Numbers and Numerals

I used to wonder what the difference was between “number” and “numeral.” Now, I think I have it figured out.

A numeral is a symbol that represents a number. So what is a number? Think of it as meaning a quantity.

When we use numbers in our written work, the question is often, “Should I use a numeral or spell out the number?”

Here are some of the things it depends on:

Which rule are you going to use? Will you spell out the numbers from zero to one hundred, or zero through nine? I have even seen rules made up by publishers who say their preference is to spell out zero to twenty and use symbols for the rest.

Let’s say you spell out zero to one hundred in your writing. You should also spell out round numbers like the hundreds, thousands and millions. So you might write: The population of the town was thirty-two thousand, but after fifty-one more people moved in, the population went up to 32,051.

(Thirty-two thousand is a round number so it is spelled out, fifty-one is not a round number but it is spelled out because of the zero to one hundred rule, and 32,051 is written in numerals because it is over one hundred, but not a round number.)

If a sentence begins with a number, it should be spelled out.

Three hundred fifty-five students attended the school.

All of the 355 students were in attendance on the last day of school.

One more thing; when spelling out numbers over one hundred, do not include “and.”

It should be three hundred fifty-five; not three hundred and fifty-five.

What Time is it?

4:00 p.m.

All of the above are correct. I’ve seen the abbreviations for a.m. (ante-meridiem) and p.m. (post meridiem) written in capitals (4 AM and 4 PM), but that is not considered correct in the American style of writing. If you use it in a headline or a list, it might be considered acceptable (Burglar Breaks Into House at 4 AM), but otherwise, it’s best to stick to the  lowercase form.

Occasionally the a.m. or p.m. abbreviations are shown in small capitals, but it is not the most desirable method.

My own preference is the use of numbers rather than words, followed by the lowercase denotation of before noon or after noon.

e.g. 5:30 a.m. or 10:15 p.m.

If you want to write “in the morning” or “in the evening” after the time, be sure not to use both the abbreviation and the explanation.

Rise or Raise

Rise and raise are two different verbs, but they are often confused. They both mean some form of going up, but the difference in meaning and in their use is subtle.

Just like lie and lay, it has to do with subjects and objects. I will colour the subject in blue and the object (where there is one) in red. The verb is in green.

If there is no object, you are probably wanting the verb “to rise.”

Here are some examples:

I rise from my chair.

Cream rises to the top.

The sun rises in the east.

All rise for the judge.

The subject of the sentence gets up, or moves upward.

Once it has done that, it has risen.

Yesterday it rose.

The sun peeks over the horizon and is still rising. It was rising in the sky all morning.

*****

But, if the subject causes something else to rise (that is, if it has an object), we use raise. Notice the object (in red) in each sentence.

The guard raises the flag.

The parents raised their children well.

The crewman was raising the anchor.

The crew had raised the anchor many times before.

There is one common use of rise that is a bit different where it takes an object.

I’ve heard the expression in baking, “rise the yeast.” I think this is really a short form meaning that you cause the yeast to rise. It should say you “let the yeast rise.”

Anyway, it wouldn’t be English if there weren’t an exception or oddity to the rule.

Oh, Those Pronouns!

A note as an aside before I launch into problems regarding the use of pronouns.

I don’t mind checking the boxes when filling out forms if it asks Male, Female or Other. I suppose it’s justified to ask because sometimes people can’t tell from my name that it is a girl’s name. BUT, I draw the line at announcing to the world what my pronouns are. My feeling is that we are what we are born with and our anatomy decides for us. If we want to engage in cross gender activities, or if we feel we have more affinity to a different gender, that is nobody else’s business and I say, “Do what ya feels.”

But when it comes to grammar, let’s try to use our pronouns properly.

Subjective pronouns tell us who or what the sentence is about. Objective pronouns receive the action in the sentence.

First, we use I, you, he, she, it, we, and they when they are the subject of the sentence, so let’s call those subjective pronouns.

