Stewarts corner

Some English questions from our colleagues

When do we use «You» and «Your» in mid-sentence? The answer is never (with perhaps two exceptions). Many people think that they can transfer Norwegian customs across to English. Year after year, university students taking English classes have told me that they learnt this in school - which I just cannot believe. The exceptions are: references to God which use You and Your, and second in letters to HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, or The Queen Mother, which show that «Divine Rule» thinking is still alive. According to the rule book, if you are writing a letter to HM The Queen, you are expected to capitalize «your». Here the salutation is not «Dear Madam,» but «May it please Your Majesty,» and the ending is «I have the honour to remain, Madam, Your Majesty¹s faithful subject» (which of course would not suit Norwegian citizens). There are similar variations on this for these two other «Royals», but not all. Letters to Prince Charles and other princes use small case «your» in the ending, which is: «I have the honour to remain, Sir, your Royal Highness¹ most dutiful subject». Note that protocol is that letters to such people are addressed to their private secretaries and the above only applies when you are in direct correspondence with a Royal. Arrangers of events such as ISFiT often write invitation letters in English to VIPs of different walks of life. Even here, the rule never use «You» and «Your» in mid-sentence still applies.

When do you use the «re-» prefix?

Many verbs beginning with re- keep the original meaning of to do again: «redress», «retouch» for paintwork. Other verbs, such as: «repair», «represent» have lost this meaning. A third category of verbs have had re- added to them without the meaning of «to do again» and the prefix is pronounced /ri/: «reopen», «recreate». As there are a few verbs which fit into more than one of these groups, a hyphen is necessary if you want to make a distinction between such pairs as:
re-count = count again
recount = tell a story
re-cover = supply with a new cover
recover = get back or become well again;

Prefixes, there must be some rules?

Last week, I suggested that the only safe rule for deciding when to use a negative prefix is to consult a dictionary. Someone asked for a rule of thumb about this. Here are some guidelines to the use of non-, un-, in-, il-, im-, ir-, dis- and a- as negative prefixes. 1. Non- and un- are the most frequently used negative prefixes. Non- is used with nouns, adjectives and adverbs and indicates an absence of something: a non-drinker, a non-stick pan, or speaking non-stop. Un- is added to adjectives and indicates the opposite quality from the positive word: «unexpected» = surprising, «unwise» = foolish. The difference becomes clear if you compare «non-American» (a nationality which is not American) with «un-American activities» (being disloyal to America).
2. In- is used with a fewer words than un- to form opposites.
3. The spelling of the positive stem decides when to use: il- which is before l (Illogical); im- before b, m, p (imbalance, immaterial, impossible) and ir- before r (irresponsible).
4. Dis- is also used with verbs, adjectives and nouns to form opposites: (dislike, disobedient, distrust).
5. A- is mostly used in formal or technical words to indicate lacking in or lack of: «amor phous» (lacking in shape), «amoral» (lack of morals).. When do you use ones and one´s? Ones is the plural form: «I call my students, the dear ones».

One´s is the possessive: «If one would like to improve one¹s business processes, one goes about it this way». As variety is said to be the spice of life: «one, one¹s and one» in one (or should I say a single) sentence may offend one¹s readers. A more polished variation would be: «If we going to improve our business processes, we should go about it this way».

Enlightening English

The dubious story about the Japanese elections, that appeared in this column a few weeks ago could have even more interesting if I had mentioned that the discussion was between a female Norwegian politician and her Japanese host, according to one of our staff. When her memoirs are written, perhaps we shall learn the truth. This reminded me of a related event when an equally prominent Norwegian politician visited the USA a few years ago. I found it such a charming example of the confusing nature of English, that I wrote the following attempt at a Limerick which surprising enough actually made the back page of Dagbladet:

When Kåre was in the US of A,
he didn¹t quite know what to say, After starting «Good Day»,
His hosts went away,
And it was Norwegian the rest of the stay.

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Oppdatert: 27. Feb 1997