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Top Questions Lawyers Ask about Proper Language Use

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Top Questions Lawyers Ask about Proper Language Use

 
  1. Question: Should lawyers identify themselves and address others as Esquire (Esq.)?
  2. Question: What salutation should be substituted when Gentlemen is inappropriate?
  3. Question: Is it proper to use the abbreviation Ms. to address a woman?
  4. Question: Please comment on the use of the subjunctive after the word if. Couldn't we get along without subjunctive verbs?
  5. Question: Please discuss which of the forms in the two following pairs is stylistically preferable: pled/pleaded and proved/proven.
  6. Question: Please discuss the term oxymoron. Are oxymorons ever appropriate in legal usage?
  7. Question: Why should business letters use reference as a verb when there is a perfectly good verb (referred to)?
  8. Question: How do you decide whether to add er to an adjective or to precede it with more?
  9. Question: Please comment on the use of and/or in legal writing.
  10. Question; Now that carbon copies are no longer used, what should be substituted for cc. to indicate copies?
  11. Question; A recent news item quoted a state prosecutor as saying: "In this state, there*s not enough judges, there's not enough juries, and there's not enough courtrooms." Is this usage correct?
  12. Question: What is the correct usage of the words between and among?
  13. Question: What is correct in the following construction, is or are? "If your name, address or title (is/are) correct ..."
  14. Question: I hear television reporters using the construction "The reason is because. ..." Is that considered correct now?
  15. Question: Which is correct, conclusionary or conclusory?
  16. Question; What is the difference in meaning between therefore and therefore?
  17. Question: What does [sic] mean, and how should it be used?
  18. Question: What is the origin of the word bar, as used in "members of the bar"?
  19. Question: What is the difference in the meaning of the following pairs of words: previous and prior; subject and object; and in front of and before?
  20. Question: What is the correct form of the verb: recur or re-occur? Is re-occur correct in the following sentence: "These problems should not re occur."
  21. Question: Is the word premises singular or plural? Would you use a singular or plural verb in referring to premises, and what personal pronoun should be used?
  22. Question: In referring to a book title, should one say, "The book is titled," or "The book is entitled"?
  23. Question; Do the two phrases, in behalf of and on behalf of have different meanings?
  24. Question: Have you noticed the redundant is?
  25. Question: Does the word none require a singular or a plural verb. For example, would you use is or are in the sentence, "The clients have all left; none (is/are) in the waiting room"?
  26. Question: Which punctuation, of the two choices below, is correct?
  27. Question: Is a comma necessary after etc., when it appears in the middle of a sentence?
  28. Question: What do the initials LLB., LL.M., and J.S.D. stand for?
  29. Question: Is there any rule for deciding whether to add ible or able to form adjectives meaning "capable of" to verbs?
  30. Question: In a legal motion or brief, when one directly quotes a source and sets off the quotation by indenting and single-spacing, should one use quotation marks?
  31. Question: How does the spelling of a word decide when you should use a and when you should use an?
  32. Question; I have been taught that periods and commas are placed within quotation marks, regardless of context. Yet I often see this rule violated. Will you explain the rule?
     
QUESTIONS ABOUT STYLE
 


Question: Should lawyers identify themselves and address others as Esquire (Esq.)?

Answer: Because this question was asked by a woman lawyer who wanted to know whether she could use Esquire to refer to herself or whether it was reserved to men, I checked the etymology of the honorific. I found that Esquire was derived from Latin scutarius, meaning "shield-bearer," and that when it came into English during the middle ages from French, it meant "squire," and was used to denote a country gentleman who, aspiring to knighthood, apprenticed himself to a knight.

When the title arrived in this country, however, our egalitarian society rejected the connotation of social rank that it held in England, and used the honorific to denote occupation. By the 19th century it denoted a justice of the peace or an associate judge. Later it was expanded to include lawyers. The only reason the title implied male-ness was that almost all lawyers were male. So I wrote that there seems no reason for women lawyers to forgo using the title. And I asked readers to share their views on the subject.

There followed a flood of mail. Most lawyers strongly opposed using Esquire to refer to themselves. A small number were opposed to using it in any circumstance. A very few favored using Esquire (Esq.) to refer both to other lawyers and to themselves.

