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H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.

Part II


Lord Rosebery has not budged from his position—splendid, no doubt—of (lonely) isolation.—Times. Counsel admitted that that was a grave suggestion to make, but he submitted that it was borne out by the (surrounding) circumstances.—Times. One can feel first the characteristics which men have in common and only afterward those which distinguish them (apart) from one another.—Times. A final friendly agreement with Japan, which would be very welcome to Russia, is only possible if Japan (again) regains her liberty of action.—Times. Miss Tox was (often) in the habit of assuring Mrs. Chick that…—Dickens. He had come up one morning, as was now (frequently) his wont.—Trollope. The counsellors of the Sultan (continue to) remain sceptical.—Times. The Peresviet lost both her fighting-tops and (in appearance) looked the most damaged of all the ships.—Times. They would, however, strengthen their position if they returned the (temporary) loan of Sir A. MacDonnell to his owners with thanks.—Times. The score was taken to 136 when Mr. MacLaren, who had (evidently) seemed bent on hitting Mr. Armstrong off, was bowled.—Times. …cannot prevent the diplomacy of the two countries from lending each other (mutual) support.—Times. However, I judged that they would soon (mutually) find each other out.—Crockett. Notwithstanding which, (however,) poor Polly embraced them all round.—Dickens. If any real remedy is to be found, we must first diagnose the true nature of the disease; (but) that, however, is not hard.—Times. M. Delcassé contemplated an identical answer for France, Great Britain, and Spain, refusing, of course, the proposed conference, but his colleagues of the Cabinet were (, however,) opposed to identical replies.—Times. The strong currents frequently shifted the mines, to the equal danger (both) of friend and foe.—Times. And persecution on the part of the Bishops and the Presbyterians, to (both of) whom their opinions were equally hateful, drove flocks of refugees over sea.—J. R. Green. But to the ordinary English Protestant (both) Latitudinarian and High Churchmen were equally hateful.—J. R. Green. Seriously, (and apart from jesting,) this is no light matter.—Bagehot. To go back to your own country … with (the consciousness that you go back with) the sense of duty done.—Lord Halsbury. No doubt my efforts were clumsy enough, but Togo had a capacity for taking pains, by which (said) quality genius is apt to triumph over early obstacles.—Times. …as having created a (joint) partnership between the two Powers in the Morocco question.—Times. Sir—As a working man it appears to me that to the question ‘Do we believe?’ the only sensible position (there seems to be) is to frankly acknowledge our ignorance of what lies beyond.—Daily Telegraph.
Dr. Redmond told his constituents that by reducing the National vote in the House of Commons they would not thereby get rid of obstruction.—Times. It is not a thousand years ago since municipalities in Scotland were by no means free from the suspicion of corruption.—Lord Rosebery. Some substance equally as yielding.—Daily Mail. Had another expedition reached the Solomon Islands, who knows but that the Spaniards might not have gone on to colonize Australia and so turned the current of history?—Spectator. As one being able to give full consent … I am yours faithfully…—Daily Telegraph. But to where shall I look for some small ray of light that will illumine the darkness surrounding the mystery of my being?—Daily Telegraph. It is quite possible that if they do that it may be possible to amend it in certain particulars.—Westminster Gazette. Men and women who professed to call themselves Christians.—Daily Telegraph. (An echo, no doubt, of ‘profess and call themselves Christians’) The correspondence that you have published abundantly throws out into bold relief the false position assumed…—Daily Telegraph. In the course of the day, yesterday, M. Rouvier was able to assure M. Delcassé…—Times. Moreover, too, do we not all feel…?—J. C. Collins. The doing nothing for a length of days after the first shock he sustained was the reason of how it came that Nesta knitted closer her acquaintance…—Meredith. When the public adopt new inventions wholesale,… some obligation is due to lessen, so far as is possible, the hardships in which…—Westminster Gazette.
This is a form that is seldom necessary, and should be reserved for sentences in which it is really difficult to find a substitute. Abstract nouns that cannot be followed immediately by whether should if possible be replaced by the corresponding verbs. Many writers seem to delight in this hideous combination, and employ it not only with abstracts that can be followed by whether, but even with verbs.
