.

Since a goblin is a countable noun, the second sentence is the correct one.

Here's another example, and guess which one is correct:

I have seen less sadness in her since she started playing soccer.
I have seen fewer sadness in her since she started playing soccer.

I think this one is more obvious because it sounds really funny to say "fewer sadness."  Sadness is an uncountable noun, so "less" should be used in this sentence.

Knowing the difference between these is useful for using the words "amount" and "number", but I think I'll leave that for another day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

More on I's and E's

The letter I and the letter E often mess us up.  There's our age-old rule, I before E except after C, though there are exceptions to that rule (see this blog for more on exceptions).  However, it's also not clear when to use them in certain words, like is is artifact or artefact?  Compliment or complement?

It turns out, there are two different things going on in those examples.  Artifact is simply the American spelling of the British artefact, but compliment and complement mean two different things.  Compliment is when you acknowledge or give praise to someone or something.  For example, if you tell someone that you like his or her outfit, you are giving that person a compliment.  Complement is when you complete one thing with another or improve upon one thing with another.  You can complement a meal with a good wine, for example.  Or sometimes you hear a couple described as complementing each other because perhaps they have opposite traits that balance each other out.

For other words that are often easily confused, check this web site for a list of different words and expressions!