The article that caught my eye this week was the one about a so-called grammar vigilante who has corrected the same mistake on Wiki 47,000 times. Bryan Henderson has even developed a software program to help him in his seven-year mission. Presumably after a hard day at the office, he comes home, has a quick cuppa and gets down to work. Is he an obsessive or is he providing a public service? Certainly, after various stories in the British press, he must be pleased that so many of us have made a mental note to get it right next time.

So what is the offending word? 


What upsets Mr Henderson is that comprised has started to become used in the same way as composed. And he is right here. As an English teacher I am in full agreement.

We can say:

The European Union is composed of 28 member states


The European Union consists of 28 member states

But we certainly can't say:

The European Union is comprised of 28 member states.

On the other had we can say:

The European Union comprises 28 member states.

Comprises means 'contains'.

The next question is: does it matter? I would say it does - to be sure language is constantly evolving but  among the wonders of the English language are the richness of its vocabulary and the preciseness of its expression. If we are careless in using our language we risk losing both.

Here are four frequently misused verb forms:

1. lie/lay

The verb 'to lie' has the following parts: lie/lay/lain

The verb to lay has the following: lay/laid/laid

To lie describes a position:

He always lies on his side. She is lying in the sun. He lay on the beach. I have lain here for two weeks.

We do everything we can to avoid the form 'lain', preferring to substitute a continuous form as in: I have been lying here for two weeks. There is nothing wrong with this - lain just sounds stilted.

The verb 'to lay' needs an object. We must lay something ....

So, chickens lay eggs. We lay the table. He laid the book on the table. She laid the cover on the bed.


2. sat

Even our friends in the media can get this one wrong and we often hear:

They were sat in front of the door.

The verb cannot be used in this way. We should say either:

They sat in front of the door OR They were sitting in front of the door.


3. should have/ could have/would have/might have

Because 'have' is often contracted, we hear should've could've; would've; might've - all totally correct but then people think they are hearing 'of' and write 'of' instead of 'have':.

This one is a horror especially in written communication. Try getting a job if you write:

I would of liked to go to university.


4. Affect/Effect

This one is easy. Affect is the verb; effect is the noun.

The music affected me deeply

It had a powerful effect.

This just gives me time for a quick cuppa before I hit Wiki and emulate the heroic Wiki Warrior Mr Henderson. What he has done for comprise, surely I can do for these four .....

Next time - the prepositions!