August 12, 2009

Language Tips:

Posted in Like or as/as if, oneself or one's self at 11:47 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Like or as/as if

When to use ‘like’ and when to use ‘as’ or ‘as if’ in a sentence is a very common concern. When I thought of it this week, I assumed that I had addressed this issue before and was surprised to find that I hadn’t.

What made me think of it was this: I was riding in on the bus early one morning, and I was still trying to wash the cobwebs out of my as yet coffee-less mind, when I heard someone say,

‘He was, like, so annoying.’

Well, that usage, I am not going to address because, like, we all know better, right? RIGHT? But it made me think of the ways we use and misuse ‘like.’

He acted like I wasn’t even there!

She ran like a gazelle.

The study participant answered my questions like it was a personal test.

He floated in the pool like a buoy in surf.

Let me say, right off the bat, that in casual use, all of the sentences here are fine. ‘Like’ has become an acceptable alternative to ‘as if’ in casual conversation and in casual writing like some correspondence. However, it is another story when it comes to formal writing.

The rule is this: if followed by a verb, use ‘as if;’ if there is no verb following, use ‘like.’ So to correct the sentences above:

He acted as if I wasn’t even there. (The verb ‘was’ follows.)

She ran like a gazelle. (This is correct; there is no following verb.)

The study participant answered my questions as if it was a personal test. (Again, we have a verb, ‘was.’)

He floated in the pool like a buoy in surf. (Again, correct, there is no following verb.)

But, what about this?

Giving patients the hard diagnosis makes some doctors feel like they are compounding the patients’ problems.

Ah, this is why we have a love/hate affair with the English Language. This is the exception. It is acceptable to use ‘like’ when is between ‘feel’ and a word ending in ‘ing.’ Don’t ask me why. It’s just one of those things.

Of course, it is also acceptable to us ‘as if’ in this situation.

Giving patients the hard diagnosis makes some doctors feel as if they are compounding the patients’ problems.

You just have to trust me on this one.

Tip 2: Oneself or one’s self

A reader writes:

Is the correct phrase “include oneself” or “include one’s self”?

In general, it’s best to use ‘oneself.’ ‘One’s self’ is considered archaic, we should use the contraction ‘oneself’ just as we do ‘myself’ ‘ourselves’ ‘himself,’ etc.

Of course, you know what’s coming next: The exceptions.

The exceptions are when you are referring to something spiritual or psychological.

One has a better sense of one’s self.

He has a desire to pass on something of one’s self to his children.

Some ‘self’ quotes:

We do not deal much in facts when we are contemplating ourselves.
Mark Twain

Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.
Chinese inscription cited by Thoreau in Walden

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

We are all primary numbers divisible only by ourselves.
Jean Guitton

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