Those lawyers and judges who deplored the use of Esquire argued heatedly that it conveys the very image lawyers are trying to avoid—that the legal profession is officious and self-serving. A significant minority of correspondents, however, believed that instead of Esquire, lawyers should add J.D. after their signatures and to their letterheads.

As to addressing other lawyers as Esquire, most lawyers and judges agreed that the title is "to be given, but not taken". It should be added to the name of the lawyer to whom a letter is addressed, but not appended to the sender's name when he or she signs the letter. Most lawyers said that they are not offended when others apply the title to them. One lawyer wrote that it should be used regularly because it "connotes that measure of respect traditionally accorded members of the legal profession".

But almost all lawyers strongly opposed the practice of calling themselves Esquire. One lawyer wrote, "I have nothing but contempt for this offensive practice." Another wrote that the attempt to "legitimize self-aggrandizement" by calling oneself Esquire is "absolute nonsense." The consensus was best expressed by a lawyer who wrote, "Anyone who calls himself a gentleman probably isn't."

Question: What salutation should be substituted when Gentlemen is inappropriate?

Answer: (The writer was referring to a situation in which the recipients of a letter were of both sexes or their sex was unknown.) The problem is easily solved when the profession or role of the recipients is known. Dear Lawyers or Dear Committee Members might substitute, or (as a reader suggested) Dear Colleagues. Alternatively, one might substitute Dear Recipients or the more aloof To Whom This May Concern.

Other readers contributed suggestions. By far the most popular was Gentle people or Gentle persons, or those words preceded by Dear. (Some readers objected to Gentle in those salutations on the ground that it was insincere.) Also popular was Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, or simply Ladies and Gentlemen, Several readers said that they preferred to put Ladies first because women had been ignored in salutations for many years.

A number of readers submitted Dear Sirs and Madams or, if the sex of the addressees was unknown, Dear Sirs or Madams, (A few readers objected to Madams because of its unfortunate connotation in other contexts.)

Finally, not a few readers argued for the abandonment of the salutation in letters altogether. And one reader concluded that the best salutation for southern correspondents is Dear Yall

Question: Is it proper to use the abbreviation Ms. to address a woman?

Answer: Yes, though not all authorities agree with that answer. But the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary; lists Ms (no period) in its 1987 supplement, defining it as "[a] compromise between Mrs. and Miss, a title prefixed to the surname of a woman, regardless of her marital status."

And that seems to be the chief advantage to Ms., for there seems to be no justification for distinguishing between women according to marital status. If a reason to do so becomes evident, we shall have to create a title to distinguish between married and unmarried men as well.

The approved plural for Ms. is Mss. Although that plural is also an abbreviation for Manuscripts, the double usage is unlikely to cause ambiguity.

A related question was whether a woman should be addressed as Mrs. Mary Jones or Ms. Mary Jones. Etiquette consultants advise that the latter is correct. With Mrs., they say, the surname of the woman's husband should be used (Mrs. John Jones).

Finally, it should be noted that a few persons (usually male and over forty years old) vehemently object to the title Ms.You may recall that a federal judge informed a woman attorney that he did not permit anyone to "use that Ms." in his courtroom. He also told her, "Do what I tell you or you're going to sleep in the county jail tonight." (Later he apologized to the attorney.)

Question: Please comment on the use of the subjunctive after the word if. Couldn't we get along without subjunctive verbs?

Answer: We could, and many persons do, but the loss would be to fine distinctions in meaning. For the subjunctive form of the verb is used after the word if to express ideas that the speaker or writer knows to be contrary to fact or about which he is doubtful. For example:
 
  • If the weather were favorable, I would play golf. (But the weather is not favorable.)
  • He acts as if he were a child. (But he is not.)
 
In both of these contexts, many persons now use the indicative verb form, although that usage is still considered substandard. The following are therefore unacceptable:
 
  • If the weather was favorable, I would play golf.
  • He acts as if he was a child.
 
Because so many persons use the indicative form in sentences like those above, the subjunctive is moribund in English (and is no longer taught to foreign students in most English language classes). One reason for the coming demise of the subjunctive is that the plural subjunctive forms are exactly like the indicative forms. For example:
 
  • If prices were higher, I would sell. (Compare the singular subjunctive: If the market were higher, I would sell.)
 
