Language Tip 21 (2014-15)


“Research” is normally a non-countable noun and you can live a full and happy life without ever writing “researches.”

Some use it in the plural to mean “separate scientific investigations” but others (including the writers of these weekly tips) find “researches” very strange. If possible, it is therefore better to use just research, especially when you mean it in a very general way – e.g. “Research has shown…”

As you know, “study” is a regular ol’ count noun:

“A study has shown…”

“Studies have shown…”

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir

An ad hoc list of all tips from this academic year is available at:


Language Tip 20 (2014-15)

Spot the mistake in this sentence: “That is a belief in which we do not believe in.”

The mistake? A prepositional doubling-up (“That is a belief IN which we do not believe IN.”).

Other frequent examples:

“The theory of which we have been informed of.”
“The cousin with whom I went to the beach with.”

No great solutions here – just be vigilant!

Here are two links on the matter:…/plenary-session-david-cr……/on-world-in-which-we-li…

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 19 (2014-15)


The verb to age has to do with growing older, but the implication is generally that the person should be relatively close to old age (i.e. children don’t normally “age”) and that it is showing in their looks.

Both “aging” and “ageing” are acceptable spellings.

“Aging” is the more usual spelling in the US, while “ageing” appears to be more frequent in the UK.

In the past, Yorkshire children were taught to write “ageing,” while New Yorkers were taught to write “aging.”

From The New York Times: “An Aging Europe in Decline”

From The Guardian: “We know the population is ageing – now we must embrace the challenge”

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 18 (2014-15)

Visit vs. attend.

Here’s an easy way to remember the difference between “to visit” and “to attend”:

To visit means to go to some place or person to spend some time there, usually in your free time.
e.g. “Why don’t you come for a visit?”

When you go somewhere on a regular basis or for a more or less official purpose, we use the verb to attend (school, a funeral, a meeting).

e.g. “I was unable to attend the funeral because I was attending school.”

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 17 (2014-15)

The slash…

Try not to use it to separate synonyms:

“I went into the woods and saw a giant/huge toad.”

A sentence like that leaves the reader wondering:

1) What is there a difference between “giant” and “huge”?

2) If there is no great difference, why are both words needed?

3) Isn’t it the author’s job to choose the right word?

If you are signalling an alternative, remember that no space is needed before and after the slash (there are exceptions to this rule):

e.g. “he/she

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language tip 16 (2014-15)

Using expressions from other languages is risky and fine and replete with an “I don’t know what.”

A well-placed French or Latin or Slovenian expression can contribute to the impression of a well-educated writer.

However, there are other dangers.

First, you might sound pretentious (like you’re lording your knowledge of Ancient Greek over your reader).

Second, you might sound hackneyed. Phrases such as carpe diem, je ne sais quoi and crème de la crème are overused to the point of cliché.

Third, italics. When to use them? According to the Chicago Manual of Style, “Italics are used for isolated words and phrases in a foreign language if they are likely to be unfamiliar to readers.”

Fourth, it can be obvious that we simply can’t think of an English word…

Fifth, you need to be careful to write the word correctly, including accents. “garcon” [sic] is best avoided if you can’t find the cedilla on your keyboard.

Sixth, plurals can get messy. For example, if you order a “panini” (rather than a “panino”), you will not go hungry. If you speak of “tempos” after going to the opera, the chattering classes might wrinkle their collective noses. When it doubt, check the dictionary!

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 15 (2014-15)

Patterns with consider…

The verb “consider” is normally transitive, but the usage depends on the meaning:

1) “He considers me stupid” means “He thinks that I am stupid.”
2) “Please consider me as a partner” means “Please think about making me a partner.”

As you can see, mixing up the two can easily result in misunderstandings.

In terms of non-finite complementation, the usual pattern would be to say something is considered (i.e. believed) to have a healing effect (“…but you might consider having another child, for instance”).

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 14 (2014-15)

The best of … construction: It’s perfectly ok to say “under the best circumstances” or “under the best conditions,” but this is not the best possible way of expressing this idea.

In these particular cases, you can up the level a bit by using an of-phrase: under the (very) best of circumstances.

The challenge, of course, is how to think of such catchy phrases; one possible and surprisingly productive way of doing that is googling e.g. “under the best”.

Three examples

“We were working under the best of conditions.”

“We parted under the best of terms.”

“I studied under the best of tutors.”

(N.B. the overwhelming majority of hits will be for “the best of conditions” or “the best of circumstances”)

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 13 (2014-15)

Media as a plural noun – Originally, the Latin singular used in English is “medium,” and the plural is “media.”

Nowadays common usage prefers “media” as a singular noun, although it is still recommended to use it as a plural noun in educated written style. After all, your work may be graded by a stickler, so don’t take a chance.

One of us predicts that “the media are” will soon die out (even in academic circles), at least if these searches mean anything:

“social media are” – c. 1 million hits
“social media is” – c. 27 million hits

In any case, the form “medias” is not normally used by normal people.

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 12 (2014-15)

Holidays are a linguistic pain. This is because so much time passes between Good Fridays and All Hallows’ Eves and Victoria Days for you to forget what you said and spelled last time.

The Chicago Manual or Style says, “The names of secular and religious holidays or officially designated days or seasons are capitalized,” and provides a few examples – Christmas Day, Hanukkah, etc.

One problem solved. But that’s only part of the story.

Apostrophes are a problem. Remember, it’s New Year’s Eve, followed by New Year’s Day (see 6).

Other tips (use them at your own peril):
1) In the UK, say, “Happy Christmas.” In North America, say, “Merry Christmas.” Elsewhere, mumble. (Actually, this is a dodgy rule of thumb: the British National Corpus has 78 hits for “Happy Christmas” and 68 for “Merry Christmas” – and the latter may be gaining ground).

2) “Christmass” (sic) is a howler.

3) If in doubt about religion, etc., belt out “Happy Holidays!”

4) If you don’t really like the greetee, say “Season’s Greetings.” It’s the “have a nice day” of the Christmas season.

5) If you are very, very old, speak of “Yuletide.”

6) “Boxing Day” is the day after Christmas. Nobody knows what it is, but because it’s a day off in many countries, nobody complains.

7) “Happy New Year!” is the correct pre-snog (i.e. pre-midnight-kiss) greeting.
But if you slur “Happy New Year’s” and someone nit-picks, just argue that you meant it elliptically (i.e. short for “Happy New Year’s EVE”).
“Happy New Years” is wrong, unless you are wishing for future years as well.

8) You do not have to shake hands when you wish somebody “Happy New Year.” In fact, if they don’t know you well, they might find you weird. Oh, and that mistletoe stuff only happens in movies.

9) Sylvester is a Puddy Tat in English.

10) James Joyce’s “The Dead” never actually mentions that the aunts’ party is on the “Feast of the Epiphany” (January 6). This was news to one of us.

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir