Grammatical Mistakes That Drive the Pros Nuts

Language and 5 Grammatically Incorrect Phrases

Before you fetch the pitchforks and light the torches for another round of “find the grammatical error,” let’s discuss the nature of language.

Language is an evolving thing and has room for incredible words like “kerfuffle” and silly phrases like “nom nom.” Words are constantly being added, but what about trendy, colloquial English? Should you use it? You know … those informal sayings? For example:

  • Informal: If you wanna take your kid on a ride in the beater and tell him stories as old as the hills over a pop, then knock your socks off!
  • Formal: If you would like to take your child on a ride in the old, damaged vehicle and tell him extremely old stories over a carbonated soft drink, then do so if it brings you great pleasure.

Yes! Use informal language because it often engages your reader on more personal level than formal language can achieve. Here are three recommendations when it comes to using informal English:

  • Make sure your audience understands what you’re attempting to communicate.
  • Use informal language with moderation, lest you appear too informal.
  • Always use good grammar.

No matter what the latest trend is, good grammar can help you achieve your goals and maintain (even increase) your credibility. Steer clear of these 5 grammatically incorrect phrases to better communicate with your readers as well as distinguish yourself as a credible expert!

5 Grammatically Incorrect Phrases

anymoreso than …

When attempting to show there is little difference between two (or more) things or people, use “any more than …”

A pear isn’t conscious anymoreso than a skateboard.
A pear isn’t conscious any more than a skateboard.

be sure and …

“To be sure” means to make certain. “And” is a joining conjunction. In the following example, the conjunction “and” isolates the recommendation into two separate thoughts: First, the recommendation to be certain (of what we’re not entirely clear), which is then followed by the recommendation to wear gloves.

Before you pick that pear, be sure and wear gloves to avoid getting stung by a wasp.
Before you pick that pear, be sure to wear gloves to avoid getting stung by a wasp.

being that …

This ill-constructed phrase is often used to soften the negativity the word “because” often conveys. However, there are several other, grammatically correct, phrases that work just as well (e.g., considering that, given that, in that, and since).

Being that you lack the resources, you can’t build the igloo.
Considering that you lack the resources, you can’t build the igloo.

can’t help but [do] …

When conveying the inability to control or stop something, the “can’t help but” phrase creates a double negative (i.e., “can’t” and “but”).

You can’t help but [fall] in love with the phrase “dust bunnies.”
You can’t help [falling] in love with the phrase “dust bunnies.”

could of …

Here’s where phonics runs amok with contractions. A contraction of the phrase “could have,” “could’ve” is pronounced “COULD-uhv.” The “ve” or “uhv” sound is similar to the word “of,” which is where this grammatical mess started. The difference? The verb “have” means to possess or is used with a past participle. The preposition “of” expresses the relationship between a part and a whole. This is a similar issue with the words “would” and “should.”

You could of chosen red, but you would of needed green. You should of gone with blue.
You could’ve chosen red, but you would’ve needed green. You should’ve gone with blue.

What grammatically incorrect phrases would you like to add to this list? Are there any phrases that you’re unsure whether you are using it the right way? Let us know by sharing them in the comments section below – we’d love to hear from you!

48 Comments »


1
Jean Reynolds writes:

“Considering that” is an awkward choice. Why not just use “because”?

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 9:40 AM

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2
LA Reddon writes:

Thank you for pointing out some of my pet grammatical peeves! Unfortunately, in correcting one error, you committed another in the following:

“A pear doesn’t have a conscious any more than a skateboard.”.

“Conscious” is an adjective. Neither pears nor people can have “a conscious”. I’m sure you meant to say “conscience”.

It’s a common mistake, similar to the phonetic confusion caused by “could’ve”.

Sorry for being such a stickler, but my inner editor couldn’t have (not “of”) let this go!

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 10:32 AM

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LA,

You caught us! Thanks for bringing the error to our attention. You’ll note that we fixed it in the blog.

Marc

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3
Jean Kearsley writes:

Good catch; however, since the first is biological and the second mechanical, I’d think the point could as easily be that, despite that difference, “A pear doesn’t have a consciousness any more than a skateboard.”

