Bare Infinitive After Certain Verbs

An ESL speaker has two questions about the following construction:

…I was startled to hear a local radio announcer refer to a contest for artists to submit designs to paint “murals” on storm drains.

Question 1
Can you, please, explain to me why the construction calls for the plural form of the verb “refer” rather than the singular one (refers) when the subject of this verb (a local radio announcer) is singular?

Refer is not inflected because it is not a main verb in this clause. It’s an infinitive.

The sentence contains one main verb (“was startled”) and four infinitives. Three of the infinitives are easy to spot: to hear, to submit, and to paint. The fourth infinitive—refer— lacks the identifying to because it is a bare infinitive.

A “bare infinitive” is written without the particle to. Bare infinitives are not as common as complete infinitives, but they do follow certain verbs.

The modal auxiliary verbs will, shall, would, could, can, may, might, must, and should are followed by the bare infinitive. For example:

We should go to bed early tonight. (bare infinitive)
Can you help me? (bare infinitive)

When certain verbs, such as hear, see, make, and let, are followed by an object, the object will be followed by a bare infinitive. For example:

I saw him make a face.
The object of saw is him. Make is a bare infinitive.

She heard Charles tell a lie.
The object of heard is Charles. Tell is a bare infinitive.

I was startled to hear a local radio announcer refer to a contest.
The object of to hear is a local radio announcer. Refer is a bare infinitive.

Question 2
Would I be correct if I use the participle form of the verb; i.e., “I was startled to hear a local radio announcer referring to a contest…”?

The use of refer rather than referring in this context is a stylistic choice.

The original sentence is made up of two clauses:

Because I am used to thinking of a mural as a painting on a wall, I was startled to hear a local radio announcer refer to a contest for artists to submit designs to paint “murals” on storm drains.

The word refer points the reader to the words following it. Changing refer to referring would shift the emphasis from what was said to the announcer saying it. It wouldn’t be “wrong,” but it would weaken the sentence.

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Source: Daily Tips

Old School Hack

Before computing added new meanings to the word hack, the meaning I associated most commonly with it was “a writer who churns out unimaginative writing for hire.”
This use of the word hack derives from the horse rental industry.
Hack is the shortened form of hackney, a word that entered English from French haquenée, “a small horse suitable for ordinary riding.” In The Canterbury Tales (c.1368), Chaucer describes the Canon’s Yeoman as riding “a dapple-gray hackney.”
From meaning a type of horse, hackney came to mean a rented horse.
Because hired horses were overworked, hackney and hack came to mean any person employed in servile, tedious, and tiring work.
As an adjective, hackney meant “worn out by indiscriminate or vulgar use.” One could speak of “a hackney proverb” or “a hackney plot.” In modern English, the adjective with this meaning is hackneyed:
His [Dreiser’s] hackneyed and clichéd diction occurs frequently when he is not engaged in a form of indirect discourse, as in his description of the New York theatre district.
By the 18th century, the noun hackney had been shortened to hack and could mean either “a hired horse” or “a hired carriage.” In the United States, hack is still used as a word for taxicab.
By the 1770s, hack had taken on the meaning of “a literary drudge, who hires himself out to do any and every kind of literary work; hence, a poor writer, a mere scribbler.” It is still used with this sense by speakers who grew up before the word became associated with computing:
There is hack fiction all over the best seller list so nothing new there.
[James] Patterson belongs in his own category, reserved for the hacks committed to hacking every day. [Peter] Brown is a lesser hacker.
Journalists have long been referred to as hacks because they must produce daily content on a variety of subjects.
The application of the word hack to prolific, high-earning novelists scorned by literary critics has produced a backlash against the pejorative use of the word hack.
Writing in The Guardian, David Barnett demands “What’s wrong with being a hack?” He reminds readers that literary giant Samuel Johnson declared “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Barnett sees nothing wrong with being “prolific, inventive, writing for a populist mass-market readership” and making money for it.
Attempts to redefine hack as it applies to writers of fiction can only be wasted effort. The word has become too closely associated with computer use and new terminology is growing up to describe a new kind of writing:
“Hacker journalists” are computer programmers who assume roles as journalists in order to affect social change.
Unlike the traditional hack writer who writes only for monetary gain, “hacker journalists” pursue non-monetary rewards and seek personal fulfillment through moral interventionism. —“Muckraking in the Digital Age: Hacker Journalism and Cyber Activism in Legacy Media,” by Bret Schulte, and Stephanie Schulte, Mediac, The Journal of New Media and Culture, Volume 9, Issue 1)
I guess we’ll just have to come up with a new term for “an unimaginative writer who will write any kind of drivel for money.”
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Source: Vocabulary

