June 7th, 2006
He, he/she, or they? / different with from or than / snuck
by Barbara Wallraff
Charles Bingham, of Sitka, Alaska, writes: “Some co-workers are rewriting a training manual, and they want to know what pronoun to use to refer to a department director. The position is held by a man but was previously held by a woman. The use of ‘he/she’ or the phrase ‘he or she’ gets clunky. But we want to avoid using ‘he,’ and we can’t use ‘they’ because there only is one director. Any suggestions on the best ways to get around this issue?”
Dear Charles: You and your co-
Paul Fishkin, of Madison, Wis., writes: “In a recent column you said that the word ‘guilt’ is ‘usually used differently from the way ...’ I thought it should be ‘differently than,’ as ‘from’ indicates distance. Which is correct?”
Dear Paul: Purists will tell you that no matter what the meaning, it should always be “differently (or different) from” -- never “than.” “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” by Bryan A. Garner, explains this point of view: “The problem is that ‘than’ should follow a comparative adjective (e.g., ‘larger than,’ ‘sooner than,’ etc.), and ‘different’ is not comparative.”
Suzanne Thurman, of Canton, Mich., writes: “Is it proper to use the word ‘snuck’? ‘He snuck out the back door,’ for example. I thought this was unacceptable usage, but some people argue with me.”
Dear Suzanne: I’m on your side: The traditional, correct past tense of “sneak” is “sneaked.” Given that the past tense of “seek” is the irregular “sought” and the past tense of “stick” is “stuck,” though, it’s probably inevitable that some people would try to give “sneak” an irregular past tense too. “Snuck” is increasingly common, but “sneaked” is still preferred.
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