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02/19/01: Four Verb Errors to Avoid

In this newsletter we are looking at four very common verb errors. Can you spot the error in each of these sentences?

1. We can't hardly wait until the fair comes to town every year.
2. I was suppose to finish the project on Friday, but I did not.
3. Steve use to chair the finance committee, but now Helen is in charge.
4. Mary told her boss, Harry, that she was sick, but he acted as though he could care less and gave her more work to do.

The error in the first sentence is the phrase "can't hardly." Webster's Tenth gently points out that such usage is a "speech form . . . most commonly heard in Southern and Midland speech areas" but adds that the word "'hardly' is normally used with a positive." In our professional writing, then, we should say "can hardly" (or "could hardly," if appropriate) when we wish to suggest that an action (like waiting, in sentence 1) is difficult.

In sentences 2 and 3, the words "suppose" and "use" need the letter "d" added because the past participle and simple past tense forms of these two regular verbs end in "d." Many people don't hear the "d" when the words are pronounced, so they forget to write it.

We correctly use the verbs "suppose" and "use" in their present tense forms (without the "d") in constructions in which that tense is appropriate, as in these examples:

Sally, do you ever use that dictionary?
I suppose I will give her the money if she asks for it.

In some present tense constructions, "use" and "suppose" may be appropriate before an infinitive (as in "This is the key I use to unlock the back door"), but in the majority of cases, we need to add the "d" whenever "use" or "suppose" is followed by an infinitive: "used to go," "used to be," "supposed to go," "supposed to be," and so forth.

In the fourth sentence, the writer should have said that Harry "couldn't care less" about Mary's health. The positive phrase "could care less" suggests that Harry must care somewhat about Mary's health if it is possible for him to care even less.

TEST YOURSELF:

1. All of us in the agency wish to express our appreciation to John Doe, whose many contributions we could not hardly do without.
2. Most people could care less if their grammar is incorrect when they are speaking.
3. The employees in our office are so use to making duplicates on the photocopy machine that they are paralyzed when it is broken and can hardly get their work done.
4. We can hardly wait for our vacation in Colorado, for the ski resorts there are suppose to be some of the best in the country.

Answers:

1. we COULD HARDLY do without
2. COULDN'T [or COULD NOT] care less
3. so USED to making duplicates
4. SUPPOSED to be some of the best

Copyright 2001 Get It Right


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