Hypercorrection

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Hypercorrection

Postby kazvorpal » Tue Oct 11, 2011 8:29 pm UTC

My biggest English grammar pet peeve isn't the people who are simply ignorant of either the rules or logic of English, but those who try to sound/look smart, by (ab)using rules they clearly don't understand.

He and I
An obvious example of this is when people use "he and I" for the predicate, where "him and me" was correct.
"It's a great thing to happen to he and I."
The answer, of course, is simply to take out the "he and" and see how it sounds:
"It's a great thing to happen to I."
It sounds wrong, because it's the predicate, so you use the predicate pronouns "him" and "me".

Apostrophe
Another, more pathetic one, is when people have seen so much mocking of apostrophe abuse that they stop using apostrophes at all, in order to avoid getting called out on it. I find "Its a dogs life." to be even worse than "It's yard had gone to the dog's."

Now here's where I'll start losing some of you:

Prepositions
In fact, it's perfectly OK to end a sentence with a preposition. Thank public school teachers for drilling you with an imaginary rule. The fact is that prepositions function as modifiers for verbs, outside of prepositional phrases, and they often end a phrase that way. The point of the guideline about avoiding ending a sentence is only in regards to prepositional phrases, and only to avoid certain awkward wordings.

You feel BAD, not "badly"
It boggles my mind that so few syntactic pseudointellectuals actually seem to understand what an adverb is. It's a word that modifies a verb...not simply any word that is too close to a verb. "Bad" in the above phrase modifies the subject, YOU, not your act of feeling. If you "feel badly", you may have some kind of nerve damage.

Double Negatives
I don't know how widespread this is, but I recently got into a debate with an English professor, who was claiming that double negatives are never acceptable. She actually claimed that phrases "never uncertain" or "not disagreeable" should be avoided, because they negate themselves. That, of course, is absolutely silly. The problem with "We don't need no education" is not that there are two negatives, but that the negatives make the meaning of the sentence the opposite of what is intended. When the goal is FOR the negatives to cancel out, it's perfectly acceptable.

Split infinitives
For better or worse, most people don't actually engage in this hypercorrection, because they don't really know what an infinitive is. But they can recite the rule...which does not actually exist. Inflective languages have such a rule, but English does not. It can actually be awkward to try to keep "to" near the actual infinitive.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue Oct 11, 2011 8:37 pm UTC

If you don't already, you should read Language Log. You would probably appreciate Geoff Pullum's endless crusade against hypercorrective prescriptivism.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Oct 11, 2011 9:35 pm UTC

kazvorpal wrote:Now here's where I'll start losing some of you:
Hi, welcome to xkcd. You'll find that nothing you've said here is actually particularly radical among people here. Most of us know how these bits of grammar work in practice, and have long since driven off most of the hypercorrectionists who once (what's the opposite of graced?) us with their presence.

The point of the guideline about avoiding ending a sentence is only in regards to prepositional phrases, and only to avoid certain awkward wordings.
Actually, I suspect this comes instead from the notion that Latin is the only language with the One True Grammar, and that languages are used correctly to the extent that they're used like Latin.

When the goal is FOR the negatives to cancel out, it's perfectly acceptable.
That person's hypercorrectiveness was indeed ridiculous, but it's worth pointing out that in many dialects it's also perfectly acceptable when the negatives are meant to reinforce each other.

Inflective languages have such a rule
Do they? I was under the impression that most other languages have single-word infinitives, so it's less a matter of rules saying you shouldn't split them and more one of morphology saying it's impossible to sensibly do so.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby goofy » Tue Oct 11, 2011 10:03 pm UTC

kazvorpal wrote:He and I
An obvious example of this is when people use "he and I" for the predicate, where "him and me" was correct.

Object-position "X and I" dates from the 1600s at least, so it can't be solely due to hypercorrection.

kazvorpal wrote:You feel BAD, not "badly"

It has an interesting history and has been used by such syntactic pseudointellectuals as Thurber, Doctorow, Richler, and Whitman. Feel badly is also probably not due to hypercorrection - if it was, we should find things like feel sadly and feel angrily.

hypercorrection
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Derek » Tue Oct 11, 2011 10:53 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:(what's the opposite of graced?)

I don't know if there is one, but I think "grossed" would make an excellent antonym for "graced".
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue Oct 11, 2011 10:59 pm UTC

goofy wrote:
kazvorpal wrote:He and I
An obvious example of this is when people use "he and I" for the predicate, where "him and me" was correct.

Object-position "X and I" dates from the 1600s at least, so it can't be solely due to hypercorrection.


Hypercorrection is timeless and English Latin scholarship, the likely origin of using the subject pronoun where an object pronoun would usually be seen, certainly predates the 17th century.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Deva » Tue Oct 11, 2011 11:17 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:(what's the opposite of graced?)