The subjunctive mood is also properly used after clauses that express a demand, a resolution, a motion, a recommendation, a wish, or a request, when the following clause is introduced by the word that For example:
 
  • The court ordered that the defendant desist from harassing the plaintiff.
  • The committee chairman recommended that each member familiarize herself with the subject.
  • I move that the meeting be adjourned.
  • She demands that there be an investigation.
 
Notice that in each of these sentences the second verb (which follows that) is in the subjunctive. The indicative fonn of the same verbs would be desists, familiarizes, and is. You probably already use the subjunctive in contexts like these without thinking about it. You also automatically use the subjunctive in idioms like "God bless you," "Come what may," "So be it," and "Heaven forbid."

So, although the subjunctive may be on its last legs, it is not yet deceased, and because it makes possible nice distinctions in meaning, it is advisable to use it.

Question: Please discuss which of the forms in the two following pairs is stylistically preferable: pled/pleaded and proved/proven.

Answer: Both forms in the two pairs are correct. There are, however, some differences of opinion about them among authorities. Regarding pled and pleaded. Words & Phrases lists only pleaded as the past tense of plead, but the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) lists both, with pleaded as preferred. That form is the older. It was used as early as 1305. By 1820, Noah Webster was denouncing the form pled, though he admitted that many New Englanders were using it "colloquially." An informal survey of modem American legal usage reveals a preference for pled, and since both past tenses are well established and neither will confuse anyone, use the form you prefer.

As to proved and proven, again, take your choice. The form proved is the older, having appeared as early as 1175. Proven arrived more than three centuries later, in 1536. The AHD's panel of experts suggests that proved be used as the past participle (e.g., in "a proven record"). Current legal usage, however, seems to favor the use of proven both as past participle and as adjective.

Question: Please discuss the term oxymoron. Are oxymorons ever appropriate in legal usage?

Answer: Oxymorons are frequently and appropriately used in court opinions and elsewhere by the legal profession. By definition an oxymoron is a two-word term, the first word of which contradicts the second. Its name exemplifies its meaning, since it is composed of the Greek words oxy ("sharp") and moron ("foolish").

Legal terms that could be considered oxymorons are combinations like negative pregnant, active and affirmative negligence, deliberate speed, and substantive due process. A legal writing colleague, after reading his students briefwriting assignment, added legal brief to the list.

But the use of oxymorons is by no means confined to the legal profession. A local librarian submitted her list of favorites. It included man child, firewater, horsefly, and night light. Lea and Febiger, medical book publishers, recently sponsored an oxymoron contest for enthusiastic collectors. Among the winners were exquisite pain and irregular rhythm. Some of the other entries were idiot savant, ill health, medicinal cigarettes, static flow, sanitary sewer, negative impact, and intense apathy.

You may not consider all these pairs to be true oxymorons. That is because a person's bias sometimes decides whether a word combination should be included in the list. Do you consider, for example, that a "delicious low-calorie dinner" is possible? If not, that term would seem to you to be an oxymoron. Other selections that indicate the selector's bias are Interna! Revenue Sewice, dean bomb, painless dentistry, social security, and family vacation.

Oxymorons are an ancient literary device. They are also as modem as today's newspaper. A well known columnist (and frequent critic of others' literary efforts) chose an infelicitous oxymoron in a recent column. Speaking against the legalization of drugs, he wrote: "What legalization advocates seek is a heavy mitigation of the concomitant consequences of the war on drugs." ("Heavy mitigation"?)
 
QUESTIONS ABOUT CORRECTNESS
 
Question: Why should business letters use reference as a verb when there is a perfectly good verb (referred to)?

Answer: This question addresses the characteristic practice of English speakers to change words from one category to another. Recently the phrase "the above referenced matter" has replaced the earlier "the above-referred-to matter" in legal and commercial usage.

It is hard to analyze why people who write on business or legal matters prefer referenced to referred to, but the newer usage has caught on and has practically driven out the old. The point is that when English speakers perceive that a change of word category is useful, they do not hesitate to change into verbs words that were formerly nouns, nouns into adjectives, adjectives into nouns, etcetera.

