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Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #25

Thoughts of a Grumpy Examiner

Lots of people will be marking lots of exam scripts soon. As always, I expect I will be struck by how the same expressions, errors, solecisms, clichés and tropes crop up again and again, from students all over the country. It is as if they have conferred with each other and agreed on a stock vocabulary. Here are a few:

the word assert used in place of claim, maintain or argue (particularly common, and particularly annoying, in philosophy essays);

bias used as an adjective (instead of biased);

however used as a conjunction (instead of but);

within used instead of in;

this consistently used in place of which in non-defining relative causes (in fact this use of which seems to be going extinct)

therefor instead of therefore;

and, in creative writing assignments, a widespread inability to punctuate dialogue correctly.

Do I sound grumpy? Very well then, I sound grumpy. I am large; I contain grumpiness.

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.


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