We have nothing to be scared of but scare itself

A document said that someone “was scared of people from outside” her immediate family. Unexceptional English, I would have thought, but Microsoft Word’s style checker noted “More concise language would be clearer for your reader” and suggested

feared people

To me, Someone feared people from outside her immediate family isn’t usual, natural English. It’s obviously grammatical and sensical but feared is too formal and strong for this context (unless the someone in question was bordering on phobic. Surprisingly, Google Ngrams shows that feared people is considerably more common than was scared of people and were scared of people combined. I can’t think of any context where feared people would be my usual, natural choice. I don’t have access to any linguistic corpora, so have to rely on a general Google search, which show occasional uses, mostly in the irrelevant forms “the (top/number) most feared people (in some context)”, “this is the moment we’ve feared, people” and “he feared [that] people would laugh at him”. There is one quotation from the Quran (“And you feared people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him”) but that by itself wouldn’t explain the ngrams results, especially because the use of feared people dates back to around 1800. I’m just going to have to admit defeat on this one. My editing job doesn’t involve changing other people’s words anyway, so I didn’t have to decide (and would have rejected the suggestion anyway).

(Comparing feared people and was/were scared of people is complicated by the fact that they are different grammatically. I am also considering feared people as adj + N but that doesn’t get me any further.)

My mind wandered sideways to the words which come after feared and was/were afraid/scared/frightened of. Ngrams’ results for those show, in order:

afraid of anything, afraid of death, afraid of something, feared God, afraid of nothing, scared of anything, scared of something, afraid of everything, afraid of ghosts, scared of heights, afraid of God, feared death, feared something, feared John, feared object, scared of death, feared man, frightened of life, scared of people, frightened of women, frightened of ghosts, frightened of something, frightened of nothing, afraid of work, scared of nothing, scared of everything, scared of snakes, scared of ghosts, frightened of everything, afraid of men, scared of dogs, frightened of change, feared none, frightened of anything, frightened of people, frightened of death, feared Mr, afraid of war, feared anything.

Note that scared of people and frightened of people appear on that list, but feared people doesn’t, calling into question the first search results (and Microsoft’s advice). Obviously, that list would take some analysis to make any sense of. Leaving aside everything, anything, something and nothing, we have death, God, ghosts, heights, John (Mark 6:20 “Herod feared John”), life, women, snakes, men (more people are (or write about being) frightened of women than afraid of men), change, Mr (mostly “feared [that] Mr X would do something”) and war

So, more questions than answers in this post, sorry.


“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.)

This amounts to bad English grammar advice

It’s Microsoft Word’s grammar checker’s turn today. It suggested turning this amounts to either this amount or these amounts, and this weighs to either this weigh or these weighs. But this amounts was in a context like This amounts to a convincing argument for the plaintiff, and this weighs was in a context like This weighs heavily in favour of the respondent. 

Amount can be a noun, in which case we must use either this amount is or these amounts are, but can also be a verb (usually followed by to), in which case we must use either this (argument) amounts to or these (arguments) amount to. (I don’t know if the noun or verb came first.)

Weigh can only be a verb; the corresponding noun is weight. We can only say this weight is or these weights are, and this (submission) weighs and these (submissions) weigh. Microsoft’s suggestions of this weigh and these weighs are just not English grammar as I know it. 

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