The Court declined to express any opinion as to whether the Russian Ambassador was justified in giving the assurances in question and as to whether the offences with which the accused were charged were punishable by German law.—Times. (Perhaps ‘declined to say whether in their opinion’; but this is less easily mended than most) The difficulties of this task were so great that I was in doubt as to whether it was possible.—Times. His whole interest is concentrated on the question as to how his mission will affect his own fortunes.—Times. A final decision has not yet been arrived at as to whether or not the proceedings shall be public.—Times. (It has not yet been finally decided whether) You raise the question as to whether Admiral Rozhdestvensky will not return.—Times. I have much pleasure in informing Rear Admiral Mather Byles as to where he could inspect a rifle of the type referred to. The interesting question which such experiments tend to suggest is as to how far science may…—Outlook. When we come to consider the question as to whether, upon the dissolution of the body, the spirit flies to some far-distant celestial realm…—Daily Telegraph. He never told us to judge by the lives of professing Christians as to whether Christianity is true.—Daily Telegraph. M. Delcassé did not allude to the debated question as to whether any official communication … was made by the French Government to Germany. It is also pointed out that he did not let fall the slightest intimation as to whether the French Government expected…—Times.
Where there is a natural opposition between two sentences, adversative conjunctions may yet be made impossible by something in one of the sentences that does the work unaided. Thus if in vain, only, and reserves and sole, had not been used in the following sentences, but and though would have been right; as it is, they are wrong.
(The author dreams that he is a horse being ridden) In vain did I rear and kick, attempting to get rid of my foe; but the surgeon remained as saddle-fast as ever.—Borrow. But the substance of the story is probably true, though Voltaire has only made a slip in a name.—Morley. Germany, it appears, reserves for herself the sole privilege of creating triple alliances and ‘purely defensive’ combinations of that character, but when the interests of other Powers bring them together their action is reprobated as aggressive and menacing.—Times.
Such mistakes probably result from altering the plan of a sentence in writing; and the cure is simply to read over every sentence after it is written.
This formula has enjoyed more popularity than it deserves; either ‘when’ or ‘if’ by itself would almost always give the meaning. Even where ‘if, seems required to qualify ‘when’ (which by itself might be taken to exclude the possibility of the event’s never happening at all), ‘if’ and ‘when’ are clearly not coordinate, though both are subordinate to the main sentence: ‘if and when he comes, I will write’ means ‘if he comes, I will write when he comes’, or ‘when he comes (if he comes at all), I will write’, and the ‘if’ clause, whether parenthetic or not, is subordinate to the whole sentence ‘I will write when he comes’. Our Gladstone instance below differs from the rest: ‘when’ with a past tense, unqualified by ‘if’, would make an admission that the writer does not choose to make; on the other hand, the time reference given by ‘when’ is essential; ‘on the occasion on which it was done (if it really was done) it was done judicially’. The faulty coordination may be overlooked where there is real occasion for its use; but many writers seem to have persuaded themselves that neither ‘if’ nor ‘when’ is any longer capable of facing its responsibilities without the other word to keep it in countenance.
No doubt it will accept the experimental proof here alleged, if and when it is repeated under conditions…—Times. The latter will include twelve army corps, six rifle brigades, and nine divisions or brigades of mounted troops, units which, if and when complete, will more than provide…—Times. Unless and until we pound hardest we shall never beat the Boers.—Spectator. It is only if, and when, our respective possessions become conterminous with those of great military states on land that we each…—Times. If and when it was done, it was done so to speak judicially.—Gladstone. No prudent seaman would undertake an invasion unless or until he had first disposed of the force preparing … to impeach him.—Times. Its leaders decline to take office unless and until the 90 or 100 German words of command used … are replaced…—Times. If and when employment is abundant…—Westminster Gazette. It means nothing less, if Mr. Chamberlain has his way, than the final committal of one of the two great parties to a return to Protection, if and when it has the opportunity.—Westminster Gazette. It is clear, however, that the work will gain much if and when she plays faster.—Westminster Gazette.
