Errors & Omissions: Frequent and regular – they're not interchangeable


There are many pairs of words in English that have similar but distinct meanings.

In some cases a useful distinction is being lost because one of the words is increasingly taking the place of the other. Refute and rebut. Jealous and envious. And this week's example: regular and frequent. If something is regular that means it happens at predictable intervals. If it is frequent that means that it happens a lot. In our report on Wednesday of the trial of Silvio Berlusconi, we said that prosecutors alleged that "teen belly dancer Karima 'Ruby' el-Mahroug" and 30 other young women "regularly attended parties at Mr Berlusconi's mansion". That suggests that the parties were every Tuesday night at 7.30, which they might have been, I suppose, but I think "frequently" or "often" was what we meant.

Sometimes, though, occasional and unpredictable events are described as regular even when they were infrequent. In John Walsh's entertaining survey of snobbery on Tuesday, he quoted Nicholas Soames, the Conservative MP. "'Mine's a gin and tonic, Giovanni, and would you ask my friend what he's having?' he would regularly ask of John Prescott, a working-class former ship steward." That implies he did it every fortnight at Deputy Prime Minister's Questions. Actually he might have heckled something like it once or twice. On this occasion, the word should simply have been struck out.

Seven-day itch: "A week is a long time in retail" was a headline on the business pages last Saturday that clashed a cliché with a contraction. Just because a cliché is from politics doesn't make it any more interesting when applied to retailing.

Whom to patronise? Because we are not taught formal grammar any more, we all have our different ways of checking whether something that sounds odd is actually right or not. My father, who was taught formal grammar, finds it easier to translate anything doubtful into Hindi. The rest of us have to find other ways. Mine is always to rephrase the sentence. That is what someone should have done when composing this headline on the Letters page on Wednesday: "Don't patronise we teenage girls." Sounds odd to me. Sure enough, if you rephrase it as "Don't patronise we", you can see what's wrong with it. It should have been "Don't patronise us teenage girls".

Hello: A profile on Wednesday of Alassane Ouattara, the winner of last year's election in Ivory Coast, said that, as tanks rolled into the capital, he "sat speaking on the telephone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy". To speak "with" is a harmless Americanism, and perhaps it is what people increasingly say in natural speech in this country (although they are more likely to say, "Ouattara was like, 'Hello,' and Sarkozy was like, 'Yeah?'"), but for others of us it jars. If he had been "speaking on the telephone to Nicolas Sarkozy", we could have concentrated on the significance of the conversation.

Still waiting: I liked the headline on Ian Herbert's interview with Sir Alex Ferguson on Wednesday: "Piano lid closed as Ferguson dismisses talk of retirement." The effect was spoiled by the sub-headline, "Manchester United manager says music lessons will have to wait as he has no plans for abdicating any time soon." I don't suppose we will get rid of "any time soon" any time soon.

Tick or cross: Alice-Azania Jarvis's review yesterday of the previous night's television was nicely done. "The Kennedys is many things – lusciously filmed, richly sound tracked – but exciting isn't one of them. Neither is good." But, in explaining why it was so bad, she accuses Katie Holmes, as Jackie, of "mugging for the camera", and said: "It's a tick repeated throughout the cast." That should be "tic", as in a repeated involuntary twitch.

Guy Keleny is away

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn