Emerging Tech

Oh for the love of God, put a space after your verbs!

Got a writing or grammar peeve? Send it along and gain fans or raise the hackles of fellow TR members. Today's Guest Rant came (unsolicited) from editor Jody Gilbert.

Today we have a guest post from TechRepublic Senior Editor Jody Gilbert.

For the record, I don't scritch around in a tea-stained cardigan squinting over my co-workers' shoulders with admonitions like, "Uh, Toni, misplaced comma!" or "Aw man, Bill, that's a hideously deformed sentence frag!" I mean, how often am I even in the office?

And whenever I venture out on a rant like this one, I squeeze into an apologetic Kevlar vest of a disclaimer: Yeah, yeah, I KNOW language is fluid and needs room to change to accommodate new technology and cultural shifts. But sometimes, fluid is STOOPID. (Floopid: Neologism. See, I too am fluid.)

But this mindless compression of verbs and prepositions into some kind of superverb really needs to stop. So here comes the rant.

Verbs often have helper prepositions that follow them. For instance, "Clean up." As in, "Clean up the server room before anyone sees this mess." Sometimes, you don't need those helpers. (That's a separate issue.) But if you use them, they don't need to be bevel-jointed to their verb.

It's not, "Cleanup the server room." If it were, you'd end up with conjugations like this:

  • Mattie is cleanupping the server room.
  • We already cleanupped the server room.

So you know, that's just silly language squishing.

Here are some of the major offenders I see every day. Note that when you use them as nouns or modifiers instead of in verb form, eliminating the space is fine.

Shut down

  • No: Did you shutdown the workstation first?
  • Yes: Did you shut down the workstation first?
  • Yes: The shutdown procedure was interrupted.

Back up

  • No: Make sure you backup the registry.
  • Yes: Make sure you back up the registry.
  • Yes: Make sure you have a registry backup.

Set up

  • No: Before you setup your connection, check with IT.
  • Yes: Before you set up your connection, check with IT.
  • Yes: IT will handle your wireless setup.

Logon/Logoff

  • No: Be sure to logoff after completing the online transaction.
  • Yes: Be sure to log off after completing the online transaction.
  • Yes: Explain the logoff process to the new guy.

Rant along with me

Does this kind of thing drive you mad? Or do you think it's the depths of OCD depravity? Share your thoughts.

About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

471 comments
AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

"Failed to send email message about the changes made to the employee" Hint: No surgical operations were performed.

katlover7
katlover7

This discussion is ...fantastic, but not in a good way. That is to say, fantastic as in "unbelievable." I've just spent $2,000.00 and the past seven months studying grammar and punctuation, editing, etc. I'm always pleased when someone speaks up on behalf of grammar (and I hate misplaced apostrophes, too), but the length and one-upmanship in this conversation amazes me. From a difference of opinion regarding new words like "backup" we get to "Nazis"? Go back to work, people. Enjoy small things, breathe, and let go that tension.

sissy sue
sissy sue

You addressed one of my pet peeves. How about the notorious run-on sentence? Isn't that something most of us should have learned to avoid in the fourth grade?

hevans1944
hevans1944

have been terribly inconvenienced by this thread.

fullerwp
fullerwp

Some people are poorly educated. Some people were educated poorly. Some people have too much time allocated to non-productive endeavors.

stevec
stevec

... are becoming an endangered species. That's my pet peeve. I see this all over, especially in software, both manuals and interfaces. "When the dialog box displays, enter your name." What is the dialog box going to display? The verb "display" requires an object. A newspaper article about running out of numbers in an area code: "Because the area code is expected to exhaust in the third quarter of 2011, ..." Who or what is the area code going to exhaust? I think most of this is taught, as those who teach writing teach their students that they must avoid the dreaded PASSIVE VOICE. Your writing needs to be active! Then these writers engage in verbal contortions just to avoid the passive voice, and end up using transitive verbs intransitively. You know, there's a passive voice for a reason. There actually are times when it's okay to use it. In my opinion, it's worse to mangle your verbs than to use the passive voice. It just sounds wrong.

dcolbert
dcolbert

the verb it helps? "Verbs often have helper prepositions that follow them." I'm helping a french student with English studies right now... everything about English is backwards. Ironic - the add at the bottom of the screen right now is "Buscas oportunidad para una educacion?" They got the accent over the o right, but omitted the first, reversed question mark. :) *tsk tsk* I'd be better in Spanish if the names of the rules in English made more sense. I can't figure out the parts of grammar in my own language - how am I going to be taught how they work in a foreign language?

phsiii
phsiii

...in technical arenas, it's often "Did you LOGOFF that server?" (whether they actually capitalize it or not), in which case they're verbing a noun (command), but that's (arguably) legit. So in general I agree but several of your examples seem weak for the reason above.