In the case of referenced, that one word replaces two, and may therefore be considered preferable. Other recent noun-to-verb forms include instance, evidence, critique, and stonewall One example of a noun that is often currently used as a verb in legal writing despite a perfectly good verb being available is garnishee, which is really a noun though legal drafters mistakenly use it as a verb. The actual verb form is to garnish, which is derived from the French gamir, as are the nouns garnishee (one who garnishes) and garnishment (the process of garnishing).

When words change categories, their new forms sound strange at first, but once they become generally used, they are accepted as normal. It hasn't been long since instance was only a noun; now it is also a verb. You may recall the time when fun was only a noun; now it serves as an adjective too, as in fun-time.

This process of word change from one category of speech to another is usually painful when it is occurring. Benjamin Franklin voiced his concern about new words in a letter to Noah Webster:
 
  • During my late absence in France, 1 find that several new words have been introduced. From the noun notice a new verb noticed was produced. Also advocate led to advocated, and progress to progressed ... the most awkward and abominable of the three.
 
Franklin added, "If you should happen to be of my opinion with respect to these innovations, you will use your authority in reprobating them." The reporter of this correspondence adds, "If Webster advocated such action it is unlikely it progressed very far, for little effect can be noticed, " (S. Block, in Benjamin Franklin, His Wit, Wisdom & Women, Hastings House, 1975, at 372.)

It has not been many years since breach was only a noun, so one could only break a contract. And only forty years ago grammarians frowned on the use of contact as a verb. Lawyers have written protesting the use of negative as a verb, but it seems to be firmly ensconced in the language. Others complain about the new verbs gifted and motioned, which are on their way to replacing given and moved. There have also been queries about whether nolle prosequi and praecipe can be used as verbs.

The answer to all questions of this type is the same: if there is a need for the new usage, it will become a part of the language. Therefore though it is not wise to adopt (or coin) new words, don't resist the usage after it has settled into the language of the legal profession.

Question: How do you decide whether to add er to an adjective or to precede it with more?

Answer: Although all one-syllable adjectives add er to form the comparitive, you can add more instead. For example, you can say sweeter, finer, and sadder, or more sweet, more fine, and more sad. Adjectives of more than two syllables always add more; for example, beautiful, eccentric, and capable. The exception to that rule is three-syllable adjectives formed by adding un to some two-syllable adjectives like unhappy and unworthy.

Two-syllable adjectives, especially those that end in y (like pretty, friendly, and cozy), can add er With respect to other two-syllable adjectives, make your own decision based on current usage. I add er to narrow, clever, and subtle, but not to often. Your choices may differ, but are "wrong" only if they are idiosyncratic.

Question: Please comment on the use of and/or in legal writing.

Answer: My advice is to avoid and/or. The reason for that advice is that judges dislike the term, their disapproval ranging from mild to violent, Judges have written in their opinions that the term is misleading and confusing, that it leads to uncertainty, ambiguity, and multiplicity, that it is a linguistic abomination and a verbal monstrosity.

Judges have had to construe the meaning of and/or in numerous cases, in affidavits, ballots, contracts, motions, ordinances, pleadings, statutes, and verdicts. That list should cause lawyers to think twice before using and/or in their legal writing.

Question; Now that carbon copies are no longer used, what should be substituted for cc. to indicate copies?

Answer: Although almost nobody uses carbon copies, the abbreviation is still in use. You may wish to use a single c. to indicate one copy, two cc. to indicate more than one. The addition of the names of those to whom copies are being sent provides helpful additional information.

Question; A recent news item quoted a state prosecutor as saying: "In this state, there*s not enough judges, there's not enough juries, and there's not enough courtrooms." Is this usage correct?

Answer: No. The word there (called a grammatical expletive) is number-neutral. It takes the number of the real subject, which follows, so it should be there is (there's) when it is followed by a singular subject and there are when it is followed by a plural subject. In the sentence cited above, all of the nouns are plural, so the sentence should read "in this state, there aren't enough judges, there aren't enough juries, and there aren't enough court rooms."

To be sure, this rule is currently violated, even by people who should know better, but violation indicates sloppy usage and lawyers ought to be careful to attach the correct number {is/are; was/were) to there. On the other hand, consider omitting the grammatical expletive in your writing whenever it is not necessary. Although legal professionals seem to dote on expletive constructions, they often have two unfortunate results: they reduce clarity and usually create wordiness. Consider the following sentences from law students' writing:
 
  • There is a cause of action on behalf of the passenger, who suffered from the reckless conduct of the driver.
  • As soon as the victim's purse was grabbed there was battery, there was certainly no consent.
 
