Clear Writing Requires Use of Correct Idioms

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 offends 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 or write “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 possessed of
ability 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.

Also heard all too often is, “Listen up,” when simply “Listen here, ” or “Listen to me,” is better. Many television advertisements rely on the giveaway phrase, “It’s for free,” when “It’s free” will do nicely.

Here is a short list of correct prepositional idioms:

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

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

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

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

correspond to part from
(things) (a person)

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

in accordance with the position of

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.

Copyright © 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.


Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

2 responses to “Clear Writing Requires Use of Correct Idioms

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