Everq
Everq

No idea what verbs or prepositions are, so dream on about your new way of writing (and possibly seek psychiatric help, it the little irrelevant things like this that really end up driving people mad)

radar_z
radar_z

Language does change with usage whether we like it or not. It is hell for the people who write and update spell check (spellcheck?) programs. I write "internet" and "email", but many spell check programs insist on "Internet" and e-mail." We can thank Apple and Microsoft for the silly way these companies decided to combine two words into one such that I now have trouble deciding whether a single word is correct, or should it be two words? The earliest example I can think of is "AppleLink." Newspapers used to be standards for spelling and grammar. No more. Reading blogs is enough to make you throw up with the abbreviations, bad grammar and bad spelling.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It makes literal translations very interesting: Wirf dein Vater die Treppe hinunter seinen Hut = Throw your father down the stairs his hat. Don't punctuate, recreate: Unable to email employee about the changes made

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

as I pointed out above, way way way above, if you're actually using the noun back-up as a verb, you'd have to accept the form "back-upping", otherwise it's not the noun you're using, but rather the verbal construction back+up.

showbizk
showbizk

I'm retired! THIS is most of what I have to do!

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

For many of us, that *is* one of the 'small things we enjoy' for 'letting go of that tension'...on our way 'back to work'. See ya at the water cooler, kat.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Where long-standing tradition encourages discussions to wander where they will, and the people most likely to go 'off topic' are the moderators.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

as submitted by some of our users: "Microsoft Visio wants upgraded" "My battery needs replaced" I wasn't aware inanimate objects had wants and needs.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Use the full expressive spectrum of your language, from active to middle to passive, own it. Know when each will do what you want them to, and know what they're good for. Let's not be so proactive.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

One of the few benefits I gained from six semesters of Spanish 101 was a leading question mark. When I'm writing or typing a question that I want to follow up on later, I put a ? at the beginning. It makes the pending questions stand out from the rest of my notes.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

English says the 'white mountain' while the French says the 'mountain white.' It's all a matter of what you're used to, anything different seems odd. Now we can resolve this whole matter by passing laws to make everyone learn and use Esperanto.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

logoff has a different stress pattern than log off. Specifically, the second syllable of the compound noun has no stress, whereas the modifier of the verb log does have a stress (albeit not usually a very strong one). A test to show this: Contrastive emphasis - say these out loud: "Did you log ON or OFF?" (capitalization used to mark the hard stresses on the contrasted syllables) "Did the button read LOGoff or LOGon?" It's quite difficult to use emphatic stress on a normally unstressed syllable, especially if one wants one's audience to take one's meaning.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Hence the capital. There's only the one; there aren't multiple generic 'internets'.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

according to the New York State Board of Regents. Except the crossword.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

The example was a raw translation I made for an app GUI (raw, meaning a quick and dirty conversion of the basic sematic parts, before going to work on it with my hammer and blowtorch). As such, it had no period, because the source text had no period. I have to preserve form, after all. So, those issues aside, where would you put a comma? What is the problem, and what causes it? ;)

Darwood
Darwood

I'm pretty sure inanimate objects can have needs. "Your country needs you" "The car needs to be moved so the truck can get past" "The food needs to be cooked"

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

it would be 'upgrading' and 'replacement' that they would want and need, respectively.... "User needs slapped"

Darwood
Darwood

I love that about Spanish.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I'm not talking about the white. I'm talking about the mountain. Which mountain? The one that is white. So why do we flip it? The white house, or the casa blanca (le maison er... blanc... right?)