These sentences would be clearer if the expletives were deleted, and the actual subject of the sentence were stated:
 
  • The passenger has a cause of action against the driver because of the driver's reckless conduct.
  • As soon as the defendant grabbed the victim's purse, the defendant committed a battery: the victim had certainly not consented.
 
Question: What is the correct usage of the words between and among?

Answer: In exact usage, between refers to only two persons or objects. Its root is Anglo-Saxon be tweonum ("by the two"). In the Middle English period (about 1000 to 1500) tweonum evolved to 'twain (as in Kipling's "Never the 'twain shall meet").

But between is now often used to refer to more than two persons or objects. Although "a debate among three opponents" follows the grammatical "rule," you might prefer "a debate between three opponents" as better conveying your meaning of controversy.

But one rule is still in effect, though often ignored. For correct usage, be sure to use the objective form of the personal pronoun after both between and among. The ungrammatical "between you and I" is a mistaken effort at elegance. Correct are the following:
 
  • between you and me
  • among (between) us
  • between him and her
  • between (among) them and us
 
Another fairly prevalent error that should be avoided is the redundant and ungrammatical: "He took a 30-minute lunch break between each and every appointment." Substitute instead one of the following:
 
  • He took a 30-minute lunch break between appointments.
  • He took a 30-minute lunch break after each appointment.
 
Question: What is correct in the following construction, is or are? "If your name, address or title (is/are) correct ..."

Answer: The correct choice is is. The key word is or. Had that word been and, the plural verb are would have been correct. When you use and, you indicate that the listed items are to be considered as a total; or indicates that the listed items are to be considered separately.

When all of the listed items are either singular or plural, the rule causes no problem, but when the items are mixed in number, the principle of grammatical attraction takes over, and you choose for the verb the number of the closest noun. For example, the following are correct:
 
  • A raincoat, an umbrella, or galoshes are advisable.
  • Galoshes, an umbrella, or a raincoat is advisable.
 
Question: I hear television reporters using the construction "The reason is because. ..." Is that considered correct now?

Answer: No. Grammars and dictionaries still label it redundant and unacceptable. For example, one grammar calls it "an informal redundancy" eind advises that you use that ("the reason is that"). Another authority on usage comments that although "the reason is because" often appears, especially in speech, "the reason is that" is preferable. Similarly, the reason why is redundant, although it is used so frequently by educated speakers that it has gained currency and can be considered as correct.
 
QUESTIONS ABOUT MEANING
 
Question: Which is correct, conclusionary or conclusory?

Answer: Both words are in current use, and they have the same meaning: a conclusion reached without adequate proof or evidence. In about 3,000 recent federal and court opinions, however, conclusion appeared 2,840 times and conclusionary only 160 times. Therefore it would seem wise to use conclusory instead of conclusionary.

Question; What is the difference in meaning between therefore and therefore?

Answer: Although current dictionaries usually brand therefor "archaic," it is still in legal use in phrases like "just cause therefor," and "payment therefor." The word therefor means "for that." The word therefore is widely and currently used, both legally and generally. It means "for that reason."

Question: What does [sic] mean, and how should it be used?

Answer: [Sic ], which is Latin for "thus," "so," or "in the same manner," is used to indicate that the writer is using exactly the same language as the person being quoted. Why not let quotation marks indicate this fact? Because the quoted matter followed by [sic ] usually represents unorthodox or unusual usage-or more often because the word is misspelled in the quotation. Put elegantly, [sic ] is an orthographical disclaimer. More bluntly, [sic ] says, "I know this word is misspelled, but the person I am quoting didn't."

Question: What is the origin of the word bar, as used in "members of the bar"?

Answer: The origin of the word bar is uncertain, but it came into Middle English from Middle French barre, meaning "barrier," probably from Vulgar Latin barro, though the Latin word is unattested. In England, the bar was a railing separating the judge's seat from the rest of the courtroom. In the Inns of Court, the barristers (persons qualified to practice "at the bar") debated their case before the judges. (As counsel to the king, the barrister was called "within the bar.")

