2011 Language Pet Peeve #1

"Appearances are deceptive!"

“Appearances are deceiving”

Yesterday, I heard a BBC reporter use the phrase “appearances are deceptive.” It reminded me of one of my pet peeves in language and writing. People love to use the phrase “appearances are deceiving,” but that usage is incorrect.

I have found numerous places on the Internet that discuss this idiom. Attributed to Aesop, it is often quoted as both “appearances can be deceptive” and “apperances can be deceiving.”

Whatever the original translation, there is clear reasoning which tells us the correct usage. The problem here is that the word “deceive” is transitive, which means it requires an object. That is why the phrase “appearances can be deceiving” is incorrect. You have to be deceiving SOMETHING. Maybe appearances can be deceiving YOU. Or appearances could be deceiving Bob. It is correct to say “appearances can be deceptive” because the “deceptive” is an adjective which is correctly used to describe the noun “appearances.”

So, much to my delight, the BBC reporter used the phrase correctly.

I posted part of this message  on the Grammar Exchange site . Grammar Exchange is a great reference. Check it out!


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Gabe says:

    Transitive verbs don’t work like this, though. Once they’re converted to adjectives, they can be intransitive. Witness “the attacking hordes” or “the all-consuming drive for power”. Neither “appearances can be deceptive” and “appearances can be deceiving” are correct.

    1. Gabe says:

      oops, obviously meant “incorrect” as the last word of the above comment.

      1. blinky75 says:

        Thanks for the input Gabe! Of course, you are right about participles being able to be used as adjectives. I have also been corrected on Grammar Exchange. My thinking came from a usage guide which listed “deceptive” as the correct form and “deceiving” as the non-standard form. Standard and non-standard can be tricky judgments to make anyway in English as it changes so quickly, so I might have used those words to state my preference rather than correct and incorrect. Anyway, my reliance on a particular guide is the reason this has become one of my language pet peeve! I’ll post more of my pet peeves soon. Maybe you’ll evaluate those as well?

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