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Pet peeves, once more

Rosie Right

In September 1999, Rosie wrote about the awkward use of comparative forms of adjectives. In case she should begin to think that she has any influence on the language, it is humbling to realize that the problem continues and the use of such terms as more wide rather than wider continues apace.

Last time, Rosie suggested a trip to the dictionary. There are, in fact, guidelines for choosing the proper comparative. Grammarian Frederick Crews in his wonderful Random House Handbook, sixth edition, tells us:

"The comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives are formed in several ways.

1. For one-syllable adjectives: wide, wider, widest (but less wide, least wide).
2. For one- or two-syllable adjectives ending in -y, change the -y to -i and add -er and -est: dry, drier, driest
3. For all other adjectives of two or more syllables, put more or most (or less or least) before the positive form: relaxed, more relaxed, most relaxed
4. For certain "irregular" adjectives, supply the forms shown in your dictionary.

Crews gives examples of these irregular adjectives:

"Bad, worse, worst

Good, better, best, far, farther, further, farthest, furthest

Little, littler, less, lesser, littlest, least

Many, some, much, more, most."

Another irritation about which Rosie has complained before is the use of the phrase for free. She was, therefore, interested to see this discussed in the August-September 2000 issue of Copy Editor.

This newsletter caught the New York Times contradicting its own style manual and using for free in an article. The discussion that followed this revelation showed that, unfortunately, this awkward phrase is beginning to be accepted, in speech at least.

Barbara Wallraff, who writes Word Court in The Atlantic Monthly, and who has also recently published the book "Word Court," is quoted as saying:

"The word has been used often enough for it to qualify as accepted informal usage, but standard English it is not. Free means `for nothing' after all, not just `nothing.' …Free being an adjective or an adverb, it can't very well be the object of the preposition for.

"Still, a noticeable number of publications are allowing for free to creep into their copy."

Judging from the above Rosie is afraid she is becoming a Miss Thistlebottom, but it is almost impossible to shed one's pet peeves just because others accept them.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (355-9089) or e-mail

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