Another bar separated students, who observed the proceedings and would eventually take their places "at the bar." Later the word bar expanded to include the entire body of barristers or lawyers qualified to practice law, and to denote the legal profession. Thus the term, "members of the bar."

Question: What is the difference in the meaning of the following pairs of words: previous and prior; subject and object; and in front of and before?

Answer: Dictionaries list the two adjectives, previous and prior, as essentially synonymous. However, each has a meaning not in common with the other. Previous can mean "the next prior" or "the next preceding," and prior can mean "having precedence." For that meaning of prior, compare the word priority, from which it probably obtains that meaning. For the differences in meaning, see the following illustrations:
 
  • the photograph on the previous page (i.e., the next prior)
  • a responsibility prior to all others (i.e., having precedence over).
 
Although dictionaries do not distinguish between subject and object, when you examine the contexts in which the words are used, you do find that they are not completely interchangeable.

Subject means "topic," and is used to describe non-human nouns, as in "the subject of the course," "the subject under discussion." Object means "focus" and is often used to refer to human beings in phrases like "the object of pity," "the object of admiration," and "the object of contempt." If you switch the two words in the illustrative phrases, you will see that they don't "fit."

Finally, there is a difference in the two words in front of and before in one important context that legal writers should be aware of. A law professor complained to me that young attorneys were mistakenly using in front of when they should be using before in sentences like, ''Jones v. Smith involved an action for damages tried before a jury." In that context, before means "in the presence of."

Question: What is the correct form of the verb: recur or re-occur? Is re-occur correct in the following sentence: "These problems should not re occur."

Answer: The verb re-occur is not yet dead, but it is probably dying. The reason: an inexorable rule of usage is that when two words have the same meaning, they either differentiate in meaning or one disappears. Because re occur and recur mean the same thing-and recur is shorter-re-occur is now in the process of disappearing.

We now have two verbs with the same meaning: administer and a backformation from the noun administration, administrate. Unless these two synonymous verbs differentiate in meaning, one (probably the original form, administer) will disappear. This process is also occurring with preventive and preventative. The shorter form almost always wins out, so that is why re-occur will probably disappear.

Question: Is the word premises singular or plural? Would you use a singular or plural verb in referring to premises, and what personal pronoun should be used?

Answer: Standard usage requires the use of a plural verb and a plural pronoun (they) to refer to premises, even though the word often conveys a singular meaning. Appellate court opinions regularly use plurals in reference to premises; for example, "The premises referred to were not the various buildings . .. and "Premises are entitled to constitutional protection . . . ."

Question: In referring to a book title, should one say, "The book is titled," or "The book is entitled"?

Answer: Either word is correct. The two words are cognates, that is, they are derived from the same Latin root, titulus, meaning "title." Both words carry the meaning, "have a name," or "give a name or title to," but entitle has a second meaning, not shared by title: "have or bestow the right (sometimes legal) to do something." The slang expression, "You're entitled," illustrates that second meaning.

With the meanings, "have a title" or "give a title to,'* the verb title will probably eventually replace the longer form, entitle.

Question; Do the two phrases, in behalf of and on behalf of have different meanings?

Answer: Some dictionaries say they do, but few courts distinguish the two phrases in their opinions. For example, Ballentine'sLaw Dictionary (3rd edition, 1969) lists for behalf the meanings "in the name of; on account of; for the benefit, advantage, interest, profit or vindication of." Under a separate listing, Ballentine'sdefines on his behalf os meaning "for him and as authorized by him." The American Heritage Dictionary, 1973, quoted its Usage Panel as noting that the two phrases have distinct senses and cannot be used interchangeably. The Usage Panel's majority (58%) restricts in behalf of to the meanings "in the interest of, for the benefit of," and on behalf of to the meanings "as the agent of, on the part of." These definitions seem consistent with those listed by Ballentine's.

In portions of opinions cited in Words and Phrases, courts differ as to the meanings of on behalf of and in behalf of While one court said that on behalf of means "for" a person, as agent, another said that "on behalf of does not indicate agency," and still another court said that on behalf of did mean "represented."

