Correctness (14)

De komende drie weken zal Nicola Courtney hier telkens drie veelvoorkomende grammaticale fouten behandelen. Sommige probleemgevallen hebben we hier al eens uitgebreider besproken (als zo: klik door), op andere zullen we in de toekomst nog eens terugkomen.

Nicola: I have been asked to write a blog on the most ‘fossilised’ mistakes I come across when teaching legal professionals. Over the next three weeks, I will attempt to provide a short sharp ‘repair kit’ for those of you prone to these types of mistakes.

  1. Present Simple versus Present Continuous

Although the rules surrounding the use of these two tenses appear to be straight-forward, Dutch speakers often misuse or confuse them. Typical mistakes include:
I am working mostly with brokers.                                           I work
I write you to confirm the handover of the property.       I am writing
Next week I go to Milan.                                                               I am going

Remember, we use the Present Simple (e.g. I work) for facts, habits and routines. We use the Present Continuous (e.g. I am working) to describe temporary states, actions happening at the moment of speaking/writing, trends and ‘diary future’ e.g. I am meeting him in Amsterdam on Monday. (read more in Correctness 1  and Correctness 9)

  1. A/An

There is a question in the Branch Out Structure Test – more specifically question 9 in part A – which virtually nobody answers correctly: ‘They did not present___ united front during the negotiations’. Nearly everyone, understandably, answers ‘an united front’ instead of ‘a’.

Although the rule is we use ‘an’ with nouns which begin with a vowel (a, e, i, o and u), as is often the case in English, there are exceptions to this rule which are:

  • If the vowel is pronounced as a consonant (non-vowel) sound we use ‘a’. The vowels in words such as united, uniform, European, one-man band, are pronounced as consonants so we would use ‘a’. However, we would say an umbrella, an expense, an
    opportunity
    as these are pronounced as vowels.
  • ‘H’ is sometimes pronounced as a vowel e.g. an hour, an honest opinion, an heir.
    However, we would say/write a horse, a hurricane, a hotel etc.

Particularly in abbreviations, if the consonant is pronounced as a vowel, we use ‘an’ e.g. an MP, an FBI agent, an X-Ray, an MBA etc.

  1. In case – if – when

These three conjunctions/phrases are frequently misused by Dutch (and other non-native) speakers. Examples of mistakes include:

  • In case the broker fails to pay the damage claims, the insurer is still obligated towards the insured. It should be: If the broker…
  • .When you need more information, please let us know.  It should be:  If you need…

1. If is used for conditions, possibilities and uncertainties
e.g. If I’m late, start without me.
2. When is used for time, general rules, general truths, certainties
e.g. When you fly business class, you have more legroom.
3. In case is used for actions taken as precautionary measures.
e.g. Leave your return flight open in case negotiations fail.

Dutch speakers often use ‘in case’ when they mean ‘if’. Try and remember that we use ‘in case’ to talk about things we do in advance in order to be safe or ready if there is a problem later. For example, if I say ‘I will insure my house if there is a fire’, it means I will wait until after the fire to insure my house. I, of course, want to insure my house before the fire and therefore need to use ‘in case’. The latter should not be confused with ‘in the case of’. (read more in Correctness 7 and Correctness 8)

Happy writing, and see you next week for three more!

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