Do-gooder Is Not a Positive Term

A reader questions the positive use of the epithet do-gooder:
One use of the language that disturbs me is the use by my local paper of the term “Do-gooder” [to refer] to people who are indeed doing good deeds by helping or contributing. However the only definitions I have seen for the term appear to refer to those who are trying to do good, but do so in unrealistic or wrong means. I feel the current use is not considering the older, perhaps archaic, usage.
The OED does list one example of the noun Do-Good to mean “a person who does good,” but the only citation given is dated 1654 and the usage is labeled obsolete. In subsequent usage, the nouns do-good and do-gooder have not been intended as compliments.
These OED examples from the 1920s reflect the pejorative usage:
1923 There is nothing the matter with the United States except…the parlor socialists, up-lifters, and do-goods.
1925  He could not stand them—no decently constituted American can—nor the uplifters and do-gooders who rule us to-day.
The Web offers numerous examples of do-gooder in headlines that introduce stories that make it clear that the term is meant in a positive sense:
Ebola-stricken doc described as driven do-gooder
Africa [has become] the hottest continent for A-list do-gooders like Bono and Brangelina.
Salvation Army honors Mon Valley do-gooders
Brooklyn Do Gooder Awards to honor community service
The misuse of do-gooder to mean “one who does genuine good” may have gone too far to reverse. If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate.
We need a word that describes a person who acts according to his own idea of what doing good is without considering the consequences that might affect the recipients of the supposed good.
For example, a corporation or celebrity might think that giving free shoes and free shirts to every person in a poor village is an excellent way to do good, whereas in reality the act would create worse poverty for the village cobblers, weavers, tailors, and seamstresses.
English has other words to describe a person who tries to improve the lives of others. Philanthropist is an obvious choice, but many speakers might share the difficulty of the Wizard of Oz when he tries to use the word:
Back where I come from there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phila…er, phila…er, yes, er, Good Deed Doers.
Ruling out philanthropist as too difficult to pronounce, we still have benefactor, humanitarian, altruist, and social reformer. And, perhaps, “Good Deed Doer.”
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Source: Vocabulary

The Changing Meaning of Mural

Because I am used to thinking of a mural as a painting on a wall, I was startled to hear a local radio announcer refer to a contest for artists to submit designs to paint “murals” on storm drains.
Storm drains are on the ground. They are also rather small. I think of murals as being quite large.
Here’s the definition from the OED:
mural (noun): a painting executed directly on to a wall or ceiling as part of a scheme of decoration.
I was surprised to see ceiling included in the definition. Mural derives from the Latin word for wall: murus. The Latin adjective is muralis, “of or relating to a wall.”
According to the OED, mural in the context of painting is an American coinage dating from 1908. In earlier British usage, a mural was “a fruit tree grown against and fastened to a wall.”
In US urban settings, mural is used in its customary sense, but recently it has come to be used of paintings made on sidewalks, on streets, and even on such things as benches.
Here are some examples from news stories originating in different parts of the country:
Last year, the CARE neighborhood in partnership with Banner Neighborhoods painted a street mural in the intersection at the south side of the market. —Maryland.
University Facilities and Services is coordinating a project featuring storm drain murals to encourage pollution awareness. —Illinois.
Monroe Municipal Mural on sidewalk —Georgia.
This year another ten local artists were chosen to paint murals on ten storm drains in the Springfield area. —Missouri.
The new FABnyc sidewalk mural, fashioned by Ecuadorian artist Raúl Ayala is among our favorite public artworks to surface this year. —New York.
“Only rain down the drain,” reads a mural painted on a concrete bench on the west side of Matthews Street halfway between Green Street and Springfield Avenue. —Illinois.
This expanded meaning for mural has resulted in the creation of the retronym “wall mural.”
For Drew and me, painting wall murals has been a great source of extra income.
It’s finally time to put the finishing touches on the Library Wall Mural and seal it.
We completed a big full color wall mural in Naga Gallery.
Purists may cringe at the idea of “sidewalk murals,” but if the painting on a ceiling can be called a mural, I suppose that a large painting on the floor or the ground might reasonably share the term. To refer to a painting or design on a small surface such as a bench or a storm drain as a mural, however, seems to be an unnecessary stretch of meaning.
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Source: Vocabulary

