GrammarBook Year-End Quiz (2018)

Today’s GrammarBook.com email contained a great review quiz on the grammar lessons they featured in 2018. Even though we did not by any means highlight all of these lessons, we hope you were encouraged to learn a little grammar (or re-learn, as the case may be). And taking the quiz will show you that it is never too late to learn even more.

So, take the quiz, review your grammar, and if you do poorly, don’t fret; you have all of 2019 to get on board and make this year a better grammar-learning year.

Here is their introduction to the quiz, and then the first few items from the review (find the rest at the link below).

Another year of grammatical exploration has concluded with linguistic miles behind us. What we’ve learned and discussed with you along the way has been illuminating, and we are grateful for the thought and insight it has inspired.

We hope you gathered even more sharpened tools for communicating in concise and eloquent English. A year-end review is always a great way to revisit and further retain what we’ve examined.

The 2018 master quiz consists of twenty-five sentences addressing subjects from many of this year’s GrammarBook articles. Choose your answers and then check them against our answer key that follows the quiz.

Each answer also includes the title and date of the article that focused on the topic. Because some answers require particular knowledge from months past, please feel free to refer to their associated article if you wish to refresh your memory.

1. When I was in high school, I [would / used to] lift weights in the gym almost every day. Would vs. Used To 1-24

2. When I was a kid, I [would / used to] feel like every day was a new adventure. Would vs. Used To 1-24

3. Juan received the highest score on the test [since / because] he studied the most. Tackling More Tricky Word Choices: As, Because, and Since 2-21

4. [Since / Because] Rich was the most qualified, he was offered the promotion first. Tackling More Tricky Word Choices: As, Because, and Since 2-21

5. She is perhaps the most [well spoken / well-spoken] project manager to have ever led the initiative. Are We Hyphenating Well? 4-4

Source: Year-End Quiz |

Published in: on January 9, 2019 at 10:00 PM  Leave a Comment  

Wednesday Language Feature: Orwell and Newspeak

This morning I received the weekly GrammarBook.com email, and it was a dandy. The title is “Orwell and Newspeak,” and takes off on George Orwell’s famous novel 1984. The author (Tom Stern) uses Orwell’s concept of “Newspeak” to address the decline of English and the corruption of the meaning of words in our own day, a reality Orwell’s novel prophesied.

Below is the beginning of the GrammarBook article; find the rest at the link at the end. And be reminded that language has power and words have meaning. Use them carefully!

It’s not just professors and snobs who deplore the decline of English. The great essayist and novelist George Orwell (1903-50) had much to say about the corruption of language—and how it enables tyranny. The warning was clear: a distracted populace with diminished reading, writing, and speaking skills is vulnerable.

Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949, is a demoralizing post-World War II vision of global totalitarianism. It is set in London—the British Isles are now part of a superstate called Oceania, which also includes the Americas. Oceania is always at war with either of the world’s other two superstates, Eurasia and Eastasia.

In Oceania, “the Party,” a cadre of megalomaniacal despots, wields absolute power. This regime has destroyed society as we know it, setting children against parents and wives against husbands, enforcing unwavering loyalty to “Big Brother,” the potentate whose Stalin-like countenance stares out balefully from posters no one can avoid.

One of the Party’s acknowledged goals is the end of independent thought, which it hopes to bring about by instituting one of its pet projects: a language called “Newspeak.” Orwell worked Newspeak out in exhaustive detail and added an appendix at the end of 1984 titled “The Principles of Newspeak.” The brief essay describes how the Party dumbed down standard English, or “Oldspeak,” and mangled and perverted it into a streamlined, regimented version of English in which complexity and nuance were impossible.

Newspeak was designed to make a heretical thought “literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.” The Party abolished all but the most mundane, unequivocal, easy-to-say words. Its aim was to render speech “as nearly as possible independent of consciousness” so that communication might become “a gabbling style of speech, at once staccato and monotonous,” allowing speakers to “spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets.” And “the texture of the words, with their harsh sound and a certain willful ugliness … assisted the process still further.”

Source: Orwell and Newspeak – Grammar and Punctuation

Word Nerd Wednesday: Irregardless and more

GrammarBook.com had another recent online article on word usage – or rather, we should say, word mis-usage. Once more, they point to common words and phrases that are frequently misused.

The author, Tom Stern, begins with the usual “word nerd” disclaimer, stating that such language sticklers are indeed ‘nerdy’ perhaps, but do not judge themselves to be superior. They are simply “verbal custodians trapped in a time warp.” Or, as he puts it, quoting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: “[T]he little things are infinitely the most important.”