In 1988 Florida appellate court decisions, “on behalf of” appeared 31 times, “in behalf of” only 7 times. Some courts maintained a distinction between agency (on behalf of) and interest [in behalf of), but in some contexts, the phrases seemed to indicate either agency or interest—or both. For example, in the following contexts, on behalf of seems to indicate both agency and interest:
 
  • Attorney's fees shall not be awarded against a party who is insolvent or poverty-stricken. Before initiating such a civil action on behalf of a client, it shall be the duty of the attorney to inform his client, in writing, of the provisions of this section.
  • On behalf of the defendant . . ., I believe the moral thing to do is add the five years probation, but 1 think when you appointed me on this case you wanted me to represent the defendant [as well as possible].
  • For a period of two years following the termination of said employment . . ., he will not, for himself or in any capacity for or in behalf of any other person. . . .
  • An application for writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion
 
Because those who act as agents for others also act in their interest, it is not surprising that the meanings of the two phrases have merged, nor that on behalf of is used more often and with both meanings. Under the rule of economy (when two words mean the same thing, one will probably disappear), it is likely that in behalf of is on its way out of the English language.

Question: Have you noticed the redundant is?

Answer: Indeed I have. It appears more often in speech than in writing, and distracts attention from what the speaker is saying to the way he is saying it. When you hear a person use it once you can be sure he will use it again and again. I have listed below some of the contexts in which one speaker recently used the redundant is:
 
  • The thought is is that the evidence has little probative value.
  • The determining factor is is that the statement was hearsay.
  • The problem is is that the defendant did not make the necessary repairs.
  • I think that what he said is is that he was out of town.
 
In all of the sentences listed, the second is is both redundant and ungrammatical. Why does the speaker put it in? A possible explanation is that he is analogizing these constructions to one in which the second is is both grammatical and semantically necessary.

For example, take the phrase "What it is is a well-known fact." Here you need the second is because what it is is a noun phrase, although the noun phrase is composed of a pronoun/subject plus the verb (is). To prove that what it is is a noun phrase, substitute a noun or pronoun for it:
 
  • The disappearance of smallpox is a well-known fact.
  • That is a well-known fact.
 
But in all those sentences in which the second is was redundant, the subject of the sentence was a noun and the verb was is. For example, in the first sentence listed, "The thought is that the evidence has little probative value," thought is the subject noun, and is is the verb. The speaker who mistakenly adds the second is does so on the mistaken and probably subconscious assumption that all subject nouns and pronouns, when they are followed by a form of the verb be are similar to the what it is construction.

Redundancy often occurs when one stops considering what the language means. A chancellor of a western university recently sent out a memo creating an "ad hoc task force." But because all task forces are by their nature "ad hoc," that statement is redundant. Common redundant verb/adverb combinations are return back and repeat again, among others.

Question: Does the word none require a singular or a plural verb. For example, would you use is or are in the sentence, "The clients have all left; none (is/are) in the waiting room"?

Answer: Either choice is appropriate. If you want to emphasize the singular meaning of none, use the singular verb, as in:
 
  • None of us is without sin.
  • There should be some alternatives, but none is available.
 
In its singular meaning, none means "not one." It is derived from Old English ne ("not") plus an ("one"). Grammarians used to insist, therefore, that none be followed by a singular verb. But that is no longer true; even the most conservative grammarians agree that none can be either singular or plural. Thus in the sentence the reader cited above, use either is or are.
 
QUESTIONS ABOUT PUNCTUATION AND SPELLING
 
Question: Which punctuation, of the two choices below, is correct?
 
  • The Real Estate Company, Inc., (hereinafter referred to as "Company") . . .
  • The Real Estate Company, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as "Company") . . .
 
Answer: The second example is correct. The rule is that when the sentence requires other marks of punctuation along with the parenthetical material, you place the marks after the closing parenthesis. For example;
 
  • During Herbert Hoover's presidency (1929-1933), this country suffered its worst financial depression.
  • The term liberum tenementum means a "freehold estate" (as in a plea brought by one in actual possession of land, asserting title to the property and the right to possession, but admitting possession and a color of right to the property by another).
 
Question: Is a comma necessary after etc., when it appears in the middle of a sentence?

Answer: Yes. The abbreviation of et cetera (which means "other unspecified things of the same class") substitutes for additional items in a list and should be set off by commas, just as are the other listed items. When etc. ends a sentence, you use only one period after it. For example, "77?e Lonely Crowd deals with social values, human relationships, etc.