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 10:45 AM

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4
LA Reddon writes:

Excellent point, Jean! Thank you for your CONSCIENTIOUSNESS! LA

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 11:08 AM

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Jean Kearsley writes:

And you, LA, for your collegial spirit of conciliatory collaboration!

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5
Ricky writes:

Thank you from someone where English is a second language.

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 11:24 AM

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6
davidinnotts writes:

Hey! Just for once I’m disagreeing with everything here except ‘could of’, etc.

Here’s why.

Penny, you correctly point out the colloquial nature of the things you highlight, but sometimes, a writer WANTS to reflect the colloquial language of the readership or others. If this isn’t the intent, of course, it’s not a good idea and everything you said above stands – it’s a great article.

I see this colloquialism, probably in only part of an article, as useful in three circumstances:

1. Used in general, a suitable leavening of colloquial phrases and idioms (like ‘anymoreso’ and ‘can’t help but’ above) can soften formal language and attract most people to the writer, without alienating any but a few dogmatic readers. But the choice must be carefully made, and deliberate rather than in ignorance.

2. The casual phrasing and ephemeral ‘cant’ of many modern subcultures (including ‘leetspeak’) can usefully form part of an article aimed at that subculture – but the author needs to be fully aware of that culture. Any sniff of patronization or awkwardness will be far worse than not trying at all! ‘Coulda’ but not the plain wrong ‘could of’ (as Penny points out) is a mild example of this.

3. Altering the spelling to reproduce a recognized dialect is a grand old tradition – Mark Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn’ is one of the earliest. This can be useful to differentiate characters or cultures in a piece of writing, and is most commonly used in fiction. But beware: the idea is that a standard English speaker would, reading the text aloud, reproduce the idiom to a reasonable degree, without any insulting parody. It’s all too easy to offend if you don’t have both skill in standard English and a good knowledge of the dialect idiom. A further problem in trying to do this is that the reader’s native pronunciation of standard English will affect pronunciation of the altered words, too. But used properly by an expert, it’s a good tool.

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 12:44 PM

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David,

You bring up some good points – definitely food for thought.

Marc

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7
Kern Lewis writes:

Could you please tell me if the phrase “such as myself” is correct usage? I had always thought it should be “such as me,” just as “like myself” should not stand in for “like me”. But a fellow pedant recently told me that the reflexive pronoun does go before “such as….”

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 7:10 PM

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davidinnotts writes:

Kern, under the old strict grammar rules (based on classical Latin usage, not English!) it would be wrong. I was taught as a kid in my old Grammar School just the rules you were. But the great writers have always been less pedantic in this, and using ‘myself’ rather than ‘me’ has been used as an emphatic version for many generations.

So I reckon that either works, depending on context. In general, then, I suggest using ‘such as me’ when you want to include yourself, but modestly, and ‘such as myself’ when you want your own inclusion to be clearly understood. It could well be that the Victorian grammar masters thought that for an ordinary person to refer to himself emphatically would be presumptuous – and they WERE teaching the children of the clerical well-off, who ought to ‘know their place’, rather than future leaders of society!

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Kern,

Myself should never be used in the place of the ordinary pronouns I and me. It is used for emphasis (e.g., I made the tea myself.) or to refer to the subject (e.g., I like myself).

Marc

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davidinnotts writes:

We’ll have to disagree here, Marc – though 50 years ago it was as you say: never use ‘myself’ for ‘me’ (aside: unless you’re a well-known author).

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David,

I do believe we’ve had to agree to disagree in the past, have we not? :-)

Marc

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8
Jean Reynolds writes:

Kern, why not just say “like me”?

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 7:13 PM

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Kern Lewis writes:

I do! But I would like to know what the truth is, as I have “corrected” others in the past on this point, and may have do so wrongly.

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Kern Lewis writes:

er…”done so wrongly!”

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9
LA Reddon writes:

I agree with Jean, although it depends on the context. “For such a one as I” is far too pedantic these days, even for your colleague. Very “Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque”!

In general, “myself” is vastly overused and usually incorrectly. It’s an emphatic or intensive pronoun that reflects back on its antecedent.

