Use of Idiom

Literary criticism is written in an educated variety of English which possesses grammatical and idiomatic expressions which are generally not used in spoken English (although those who have mastered this written variety of English often import it into their speech). In general, the expressions which are particular to literary English need to be learnt. This page is a new idea of mine to try and list some common expressions which I frequently find students struggling with in their essays on literary criticism. As yet, it is a small list, but I hope to add to it over time.


Who or Whom?

In everyday speech the word whom is disappearing, which causes confusion about when or whether it should be used. The rule is that who is used for subjects and whom is used for objects. Compare the following sentences in which the subject and its verb are in bold, and the object (of a verb or a preposition) is underlined.

Who are you?

The man who walked his dog was late.

In the following sentences the object is in bold.

Whom did you see?

The man whom I saw on Thursday was late.

To whom it may concern.

Because the form whom is disappearing, it is also possible to say Who did you see? and The man who I saw... (but probably not To who it may concern). However, you are more likely to encounter whom in writing, as well as in more formal and educated speech.

The sentences Whom are you? and The man whom walked his dog... would be considered incorrect. They are actually called 'hypercorrections'. The user realises that whom is used in writing and in formal and educated circumstances, and he or she attempts to use it, but does so in the wrong circumstances.


The Word Aspect

The word aspect is very difficult to define. In the sense in which it is frequently used in literary criticism, it refers to

Hence we may say that there are three aspects of the problem or that we will examine three aspects of a problem.

About 95% of the time the word aspect or aspects should be followed by the preposition of or, more rarely, to. In general, the term aspect must always be followed by an identification of what entity or concept the aspect is a component of or perspective on (e.g. a problem). The failure to identify this is the common misuse of the term I encounter.

Another common mistake is the use of aspect as a synonym for feature, trait, or characteristic. These words refer to something distinctive about an entity or concept, whereas the word aspect refers to components of an entity or concept, distinctive or not, which are to be scrutinised.


Here are some examples of the use of the term aspect culled from the internet:


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Last Update: 20 March, 2003