  1. Two existing idioms are fused into a non-existent one.
    It did not take him much trouble.—Sladen. (I take: it costs me) An opportunity should be afforded the enemy of retiring northwards, more or less of their own account.—Times. (of my own accord; on my own account) Dr. Kuyper admitted that his opinion had been consulted.—Times. (I consult you: take your opinion) But it was in vain with the majority to attempt it.—Bagehot. (I attempt in vain: it is vain to attempt) The captain got out the shutter of the door, shut it up, made it all fast, and locked the door itself.—Dickens. (make it fast: make all fast) The provisioning of the Russian Army would practically have to be drawn exclusively from the mother country.—Times. (draw provisions: do provisioning) It gives me the greatest pleasure in adding my testimony.—Daily Telegraph. (I have pleasure in adding: it gives me pleasure to add) And if we rejected a similar proposition made to us, was it not too much to expect that Canada might not turn in another direction?—Chamberlain (reported). (Might not Canada turn?… to expect that Canada would not turn) I can speak from experience that … ‘conversion’ … was a very real and powerful thing.—Daily Telegraph. (speak to conversion’s being: say that conversion was) He certainly possessed, though in no great degree, the means of affording them more relief than he practised.—Scott. (preached more than he practised: had means of affording more than he did afford) My position is one of a clerk, thirty-eight years of age, and married.—Daily Telegraph. (one that no one would envy: that of a clerk) Abbot, indeed, had put the finishing stroke on all attempts at a higher ceremonial. Neither he nor his household would bow at the name of Christ.—J. R. Green. (put the finishing touches on: given the finishing stroke to) In this chapter some of these words will be considered, and also some others against which purism has raised objections which do not seem to be well taken.—R. G. White. (exceptions well taken: objections rightly made. To take an objection well can only mean to keep your temper when it is raised) A woman would instinctively draw her cloak or dress closer to her, and a man leave by far an unnecessary amount of room for fear of coming into contact with those to whom…—Daily Telegraph. (by far too great: quite an unnecessary) The fines inflicted for excess of the legal speed.—Times. (excess of speed: exceeding the legal speed) Notwithstanding the no inconsiderable distance by sea.—Guernsey Advertiser. (it is no inconsiderable distance: the—or a—not inconsiderable distance) His whim had been gratified at a trifling cost of ten thousand pounds.—Crawford. (a trifling cost—unspecified: a trifle of ten thousand or so: the trifling cost of ten thousand. So in the next) Dying at a ripe old age of eighty-three.—Westminster Gazette. That question is the present solvency or insolvency of the Russian State. The answer to it depends not upon the fact whether Russia has or has not…—Times. (the fact that: the question whether. But depends not upon whether would be best here) To all those who had thus so self-sacrificingly and energetically promoted the organization of this fund he desired to accord in the name of the diocese their deep obligation.—Guernsey Advertiser. (accord thanks: acknowledge obligation) The allies frittered away in sieges the force which was ready for an advance into the heart of France until the revolt of the West and South was alike drowned in blood.—Times. (the revolts were alike drowned: the revolt was drowned)
  2. Of two distinct idioms the wrong is chosen.
    When, too, it was my pleasure to address a public meeting of more than 2,000 at the Royal Theatre the organized opposition numbered less than seven score.—Times. It is our pleasure to present to you the enclosed notification of the proportion of profits which has been placed to the credit of your account.—Company circular. (I had, we have, the pleasure of—. The form chosen is proper to royal personages expressing their gracious will) In the face of it the rule appears a most advisable one.—Guernsey Advertiser. (On the face of it means prima facie: the other means in spite of)
  3. The form of an idiom is distorted, without confusion with another.
    However, towards evening the wind and the waves subsided and the night became quiet and starlight.—Times. (Starlight is a noun, which can be used as an adjective immediately before another noun only; a starlight night) Russia is now bitterly expiating her share in the infamy then visited upon Japan.—Times. (We visit upon a person his sins, or something for which he is responsible, and not we; or again, we may visit our indignation upon him) He anticipated much towards Mary’s recovery in her return to Japan.—Sladen. (anticipate … from) But both Governments have now requested Washington to be chosen as the place of meeting.—Times. (requested that Washington should) For as its author in later years told the writer of this article, he had studied war for nine years before he put the pen to the paper.—Times. (Put pen to paper. This looks like imitation French; it is certainly not English)
  4. The meaning of an idiom is mistaken without confusion with another.
    For days and days, in such moods, he would stay within his cottage, never darkening the door or seeing other face than his own inmates.—Trollope. (To darken the door is always to enter as a visitor, never to go out)
  5. Some miscellaneous and unclassified violations are added, mostly without further comment than italics, to remind sanguine learners that there are small pitfalls in every direction.
    If I did not have the most thorough dependence on your good sense and high principles, I should not speak to you in this way.—Trollope. Japan, while desiring the massacre of her own and Russia’s subjects to be brought to an end, has nevertheless every interest that the war should go on.—Times. The unpublished state, of which only an extremely few examples are in existence.—Times. Once I jested her about it.—Crockett. It is significant to add that when Mrs. Chesnut died in 1886 her servants were with her.—Times. Herring boats, the drapery of whose black suspended nets contrasted with picturesque effect the white sails of the larger vessels.—S. Ferrier. It is at least incumbent to be scrupulously accurate.—Times. (The metaphor in incumbent is so much alive that upon—is never dispensed with) A measure according Roman Catholic clergymen who have passed through the local seminaries but have not yet passed the prescribed Russian language test to hold clerical appointments.—Times. There will be established in this free England a commercial tyranny the like of which will not be inferior to the tyrannical Inquisition of the Dark Ages.—Spectator.
A contradiction in terms is often little more than a truism turned inside out; we shall therefore group the two together, and with them certain other illogical expressions, due to a similar confusion of thought.
Praise which perhaps was scarcely meant to be taken too literally.—Bagehot.
Where no standard of literalness is mentioned, too literally is ‘more literally than was meant’. We may safely affirm, without the cautious reservations perhaps and scarcely, that the praise was not meant to be taken more literally than it was meant to be taken. Omit too.
He found what was almost quite as interesting.—Times.
If it was almost as interesting, we do not want quite: if quite, we do not want almost.
Splendid and elegant, but somewhat bordering on the antique fashion.—Scott.
Bordering on means not ‘like’ but ‘very like’; ‘somewhat very like’.
very unique child, thought I.—C. Brontë. A somewhat unique gathering of our great profession.—Halsbury.
There are no degrees in uniqueness.
Steady, respectable labouring men—one and all, with rare exceptions, married.—Times. (all without exception, with rare exceptions) To name only a few, take Lord Rosebery, Lord Rendel, Lord…, …, …, …, and many others.—Times.
Take in this context means ‘consider as instances’; we cannot consider them as instances unless we have their names; take must therefore mean ‘let me name for your consideration’. Thus we get: ‘To name only a few, let me name… and many others (whom I do not name)’.
More led away by a jingling antithesis of words than an accurate perception of ideas.—H. D. Macleod.
‘Guided by an accurate perception’ is what is meant. To be ‘led away by accurate perception’ is a misfortune that could happen only in a special sense, the sense in which it has happened, possibly, to the writer, whom sheer force of accurate perception may have hurried into inaccurate expression; but more probably he too is the victim of ‘jingling antithesis’.
Long before the appointed hour for the commencement of the recital, standing room only fell to the lot of those who arrived just previous to Mr. K.’s appearance on the platform.—Guernsey Advertiser.
The necessary inference—that Mr. K., the reciter, appeared on the platform long before the appointed hour—is probably not in accordance with the facts.
The weather this week has for the most part been of that quality which the month of March so strikingly characterizes in the ordinary course of events.—Guernsey Advertiser.
What happens in the ordinary course of events can scarcely continue to be striking. Whether the month characterizes the weather, or the weather the month, we need not consider here.
He forgot that it was possible, that from a brief period of tumultuous disorder, there might issue a military despotism more compact, more disciplined, and more overpowering than any which had preceded it, or any which has followed it.—Bagehot.
He could not forget, because he could not know, anything about the despotisms which have in fact followed. He might know and forget something about all the despotisms that had preceded or should follow (in direct speech, ‘that have preceded or shall follow’): ‘this may result in the most compact despotism in all history, past and future’. But probably Bagehot does not even mean this: the last clause seems to contain a reflection of his own, falsely presented as a part of what he ought to have reflected.
Some people would say that my present manner of travelling is much the most preferable, riding as I do now, instead of leading my horse.—Borrow.
Only two modes of travelling are compared: the most preferable implies four, three of them preferable in different degrees to the fourth. A not uncommon vulgarism.
Attempts at packing double emphasis into a single sentence are apt to result in real weakening.
No government ever plunged more rapidly into a deeper quagmire.—Outlook. (From the writer’s evident wish to state the matter strongly, we infer that several Governments have plunged more rapidly into as deep quagmires, and as rapidly into deeper ones) Mr. Justice Neville … will now have the very rare experience of joining on the Bench a colleague whom he defeated on the polls just fourteen years ago.—Westminster Gazette. (The experience, with exact time-interval, is probably unique, like any individual thumb-print; that does not make the coincidence more remarkable; and it is the coincidence that we are to admire) Nothing has brought out more strongly than motor-driving the overbearing, selfish nature of too many motor-drivers and their utter want of consideration for their fellow men.—Lord Wemyss. (The attempt to kill drivers and driving with one stone leaves both very slightly wounded. For what should show up the drivers more than the driving? and whom should the driving show up more than the drivers?)
The commonest form of this is due to conscientious but mistaken zeal for correctness, which prefers, for instance, without oppressing or without plundering to without oppressing or plundering. The first form excludes only one of the offences, and is therefore, though probably meant to be twice as emphatic, actually much weaker than the second, which excludes both. With and instead of or, it is another matter.
Actual experience has shown that a gun constructed on the wire system can still be utilized effectively without the destruction of the weapon or without dangerous effects, even with its inner tube split.—Times. The Union must be maintained without pandering to such prejudices on the one hand, or without giving way on the other to the … schemes of the Nationalists.—Spectator. He inhibited him, on pain of excommunication, from seeking a divorce in his own English Courts, or from contracting a new marriage.—J. R. Green. (Half excused by the negative sense of inhibit)
Some writers, holding that there is the same objection to split compound verbs as to split infinitives, prefer to place any adverb or qualifying phrase not between the auxiliary and the other component, but before both. Provided that the adverb is then separated from the auxiliary, no harm is done: ‘Evidently he was mistaken’ is often as good as ‘He was evidently mistaken’, and suits all requirements of accentuation. But the placing of the adverb immediately before or after the auxiliary depends, according to established usage, upon the relative importance of the two components. When the main accent is to fall upon the second component, the normal place of the adverb is between the two; it is only when the same verb is repeated with a change in the tense or mood of the auxiliary, that the adverb should come first. ‘He evidently was deceived’ implies, or should imply, that the verb deceived has been used before, and that the point of the sentence depends upon the emphatic auxiliary; accordingly we should write ‘The possibility of his being deceived had never occurred to me; but he evidently was deceived’, but ‘I relied implicitly on his knowledge of the facts; but he was evidently deceived’. In our first two examples below the adverb is rightly placed first to secure the emphasis on the auxiliary: in all the others the above principle of accentuation is violated. The same order of words is required by the copula with whatever kind of complement.
