“to the best of me ability”

Not Microsoft Word this time, but a similar spelling/grammar checker. I typed “to the best of my ability” and it blue-underlined my, suggesting me: “to the best of me ability”. No, no, no. Certainly not in formal writing (though I note that Pages for Mac and WordPress don’t question me ability (or, less surprisingly, my ability). Just maybe in very informal, non-standard speech, by some people. 

I can find very little information about this usage, probably because it is so informal. This inconclusive ELL Stack Exchange discussion is the only one so far. It’s probably a variant pronunciation of my rather than actually me. People who say to the best of me ability don’t say to the best of you/he/she/it/us/they ability instead of your/his/her/its/our/their ability (the only possible pronunciation is ya ability). Compare I’ll do my best, I’ll do m’best and I’ll do me best with to the best of my ability, *to the best of m’ability and ?to the best of me ability. Note also that me in this usage can’t be stressed: Me car’s been stolen! v Not your car, me car!

All of Google Ngrams’ results for me *_NOUN are from the bigger construction V me N; for example, me something from tell/give/show/teach me something.

I wouldn’t be able to program a spelling/grammar check, so maybe I shouldn’t criticise, but I ever did, I wouldn’t question my N (unless is was part of a V me something construction).


“I wish to apologise”

A document quoted someone’s written submission, which started “I wish to first sincerely apologise for the delay”. Microsoft Word helpfully suggested “Avoiding multiple words between ‘to’ and a verb is best”. At least it didn’t say “Adding any words between ‘to’ and verb is always a no-no”. So far, so good, but its suggested rewriting, “I wish to first apologise for the delay sincerely” is not an improvement. (I first typed “hardly an improvement”, but I’ll be definite here.)

The basic sentence is “I wish to apologise for the delay”, and there are six places the two extra words can go. First(ly), with first (which is more marginal to the sentence anyway):

1 First, I wish to apologise for the delay.
2 I first wish to apologise for the delay.
3 I wish first to apologise for the delay.
4 I wish to first apologise for the delay.
5 I wish to apologise(,) first(,) for the delay.
6 I wish to apologise for the delay first.

(Mentioning then ignoring “I wish to apologise for the first delay”.)

Second(ly), with sincerely:

7 Sincerely, I wish to apologise for the delay.
8 I sincerely wish to apologise for the delay.
9 I wish sincerely to apologise for the delay.
10 I wish to sincerely apologise for the delay.
11 I wish to apologise sincerely for the delay.
12 I wish to apologise for the delay sincerely. 

I won’t discuss these at length, but note that in 8, sincerely clearly modifies wish and in 10 apologise, while 9 is ambiguous, and that some are clearly more formal or informal, or stylish or unstylish. To me, none is completely wrong, but 4, 6 and 12 are the most awkward. (Microsoft’s suggestion is basically 4 + 12.)

There are 42 possible combinations of both words (because when both are in the same slot they can be in either order), which I’m not going to list. You might want to try some out. My choice is “Firstly, I wish to sincerely apologise for the delay”. Fortunately, proscription of the so-called split infinitive is now less common than it used to be. (Even Microsoft Word’s advice doesn’t reach proscription.) The benefit of placing sincerely there is that it is perfectly clear what I am sincerely doing (or doing sincerely).

(I have a vague memory of encountering someone’s thorough analysis of adverb placement, but I don’t think I saved it.)

Comma or no comma?

You’ve probably figured out that I find Microsoft Word’s grammar checker rather too simplistic, but sometimes it throws up an issue which is subtle and interesting. A sentence was equivalent to:

After the first hearing the plaintiff wrote to me, because I had raised a concern that he had not mentioned physical violence in his written claim, and submitted that he had never been physically harmed by the defendant.

The grammar checker suggested removing the second comma. But that would change the meaning of the sentence. As it stands, the person who submitted was the plaintiff, because everything between the commas can be omitted:

The plaintiff wrote to me and submitted that he had never been physically harmed by the defendant.

Removing the comma means that the person who submitted was the legal officer:

The plaintiff wrote to me. Why? Because I had raised a concern [about one thing] and submitted [another thing].

At least that’s my reading on it, on the basis that plaintiffs, in general, submit. Legal officers, on the other hand, among other things, find:

I had raised a concern [about one thing] and found [another thing].

If the relevant verb was suggested, then the sentence could go either way; plaintiffs and legal officers can equally suggest.

