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March 15th, 2006

Going forward / 50 times fainter / a direct vs. indirect object

by Barbara Wallraff

Francis Prezio, of Watervliet, N.Y., writes: “Lately ‘going forward’ has been creeping into our office mail to mean ‘from now on.’ For example: ‘This applies only to new applicants going forward.’ As a former English teacher, I find it hard to believe this is correct. What do you think?”

Dear Francis: “Forward” can refer to the future (as in “Looking forward to seeing you”), so “going forward” isn’t exactly incorrect. I don’t blame you for being suspicious of it, though. It’s a buzz phrase -- a trendy new way of saying something that easily could have been put more plainly. As you point out, “from now on” means the same thing. In fact, in your example sentence neither “going forward” nor “from now on” serves any purpose. A new applicant is a new applicant, period.

Steve Holicek, of Madison, Wis., writes: “I read that a certain red dwarf star is about one-fifth as massive as our sun and up to 50 times fainter. Does that make it one-fiftieth as bright?”

Dear Steve: Yes, except that your way of saying it is right, and “50 times fainter” is wrong. This is less a question of correct English than it is of arithmetic. Obviously, when you multiply something by a whole number (like 50), the result is larger than the original number. To get a smaller result, you have to multiply by a fraction (like one-fiftieth). So with negative qualities, like “smaller” or “fainter” or “less bright,” fractions are the way to go -- not multiplying.

Karen Milligan, of Dearborn, Mich., writes: “In your recent column discussing the sentence ‘I would like you to buy my book,’ you analyzed ‘you’ as the indirect object and ‘to buy my book’ as the direct object. This cannot be true. In the sentence pattern Subject / Indirect Object / Direct Object, the indirect object can be deleted without changing the relationship of the verb to the direct object.

“For example, in ‘I gave you a dozen roses,’ ‘you’ is the indirect object and the roses are the direct object -- what I gave. If we take out the indirect object, we get ‘I gave a dozen roses.’ The relationship between the verb and its object remains, as does the basic meaning of the sentence.

“In the case of ‘I would like you to buy my book,’ removing ‘you’ leaves us with ‘I would like to buy my book’ -- clearly not what the speaker would like! What he or she wants is for YOU to buy the book. The direct object in the sentence is ‘you,’ and the infinitive phrase ‘to buy my book’ is the object complement, completing or extending the meaning of the direct object.”

Dear Karen: What you say makes perfect sense. Thanks for setting me straight. The only thing I’m still unclear about is: Have you bought my book?

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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