For some reason, people use it when they should use the much simpler and correct “me”. Perhaps it sounds more important because it has more syllables?

“Send the memo to the CEO and myself.” WRONG! Use “me”.

“I, myself, wrote the memo to the CEO.” CORRECT. It’s emphatic. No one else but I wrote the memo. Don’t blame anyone else! I take full responsibility for having written the memo.

It would also be correct to say, “I wrote the memo to the CEO myself.” This is still emphatic but there’s a different nuance of meaning. You can almost hear, “Well, no one else offered to do it so I wrote it myself.”

As a reflexive pronoun, you might say, “I saw myself in the CEO’s memo.”

I hope this clears it up for someone such as yourself, Kern. I mean, “for YOU”!!!

Cheers!
LA

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 8:21 PM

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Kern Lewis writes:

Thanks, LA. To be honest, I know all the proper usages of reflexive pronouns, and have been grinding my teeth for years about everyone’s apparent fear of saying “me.” (Might come from too many “don’t say ‘me,’ say ‘I’ admonitions in grade school!)
My question is quite specific:
Is “…such as myself” correct, as my friend insists???

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davidinnotts writes:

LA, we’re back to the influence of those old pedantic teachers. I entirely agree with your comments – but had you realized that your first quote ought to be worse today than you’ve put it? Correctly, it’s “for such AN one as I” (direct from ‘Pinafore’, I think), which goes right back to the earlier debate on ‘a’ and ‘an’! Not a usage for today, methinks.

And, Kern, you bring up a key problem with the first person singular object. I don’t know about elsewhere, but in UK schools for over a century, there was such emphasis on avoiding ‘me’ out of context, that generations of middle class people grew up using ‘I’ as the object where ‘me’ was the only correct usage. And the error has become (and still often is) regarded as correct despite all the influential grammarians trying to stop it.

So, saying ‘my husband and I’ (influential quote from the Queen herself) is only correct as the subject in a sentence:
“My husband and I had a tremendously good time at the Command Performance.”

whereas it would be commonplace in England to say:
“He was presented to my husband and I at the garden party.” – and WRONG: it should be:
“He was presented to my husband and ME at the garden party.” (Or ‘myself’ instead of ‘me’: our theme here!)

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LA Reddon writes:

You’re right, David. The proper quote from HMS Pinafore is “for such AN one as I”. I waffled when I wrote that and decided “an” would just invite more comments. (Based on experience here on the very subject of “a” versus “an” and aspirate “h”.).

I agree with other comments here, Kern. “Such as myself” is grammatically wrong, although it may be an acceptable usage in certain contexts.

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Kern Lewis writes:

Thanks for the support. I am going to stick to my guns on this one!
K

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10
LA Reddon writes:

Sorry, Kern. I didn’t mean to sound preachy. Many readers here seem to appreciate detailed explanations.

What’s the rest of your sentence?
LA

Comment provided February 28, 2013 at 11:15 PM

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Kern Lewis writes:

No worries, mate! I took your reply in the spirit given!
K

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11
Regatta writes:

Ha the vitriol on here is so passive aggressive. Great post as always it really does narc when people write “would of”

Maybe I should ask them if they mean it colloquially and watch them toil in stupefaction.

Comment provided March 1, 2013 at 7:27 AM

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davidinnotts writes:

Don’t reckon, Regatta. You have described some occasional snideness on a few other comment streams on this site, but not this one. It’s all on the sleeve here!

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12
Jean Reynolds writes:

“Such as myself” is awkward, but I’d call it poor usage, not not bad grammar.

Comment provided March 1, 2013 at 12:36 PM

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13
Asif Lone writes:

Cool stuff! Shows you how small things (mistakes) make a great difference. Thanks for these great tips.

Comment provided March 2, 2013 at 2:53 AM

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14
Cathy MIlne writes:

I understand everything discussed in this comment stream, however, I was taught to write at an eighth grade level for the common man (so to speak). This has been reinforced repeatedly during the training I received while studying to become a journalist and fictional novel writer. Would it be different when writing blog posts? I am formal when writing reports for my job.

Comment provided March 2, 2013 at 2:58 AM

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davidinnotts writes:

Hi, Cathy.