Disgraced? Might select "polluted" or "befouled" first. Likes "contaminated" too.
Changes its form depending on the observer.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Lazar » Wed Oct 12, 2011 12:08 am UTC

kazvorpal wrote:Double Negatives
I don't know how widespread this is, but I recently got into a debate with an English professor, who was claiming that double negatives are never acceptable. She actually claimed that phrases "never uncertain" or "not disagreeable" should be avoided, because they negate themselves. That, of course, is absolutely silly. The problem with "We don't need no education" is not that there are two negatives, but that the negatives make the meaning of the sentence the opposite of what is intended. When the goal is FOR the negatives to cancel out, it's perfectly acceptable.

The term for that as a rhetorical device is litotes. One of my personal favorites is "non-negligible".
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby goofy » Wed Oct 12, 2011 2:56 am UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:
goofy wrote:
kazvorpal wrote:He and I
An obvious example of this is when people use "he and I" for the predicate, where "him and me" was correct.

Object-position "X and I" dates from the 1600s at least, so it can't be solely due to hypercorrection.


Hypercorrection is timeless and English Latin scholarship, the likely origin of using the subject pronoun where an object pronoun would usually be seen, certainly predates the 17th century.


When was English grammar first taught in school? Although there were prescriptive manuals as early as the 16th century, there was no large-scale movement to fix or standardize English grammar and spelling until the 18th century. I think it's very unlikely that a lot of thought was given to things like object-position "X and I" before the 18th century. No one wrote about it. One of the earliest formulations of the hypercorrection theory for between you and I is from 1892.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby PM 2Ring » Wed Oct 12, 2011 4:02 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote: Most of us know how these bits of grammar work in practice, and have long since driven off most of the hypercorrectionists who once (what's the opposite of graced?) us with their presence.

I like Deva's suggestion of "disgraced", but I suppose that a good antonym in this context would be "burdened", to use a weight-based metaphor.

The point of the guideline about avoiding ending a sentence is only in regards to prepositional phrases, and only to avoid certain awkward wordings.
gmalivuk wrote:Actually, I suspect this comes instead from the notion that Latin is the only language with the One True Grammar, and that languages are used correctly to the extent that they're used like Latin.

To be fair, the earliest formal grammars of English were produced from scratch, using Latin grammar as a model, and at the time there were various good reasons for those grammarians to try to make English fit the Latin pattern.

They wanted to change the image of English from being a language that was "merely" a tongue of the common people, unsuitable for proper scholarly discourse, and Latinizing English was an effective strategy to accomplish that goal. For a century or two before that time English had been adopting and adapting an increasing number of Latin words, partly due to the increasing importance of science, so Latinizing the grammar was a natural progression.

Another advantage of Latinizing English grammar is that it made the process of translating between English and Latin & the Romance languages a little less convoluted, and scholars who were used to expressing themselves in Latin would find it natural to express their thoughts in English in a Latinized fashion.

(On a related note, many years ago, while reading Hindu metaphysics, I encountered a writer whose grasp of English was quite good, apart from a few odd usages. His writing style was very dense, and he could say more in one paragraph than many writers can manage to put into a whole page. At first I put the oddness down to the fact that English was probably his 3rd or 4th language, and that he was more at home discussing metaphysics in Sanskrit, but then it dawned on me that he was "manhandling" English into behaving more like Sanskrit. :) )

.
gmalivuk wrote:Do they? I was under the impression that most other languages have single-word infinitives, so it's less a matter of rules saying you shouldn't split them and more one of morphology saying it's impossible to sensibly do so.

That's certainly the case in Latin, Greek & many other Indo-European languages.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Iulus Cofield » Wed Oct 12, 2011 5:00 am UTC

It's actually possible to split an infinitive in Latin, in the perfect passive, future, and future passive forms. And you wouldn't want to split them because it could introduce ambiguity, although in most circumstances context would disambiguate it.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby PM 2Ring » Wed Oct 12, 2011 5:47 am UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:It's actually possible to split an infinitive in Latin, in the perfect passive, future, and future passive forms. And you wouldn't want to split them because it could introduce ambiguity, although in most circumstances context would disambiguate it.


I'm confused: how do you get perfect passive, future, and future passive forms of an infinitive? I guess the infinitive form of a verb can be part of a compound tense structure. Is that what you mean? (At school, I only studied a tiny amount of Latin, but I did French for 5 years).
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Derek » Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:26 am UTC

Latin has more infinitives than just present active. Wikipedia.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby PM 2Ring » Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:51 am UTC

Derek wrote:Latin has more infinitives than just present active. Wikipedia.

Ah. Rightio. Thanks, Derek & Iulus.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Роберт » Thu Oct 13, 2011 6:16 pm UTC

kazvorpal wrote: The problem with "We don't need no education" is not that there are two negatives, but that the negatives make the meaning of the sentence the opposite of what is intended.

I'd argue that there isn't a problem with the phrase "we don't need no education", given the context.

