‘SomeWHAT’ vs. ‘SomeTHING’


This week, I’m going to shift gears and turn back to a writing-related topic from the stories I’ve been posting in recent weeks. It’s a usage issue that has long bugged me: The misuse of SOMEWHAT for SOMETHING.

It grates on my editorial ear: For example, “This beautiful old car is somewhat of a classic.”

We see and hear sentences like this far too often. But it’s not good usage.

Is there a better way to say it? You bet!

Two ways, in fact:

(1) “This beautiful old car is something of a classic.”
(2) “This beautiful old car is somewhat classic.”

Here’s another example of the all-too-common confusion between the adverb SOMEWHAT and the pronoun SOMETHING, this one from a wonderfully helpful website, Common Errors in English Usage:

An “a” is most commonly inserted after “something” rather than after “somewhat”: “She is somewhat awkward,” and “He is something of a klutz.” “Somewhat of a” will strike some readers as a little odd.

“Somewhat of a” strikes me as not just “a little” odd, but VERY odd. My advice: Don’t be odd. Write it right!

4 replies
  1. Harold
    Harold says:

    Thank you for pointing this out. I am also one that has long been irritated by the rampant usage of “somewhat of a…” rather than the correct “something…”.

    The incorrect usage actually seems more common these days than the right way, and I fear it will soon be “accepted” into the lexicon by all those people that feel once a mistake in the English language is repeated a couple times, this somehow makes it “correct”, which is a preposterous idea.

    Language evolves over centuries, not every fifteen minutes – and mistakes shouldn’t count as any indication of change, especially now that we’ve finally established hard and fast rules, and people are more educated than ever before.

    • Howard Daniel
      Howard Daniel says:

      Thank you, Harold, for your wonderfully supportive comment. I share your concern that with sufficient repetition, incorrect usage will become accepted and legitimized. I hope we won’t turn out to be latter-day King Canutes, demanding that the tide stop moving in.

      I regretfully disagree with your final assertion that people are now more educated than ever. Judging by so much of what I see going on in the world today, I believe that the great tide of information and misinformation, in which we are all awash and between which few people can be trusted to properly distinguish, is hardly the same as good education.

  2. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    Thanks for this explanation.
    I’m afraid the same thing is going to happen with “somebody and I” after the verb. We know that it’s supposed to be “Mom gave Sally and me some cookies,” but more and more I’m hearing, “Mom gave Sally and I some cookies.” It drives me nuts! But I hear it so often that I’m afraid in 10 years, maybe even 5, it’s going to be accepted.

    • Howard Daniel
      Howard Daniel says:

      Thank you, Maggie. The example you give, with “I” misused for “me,” is certainly disheartening. So is the very common “me” misused for “I,” as in “Me and Sally went to the store to buy some cookies.” With any luck, no misuses like these will ever come to be accepted.


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