Sunday, July 25, 2004

Most and Mostly

The words came up in a discussion recently. They look so similar that it seems like they would follow the pattern of other adjectives and adverbs.

quick (adj.), quickly (adv.)

painful (adj.), painfully (adv.)

slow (adj.), slowly (adv.)

With these words, the adjectives have a meaning that is very similar to the adverb. Thus quick and quickly both mean in a rapid way. Painful and painfully both describe strong or severe pain while slow and slowly synonymously refer to doing something at a low speed.

Most and mostly don't follow that pattern. They are a little like another pair, hard and hardly.

Most is an adjective, but it usually is used with another adjective to show the superlative degree, that is, the highest or only one of something as in this sentence:

He is my most trusted friend.

This means that I trust no friend more than him.

Now when I change most to mostly, there is a change in meaning.

He is my mostly trusted friend.

Mostly here means that I usually trust him, but it also implies that he is not my most trusted friend because I can't trust him all of the time.

Most also behaves a little like an adverb because it is usually found with an adjective next to it. It modifies the adjective. But dictionaries classify it as an adjective. Also, most is usually preceded by the article, the, unless there is a possessive, which is even more definite than the article.

Hard and Hardly

When I was young, I would often hear one person trying to be a little funny asking another person,

Are you working hard or hardly working?

Hard and hardly mean the opposite, thus the use of or. Working hard means a person is doing the job to the best of his or her physical or mental powers. Hardly working means the person is doing as little as possible. This contrast is much stronger than most and mostly.

Of the other superlatives, least, worst, and best, there is no adverb (-ly) form, so they have nothing to be confused with like most and mostly.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Gerunds and Infinitives: Three Verbs with Meaning Changes

Some sources have a short list of verbs that can be followed by gerunds or infinitives, but the meanings differ. With some of the verbs like try, the difference in meaning is subtle and difficult to explain or even at times to see. However, three verbs that can be followed by either gerunds or infinitives have clear differences in meaning. These verbs are: forget, remember, and stop.


To show the difference, let's look at stop.

Gerund: I stopped smoking.

Infinitive: I stopped to smoke.

The first sentence has at least two different meanings. One is that I stopped smoking (cigarettes) and did something else. The second one is that I stopped my habit of smoking cigarettes. A third meaning could be that I have cooled down and no longer have smoke coming off of me. Another possible meaning might be applied to sports, in particular baseball, where a pitcher might be declaring that his fastball is no longer as fast as it was. In all of these meanings, the person speaking talks about something that happened in the past.

With the infinitive, the speaker (or writer) says that he or she stopped doing something (what is not stated here, but it could be). In other words, two actions are indicated first the action that is now finished and the second one that was begun – to smoke.

Now it is possible to write a sentence with stop that uses both a gerund and infinitive which might show this difference.

I stopped running to smoke.

One action now is in the past, running, while the second action has begun.

Remember and forget are related though opposite mental activities, but they differ in their meanings and use.


Infinitive: I remember to mail the letter. ( less likely to be used)

I remembered to mail the letter.

Gerund: I remember mailing the letter.

I remembered mailing the letter.(less likely to be used)

With the infinitive, I think we are more likely to use the infinitive with the past tense of remember because we mean that mailed the letter and we remembered to do it in the past. In other words both the remembering and mailing took place in the past perhaps in the order of remembering and then mailing. That is why we are unlikely to use the present tense of remember. I can think of one possible use of the present tense which is to describe someone's daily actions.

With the gerund, we are more likely to use the present tense with the gerund because the remembering is occurring in the present while the action, mailing the letter, occurred in the past. So we are not likely to use the past unless we are reporting the sequence of events to someone else.

Another way to look at remember and infinitives and gerunds is sequence.


remember then action


action then remember

In using remember with gerunds and infinitives, one way to think about which one to use is to consider when the action happened. Did it happen before or after the remembering?

We can also use gerunds and infinitives together after remember.

I remember running to catch the bus.


Forget presents more of a yes and no meaning.

Infinitive: I forgot to pay the bill. (No, I did not pay the bill.)

Gerund: I forgot paying the bill. (Yes, I paid the bill.)

With forget, which feels more comfortable in the past tense, the meaning is determined by whether or not the action occurred or was done.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Gerund and Infinitives alone and in phrases

When I write about gerunds and infinitives, I usually use examples that contain one gerund or infinitive.


Running is good exercise.
To run was my choice.

However, both gerunds and infinitives can be used with adverbs in prepositional phrases or as objects.

With adverbs:

Gerund: Running slowly is the best can do.
Infinitive: To run slowly will be easier for me.

With prepositional phrases:

Gerund: Running in a race is fun for many people.
Infinitive: To run in a race is better than to sit in front of the tv.

In the textbook, Grammar Sense 3, Susan Kesner Bland points out that although we can use an infinitive as a subject, it not common. Usually, the infinitive is replaced by it as the subject and the infinitive occurs later in the sentence.


It is easier for me to run slowly.

She further points out that only a few verbs are used after it.They are:

  • appears

  • be

  • cost

  • look

  • pay

  • seem

  • take

Usually the infinitive is not used immediately after these verbs, but it can be done.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Apostrophes with Possession

We can start with a simple rule for apostrophe use from my colleague, Carole Marquis: use 's for all cases of possession except when the word is a plural with s. When the word is plural and ends in s add an apostrophe after the s.

To expand on it with a few examples to see how it works, here are some sentences.

Doug's car is parked on the street. (singular subject)
Doug's cars are parked on the street. (singular subject with one possessor)
James's car is beside Doug's. (singular subject with one possessor that ends in s)
The children's helmets are on the shelf. (plural subject with plural possessor formed without an s)
The boys' helmets are on the shelf. (plural subject with more than one possessor)

There are a couple of cases where the rule needs expansion. In a compound construction, the apostrophe is used appropriately with the final word in the compound.

Carlos and Juan's bikes are in the repair shop. (Two or more possessors in a series)
My brother-in-law's phone was stolen. (singular compound noun possessor.)

When we use a possessive noun, that is, when we use an apostrophe to signal possession, the noun acts like an adjective in most sentence constructions.

The blue car is parked on the street.
     adj. n.

Doug's car is parked on the street.
poss. n.

The noun is car and the word modifying or limiting its meaning in the first sentence is new. When we use the possessive in the second sentence, it serves a similar purpose of modifying or limiting the meaning of the noun. In the second sentence, the noun is limited to a car belonging to Doug.

Knowing that possessives precede a noun tells the writer to anticipate possession when a person's name or family name is in front of a noun. This helps in determining whether or not to use an apostrophe in some sentences.

Test clue: Adjectives are not plural in English, so most adjectives do not have an s at the end of the word. If you have a sentence on a test and the word before the noun has an s at the end of it, it will often be possessive, either singular or plural.

Adding a little confusion

This is all well and good, but what about this sentence?

The Ford car is parked on the street.

Ford is a family name, the family name of the Ford car manufacturing company's founder, Henry Ford. Ford is the car's brand name.

The Ford's car is parked on the street,

In this sentence, the apostrophe tells the reader that the car belongs to a family named Ford. If the car was a Ford, then it would read.

The Ford's Ford car is parked on the street.
Or more likely
The Ford's Ford is parked on the street.