More Bad English

Instructional and some pet peeves.

There are many subtle differences in English, both as written and when spoken, which not only foreigners don’t know but many native English speakers get wrong. For instance, lay versus lie: one lies down but one lays an egg. Yesterday I lay down while my chicken lay an egg. Both are correct.

Foreigners often confuse “mean”. For example, “I think you mean to say” intends to say “I think you intend to say”, but “I think you are mean” changes the meaning entirely. This says “I think you are a bad person.” Foreigners often get insulted when one says “I think you mean to say”, when one only is trying to say “I think your intent is something different than what you are saying” and no insult is intended.

“Hold” and “held” is also confusing to foreigners. “Holding up” means raising something or being restricted in some way. A “hold up”, OTOH, is a robbery. While “being held up” can be either being lifted upward or being restricted in some sense but does not imply that any robbery occurred.

Even English speakers often don’t seem to know the difference between “laser” and “lazar”. Lazar is a name with emphasis on the second syllable. But a laser is an intense beam of light. I can only infer that many young people today are functionally illiterate since they often don’t know the difference.

“Who’s” is not the same as “whose”. “Who’s” is a contraction of “Who is”. “Whose” refers to ownership.

I have also seen people confuse arrogant with ignorant. True, some people are both. But arrogant means unjustifiably proud while ignorant is not knowing what most educated people know.

Then there is “counsel” versus “council”. To counsel someone is to give advice. A council is an official collection of persons. A counselor is a lawyer or similar; a councilor is someone who sits in a council. But in Britain I think a councilor or councillor may also counsel. I’m not sure.

Foreigners often don’t realize that “have” in the sense of possession is pronounced H-A-V. While “have” in the sense of “one must” is spelled exactly the same but pronounced differently: H-A-F. As in “I have to do this”.

Similarly, “they’re” means “they are”, while “their” is possessive, but “there” refers to a location. All are pronounced the same.

Many also confuse “revise” with “review”. To revise something is to change it; to review something is to inspect it before revising it. But in Britain “to revise” may also mean “to review”. Again I am not certain. Maybe someone could enlighten me.

Then we have “homogeneous” versus “homogenous”. Homogenous refers to milk. Emphasis is on the second syllable. Homogeneous refers to people. Emphasis is on the third syllable. Even very educated people often confuse these two.

Educated people also often confuse “prescribed” with “proscribed”. Doctors prescribe prescriptions for medicine. Governments proscribe criminals from voting, which means prohibiting them from voting.

Technically, “per cent” is more correct than “percent” but everyone writes it as percent anyway.

Just as technically, the correct way to pronounce “Armageddon” is to emphasize the third syllable, but sometimes informed people will pronounce it as Ar-MAG-eddon, emphasis on the second syllable. The latter way is equally correct but will likely trigger someone to “correct” the pronunciation to the third syllable.

And “pronunciation” is correct while “pronounciation” is not. I often hear even educated people say “pronounciation” which is never correct.