<< back to the archive list

May 23rd, 2007

Into and in to / capitalizing mother / pronouncing coupon

by Barbara Wallraff

Caroline Yull, of Amherst Island, Ontario, writes: “Recently I’ve noticed an increasing use of the word ‘into’ in a way that irks me. For instance, I read that a person ‘drove north on Centre Street and turned into the Canadian Tire store.’ There are other examples of this careless combining of two small words that make one new one when combined, and of course spell-checkers don’t catch any of them.”

Dear Caroline: Good points all. Anyone who “turned into” a store would have to be a magician. No doubt the person actually “turned in to” the store. The same mistake crops up after other verbs too. For example, “Readers write into this column,” “Hand this into your supervisor” and “Don’t give into censorship” all misuse “into,” in place of “in to.”

But the combinations of “two small words” that seem to give people the most trouble are “every day” and “any more.” Each of these is often mistakenly written as one word, though the one-word versions are meant to serve different purposes. Correct uses are: “We all hear mistakes in grammar every day. Many of these everyday mistakes are easy to avoid.” And “Do I need to say any more? Does anyone care anymore?”

As for the spell-checker, I happen to be glad it misses easy-to-catch mistakes like these. The mistakes, when you see them, are a reminder that there’s no substitute for looking over what you’ve written, with your brain engaged.

Ilse Heinigen Baker, of Voorheesville, N.Y., writes: “I have lived in this country for close to 50 years and arrived speaking and writing good English. My native language is German. I still have occasional trouble with English capitalization. A pet peeve: the capitalization of the titles of relatives, especially ‘mother’ and ‘father.’ It makes no sense to me. For example, a question to Dear Abby earlier this month included ‘my mother,’ ‘Mom’ and ‘my mom.’ To my mind, ‘Mother’ should be capitalized whenever it refers to a specific woman.”

Dear Ilse: As you know better than I, in German all nouns are capitalized -- that’s certainly a more straightforward system than the one we use in English. We don’t capitalize the words for relatives unless they’re being used in place of the person’s name. In practice, this usually means capitalizing ones without an article or a possessive adjective in front of them. “Please, Mother, let me explain” is parallel to “Please, Ilse, let me explain,” and the capitalization in both of those sentences is correct. But in “I hope my mother likes my explanation,” “my mother” is more closely parallel to “my friend,” “my readers” and so on. Here “mother” is treated as a common noun, like the others.

Capitalization of this kind is a mark of respect and deference, so it’s optional when referring to relatives of one’s own generation or later ones. The capital letters in “Big Brother” look ominous, don’t you think? But “Dear Granddaughter, Congratulations on graduating from college” is quite nice.

Linda Walsh, of Livonia, Mich., writes: “Please settle an argument. Is the word ‘coupon’ pronounced ‘kewpon’ or ‘coopon’?”

Dear Linda: Both pronunciations are accepted in North American English. If you want to remain true to the word’s French history, though, you’ll pronounce it “coopon,” with the same vowel sound you’d use in “coup.”

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

<< back to the archive list