So, with those nerd words out of the way, we can get down to the real business of words – for nerds and for the rest of you too! Remember, it pays to be proper and precise in speaking and writing! 🙂

Anyway, onward to this week’s entries of infamy…

Irregardless  I’ve heard a lot of bright people say this nonsense word, which results from confusing and combining regardless and irrespective. If people would just think about it, what’s that dopey ir- doing tacked on? In technical terms, ir- is an “initial negative particle.” So if “irregardless” means anything, it means “not regardless” when its hapless speaker is trying to say the exact opposite.

Center around  The whole play centers around the consequences of ill-gotten gains. This common, misbegotten expression results from the unhappy union of two similar terms: center on and revolve around. Because the phrases are roughly synonymous, if you use them both enough, they merge in the mind. What’s annoying about “center around” is that it’s imprecise, and disheartens readers who take writing seriously. The center is the point in the middle. How, exactly, would something center around? You get dizzy trying to picture it.

Hone in  This is another mongrel, like the two that preceded it. It’s the brain-dead combo of hone and home in. We simply can’t allow confusion to be the basis of acceptable changes in the language. In recent years, “hone in” has achieved an undeserved legitimacy for the worst of reasons: the similarity, in sound and appearance, of n and mHoning is a technique used for sharpening cutting tools and the like. To home in, like zero in, is to get something firmly in your sights: get to the crux of a problem.

Reticent  This trendy word properly means “uncommunicative,” “reserved,” “silent.” But sophisticates who like to fancy up their mundane blather are now using it when they mean “reluctant.” I was reticent to spend so much on a football game.

Allude  Allude to means mention indirectly. In one of its most unspeakable moves, Webster’s lists refer as a synonym. Horrors! When you refer to something, it’s a direct transaction: I refer to Section II, paragraph one, Your Honor. When you allude to something or someone, you don’t come out and say it; you’re being subtle, sly or sneaky: “Someone I know better wise up.”

Off (of)  “Hey! You! Get off of my cloud,” sang the Rolling Stones, unnecessarily. The of is extraneous, and off of is what’s known as a pleonasm. That means: starting now, avoid it.

Couple (of)  Hey, gimme a couple bucks, wouldja? When I was a kid, this is how neighborhood tough guys talked, while cracking their chewing gum. Don’t drop the of; one more little syllable won’t kill you.

—Tom Stern.

 

Published in: on October 17, 2018 at 11:10 AM  Leave a Comment  

Punctuating Compounds That Precede – To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate

In another recent posting at GrammarBook.com, the matter of punctuating compound modifiers was addressed. This is a commonly misunderstood matter – also by myself, so it is good to review this grammar lesson too.

Here is the first part of the article, treating especially hyphenation. The second part speaks to another, more complicated usage, which you may read further about later.

It’s enough to drive even the most exacting writers, proofers, and editors a little batty sometimes: More than one descriptive word precedes a noun, forming what we call a compound modifier. Do we need to hyphenate the words, or are they well enough left alone? What if we have two words modifying another word and all three describe the same noun, creating a package that begs for punctuation?

Sometimes the solution is simple, as we’ve covered in our hyphen rules. Rule 1 advises hyphenating two or more words acting as a single idea when they come before a noun (late-arriving train, ne’er-do-well teenager, one-of-a-kind invention).

Exceptions to this rule are compound modifiers that include adverbs such as much and very as well as any -ly adverb (much maligned administrator, very good cake, easily remembered song).

We also wouldn’t hyphenate a compound that’s an obvious unit such as most proper nouns (Social Security check) and foreign expressions (quid pro quo exchange).

When a two-word descriptor takes the form of a compound noun (e.g., real estate, high school, sales tax), hyphenation becomes a matter of preference. Some writers and editors identify the compound nouns as clearly understood units while others still hyphenate them to maintain stylistic consistency and remove any chance of confusion.

Examples:
real estate advisor vs. real-estate advisor
high school dance vs. high-school dance
sales tax increase vs. sales-tax increase

In Rule 5 of Hyphens, we also emphasize including a hyphen with a compound modifier anytime omitting one could lead to ambiguity.

Potentially misaimed: Springfield has little town charm. (If we omit the hyphen, we’re suggesting Springfield lacks appeal. Is that what we want to say?)
Clearer with hyphen: Springfield has little-town charm. (The punctuation establishes that Springfield has the charm of a small, cozy town.)

