More grammar-usage peeves from readers

I posted some comments Monday. Here are a few more:

Why, oh why, do people use the word “first” to inappropriately modify verbs? For example: “When I first started …”; “When we first moved here, …”; “When I first met Jane, …”; or “When he first began working here, ….” One does not first start, or first move, or first meet someone, or first begin doing almost anything, unless the activity is done more than one time. For example, normally one does not “start” or “begin” something more than one time. It is absentminded redundancy to use the word “first” when an activity was performed only once and in a finite period of time. It would be appropriate, in the above examples, to say: “When we first lived here, …”; or “When I first knew Jane, …”; or “When he first worked here, …” because there, “first” refers to the beginning stage of an activity that continues indefinitely.

One reader particularly objects to “for free,” something that appears too often in our newspaper. Almost always, we should just write “free” without “for.” Here is the explanation from the reader:

… “for” is a shortening of “in exchange for” and “free” is a shortening of “free of charge”. So, if we were to not abbreviate, we would get “in exchange for free of charge”, which makes no sense at all …

One reader noted that students often confuse “it’s,” the contraction for “it is,” and “its,” the possessive pronoun.

See Monday’s post for more peeves (or complaints). Be sure to read the comments for more, and post a comment there or here, if you wish. You may also send e-mail to me from the link under my photo.

(Darn, I just noticed a typo in the headline for Monday’s post. It’s corrected.)

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.