Personification vs. Anthropomorphism

A reader asks:
Is there a difference between Personification and Anthropomorphism? If they’re not the same, could you please explain it?
Both words convey the idea of attributing human characteristics to something not human.
Personification comes from the verb personify.
One meaning of personify is “to represent or imagine a thing or abstraction as a person.” For example, “Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. –Proverbs, 9:1.” The abstract concept wisdom is personified by the use of the feminine pronouns.
Another meaning of personify is “to be the embodiment of a quality or trait.” For example, “Adolf Hitler has become infamous as a personification of evil.”
Poets frequently employ personification, as in the opening lines of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats (1795–1821):
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst’ thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme.
The subject of the poem is an ancient urn or vase depicting a pastoral scene in which male figures seem to be pursuing women. Keats humanizes the inanimate urn by addressing it with the pronoun thou and calling it a bride, a foster-child, and a historian. The concepts Silence and Time are also personified by identifying them as the parents of the urn.
Many of the ancient gods were personifications of natural phenomena or intellectual concepts. The goddess Iris, for example, is the personification of the rainbow. Cupid is the personification of desire or love (Latin cupere, “to love”).
English speakers personify ships as female, as Holmes does in his poem about the USS Constitution, aka “Old Ironsides”:
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
The word anthropomorphism has two main applications.
The first definition given for it in the OED is “ascription of a human form and attributes to the Deity.” Descriptions of God walking in a garden, having the whole world in His hands and “having His eye upon the sparrow” are examples of this kind of anthropomorphism.
A second definition of anthropomorphism is “ascription of a human attribute or personality to anything impersonal or irrational.” This is the kind of anthropomorphism that leads doting pet owners to stage weddings for their dogs.
Anthropomorphism is a popular story-telling trope. Puss in Boots, Black Beauty, and Rocket Raccoon are anthropomorphized animal characters.
Inanimate objects can also be anthropomorphized, like the vegetables in Veggie Tales and the vehicles in the movie Cars. Television advertising is rife with anthropomorphism, ranging from cute (M&M candies) to revolting (Mucus).
If there is a difference, it’s a subtle one. I think personification is more appropriate for discussions of literature and as a synonym for embodiment. Anthropomorphism seems to suit more general contexts. One drawback to this advice is that anthropomorphism is harder to say.
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Source: Vocabulary

Hack, Hacker and Hacking

A reader is puzzled by a new permutation of the word hack:
The word “hack”, until recently, meant to break into someone’s Internet account or system. Now I see it meaning “tips” or “suggestions”.  Am I correct?
Like this reader, the only meaning that hack held for me in regard to computers was as a verb meaning “to illegally enter a computer system.” I too was surprised to come across headlines like the following:
100 Life Hacks That Make Life Easier
23 Inventive Hacks That Every Parent Should Know
Millennials Are Ditching Delivery for This Dinner Hack
Best Travel Hacks
17 Thanksgiving Hacks For The Best Meal Of Your Life
How did hack go from “illegal computer activity” to “a tip for making things easier to do”?
Looking a little further, I find that hack and hacking to connote only malicious unauthorized access to computer files may reflect general usage, but not that of programmers who are proud to be known as “hackers.”
The OED has ten entries for the word hack: five as a noun, four as a verb, and one as a combining form.
The verb hack in the sense of “to cut with heavy blows” has been in the language since the early 13th century, but the use of hack in the context of computer programming dates from the 1970s.
Note: Hack in the sense of “to cope with” dates from 1955: “I can’t hack all this extra work.”
The etymology of the computer term hack is not certain. According to one theory, it derives from the noun hack used as tech slang for “one who works like a hack at writing and experimenting with software, one who enjoys computer programming for its own sake.” (OnlineEtymologyDictionary).
The noun hacker does not carry a connotation of illegal activity in the following OED citations from 1976:
The compulsive programmer, or hacker as he calls himself, is usually a superb technician.
The compulsive programmer spends all the time he can working on one of his big projects. ‘Working’ is not the word he uses; he calls what he does ‘hacking’.
The earliest citation that associates the word hacking with illegal activity is dated 1983:
Hacking, as the practice of gaining illegal or unauthorized access to other people’s computers is called.
Because hack, hacker, and hacking have such varied connotations, writers should consider the intended audience when using them.
In the programming community, hacker and hacking are good things, or at least neutral. Using an adjective to describe the bad kind might be useful when writing for programmers, for example, “malicious hacking” or “illegal hacking.”
As for the noun hack meaning “tip,” “suggestion,” or “work-around,” I expect the usage will become embedded in computer-speak.
The trendy use of hack in the context of cooking, parenting, and other non-computer-related fields, however, will probably eventually revert to tip or suggestion.
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Source: Vocabulary