Potentially misaimed: That is a fast running machine. (Is it a machine that runs fast, or a running machine [i.e., a treadmill] that operates faster than others?)
Clearer with hyphen: That is a fast-running machine. (a machine that runs fast)
The guidelines thus far help define and apply hyphenation of preceding descriptors. The next question concerns what to do when we run into phrases such as stippling technique influenced painter and apple orchard scented candle.

I hope this has been helpful to you. I know it has been to me. I deal with this all the time in my editing work for the Standard Bearer, and there isn’t an issue in which I don’t face these very questions. I have to work to keep them straight. I hope you take the time to understand the importance of this for writing – and for reading with understanding.

For more on this, visit the link below.

Source: Punctuating Compounds That Precede – Grammar and Punctuation

Published in: on September 19, 2018 at 11:13 PM  Leave a Comment  

Word Wednesday: Misspoken and Mispronounced Words and Phrases

PowerWords

This “part 1” of a recent GrammarBook.com post (June 2018) is a worthwhile reminder to speak accurately when using common words and expressions. How quickly the most ordinary expressions can become twisted – and we speakers look like uneducated bumpkins!

Pay attention to this “Word Wednesday” feature and grammar lesson, taking nothing for granite. But if it takes you a bit to get all this, don’t chomp at the bit; we won’t send in the Calvary just yet. Did I just misspeak and mispronounce some things? Read on and find out! 🙂

Writing serves us well in communication by providing us with a framework for arranging words into clear and thoughtful statements, including opportunities for eloquence.

Applying ourselves to concise writing can also reinforce articulate speech. We are often moved or impressed by those who express themselves with precision and power. Think of the historic public addresses by Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Conversely, misspeaking and mispronouncing words and phrases can quickly sabotage and discredit our intellectual or persuasive standing with another person. Plus, beyond sounding wrong, these verbal glitches can contaminate our writing. If our mind’s ear hears or spells a word a certain way, we might wind up writing it as such as well.

For this reason, we’ve compiled some words and phrases to watch out for. Maybe some of us have tripped over a few, and perhaps a few have caused us all to fall. Some of the entries might surprise even the most well spoken among us.

 

Word or Phrase (Glitch: S=misspoken, P=mispronounced) Correct Treatment
affidavit (to mean written statement sworn before an official) (P) (af-i-DEY-vit), not (af-i-DEY-vid)
all the sudden (S) all of a sudden
Antarctic (P), Arctic (P) (ant-AHRK-tik, AHRK-tik), not (ant-AHR-tik, AHR-tik)
Calvary (to mean military service that fights on horseback) (S) cavalry (KAV-uhl-ree)
chomp at the bit (S) champ at the bit
et cetera (to mean “and the rest”) (P) (et SET-er-uh), not (ex-ET-er-uh, ek-SET-er-uh)
escape (P) (ih-SKEYP), not (ex-KEYP)
espresso (P) (e-SPRES-oh), not (ex-PRES-oh)
for all intensive purposes (S) for all intents and purposes
forte (to mean strength or talent) (P) (fort), not (for-TAY)
genome (to mean full set of chromosomes) (P) (JEE-nohm), not (geh-NOHM)
jaguar (P) (JAG-wahr, -yoo-ahr), not (JAG-wire)
larynx (P) (LAR-ingks), not (LAR-niks)
mayonnaise (P) (mey-uh-NEYZ; MEY-uh-neyz), not (MAN-eyz)
meme (to mean cultural item transmitted by repetition) (P) (meem), not (mehm)
niche (to mean suitable position; distinct market segment) (P) (nich), not (neesh)
nuclear (P) (NOO-klee-er), not (NOO-kyuh-ler, NOO-kyoo-ler)
prescription (P) (pri-SKRIP-shuhn), not (per-SKRIP-shuhn)
probably (P) (PROB-uh-blee), not (PROB-lee)
realtor (P) (REE-uhl-ter), not (REEL-uh-ter)
take for granite (S) take for granted
veteran (P) (VET-er-uhn), not (VEH-truhn)
veterinary (P) (VET-er-uh-ner-ee), not (VEH-truh-ner-ee)
voilà (to mean “here it is”) (P) (vwah-LAH), not (wah-LAH)

You can find more often mispronounced words in our entry “You Lost Me After ‘Feb’ .”

When we open our mouths, our minds are on parade. By devoting attention to proper phrasing and pronunciation, we can make sure what marches out sounds and lines up as it should.

