Persistent and occasional errors and changing usage (like "English Like It Is") as exemplified in more than 360 entries. Nearly 2000 citations in illustration are taken from the four British Sunday "quality" papers, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Observer and The Independent on Sunday, and The Irish Times, between 1994 and the present. Eighty-nine books and other publications are also quoted for comparison, and 54 usage guides and dictionaries are cited as authorities. Where American usage differs from UK usage, note is taken of the variations.
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Second edition, 2012 update
Note: the Hanged/Hung section contains a graphic description of execution. The Taboo section contains examples of how the papers deal with 4-letter words.
Age (Stone, Bronze, Iron)
Albeit, “All Be They”
All Right, Alright
Among, Amongst, Between
Anyone / Someone ... He / They
Archetype, Prototype, Epitome, Acme, Quintessence
As, Like (prepositions)
As (conjunction), Like (preposition)
As If, As Though, Like
As Well As
Avert, Avoid, Evade
Bare, Bear, Born, Borne
Beg the Question
But (as preposition)
California , etc. (US state adjectives)
Capacious, Commodious, Copious
Cleft Sentence (see Singular / Plural Nouns and Pronouns: “What (All That) Is / Are Needed Is / Are ...”
Clichés (Round Up the Usual)
Compare To, Compare With
Comprise, Consist, Compose
Consider, Regard, Fancy
Contraction (of the language)
Convince, Persuade, Dissuade
Correspond To, Correspond With
Dangling Subject or Object Modifier
Decapitate, Sever, Dismember
Description as Title
Different From, Different To, Different Than
Disinterested, Uninterested, Indifferent
Double Past; Double Present Perfect: “I would have liked to have done” – see Perfect Infinitive With Present Perfect
Doubtful, Dubious, Doubtless
Due To, Owing To, Because Of
Each, Every, Either (Historical note)
Each Other, One Another
Effective, Effectively, Efficient, Effectual, Ineffectual, Efficacious, Efficacy, “Ethicacy”
Else (Anyone, Anywhere)
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Euro and Cent
Except (as conjunction)
Few, Fewer, Little, Less
First(ly), Second(ly), etc.
Fortuitous, Fortunate, Adventitious
Groups of People – Singular or Plural
Groups of Things – Singular or Plural
Gunshots, Gunfire, “Bullet-Fire”
Hallmark, Earmark, Trademark, Benchmark
Hang/Hanged/Hanged – Hang/Hung/Hung
Heave, Hove, “Hoved”, “Hoving”
Hence, Henceforth, Thence, Thenceforth, Whence
Hither, Hitherto, Thither, Thitherto, Whither
Hopefully (and other sentence adverbs)
However (conjunction, adverb)
Ignoratio elenchi (See Rebut, Refute)
Ireland, Britain, British Isles, UK
“I would have liked to have done” – see Perfect Infinitive With Present Perfect
Just Because ... (It / This) Doesn’t Mean
(These / Those) Kind / Type
Like, Such As
Loath, Loathe, Loth
Massage / Message (Medium is the)
May Have / Might Have
Million, Billion, Trillion
Myth, Mythic, Mythical, Mythological, Legend, Legendary
Nauseous, Nauseated, Nauseating, Squeamish, Queasy
Neither … Nor (two or more things)
Number (A / The)
Subject - Verb
Either, Neither: Singular Pronoun
More Than One
One In Ten
Per Cent and Percentage
One (impersonal pronoun)
One of Those Who ... Is / Are
Pan, Pan Out, Panhandle
As ... as
Between ... and
Both ... and
Either ... or / Neither ... nor
From ... to
Miscellaneous Parallel Constructions
Not only ... but (also)
Only (dangling modifier)
Perfect Infinitive with Present Perfect (“I would have liked to have done”)
Prefer ... Than
Preposition at End of Sentence
Prepositions - Miscellaneous
Prevaricate, Procrastinate, Equivocate, Fabricate
Race, Racial, Racism, Racist, Racialism, Racialist
Rather (“had rather” or “would rather”)
Raze (to the ground)
Reason ... Is Because
Rebut, Refute, Ignoratio Elenchi
Redundant (Pleonasm, Tautology)
Singular / Plural Nouns and Pronouns
Singular Nouns with Plural Forms
“What (all that) is/are needed is/are ...” (Cleft Sentence)
Sort (for “sort out”)
Spirals – Downward, Deepening, Negative
Star / Sun Signs
Mandative Subjunctive (“ask that it be”)
If ... Was / Were Conditional
Wish ... Was / Were
“If/whether ... be” and “be he/she/it/they”
“Talismen”, “Shamen”, “Walkmen”
There Is, There Are
Try And, Try To
Verbs from Nouns
Weave, Weaved, Wove
When - conjunction, relative adverb, quasi-relative adverb
Who and Whom
Beg the question
“O shameless beggar, that craveth no less than the whole controversy to be given to him!” (William Fulke, “Heskins parleament repealed” - 1579)
“Begging the question” has nothing to do with a question in the usual sense of the word. I beg the question if I assume you accept as fact the basis of my statement without asking if you do. All authorities are clear on this: “to assume without proof” (OED2); “to use as a basis of proof something that itself needs proving” (DTW); “requesting an opponent to grant what the opponent seeks a proof of” (OCP).