Question: What do the initials LLB., LL.M., and J.S.D. stand for?

Answer: LL.B. stands for "Legum Baccalaureus," Latin for "Bachelor of Laws," LL.M. stands for "Legum Magister," Latin for "Master of Laws," and J.S.D. stands for "Doctor of Judicial (or Juridical) Science." The doubling of the L in LL.B. and LL.M. indicates the plural of Law. Legum is the genitive (possessive) plural of /ex, Latin for "law."

Question: Is there any rule for deciding whether to add ible or able to form adjectives meaning "capable of" to verbs?

Answer: There is a handy rule that should help you choose the right spelling. Examine the pairs of adjectives below and see if you can formulate a rule to govern your choice of either able or ible.
 
Eatable Edible
Detectable Visible
Readable Legible
believable credible
 
As you probably have noticed, all the adjectives in the lefthand column were formed by adding the suffix to a Modem English verb (eat, detect, read, and believe). In the case of believe, the final e was deleted, just as it is before ed and ing. The ? in apply also changes to / in applicable, as it does in applies and applied.

The rule, then, is that whenever you add a suffix to a recognizable Modem English verb, spell it able. However, when the base word is not a Modem English verb, but a Latin borrowing, like the base verbs in the righthand column (ed, vis, leg, and cred), add ible. Applying the mle, you would spell receivable and responsible as shown.

Question: In a legal motion or brief, when one directly quotes a source and sets off the quotation by indenting and single-spacing, should one use quotation marks?

Answer: Some authorities agree that long quotations should be indented at both margins, without quotation marks. But not all authorities agree about the fifty word limit. One authority permits up to 100 words to be quoted in the text itself. Other authorities do not count words, but say that more than nine lines should be indented. These authorities require indentation of five spaces from both margins, except for the first line of each paragraph, which is indented ten spaces.

On one point, however, all authorities I consulted agree: when the material is indented, quotation marks should be omitted. But court reporters often ignore this part of the rule, and one sees material both indented and enclosed with quotation marks. This practice has been defended on the argument that it makes the quotation unmistakable. That may be, but it seems to me that the necessity of using both double quotation marks (") and single quotation marks (') to distinguish quoted material within the quotation would cause more ambiguity and confusion than the omission of the double quotation marks in indented, single-spaced material.

Question: How does the spelling of a word decide when you should use a and when you should use an?

Answer: You decide according to the initial sound, not the spelling, of the word that follows a or an. If the word begins with a vowel sound, like honest or hour, even though it begins with a consonant, use an. On the other hand, words that begin with vowels, if they have the sound of consonants, use a. For example, before union and eulogy, use a.

The lawyer who sent the question was especially curious about the phrase an historic question. She wanted to know why the speaker had used an instead of a. The speaker did so because he pronounces historic with a silent h, as in hour That is typically British; in this country, most speakers retain the h sound in historic. And even British speakers retain the h sound in history, probably because in the noun, the first syllable is stressed. The h sound tends to disappear only in unstressed syllables, as in the phrase (with the British dropped h), "An humble and a contrite heart."

Question; I have been taught that periods and commas are placed within quotation marks, regardless of context. Yet I often see this rule violated. Will you explain the rule?

Answer: In American usage, the rule is that periods and commas are invariably placed within quotation marks. Thus you do not have to decide where to put these two marks. When the punctuation mark is either a colon or a semicolon, it is always placed outside the quotation marks. For example:
 
  • The buyer purchased the "specified model"; under the U.C.C., he is therefore entitled to damages when the seller repudiated the contract.
  • The New York cases "applied the profit test"; contract price less cost of manufacture.
 
When the punctuation mark is a dash, a question mark, or an exclamation point, place it inside the quotation marks when the material quoted requires the punctuation; when the punctuation mark applies to the sentence as a whole, put it outside the quotation marks:
 
  • The crowd shouted, "Free the Philippines!"
  • Did you hear him say, "I am guilty"?
  • Did the witness say, "1 was there"?

As you can see in the last example, when a period would otherwise be placed before the final quotation mark, omit it when the entire sentence ends with a question mark. The same rule applies when the sentence ends with an exclamation point.

See the following articles for more information: 


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