Published in: on August 22, 2018 at 11:09 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Word Nerd: Six Pitfalls Writers (and Others) Should Avoid

This great post at GrammarBook.com appeared back in May (cf. link below) but I saved it for an open blog post, and with a view to a “Word Wednesday” feature tomorrow I post it here tonight.

Yes, I also count myself a bit of “word nerd,” but I say so without shame. Words are not just interesting, even fun (especially origins); they are the way we communicate to one another. And, I trust, none of wants to be sloppy or lazy about how we communicate to each other. Words matter. They matter to God, because words are the means He chose to speak to us. So they should matter to us.

Precision in speech and writing is important, as these examples show. Nerdy? No, just correct. And correct is cool. 🙂 Let’s continue to learn together so that we communicate properly and precisely.

I post the GrammarBook online article in full here:

That’s right, I admit it. I’m a word nerd. I pick, pick, pick at the way you express yourself.

Despite protests of apathy, people of all ages care about how well they express themselves. Deep down, everyone likes to be right about language, and you can even hear little kids teasing each other about talking funny. We word nerds have an advantage here, but we certainly don’t choose to be word nerds. It’s thrust upon us. Believe me, a lot of us would rather be star quarterbacks. No one ever got a date by discoursing on split infinitives.

I thought you might be interested in some of the current trends and tendencies in modern ignorance. It might be fun to watch with me the inexorable erosion of our language—and civilization—and we can gnash our teeth and wring our hands and feel secretly smug and superior. That’s what word nerds do for a good time. So let’s roll:

Fortuitous It most emphatically does not mean “lucky” or “fortunate”; it simply means “by chance,” a much less optimistic denotation, since you can win the lottery fortuitously or get flattened by a truck fortuitously.

Notoriety Another badly botched word these days, “notoriety” has somehow become a good thing: “Burgess gained notoriety with his wildly popular children’s books.” But can’t you hear the “notorious” in “notoriety”? There are all kinds of fame; “notoriety” is one of the bad kinds, just down the pike from “infamy.”

Impact “How does the proposition impact property taxes?” or “Greenhouse gas emissions negatively impact the environment.” This is pretentious twaddle. “To impact” means to pack tightly together, as in “an impacted tooth.” In sentences like the two examples above, simply use “affect” instead, and you’ll sleep the serene slumber of the saintly.

Literally “Literally” is supposed to mean “100 percent fact”—period. But not today, when “literally” now is commonly used figuratively! How sad that a no-nonsense word with such a strict meaning has been so hideously compromised. Any sentence with “literally” means what it literally says, and when we hear it, we are being asked to believe our ears, rather than interpret or infer. So if you tell me you “literally hit the ceiling,” I’d suggest you move to a place with higher ceilings.

I recently read about a couple whose dreams “literally collapsed” when, unfortunately, a fixer-upper they bought came down in a heap as they started working on it. Now, we know what the writer meant, but just don’t mess around with “literally,” OK? The house literally collapsed, not the dream. How could a dream, the very essence of all that is beyond materiality, literally collapse? It’s utter gibberish.

The simple solution? Just say “virtually.” “Virtually” allows you to enhance and embellish to your heart’s content, options you relinquish by using “literally.”

Comprise is the most misused and misunderstood two-syllable word in common English usage. It seems straightforward enough: it means to contain, consist of, take in, embrace. But when used on its own, it’s usually mangled. “Joey, Johnny, and Fritz comprise a group of daredevils.” Sorry, but the group comprises (contains, consists of) Joey, Johnny, and Fritz. Which brings us to…

Comprised of This ubiquitous phrase is wrong every time. It’s the result of confusing and incorrectly combining “comprise” and “composed of.” It’s both ignorant and pompous, a lethal combo. “Composed of” is so mundane and “comprised of” just sounds ever so much cleverer, doesn’t it? Too bad there’s no justification for it. Quick fix: simply replace it with “comprise.” Wrong: “The team is comprised of Chicagoans.” Right: “The team comprises Chicagoans.” Far better: The team is composed of Chicagoans.

This Tom Stern classic was originally published on January 28, 2013.

Source: The Word Nerd: Six Pitfalls Writers (and Others) Should Avoid – Grammar and Punctuation

Published in: on July 24, 2018 at 10:28 PM  Leave a Comment  

When to Say “Blest” and When to Say “Bless-ed” (Plus, a Little Quiz)

blessedFor our Wednesday post this week we are privileged to have a lesson on grammar while also incorporating a “word Wednesday” feature. That’s because today’s  GrammarBook.com lesson (sent by email to my box this morning) is on “Pronouncing the Word ‘Blessed’.”