Beg the question is usually used incorrectly for “raise/pose/prompt/leave the question” or “demand an answer to the question”. It is so seldom used correctly that the proper meaning is in danger of being lost. The confusion seems to be caused by the feeling that a question left unanswered is begging for a reply.
Guideline: mentally change “begs the question (of) whether” to “assumes you accept that”. If this makes nonsense of the statement, “begs” is incorrectly used for “raises”, etc.
Also, the use of a question mark or the indefinite article – “begs a question” – should alert the writer or editor that “beg” should be “raise”.
The cost of the 13 cars was apparently a modest £95,000. Which begs the question: why bother buying them? (STim 17/4/94 p. 3.12)
Her question, the one never before asked, was: how do dogs conduct themselves if left uncoaxed and undisturbed in normal circumstances? This of course begs the question: what are normal circumstances? (IoS 22/5/94 Review p. 32)
“Raises the question.” But it begs the question (of) whether modern dogs’ circumstances are ever natural.
Questions are definitely begged. What do pre-cancerous growths, for example, have to say about cancerous ones? And what about cancers outside the colon? (Obs 15/10/00 Magazine p. 35)
“Are raised” or “demand answers”.
“Yes, we have had problems with this before,” said the waiter, begging the question of why the hell it was still on the list. (STel 1/10/00 Magazine p. 53)
He has been described in awe as “Oliver Sacks as agony aunt”. Which begs the question, who would want Oliver Sacks as an agony aunt? Mind you, Leader’s last book, Why do women write more letters than they post? , also prompted a few questions, the first being, “do they?” (IoS 13/2/00 Culture p. 13)
“Begs” should be “raises”. “Prompted ... they?” could be “begged the question of whether they do”.
Crackdown on market researchers who beg questions and bend answers [head] ... a number of [Confederation of British Industry] members complained of a “leading question” in the survey which encouraged respondents to say they were in favour of the euro in principle. (IoS 9/9/01 p. 1.6)
Yielding to the temptation to appear clever, the sub-editor responsible for the head has equated the posing of a leading question with begging the question.
“... taking half the brain out of an animal while keeping it alive.” Which begs the question, as does all of White’s work: why would anybody want to do that? “For two reasons. ...” (STel 16/7/00 Magazine p. 21)
Not, you understand, because he craved status, but rather to do something worthwhile “again” (which begs so many questions). (STim 12/9/04 p. 1.30)
“Which begs the question” is the correct form to subtly imply that he had never done anything worthwhile.
“Wife? You want wife?” Huge almond eyes begged the question. (Obs 30/1/05 Escape p. 5)
Context suggests that “begged” without “the question” is meant here.
Comments by Ms Royal and other socialists imply that the right is using her [older] brother’s role in the Greenpeace bombing to smear her. However, this begs the fact that her own [younger] brother made the allegation. (ITim 3/10/06 p. 1.3)
“Ignores the fact.” The Right should be capitalised for clarity.
It all begs one key question: why? (STim 21/10/07 Magazine p. 41)
[James Joyce’s] Ulysses is indeed guilty of obscenity, “properly defined”, he asserts. ... “Properly defined” begs the question. People’s ideas of obscenity vary enormously, which means there can be no accurate definition. [in a review of James Joyce and Censorship by Paul Vanderham] (STim 1/2/98, p. 8.1)
This is a rare example, in a classic structure, of the proper use of “beg the question”. In the reviewer’s opinion, obscenity cannot be properly defined, so stating that Joyce is guilty of obscenity “properly defined” demands that the reader accept that it can be properly defined, without the author’s having established that it can be, or having asked the reader if he agrees that it can be.
All of which begs the question about whether such roles, even if they boost women’s salaries, really constitute progress for actresses in the long run. (STim 1/5/94 p. 9.17)
This is the correct use, but “question (of) whether”. It is not a question about anything.
And yet several questions beg to be asked ... (IoS 19/12/99 p. 1.18)
This is what most people nowadays seem to think “beg the question” means.
The palm for outrageous question-begging goes to the Who Made God “argument”. ... “The designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.” ... but why on earth should we assume this? (IoS 26/11/06 ABC p. 23)
... the fact that Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar, while both Ron Howard and Mel Gibson have the shiny gold statuette on their mantelpieces, illustrates how Oscar gets it wrong as often as not. (ITim 27/1/07 Weekend Review p. 6)
Although the term is not used here, this statement begs the question of whether – assumes everyone agrees that – Hitchcock was a more deserving director than Howard or Gibson.
... and prompting the question: what’s wrong with a soap and flannel? (Obs 19/9/04 OM p. 55)