Friday, October 15, 2010

Dreamed vs Dreamt

Susan Boyle famously sang "I Dreamed a Dream,"--the title of which is annoyingly redundant to my ear. But a self-confessed "fan" of this blog recently asked whether that "dreamed" should be "dreamt."

Natalie wrote, "I never know which to use, and I usually fall back on 'dreamed' because it sounds more comfortable. But it is bothersome to me that I do not know if it is right or wrong."

Thanks for asking, Natalie. I don't profess to know what's right or wrong, but I do have an opinion--and usually back that up with sources. In this case I consulted Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, as well as several dictionaries.

According to WDEU, the verb "dream" has two past and past participle forms: "dreamt" and "dreamed," both of which are nearly 700 years old. That leaves plenty of time for confusion.

Generally, "dreamt" is more commonly used in British English (Susan Boyle notwithstanding), while "dreamed" is more common in the U.S. That said, WDEU acknowledges that "our evidence finds both forms flourishing in American use."

So both forms are correct, but all the American dictionaries I consulted list "dreamed" as the preferred form. That's probably why "dreamed" feels more comfortable for Natalie. And that's what I use when I'm writing and editing.

Still, there's a question nagging at me: Susan can sing "I Dreamed a Dream," but, really, must she?

"I Dreamed a Dream: Susan Can Sing" T-shirt available at

Thursday, October 14, 2010

People vs Persons

Today's pop quiz:

What's wrong with this sentence?
About three-quarters of people with serious mental illness also have a chronic physical health problem.
The headline for this post should give you a clue. But beware--it's a trick question.

The author of the sentence, a dear friend and "not-so-secret admirer," is a very successful writer with decades of experience. She recently told me that the editor for the article in which this sentence appears insisted that "people" was incorrect and should be changed to "persons." My friend's plaintive plea: Is that true?!

Nope. The sentence is fine as written. Don't tell that to some fine old traditionalists, however. There's an outdated style "rule" that maintains "persons" should always be used with numerical designators, in this case, three-quarters. But that was discarded decades ago, and style manuals I use indicate that "people" is acceptable in all cases.

To get around the bureaucratic-sounding "persons," my friend used "individuals" instead. Given the subject matter, it was probably best not to annoy the insistent crazy person.

"Don't annoy the crazy person" T-shirt available at

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reach out to...

"Who do I reach out to?" a colleague asked in a recent email.

I had to restrain my fingers from cyber-strangling her on two counts: using the bureaucratese "reach out to," and incorrectly using "who" instead of "whom."

What's with this reaching out to? I really don't want anyone reaching out to me. It sounds too cuddly and new-worldy. Whatever happened to contacting or calling or writing or reaching someone?

On that front, I'm not going to reach out to you, but do I want to thank all my readers for their interest in this blog. Who knew that people still care about words and how to use them? Obviously there are a lot of you, and that warms my cranky, copy editor heart. I especially appreciate your comments, observations, and queries. You're the best. (Look who's getting all cuddly now.)

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