The R’s That Aren’t

Today’s entry has to do with pronunciation and a couple of nasty “r’s” that have indecorously intruded into some otherwise wonderful words.

The victimized words are “persevere” and “sherbet.” The first has two r’s—not three. The second has one r, not two.

So what the first word isn’t is per-ser-veer. It’s actually per-suh-veer. (with no r in the middle of the word). In other words, there’s no serve in persevere.

That wonderful summertime confection is not “sure, Bert.” It’s pronounced shur-bit. (I know, the –bet part of the word should technically be pronounced bet, not bit. But it’s enough of a victory to get rid of Bert!)

I don’t know how those sneaky little “r’s” have snuck into those words. But let’s make an effort to keep them out!

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Date and Time: Plural or Singular?

Is the phrase “date and time” plural or singular?

If you Google this question, you’ll get a number of conflicting answers, so I will simply offer my best thoughts on the subject.

On the surface, when someone asks you to verify a date and time, or suggests one, it seems logical to some of us to say that “the date and time are” because they seem to be two separate items. Wouldn’t we say “the man and woman are…” or “the table and couches are…”?

But the phrase “date and time” is becoming a singular item in our thoughts and communications, and it’s fine now to say “the date and time is…”.

Think of it this way: The date is the broader term, and the time is a subset of the date; the time is set within the date. So we are expressing a single moment— a time that happens to be set within a certain date, and this is therefore a single entity.

English is such a fluid language, and we must realize we’re in the middle of a transition from a plural to a singular. (Some folks are used to considering them as two separate entities, so they will continue to use the plural. Be kind to them.)

But for the rest of us—the date and time is….!

My thanks to Clint Morgan and his daughter Michelle for this wonderful suggestion!

Very

Very is a word commonly used when speaking, though it’s criminally overused. But we’re a dramatic culture, and its strong presence is here to stay.

Where we can go wrong is using it for words that can’t be qualified using that word. Aside from the mistake of pairing it with unique—which is important enough to warrant its own separate blog—very is often used with first and last. “The very first thing he did was…,” or “It’s in the very last chapter of the book.”

Think about it. What’s the difference between the very first and the first? The correct answer is “Nothing.” What’s the difference between the very last and the last? The answer is an even more emphatic: “Nothing!”

First and last can’t be described as somewhat first or extremely last. Can’t be done. If it’s first, it’s first. Same with last; if it’s last, it’s last.

So let’s leave these nice strong words alone, and let them stand up for their own meaning without any help from a word that shouldn’t precede them.