I recognize this truth, and always have recognized it. Refined policy ever has been the parent of confusion, and ever will be so, as long as the world endures.—Burke. They never are suffered to succeed in their opposition.—Burke. She had received the homage of … and occasionally had deigned to breathe forth…—Beaconsfield. He ordered breakfast as calmly as if he never had left his home.—Beaconsfield. Miss Becky, whose sympathetic powers never had been called into action before.—Ferrier. They now were bent on taking the work into their own hands.—Morley. There may have been a time when a king was a god, but he now is pretty much on a level with his subjects.—Jowett. They both are contradicted by all positive evidence.—W. H. Mallock. Religious art at once complete and sincere never yet has existed.—Ruskin. Not mere empty ideas, but what were once realities, and that I long have thought decayed.—C. Brontë. So that he might assist at a Bible class, from which he never had been absent.—Beaconsfield. If we would write an essay, we necessarily must have something to say.—Bygott & Jones. The protectionists lately have been affirming that the autumn session will be devoted to railway questions.—Times. Visitors no longer can drive in open carriages along the littoral.—Times. It still is the fact that his mind … was essentially the mind of a poet.—Times. To whom in any case its style would have not appealed.—Times.
To go wrong with not is an achievement possible only with triple compounds, where the principal division is of course between the finite (would) and the infinitive with participle (have appealed). ‘Would not have appealed’ must be written, though at an enormous sacrifice of ‘distinction’.
This enhanced value of old English silver may be due partly to the increase in the number of collectors; but it also has been largely influenced by the publication…—Times. Mr. Fry showed to a very great extent his power of defence… To-day, if runs are to be of importance, he very likely will show his powers of hitting.—Times.
A single sentence is sometimes made to carry a double burden:
So unique a man as Sir George Lewis has, in truth, rarely been lost to this country.—Bagehot.
The meaning is not ‘Men like Sir G. Lewis have seldom been lost’, but ‘Men like the late Sir G. Lewis have seldom been found’. But instead of the late a word was required that should express proper concern; lost is a short cut to ‘men so unique as he whose loss we now deplore’.
There are but few men whose lives abound in such wild and romantic adventure, and, for the most part, crowned with success.—Prescott.
The writer does not mean ‘adventures so wild, so romantic, and so successful in the main’; that is shown by the qualifying parenthesis, which is obviously one of comment on the individual case. What he does mean ought to have been given in two sentences: ‘There are but few … adventure; —’s, moreover, was for the most part crowned with success’.
The Sultan regrets that the distance and the short notice alone prevent him from coming in person.—Times.
This is as much as to say that the Sultan wishes there were more obstacles. Read: ‘The Sultan regrets that he cannot come in person; nothing but the distance and the short notice could prevent him’.
Of the forms, persons interested, the persons interested, those interested, those who are interested, one or another may better suit a particular phrase or context. Those interested is the least to be recommended, especially with an active participle or adjective. The form those persons interested is a hybrid, and is very seldom used by any good writer; but it is becoming so common in inferior work that it is thought necessary to give many examples. The first two, of the form those interested, will pass, though those who were concerned; all who drive, would be better. In the others that and those should be either replaced by the or (sometimes) simply omitted.
The idea of a shortage had hardly entered the heads even of those most immediately concerned.—Times. They are the terror of all those driving or riding spirited horses.—Times. At every time and in every place throughout that very limited portion of time and space open to human observation.—Balfour. That part of the regular army quartered at home should be grouped by divisions.—Times. Here they beheld acres of that stupendous growth seen only in the equinoctial regions.—Prescott. It is not likely that General Kuropatkine has amassed those reserves of military stores and supplies plainly required by the circumstances of his situation.—Times. The insurrection had been general throughout the country, at least that portion of it occupied by the Spaniards.—Prescott. My amendment would be that that part of the report dealing with the dividend on the ‘A’ shares … be not adopted.—Company report. We shall fail to secure that unanimity of thought and doctrine so indispensable both for…—Times. …in order to minimize the effect produced by that portion of the Admirals’ report favourable to England.—Times. A struggle … which our nation must be prepared to face in the last resort, or else give way to those countries not afraid to accept the responsibilities and sacrifices inseparable from Empire.—Times. Civil servants will not, nay, cannot, work with that freedom of action so essential to good work in the case of such persons, so long as…—Times. To those Colonies unable to concur with these suggestions a warning should be addressed.—Times.