"I don't have no grammar problems!", intended to mean that the speaker is using appropriate English grammar, would be problematic.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Aiea » Thu Oct 13, 2011 7:05 pm UTC

I used a double negative on purpose today and it made a coworker go "what? that's a double negative, huh?". It amused me. To be specific, I said that "I don't think that spin class is not high impact." To me it made perfect sense. Of course, I was also thinking of this thread as I realized it was a double negative before I sent the message to him.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Oct 13, 2011 7:56 pm UTC

Aiea wrote:I said that "I don't think that spin class is not high impact." To me it made perfect sense.
If the sense it made to you was that it is, in fact, high-impact, then we're in agreement. And in fact even most grammar teachers would agree that the grammar is fine, if a bit more difficult than necessary to understand.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Papa7Matt » Fri Jan 13, 2012 10:28 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Aiea wrote:I said that "I don't think that spin class is not high impact." To me it made perfect sense.
If the sense it made to you was that it is, in fact, high-impact, then we're in agreement. And in fact even most grammar teachers would agree that the grammar is fine, if a bit more difficult than necessary to understand.


Not exactly. "I don't think that spin class is not high impact" doesn't specifically mean "I think that spin class is indeed high impact". It merely means that he doesn't believe it isn't. He may be completely agnostic regarding its spin class. That's why double negatives are not just permissible; they're useful.

But did I misuse a semicolon just now? I'm out of my league there.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Makri » Sat Jan 14, 2012 4:23 pm UTC

"not think that" does mean "think that not". That's called neg-raising, and it's a property of certain verbs of propositional attitude; "believe" and "think" are among them. Apparently, which verb are neg-raisers is language dependent, seeing as in German, "hope" is one, too.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby eSOANEM » Sat Jan 14, 2012 8:45 pm UTC

Makri wrote:"not think that" does mean "think that not". That's called neg-raising, and it's a property of certain verbs of propositional attitude; "believe" and "think" are among them. Apparently, which verb are neg-raisers is language dependent, seeing as in German, "hope" is one, too.


"I don't believe in a god" is a very different statement from "I believe there is no god", the former being the position of a negative atheist and the latter the position of a positive atheist. Also, "I don't think you're stupid" doesn't mean "I think you're clever" so clearly neg-raising, whilst undoubtedly possible is not the case with all "not think"/"not believe" situations.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby skullturf » Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:37 am UTC

Let's consider the sentence "I don't believe Charles Dickens had type B blood." (Or, replace the word "believe" with "think".)

I'll admit that sentence sounds slightly "off" to me. This is probably precisely because, in a great many cases, we say "I don't believe X" to mean "I believe not-X."

However, I think the following sentence is perfectly clear:

"I don't believe Charles Dickens had type B blood, and I don't believe he didn't have type B blood."

So although it may be true that "I don't believe/think X" can mean "I believe/think not-X", I don't think we can say it always means that.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Joeldi » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:31 am UTC

I would have thought that if someone says they feel badly, they're not trying to sound smarter, just more archaic. "She felt poorly and was taken ill" is something I'd say for the fun of it, and not something you'd hear outside of that sort of context.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby eSOANEM » Sun Jan 15, 2012 9:14 am UTC

Joeldi wrote:I would have thought that if someone says they feel badly, they're not trying to sound smarter, just more archaic. "She felt poorly and was taken ill" is something I'd say for the fun of it, and not something you'd hear outside of that sort of context.


Really? Poorly sounds archaic to you? 'tis common parlance down my way.

Also, it's worth noting that, poorly is an adjective here rather than an adverb so it's a different construction from "she felt badly". Furthermore, as far as I know, "she felt badly" has never been a standard part of any major dialect of English.
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Oflick » Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:31 pm UTC

Can we ever say "him and I"? I don't know how to use google.

skullturf wrote:However, I think the following sentence is perfectly clear:

"I don't believe Charles Dickens had type B blood, and I don't believe he didn't have type B blood."


I know this is missing the entire point of what you're trying to say and what the last few posts have all been trying to say, but wouldn't it be better to just say "I don't know Charles Dickens's blood type"?
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jan 16, 2012 3:32 am UTC

eSOANEM wrote:Also, "I don't think you're stupid" doesn't mean "I think you're clever"
True, but nor does "clever" mean the same as "not stupid".
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Fire Brns » Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:21 pm UTC

I agree on multiple counts. I have been known to incorrectly punctuate just because my writing has been recieved badly.

I particularly agree with the part about doble negatives; I believe people get all high and mighty over that rule because triple and + negatives are not good because they tend to create confusion and the people want to snip it at the bud.

I do not dislike when I speak Spanish and other people who are also second language types correct my double negatives. (In Spanish double negatives reinforce rather than cancel out.)
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Re: Hypercorrection

Postby Makri » Tue Jan 17, 2012 1:44 pm UTC

Actually, I think that "I don't believe in a god" would usually receive a neg-raising reading...

You people are right that neg-raising isn't entirely obligatory, but you need a special context to prevent it.
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