You have good literacy skills, so use them! You’ll have spotted in comments on other posts in this series that there are three golden rules for using language:

1: COMMUNICATE. Whatever you write, in article or blog, the first need is that your readers can understand what you write and not be put off by it. If you are too technical, too erudite or too cantly (here’s a rare word!) for those you’re trying to influence, you’re well on the way to losing them.

2: ATTRACT. Write so that your readers want to keep reading. Your content, your idiom, your style need to draw them into reading on and on and on.

3: DIRECT. Everything you write has a purpose, so use your skills to inspire, encourage and maybe to move your readers into the actions you need, the directions you want them to lean towards.

So, to answer your question about formality directly, it depends. It depends on why you’re writing the blog and that particular post. It depends on the level of literacy of your expected readership. And it depends on what you think they will need you to write, to connect them with you and your purpose. To achieve all this, look back to other posts in this series and learn to craft your articles and blogs for the people you aim to reach, to achieve your purpose.

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davidinnotts writes:

An extra comment, Cathy.

In the UK, the main national newspapers have been noted for decades for keeping their general language level low, for just the reasons you say. There’s no point writing so that most of the people you want to reach can’t understand you properly, and this loses your connection with them.

The UK tabloids aim really low – a reading age of 8 or 9 (3rd to 4th grade?) but are perfectly intelligible to everyone more skilled, too. This doesn’t stop them from using specialist vocabulary as needed, and you’ll surely know that about a third of the common English words (the 50,000) can be reasonably called specialist, as well as those special to sports, cars, family, popular medicine, gardening and other well-liked interests.

When new words come up, they are used in context to get the meaning across, rather than alienating people by preachy explanations – and that’s a good way to introduce them in an article. Maybe the best example came a couple of decades ago, when the very skilled writers for the Sun newspaper (infamous for ‘page 3’ topless girls) coined a new word to avoid the censor’s unhappiness with even hinting the ‘f-word’. You have heard of ‘bonk’?

So the practice of basing an article’s vocabulary on grade 8 would be fine for a well-educated readership, but maybe not so useful if you were talking to people in New York Projects or the backwoods Ozarks – or a London slum, for that matter. And readers who speak and read English as a second language would, I think, appreciate syntax and vocabulary more simple that I’m using here, unless they had a university education at an English-language university. What do they say… “KISS!”

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15

Very impressed with the detailed discussion on these common errors. I would just like to add that the examples used I thought were quite awkward and I wouldn’t expect to see them in written documents – certainly not Australian anyway.

Comment provided March 4, 2013 at 11:34 PM

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16
Gracious Store writes:

I’m surprise you could allow colloquial language in articles that are published across internet. Don’t you know that colloquial languages are “local”? It is only understood by people in that locality.People outside that locality do not understand what is said in the colloquial language.

American’s do not understand the British colloquial englis and vice versa, so why should you accept colloquial language in articles that are distributed beyond the immediate locality

Comment provided March 6, 2013 at 10:22 PM

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davidinnotts writes:

Hi, Gracious.

You’re quite right about the more extreme colloquial jargon and idiom – it’s often incomprehensible to outsiders, and today, that’s probably deliberate. It gives insiders something to bond them together and exclude outsiders. And that’s true for jargons, too, and always was. Whatever their origin and history, all of these different variants of English carry an ‘exclusive’ tag and so they’re not suitable for educating, entertaining or informing a general audience. (For a list of English dialects, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_dialect.)

But colloquial English has another side to it. All English speakers are aware of the wealth of diversity in English language and culture, and it’s a long-established practice to sprinkle Standard English (any flavour) with dialect words, expressions and idiom, so as to reflect a particular culture. That’s just as true whether you want to suggest Caribbean creole, Bronx, Yorkshire or Aussie common culture; or a Hip Hop, Wall Street or nerd environment; or portray someone as highbrow, working class or First Family; or reflect an Indian, Latino or Goy heritage. A sprinkling of words, a turn of phrase or a spelt-out accent is all it takes to paint the picture, in otherwise Standard English. And in fact, that’s typically how people from all those diverse backgrounds speak Standard anyway, including the common Standard variants (you should be able to tell in this comment that I’m from England!) The author’s job is to subtly emphasize this diversity in order to colour the article to the pleasure and aid of the reader.