Example: I, you, he, she, it, we, or they open(s) the door.

When they are the object in a sentence, we use me, you, him, her, it, us, and them, so let’s call those objective pronouns.

The car hit me, you, him, her, it, us, and them.

That seems straightforward enough. The trouble starts when we use more than one word for the subject or the object.

I often see sentences like this:

Me and Joe went to town.

Me and him went to town.

Me and them went to town.

These are wrong for several reasons.

1. Me, like him and them, are pronouns to be used when they are the object, not the subject, so in the examples above, they should be I, he, and they.

2. Where are your manners? Me, me, me! It is polite to name the other person first; so not Me and Joe, but rather Joe and I. (This is when the pronouns are the subject.)

If you are not sure whether the pronoun should be me or I (is it Joe and me, or Joe and I?) try out the sentence without the other person in it. Leave Joe out of the sentence. You wouldn’t say Me did something, so you wouldn’t say me and Joe did something (or even Joe and me did something). The same goes for me and him or him and me when these are the subject of the sentence.

So the other person is named first and then the subjective pronouns come next.

3. If the pronouns and other names involved are the object of the action, you should still name the other person(s) first, and the yourself using the objective pronoun.

Examples:

Wrong way.

The dog tried to bite me and Joe

The dog tried to bite Joe and I.

Right way.

The dog tried to bite Joe and me.

If you are labeling a photo of yourself with someone else in the picture, it is always polite to name the other person first, unless you are trying to establish identities by the position in the photo, such as:

From left to right, me, Joe, and Grandma.

Otherwise, name the others first and then yourself:

In the photo you see, Grandma, Joe, and me.

NOT:

Me and Joe and Grandma

So much to absorb, but it’s a start.

I said in my last post that this was a very old puzzle. In fact it was something one of my elementary school teachers wrote on the board (and that was a LONG time ago) and then asked, “Can you figure out how to punctuate it?”

time flies you cannot they go too fast

So here is the answer (and I admit that it’s a stretch and it’s kind of silly). It does show how important punctuation is though.

Does Punctuation Matter?

We are probably all aware of the book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” by Lynne Truss.

The title already makes us think about punctuation. Where should the commas, periods, and question marks go.

Here is a very old puzzle along the same lines. Can you figure out how to punctuate it?

time flies you cannot they go too fast

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

It’s been around the block a few times, so apologies if you’re already familiar with it.

Lay/Lie

Sadly I still come across the misuse of lay/lie.

Here, once again, are the declensions of lay and lie.

Present Tense

I lie (down) right now.

He/She/It lies down right now.

We lie down right now.

You lie down right now.

They lie down right now.

Other forms:

am lying, is lying, are lying

e.g. I am lying on the bed.

Past Tense

I lay down yesterday.

He/She/It lay down yesterday.

We lay down yesterday .

You lay down yesterday.

They lay down yesterday.

Other forms:

have/has lain

e.g. I have lain on the bed long enough.

Here comes the tricky part. When the subject of the sentence is setting something down, the present and past tenses go like this:

Present Tense

I lay (the parcel on the bed) right now.

He/She/It lays (the parcel on the bed) right now.

We lay (the parcel on the bed) right now.

You lay (the parcel on the bed) right now.

They lay (the parcel on the bed) right now.

Other forms:

am/are laying

e.g. I am laying the paper on the chair.

Past Tense

I laid (the parcel on the bed) yesterday.

He/She/It laid (the parcel on the bed) yesterday.

We laid (the parcel on the bed) yesterday.

You laid (the parcel on the bed) yesterday.

They laid (the parcel on the bed) yesterday.

Other forms:

was/were laying

e.g. The hens were laying an egg a day.

have/has laid

e.g. They have laid enough eggs to feed the whole family.

And lastly, there is the verb to lie when it means to tell an untruth.

Present Tense

I lie

He/She/It lies.