Two Bad Prefixes

The English prefix caco- comes from a Latinized form of Greek kakos, “bad, evil.” The English prefix mal- derives from Latin malus, “bad, evil.”
A familiar “caco” word in English is cacophony, which combines “bad” with phone, “sound.” One meaning of cacophony is “the use of harsh sounding words or phrases.” For example: “There are sounds in Gaelic which, though not guttural, are cacophony itself to English ears.”
In the context of speech, the opposite of cacophony is euphony. Literally “good sound,” euphony is the quality of having a pleasant sound.
Cacophony can also refer to a discordant combination of sounds produced in a musical context: “The song explodes into a grating cacophony of grimy analog synths.”
Apart from speech and music, cacophony is used to refer to any unpleasant combination of noises or to a confused variety of anything. For example:
[During the Nazi occupation of Paris] the cacophony of daily urban engagement — passersby, hawkers, street minstrels and performers, construction work, and especially traffic noise — was severely diminished.
This [daily market] was a proper, brick, glass and wrought-iron hangar which stacked up the genuine southern France in a red-blooded cacophony of sensual abundance.
Note: When the context relates to sound, the word cacophony is sufficient. Modifying the word with “of sound” in the following headline is unnecessary because the context clearly relates to musical sound: “Justin Timberlake’s New Song ‘Suit & Tie’ is a Cacophony of Sound.”
The main use of the prefix caco- in English is in the area of medical terminology. It’s combined with other Greek or Latin elements to create words to describe the bad state of bodily organs, for example:
cacoglossia: putrid state of the tongue (glossia=tongue)
cacophthalmia: malignant inflammation of the eyes (ophthalmos=eye)
English words that begin with the other bad prefix—mal- (“bad, badly”)—are numerous.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, most Modern English words with this prefix are 19th century coinages. Here are just a few:
maladroit: clumsy, the opposite of adroit.
malapropism: the ludicrous misuse of words, especially in mistaking a word for another resembling it. The word is an eponym, derived from a character in a play. The character’s name, “Mrs. Malaprop,” is a combination of mal+appropriate. One of her lines is, “Illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.” She’s reaching for the word obliterate.
malaria: a disease spread by mosquitoes. The name originates from a belief that diseases were caused by bad air. Malaria is an Italian borrowing: mal+aria (air).
malediction: a curse. Latin mal+dicere (to speak).
maleficent: given to evildoing. Maleficent is the name of an evil Disney character. In the 1959 film Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is unambiguously evil. I expect that in the new film, she’s just misunderstood.
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Source: Vocabulary

