July 17, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: continuous/continual, to be or not to be

Posted in continuous/continual, the Pittsburgh to be at 11:51 pm by dlseltzer

Weekly Language Usage Tips

Tip 1: Continuous or continual?

I’ve had this topic in the back of my mind for a while, but this morning, I was reviewing a document in which an applicant planned to “continuously, develop and modify my research experimental designs.” Oh dear, although it sometimes seems like we are continuously designing studies and writing proposals, we really are not. We are, in fact, continually designing studies and writing proposals.

Continuous means without interruption, without stopping, and unceasing.

The continuous sound of the waves pounding the rocks was really rather soothing.

Continual means recurring regularly or frequently.

Language and its usage are changing continually.

NOTE TO STICKLERS: I know “continual” can also mean without interruption ­ I just didn’t want to confuse the issue.

Tip 2: To be or not to be?

This tip is dedicated to a very dear and respected friend who, yesterday, in a meeting, intentionally uttered the words “needs managed.” I figure if he could do it, I could be brave and do it, too. Thus, this tip.

A reader writes:

ok, this is a peeve and I’ve just come across it again .Many, perhaps just Pittsburghers I’ve been told (no insult there, I’m from a Pgh ‘burb), fail to state or write “to be”, e.g., “We have realized there are changes that need made……..” Many things wrong w/ this but I see and hear this repeatedly

It is a Pittsburgh thing. There is a brief and amusing article on Pittsburghese here: http://itotd.com/articles/307/pittsburghese/ I’ve even seen this construction in  the Post-Gazette which is very irritating. Some people in Pittsburgh leave out the words “to be” where they are required. This generally occurs with “need past participle,” “want past participle,” and “like past participle.”

The car needs washed.           The cat likes petted.   The child wants picked up.

The correct versions would be:

The car needs to be washed.     The cat likes to be petted.     The child wants to be picked up.

With respect to “need,” another correct version would be: The car needs washing. That won’t work for “want” or “like” though.



  1. dlseltzer said,

    Doug writes:

    Thank goodness that Shakespeare wasn’t from Pittsburgh given our propensity to drop the “to be”, or the famous quote from Hamlet would have simply been “…or not…”

  2. dlseltzer said,

    felicia writes:

    Deb, speaking of “the car needs washed,” the real Pittsburgh way of saying it is “the car needs WARSHED.”

    I had the hardest time getting used to this when I moved here over a decade ago. Now, honestly, I find it kind of cute.

  3. dlseltzer said,

    Alan writes:

    If Hamlet had delivered his soliloquy in Pittsburgh:

    or not
    That is the question

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