We lie.

You lie.

They lie.

Other forms:

am/are lying

Past tense:

I lied.

He/She/It lied.

We lied.

You lied.

They lied.

Other forms:

were lying, have lied, had lied

This reminds me of a story. A little boy of about six or seven told what his mother suspected was a lie. His mother had no way of knowing for sure so she said, “Okay. Stick out your tongue. If you’re lying I’ll know because your tongue will be black.” The boy refused to stick out his tongue and she knew he had been lying to her.

Say You’ll Come

Young Julia was hopelessly in love with Michael. Handsome, kind, and fun to be with, he played the violin so sweetly, and he doted on Julia. Unfortunately, war came and circumstances made it difficult for their romance to continue.

Fast forward twenty years. World War II has been lost. Julia, now a widow with two small children, is trying to rebuild  her life after postwar atrocities left her raped, homeless, and deported.

Gradually she rebuilds her life, but her new husband is hard to live with at times. Sure, he loves her, but you would never know it, the way he treats her.

A letter arrives from Canada. “You can’t believe how happy I am. Twenty years I’ve been searching for you and at last the Red Cross has found you.  Please come to me in Canada for a better life. Say you’ll come. Love, always, Michael.”

By some miracle, her first sweetheart is still alive.  What to do?

The paperback version is also available on all amazon sites and on Smashwords.com.

Five More for your List

morale/moral

Morale (accent on the second syllable) usually refers to the general mood of a person or group. Are they enthusiastic and encouraged, or are they discouraged?

Moral (accent on the first syllable) is a lesson, often learned in a story like a fable. How often have we heard, “And the moral of the story is….”?

flair/flare

If someone has a flair for doing something, they have a natural talent or special skill. For example, my friend has a flair for home decorating.

A flare could be a light spreading out in a fan shape, a blaze, or a device that produces that flash of light. It could also refer to the fan shape of a pantleg. In the ’70s, pantlegs flared out at the bottom.

lightning/lightening

A flash of light in a thunderstorm is lightning (no e).

If something gets lighter in colour or in weight, we could say the sky is lightening, or the load is lightening. Think of getting lighter, as in to lighten, therefore, it is lightening.

dice/die

Those cubes with dots are called dice. One of the cubes is called a die. But dice has been used as the singular for so long, that it is now accepted as meaning one or more cubes.

And now for the most fun one – how do you spell a teeny tiny thing?

It is minuscule.

I think I have always spelled this one wrong because I was thinking “mini,” when I should have been thinking “minus.”

There is only one i in minuscule, but there are two u’s.

Here Come the Relatives

When do you put a hyphen in the words for relatives? When do you use a capital letter?

I still struggle with the hyphenation. The capitalization is easier.

It works a bit like mom and dad. If you use the word as the proper noun (like a person’s name), it’s capitalized.

e.g. Did you bake a pie today, Grandma? Did Mom help you?

but

My grandma baked a pie. My mom helped her.

Same goes for aunt and uncle.

e.g.

Are your aunt and uncle in town?

Yes, Aunt Mary and Uncle John are visiting us.

And now for hyphenation.

All the “grands” are one word:

grandmother, grandma (not gramma), grandfather, grandpa (not grampa), grandson, granddaughter (yes, it has two d’s), grandchildren.

If you put “great” in front of these words, put a hyphen after “great.”

great-grandmother, great-grandma, great-grandfather, great-grandpa, great-grandson, great-granddaughter, great-grandchildren.

great-great-grandmother.

The in-laws get hyphens; the outlaws don’t.

brother-in-law, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, father-in-law, parents-in-law.

The blended family gets special treatment.

half sister, half brother (no hyphen, separate words)

stepsister, stepbrother, stepmother, stepfather, stepparents  (no hyphen, ONE word)

but

step-granddaughter, step-great-grandson

This would give me a headache, so I make a quick list where I can look them up. If you want you can just print this page.