This might all have been avoided by adding ‘to me’ (viz, the plaintiff submitted to ‘me’) or ‘to him’ (viz, ‘I’ submitted to the plaintiff). I didn’t have to decide, because my editing tasks don’t include inserting or removing commas. 

Added later: the more I thought about it, the more submitted seemed a strange choice either way. Legal officers don’t have to submit anything to a plaintiff, and a plaintiff will usually submit something supporting their case. Here, the plaintiff’s case was actually weakened by conceding that he had never been physically harmed.

clarity and conciseness

As if punctuation, spelling and grammar weren’t enough, Microsoft Word is now flagging ‘clarity and conciseness’. Unfortunately, it gets many ideas wrong. Fortunately, my particular editing task means that I can ignore it all anyway, and I must find out how to turn it off. But then I’d have less to blog about.

Some of its rules are questionable at the best of times, and some take a reasonable rule beyond its useful extreme by not looking at the context. 

It flags ‘all of’, suggesting a change to ‘all’, eg ‘all of the time’ to ‘all the time’. Fair enough, ‘of’ is not essential, but ‘all of the N’ is an established if less-used variation of ‘all the N’, perhaps slightly informal. Crucially, it sometimes occurs in the longer phrase ‘some or all of the time’. Close to no-one says or writes ‘some or all the time’ or even the possible ‘some of or all the time’.

It flags ‘similar to’ and suggests ‘like’, but the context was that ‘N1 is likely to be similar to N2’. ‘N1 is likely to be like N2’ is used, but is awkward.

It doesn’t like the word ‘particular’, suggesting changing ‘a particular school’ to ‘a school’. But the issue was not whether a child should go to ‘a school’, but rather whether s/he should go to that specific school. ‘Particular(s)’ can also be used as a noun. ‘When asked to provide more particulars, he stated …’ cannot be changed to ‘When asked to provide more, he stated …’.

Finally, ‘sufficient’ is not interchangeable with ‘enough’ when used attributively: ‘an acceptable or sufficient record’ cannot be changed to ‘an acceptable or enough record’.

Certainly, some speakers or writers fall into habits of unclarity and/or unconciseness, but these words are not unclear or unconcise in and of themselves (< I would expect it to flag ‘in and of’). 

PS 4 August. Yesterday, I noticed that it suggested changing ‘make a decision’ to ‘decide’. Today, just before I turned it off, I noticed ‘make a decision favourable to the plaintiff’, which cannot be ‘decide favourable to the plaintiff’, but might be ‘decide in favour of the plaintiff’.

Gives rise to

A document included a sentence stating that some circumstance in the matter “gives rise to” some legal consequence. Nothing wrong with that, but Microsoft Word’s grammar checker’s green underline didn’t like it. Its suggestion? “Gives raise to”. What kind of grammar suggestion is that? “Gives raise to” is grammatical only in contexts of headlines about pay increases, which situation certainly occurs, but wasn’t the case here. It could only be “gives rise to” here.

In fact, the more I searched, the more occurrences of “gives raise to” in place of “gives rise to” I found. People actually write “gives raise to”, albeit a tiny percentage of those who write “gives rise to”. But I’ll say “it’s wrong”, and a grammar checker simply shouldn’t be suggesting it. What do the people who compile the rules for this grammar checker do all day?

Fair enough, “gives rise to” is an unusual phrase, but it’s perfectly established.

Easy targets

English on clothing designed and manufactured in a non-English country and Microsoft Word’s grammar checker are easy targets for a blog post.

Yesterday I saw a young man wearing a jacket which read:


A well-known search engine returns about 89,800 results for playung (Did you mean: playing?) and about 2,530,000,000 for playing. Most of the results for playing seem to be a simple typo, i and u being next to each other on the standard keyboard.

(Of course, this jacket might have been designed and manufactured in a certain country where a certain well-known search engine is blocked, but any search engine should return similar results.)

An article I was subediting referred to “many food and drink products”. Microsoft Word’s spell checker suggested much food or many foods.

But the grammar here is “many (food and drink) products”, not “(*many food) and (drink products)”. Even if it was “(*many food) and (drink products)”, “(much food) and (drink products)” is only a small improvement. “Many food” is completely ungrammatical, while “much food” is rare. “Much food was eaten” is possible, but most people would say “A lot of food was eaten”. Much is used more in negative statements (“Not much food was eaten”) and questions (“Did you eat much food?”). Also, “(many foods) and (drink products)” is awkward parallelism.