“Blessed” is a familiar enough word to us – we hear people say all the time, ‘Have a blessed day” and we know the Bible uses this word frequently, as in Jesus’ Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” – but when do you pronouce it ‘blest” and when do you pronounce it “bless-ed”?

Let this grammar lesson help set us straight or keep us straight:

We received a number of inquiries from readers asking about the proper pronunciation of the word blessed when used in a way that we were not aware of when our original e-newsletter on this subject was issued on August 11, 2012. In order to provide what we hope is now complete coverage of the topic, today we are adding a fourth rule to our article:

Rule 1. When blessed is used as a verb, it is pronounced with one syllable (blest).
Example: Before we ate, our uncle Tony blessed [blest] the meal.

Rule 2. When the word blessed is used as part of an adverb (blessedly) or a noun (blessedness), it is pronounced with two syllables (bles-id).
Examples:
She hugged him blessedly [bles-id-lee, adverb] upon learning he had quit his bad habit.
The Eucharist is revered for its blessedness [bles-id-nes, noun] within the Christian faith.

Rule 3. When blessed is used as an adjective, it is typically pronounced with two syllables (bles-id). However, in certain cases, it may be pronounced with only one syllable (blest) as an isolated instance of inflection developed through familiarity with American English.
Examples:
Annie’s baptism was a blessed [bles-id] moment, particularly for her devoted grandparents.
Blessed [bles-id] are the poor. But The poor are blessed [blest, adjective].

Rule 4. When the blessed is used as a noun meaning “blessed one,” “people who are blessed,” or “those whose souls are in heaven” (Collins Dictionary), either pronunciation blest or bles-id may be used.
Example: They are the blessed [blest or bles-id] who live their lives selflessly.

And if you are up for the quiz, here you are (Don’t be overly critical of the way “blessed” is used in these examples; they’re just examples):

Pop Quiz

1. The priest blessed (pronounced blest or bles-id) the candles at the ceremony.

2. The couple was blessed (pronounced blest or bles-id) with a healthy baby girl.

3. I don’t have a blessed (pronounced blest or bles-id) dime to my name.

4. The blessed (pronounced blest or bles-id) walk with the angels.

Published in: on June 6, 2018 at 10:20 PM  Leave a Comment  

Grammar Check! Churchill’s Speech, or Shall I or Will I Use the Right Auxiliary Verb?

Today’s Grammarbook.com email had an important quote and an important grammar lesson. The quote is from a famous speech of Winston Churchill (cf. box above and the article below), and the grammar lesson is on the proper use of “shall” and “will” as auxiliary verbs.

Here is the first part of the lesson; find the rest at the link below. As you will see, once again there has been a change in language use when it comes to these verbs too – and not always with increased clarity. Yet, while there is some flexibility according to the experts (and maybe some confusion!), we can still follow proper grammar in our use of “shall” and “will.”

Few will ever forget the words spoken by Winston Churchill in June 1940 under the thickening shadow of Nazi aggression:

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

In a moment of such immortal conviction, none would have thought to question whether Churchill was using the correct auxiliary verb to express his nation’s resolve. His words are as powerful and inspiring today as they were almost 80 years ago.

Notwithstanding, if English teachers of the day had reviewed Churchill’s speech before he gave it, they would have alerted the leader to the usage of shall versus will:

• To express a belief regarding a future action or state, use shall. To express determination or promise (as Churchill was), use will. As a further example, a man who slips from a roof with no one around and hangs on to it by his fingers will cry, “I shall fall!” A man who climbs to a roof in order to fall from it will cry, “I will fall!”

• To simply communicate the future tense (without emphasis on determinationpromise, or belief) in formal writing, use shall for the first person (Iwe) and will for the second and third persons (you, he, she, they): I shall go to the store tomorrow. They will go to the store tomorrow.

Such established grammatical strictures once made discerning shall from will easy for English users. Through the years, however, the words’ functions have blurred; in common writing and speech, they are often interchangeable and seldom precise.

Adding to the matter, style and grammar sources offer differing views on when to use shall or will. The Harbrace College Handbook asserts the auxiliaries are transposable for the first, second, andthird person. It also declares will is more common than shallshall is used mainly in questions (Shall we eat?) and might also be used in emphatic statements (We shall overcome.).

It further upholds the teaching of Churchill’s day to use shall in the first person and will in the second and third to express the simple future tense or an expectation: I shall stay to eat. He will stay to chat with us.

To communicate determination or promise, however, it slightly departs from the Queen’s classic English. Rather than always use will, it flips its order for the future tense or an expectation (i.e., will in the first person; shall in the second and third). Grammatical form for those intent on falling from a roof would thus be “I will fall!” (first person) or “You shall fall!” (second person).

Source: Shall I or Will I Use the Right Auxiliary Verb? – Grammar and Punctuation

Published in: on May 2, 2018 at 10:41 PM  Leave a Comment  

Practical Punctuation: That Pertinent Period

well-tempered-sentence-gordon-1983Back in February we started to take a look at the importance of punctuation, using Karen E. Gordon’s fun little book The Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1983).

Let’s continue by considering part of her first section on the period – yes, that little dot (.) at the end of sentences and other significant parts of words and writings.

Most of what she includes here is obvious and already known. But there are two aspects to the use of the period that we (I include myself) often forget and misuse.

For our benefit, I post those here today, along with her helpful examples (the main points are in bold). I cannot, however, duplicate her fancy stem with leaves at the beginning of these points. You will simply have to picture them where the bullets are.

  • Do not use a period at the end of a sentence that is part of another sentence.
    The rage and irony in his voice (I could hardly fail to notice the scorn with which he addressed me) alternated with a solicitous smile.

    Le Beau’s remonstrance, ‘You are always late and unwelcome besides,’ made her apologize and cry.

 

  • Periods belong inside parentheses or brackets enclosing an independent sentence. If the enclosure is part of a larger sentence, the period is placed outside the parentheses or brackets. Periods go within quotation marks except when single quotation marks set off special terms.

    They were curled up beside their radio listening to Gustav Mahler’s “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart.”

    We were hard at work on the second revision when Samuel slapped my face. (He had shown such irrational devotion to his own opinions before.)

    She said, “I have just finished writing ‘The Treacherous Bend in the Rainbow.'”

 

These points and examples are found on pages 16-17.

 

Published in: on April 3, 2018 at 10:22 PM  Leave a Comment  

Tackling More Tricky Word Choices: Issue vs. Problem

To start this new year, GrammarBook.com has been focusing on proper use of words that are close in meaning but often confused. The differences between them can be subtle yet significant, as we saw last time with the conjunctions “as”, “since,” and “because.”

In today’s grammar lesson they focus on “another pair of tricky, freely swapped words” : “issue and problem”. What follows is the important distinction between these two, plus a little quiz to help keep us on the “straight and narrow.”

The primary meaning of issue is “a point or matter of discussion, debate, or dispute between two or more parties.” Other relevant definitions include “a matter of public concern” and “a misgiving, objection, or complaint.” 

Problem, on the other hand, communicates “a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution,” “an intricate unsettled question,” “a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation,” and “difficulty in understanding or accepting.” 

Some dictionaries have helped blur the distinction by allowing the concept of problem to trickle into definitions of issue. Within dictionary entries, appearances of problem under meanings of issue range from near the top to much farther down. 

For example, the online American Heritage Dictionary introduces problem in its second definition of issue, immediately following the first and more weighted one. Conversely, the online Oxford English Dictionary does not mention problem as related with issue until the sixteenth definition. Merriam-Webster alludes to problem in definition six. Dictionary.com does not introduce the idea of problem at all. 

So what, then, do careful writers do when common usage and even dictionaries muddy our mission for precision? We recommend an even greater focus on using issue and problem as we’ve distinguished them here. This will help reinforce the exactness English offers us.

We acknowledge that issue and problem will still be exchanged in spoken communication. At the same time, now that we better understand the difference, we can lead more-accurate usage by keeping their intended primary meanings within our own speech.

And now here is your “pop quiz” to test what you’ve just learned:

Choose either issue or problem as it fits by its main definition in each sentence.

1) I think we have a serious (issue / problem) with the balance sheet. The numbers are way off.

2) Do you think he has (an issue / a problem) with his focus during meetings?

3) The main (issue / problem) here is whether we should allow the empty twenty acres west of Route 45 to be rezoned for commercial use.

4) The council will soon discuss the (issue / problem) of a proposed hike in water rates.

So, how did you do? If not so well, are you facing an issue or a problem? 🙂

Source: Tackling More Tricky Word Choices: Issue vs. Problem – Grammar and Punctuation

Published in: on March 21, 2018 at 10:22 PM  Leave a Comment