Acronym vs. Initialism

Every so often I’m taken to task for referring to an unpronounceable string of letters as an acronym instead of an initialism.
I’m sure there must be contexts in which the distinction is important, but I’ve never felt the need to distinguish between acronyms and initialisms in writing for a general audience.
For one thing, the word initialism in its modern sense is even newer than the word acronym.
There is no entry for initialism in either of my pre-digital dictionaries:
Websters New Collegiate Dictionary (1960).
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971).
The presumably more up-to-date Word spell checker puts a red line under the word initialism as I type this article.
Note: The word initialism illustrated by OED citations dated 1899 and 1928 was not being used in the modern sense of initials used to identify an entity like the FBI. It refers to the once-popular practice of signing a published work with initials in order to conceal the identity of the author.
Most readers probably know that an acronym is an invented word made up of the initial letters or syllables of other words, like NASA or NATO. Fewer probably know that an initialism is a type of acronym that cannot be pronounced as a word, but must be read letter-by-letter, like FBI or UCLA.
German had the word Akronym as early as 1921, meaning “a new word made up of initials.”
Americans adopted the word with the English spelling acronym in the 1940s. These dated citations from the OED show that from 1940 to the 21st century, what some speakers now prefer to call initialisms have been called acronyms since the word was adopted into English:
1947 The acronym DDT…trips pleasantly on the tongue and is already a household byword.
1975 The puns on the acronym, ‘CIA’, were spawned by recent disclosures about the intelligence agency.
1985 Called by the acronym SCSD (Schools Construction System Development).
2008 The acronym TSS—Tout Sauf Sarkozy (‘Anything But Sarkozy’).
If it is important to you to distinguish between acronyms (NATO, NASA) and initialisms (FBI, TGIF) then by all means, do so. But if you are speaking to or writing for a general audience, it’s not an error to generalize all words and labels created from initials or parts of words under the broad term acronym.
Related post:
Initialisms and Acronyms
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Source: Vocabulary

What is Grammar?

A Web search for the word grammar brings up about 171,000,000 hits. Many of the links lead to discussions of “bad grammar.” In popular usage, grammar can mean anything from misspelling a word to putting an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong.

In Modern English Usage (1926-1964), Fowler defines grammar as “a general term for the science of language.” In the 1965 revision, Gower points out that the science of language is now called linguistics and that grammar is a branch of it.

Linguistics is concerned with such terms as phonology, morphology, accidence, orthoepy, orthography, composition, semantics, syntax, and etymology. Language blogs may attract readers who are interested in all of these aspects of language, but as Fowler points out and Gower echoes, orthography, accidence, and syntax are what most English speakers focus on when they talk about grammar–bad or good.

Orthography: the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage. Misspelled words are errors of orthography. So are misplaced apostrophes.

Accidence: the part of grammar that deals with changes in words to change their meaning, for example, adding endings to verbs or changing their spelling to indicate different tenses (walk/walked, run/ran, go/went), adding letters to nouns or changing their spelling to indicate number (boy/boys, man/men), and spelling pronouns differently to indicate subject or object. “Has went” and “between you and I” are examples of errors of accidence.

Syntax: the arrangement of word forms to show their mutual relations in the sentence.
“Coming out of the auditorium, a purse was lost” is an error of syntax.

Here are Fowler’s and Gower’s simple definitions of the other terms:

phonology: how sounds are made and depicted.
morphology: how words are made.
orthoepy: how words are said.
composition: how words are fused into compounds.
semantics: how words are to be understood.
etymology: how words are derived and formed.

Related post:
Inflections in English

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Source: Daily Tips


A reader asks,
What is the meaning of “wayward”? When would it be used in a positive context? When would it be used in a negative context?
Because wayward is a negative sort of word, I can’t think of a context in which it would be used positively.
Modern speakers use wayward as an adjective, but it began as a directional adverb. To go “(a)wayward” was to go in a direction away from something. One modern meaning of the adjective is “disposed to go counter to the wishes or advice of others.”
In a religious context, “wayward children” are those who have departed from childhood teachings.
“A wayward animal” is one that has strayed from its owner.
“A wayward bullet” is one that has gone astray from the intended direction.
“A wayward government” is one that is not following the rules.
“A wayward boy” may mean simply that the boy has emotional problems, whereas the description “a wayward girl” often has sexual connotations.
Here are some examples of usage seen in headlines and articles on the Web:
Wayward Tortoise Detained by Los Angeles Police, Eventually Claimed by Owner
Sam rolled over in the bed and encountered a wayward pillow instead of his wife. 
Blueprint for reforming a wayward press council
Faithful Parents and Wayward Children: Sustaining Hope While Overcoming Misunderstanding
[Father Flanagan] founded Boys Town as a humble home for wayward youngsters nearly a century ago.
By the turn of the century…reformers had come to view sexually active women not as victims but as delinquents, and they called for special police, juvenile courts, and reformatories to control wayward girls. 
Wayward Capitalists: Targets of the Securities and Exchange Commission (book title)

Here are some synonyms for the different connotations of wayward:
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Source: Vocabulary

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