All this said, there are also many levels of language writing in English, from deeply informal through technical and idiomatic to Standard Formal and ‘high-level’ – which is now rarely used except in Court or religious contexts. A good author will have command of any of these which are best used for his target audience. What we authors all need to keep in mind is that all English speakers are aware of the vast variety of English idiom and colloquialism, and can understand far more of it than they’d use themselves. And while near-Standard English is the common binder to it all, carefully-used variety is an asset rather than something to be banned.

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17

Although, Today web is infested with a huge chunk of sub-standard, cheap quality content, and further provided that the same content is widely accepted by the wider communities, or at least its lower qualities being ignored, the value and standard of high quality content is still there. Grammatically incorrect sentences don’t make good impression though. We have always been confused in using the sentences containing Would, Could etc. Your blog post highlights and solves some of the issues. Thanks for sharing such a nice post. I will be coming back here. :)

Comment provided March 7, 2013 at 11:46 PM

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davidinnotts writes:

Glad you like the site!

One of the special things about EzineArticles is the fierce defence of high standards. The purpose of this blog is to help authors meet these standards more easily, and save a lot of the editors’ time in making re-evaluations of rejected articles!

We authors find the basic help available on the website, along with these blog posts, really invaluable.

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Thanks for the kudos David! Keep up the great work.

-Vanessa

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David,

Wish there was a LIKE button under your post. :D

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davidinnotts writes:

Well, Penny, you know who to go to for that! Thanks, though.

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18
Ross writes:

Is it just me or do other people also find that “I’ve” is a bit of an annoying word when reading it in a sentence? Personally I find that myself and some other people I have observed appear to essentially slow down in the middle of their sentence when they read or use the word “I’ve” as opposed to “I have”.

All up I liked your article and it struck a chord with me regarding a lot of correspondence and information that I process on a daily basis.

Comment provided March 12, 2013 at 3:13 AM

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Jean Kearsley writes:

Ross ~
I think it’s probably just you. Were I you, I’d be more concerned that I didn’t find it annoying – or even unusual – to use “myself” as the subject of a clause . . . as in “myself and other[s] appear.”

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19
Simon Mwale writes:

I have often come across sentences that read “I would be grateful if you would send me …” From my little reading, I understand the correct combination is should-would. For instance, “I should be grateful if you would send me…” What’s take on this?

Comment provided April 23, 2013 at 9:35 AM

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davidinnotts writes:

Spot on, Simon. But very few people know that nuance, and like most such, it’s gradually disappearing. In any case, reading it right now, the correct phrase seems a little ‘stuffy’ to me in the light of the modern idiom, and yet the replacement you quotes seems awkward. Maybe expressing the request entirely differently would work best!

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20
Simon Mwale writes:

Thanks, David, for your observation, though I would appreciate it if you would give an example of expressing the request entirely differently.

Do you have, or would you recommend specific English grammar books I can buy? I ask because I edit a real-life-stories column for a local news paper and there are times when I encounter strange word combinations and I gasp; where the hell did this writer get this expression from? I love words and I’m always keen and eager to improve the quality of my writing and editing skills.

Comment provided April 23, 2013 at 10:09 AM

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davidinnotts writes:

One suggestion, Simon:
I would be grateful to receive…
or, less formally:
I’d love it if you would send me…

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21
Jarus writes:

I am a Nigerian blogger and I really enjoyed and benefitted from the discussions here.

Comment provided May 4, 2013 at 1:19 AM

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22
Mary Bellesheim writes:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the above comments! It is interesting to hear that people still care about proper English in a society inundated with text acronyms and smiley faces.
Okay, expecting corrections!

Comment provided May 4, 2013 at 8:39 AM

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23
T.J. Mullane writes:

Pharse or cliche? I not sure which is the best discription of this, but I do know that it bugs me. Why do so many say “pet pevee”, when a pet is an object liked and a pevee is disliked.

Comment provided May 10, 2013 at 10:52 AM

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