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

..effect on my writing's lucidity. Whenever you see a post of mine that strikes you as atypical of me in any way, check the time of day (GMT-5) that I posted it; 9:00AM--2:00PM EDT is the usual time I've just woken up (to a worn-off "12-hr release" narcotic), the worst I'll feel all day, and soon after, I'm the *best* I'll feel (little euphoric, even, occasionally) for the next 12hrs. Therefore, in the morning (when I'm apt to use TR Discussions to engage my mind reading and thus distract myself from pain until my medicine begins working), I'm often grouchy and ascerbic, and then, very soon after, happier than most! Neither of those states of mind are conducive to 'my more lucid material' around here, but it's often when I'm perusing my inbox. Some of my longer 'morning comments' on here actually change tone as I re-read them, during the time it took to compose and post. I'll have started out picking on someone's post's attitude(!), and before I hit 'submit', my medicine is roaring into town, and I've begun commiserating with my post's erstwhile 'target'...because I feel better. Some people are like that before their first cup of coffee starts working, I know, but my level of concentration is often attached to my mood, which--in the mornings, at least--is often attached to the daily war between my wiring-harness(!) and my analgesics. Regarding your parsing's recognition of the ambiguous nature of my sentence: *both* interpretations you gave it are correct. I'm hereby claiming the quick succession of 'pain chronic-yet-acute', followed by 'abundance of relief' for such posts as the one a half mile back about organic chemistry (to the exclusion of the 'Periodic Table of Dessert).... Now you know, gang of TR......(I'm no BALTHOR; but you might double-check anything too outrageous-sounding in comments I post during the above-mentioned hours. Sometimes I come back later and edit when more of my axons, synapses, and ELV CPU are on line...) ;)

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Look for yourself: you had two instances of brackets in your text: The first says "This sentenced is foobar (Ansu says "mea culpa"), so I am cutting it into two different levels as a quick hack". The other one shows a communicative intent, the bracket is required because you have two adjectives, and you want to place the kind-adjective closer to the noun than the temporal-adjective, even though the kind-adjective is the heavier one (preferred order: heavy-duty morning analgesic). Of course, if you used the preferred order, you would be implying that any other analgesics might be more light-duty than the morning one, whereas the non-preferred order does not suggest such a correlation, rather that you take heavy-duty analgesics, at least in the morning, but perhaps at other times as well.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

The problem is the scope of the preposition, or rather, which verb has it the preposition in its scope. In principle the subordinate phrases (about..., to...) are equals, but since the one (to...) could also suborn to the other, it's best to keep that one before the potential scope-stealer.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'd move 'to the employee' before 'about the changes made'.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

within parenthesis and lay the comma directly after, thus: "Failed to send email message (about the changes made), to the employee." ...but that's just me---and my morning (heavy-duty) analgesic just started working..... :D

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

The speaker wants to avoid making a command, themselves, or wants to transfer responsibility for their decision away from themselves. "The car needs to be moved" = "Move the car" "The food needs to be cooked" = "I don't want to deal with you now, so I'll be in the kitchen"

Darwood
Darwood

I think the user should say "My battery needs replacing" rather than "My battery needs replacement". Personally I would say "My battery needs to be replaced" or "I need/want to replace the battery in my...."

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But so are all the other translators as well. Every language has idioms and phrases that have to be translated as a whole because literal translations simply wouldn't make sense. Best to wait until the speaker finishes the sentence before translating.

Darwood
Darwood

Nightmare for real-time translators I should imagine.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

German still likes to place verbs at the end of sentences, just to annoy people. You have to process the whole sentence in one go, when you finally are told what the whole point was :^0

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

we want to keep the adjectives between the verb and the object. In french they say "He her sees" (SOV), where in English it's "He sees her" (SVO). Exchanging the object for a noun phrase: He the mountain white sees One possible factor may be sequencing: people talk linearly, and their audiences have to follow and attempt to sequence the lines into the meaningful segments intended by the speaker. Often we guess what the other is saying at some point, freeing up resources... perhaps the order of the adjectives relative to the verb is relevant for making it easier to segment the string.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

The linguist Joseph Greenberg discovered a whole set of correlations to do with basic word order (Subject before Verb? Subject before Object? >> SVO SOV VSO VOS OVS OSV). Take adpositions (post or pre), they often but not always occur on a path between verb and object, so while they're prepositions to the noun, they're often found following the verb in SVO languages (like English). OV type languages (i.e. SOV and OVS) exclusively use postpositions, not prepositions, and the same thing follows, postpositions are found before the verb. Similar tendencies are found for adjectives. Your french and spanish observations are covered in this: Universal 5. If a language has dominant SOV order and the genitive follows the governing noun, then the adjective likewise follows the noun. Of course, these are all just observed tendencies, but something about the use of language and the linear nature of speech makes us organize our languages in this way. You can see an excerpt his original article here; http://ling.kgw.tu-berlin.de/Korean/Artikel02/basicorder.html bear in mind this article was published in 1963, based on just 30 languages; the languages studied since have created samples of around 300 languages, but these basic observations still hold, under their own premises.