It’s pretty common to see the words allow and enable used interchangeably—but they have really quite distinct meanings. I have to admit that I tense up a bit when I run across a sentence like “The new equipment will allow employees to finish their work three times faster than before.” 

First, I’m ticked off that somebody else is going to be off to play Xbox or lounge around at Denny’s while I’m still slaving away over a hot keyboard. (By the way, I don’t play Xbox and I’m not a huge fan of Denny’s. I just don’t like other people enjoying themselves while I’m still working. Yes, I’m a monster. Point and stare at the grumpy old man.)

But I’m also a little creeped out over the implication that the equipment is sentient enough to hold some control over the obviously terror-stricken employees at this freakish office of the future.

You see, allow means “to give permission to do something.” Inanimate objects aren’t capable of giving permission. (I know, you’re going to bring up traffic lights, fancy electronic locks and so forth, but they’re just responding to programming.) However, they can enable you to do something—like work faster, drive more safely or gain access to secret government labs where people really are working on computers that will someday take over the world. (Everyone knows that the Terminator movies were documentaries, right?)

So, the next time you’re faced with the allow vs. enable choice, just ask, “Am I talking about giving permission or just ability?” And if an office machine answers your question, hightail it out of there.
 
 
If I had a time machine, I’d go back to the first person who uttered the mangled phrase “try and” and give him or her a mighty thump right in the middle of the forehead. In fact, I’d just do an all-out head-thumping tour, trying to get ahead of a grammar virus that has infected a lot of people. Lacking a time machine, however, I’ll see if I can turn a few people around with this post. 

Plain and simple, “try and” is never, never correct when you mean you are going to attempt to do something—as in “I’ll try and stop saying ‘try and’” or “I’ll try and invent a time machine.”

Instead, the right words are “try to.” So, I’ll try to stop saying “try and,” and I’ll try to invent a time machine. I’ll also try to come up with some better material than this.

 
 
I just bought a box of Mike and Ike candies. When I looked at the special offer emblazoned across the top of the front side of the box, something caught my eye. It said, "You could win instantly! $10 in music downloads or a MP3 player."

So what's wrong with that statement? Ignore the whole starting with a dollar amount thing -- that falls under the freer use of style for advertising.

What doesn't get a pass is "a MP3 player." It should be "an MP3 player." Here's the rule for that: Choosing between "a" or "an" isn't governed by the actual letter that follows it, but rather by the sound that letter makes. If it is a consonant sound, you use "a." If it's a vowel sound, you use "an."

So let's look at "MP3." While the letter "m" is a consonant, the name for the letter itself, "em," actually begins with a vowel sound -- "eh." So, just like we would say, for instance, "an emerald," we also say "an MP3 player."

For the same reason, we say "an hour" and not "a hour." The "h" isn't pronounced, so the first sound in the word is the vowel sound that "ou" makes.

By the way, the grammar faux pas on the Mike and Ike box doesn't sour me on the candy inside. I still love 'em.
 
 
More and more often, I hear people who appear to be of sound mind making a particular,  absolutely ear-grating grammar flub. While I'm no grammar stick-in-the-mud -- especially when it comes to spoken language in informal situations -- this one knocks my block off.

It's the bizarre practice of making a possessive out of the word "I" -- as in "Danny and I's relationship is stronger than ever."

Seriously? "I's"? You may be a famous actress or a TV personality, but you're certainly not smarter than a fifth grader!

It seems that a lot of people have trouble concocting a compound possessive -- a possessive involving more than one person or thing -- on the fly. And, I'll admit, it can be tricky.

One route is to avoid the issue altogether, saying instead something like "The relationship between Danny and me is stronger than ever." (But that brings up another bugaboo: the whole "I" versus "me" thing ... fodder for a future blog post.)

The easiest remedy, really, is to get into the habit of quickly breaking apart the compound possessive and letting your ear tell you what is right. Would you say, "I's relationship is stronger than ever?" Of course not. Your ear immediately tells you that the right word is "my." (Maybe an even faster way is to remember that “I’s” is never, never, NEVER right!)

Then do the same with the other noun in the phrase: "Danny's relationship is stronger than ever."

Glue the two parts back together, and – voilà -- you have a perfectly serviceable sentence: "Danny's and my relationship is stronger than ever." If saying it that way sounds strange, it’s because people just don’t get it right very often.

Here’s the deal: Don't be afraid of "my." It's a quiet but powerful little word that makes you sound very smart!