Clear Writing Should Conform To Correct Idiom

Use of a faulty idiom is another writing fault that will impede your ability to write clearly.  A faulty idiom is an expression which, although using correct grammar and reflecting a correct meaning,  nevertheless combines words in a manner that is contrary to accepted usage.  “Ann enjoys to shop” is wrong, not because the combination of words offend logic or grammar, but because it is incorrect usage.  “Ann enjoys shopping” is better.  Also in the same category is the statement, “I know Pete for many years;” it is better to say, “I have known Pete for many years.”

Other commonly used idioms include the following examples:

                                      Faulty                                Correct

                                       listen at                                 listen to

                                       different than                       different from

                                       in the year of 2012              in the year 2012

                                       possessed with ability         possessed of ability

                                       independent from                independent of

                                       comply to                               comply with

                                       enamored with                      enamored of

                                       plan on                                   plan to

                                       try and                                    try to

There are no rules to follow for correct idioms; they simply must be learned.  A good approach is to make a list of them and memorize them as you would memorize new words.    Also, training the eye to be alert for the correct use of idioms (as you can train the eye for correct word association in learning good grammar), repeating aloud, writing, and visualization, are also useful for memorizing specific expressions that give you trouble.

In many idioms the meaning is controlled by a preposition.  A verb, adjective, or phrase must be used with the right preposition.  Sometimes, however, even using the right preposition can result in an incorrect idiom.  A very commonly misused phrase is “with regard [not regards] to.”  But “as regards (a matter)” or “with kind regards to (a person)” is correct.

 Another very common mistake is to write (or say) “I’m waiting on (someone or something)” when you should write or say, “I’m waiting for (someone or something).”     If you’re a baseball fan, you will recognize that this particular poor usage of words will, unfortunately, show up repeatedly during a game when an announcer describes a hitter as “waiting on the fastball (or other pitch),” instead of saying he’s “waiting for the (pitch).”  Also, often heard  in baseball parlance is an announcer describing a player’s action as “if he’s catching that ball,” instead of saying, “if he had caught that ball …”   It is regrettable that many people will write this way, because they will assume it is correct usage.

Another commonly heard phrase is “Listen up,” when the correct usage is “Listen here,” or “Listen to me.”  Finally, advertisers often include, “It’s for free,” in their advertising. The correct usage is simply, “It’s free.”

 Here is a short list of correct prepositional idioms:

                 accused of (a crime)                                        charge for (a purchase)

                 accused by (the police)                                   charge with (a violation)

                 agree with (an individual)                               convenient to (a person)

                 agree to (a proposal)                                        convenient for (a purpose)

                 correspond to (things)                                      part from (a person)

                 correspond with (a person)                              part of (a thing)

                 in accordance with                                           the position of

                 accord with                                                       a position as

                 angry at (a condition)

                 angry with (a person)

Another common fault is to mix idioms by using the first half of one idiom and the second half of another.

                   Wrong:  Stalin had no hesitation to use force.

                   Right: Stalin had no hesitation in using force.

                   Also right:  Stalin did not hesitate to use force.

Watch for my ebook,  “The Art of Clear Writing,” coming soon on Kindle.  Also, my article, “Antietam and Gettysburg, Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved the Union,” is now available on Kindle.

The next blog will be posted on Friday, July 13, 2012.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under clear writing, Writing Improvement

2 responses to “Clear Writing Should Conform To Correct Idiom

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