The Grammar Factor: Write to Govern, dependent/dependant, spelling

Wrie to GovernWrite to Govern

The second edition of my book Write to Govern: How to write effective board papers is now available on my website, Amazon and Kindle.

Governance consultant and non-executive director Julie Garland-McLellan says: ‘I reviewed the first edition of this book and loved it. Now it is back in a much improved new version with thoughtful additions such as an up-to-date focus on electronic papers and the use of board portals.

‘The book is practical, authoritative and (of course) well written. It is a “must read” for senior executives who want to improve their standing with the board and a “must have” for any board that wants to increase its satisfaction with the written reports and papers that plague its meetings.

‘This book will make the lives of directors easier and improve their governance by enabling reporting to add value to decision-making.’

Reader’s question: dependent and dependant

Question: What is the difference between ‘dependent’ and ‘dependant’?

Answer: In Australian and New Zealand spelling, ‘dependant’ is a noun and means someone who depends on support from others. This support often has a financial component.

The child is a dependant.

‘Dependent’ is an adjective and means ‘relying on’.

The outcome is dependent on the test results.

American spelling uses ‘dependent’ for both meanings. Much simpler.


Over the holiday period, I read Eyes before Ease: The unsolved mysteries and secret histories of spelling by Larry Beason. Here are a few examples of how illogical our spellings are:

  • I did not object to the object.
  • The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
  • A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  • The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  • Because there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

I discovered that one of the reasons spelling phonetically often doesn’t work is that we have 26 letters and yet more than 40 sounds.

Have a look at this list of 100 commonly misspelt words and see if you have difficulty with any of them:  Apparently, a lot of people have difficulty with ‘separate’ and ‘definitely’. What words trip you up?

Readers’ pet peeves

  • ‘Moving forward’ – as far as I am aware we have not invented a time machine to ‘move backwards’. Moving forward is a given.
  • ‘General public’ – the public is the public, what other sort is there? Is there a non-general public?
  • ‘Absolutely’ instead of ‘Yes’.
  • Why does everyone interviewed on the radio, well almost everyone, use the word ‘Look’ to preface their remarks. I call them ‘lookers’. I find it grating. Am I the only one?
  • ‘Literally’ seems to be placed on the end of each sentence as though it is an explanation mark, e.g. ‘I was crossing the road and I fell over – literally’.
  • ‘What was your name?’ – You arrive at the doctor’s or dentist’s and the receptionist asks you what your name used to be.
  • You have the phone to your ear, and the person on the other end tells you that they are speaking!
  • ‘Actually’ – overused by people soliciting your attention on the phone and you have to point out that they are actually putting you off actually.

I asked for your pet peeves after complaining about ‘simply’, but reading them all, I started to wonder what I like about modern usage. I like the brevity, bordering sometimes on abruptness, of email communication. What do you like?

Interesting stuff about writing

Jonathan Holmes’ grammatical hate-list
Jonathan Holmes is a newspaper columnist and a former presenter of the Australian ABC’s Media Watch program. His grammatical hate list includes the expressions ‘quote unquote’ and ‘very unique’.

Two-faced words
The Roman God Janus (January) had two faces, which is why ‘Janus words’ have two opposite or contradictory meanings, e.g. fast (runner, colour), strike (hit, miss).

Word of the month

Adorkable (a blend of ‘adorable’ and ‘dork’ meaning ‘socially inept in an adorable way’)

The latest print edition of the Collins English Dictionary contains 50,000 new words, including ‘selfie’, ‘felfie’ (selfie of a farmer), ‘bitcoin’ and ‘twerk’ (dance in a sexually provocative manner).

‘Adorkable’ was voted in by Twitter users from a shortlist of emerging words.

Quote of the month

‘When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly… I think: Any fool can write a rule. And every fool will mind it.’
Henry David Thoreau, 19th century American author


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