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Saturday, May 4, 2013

20 Basic Writing 'Rules' for Business Owners | On correct word usage

I came across an article in Small Business Trends that provides useful but brief advice on the correct use of selected similar words. The article calls them "grammar rules" for preventing "grammatical errors." But the article is really about correct word usage. 

if you're looking for true grammar advice--on the proper use of nouns, pronouns, the other parts of speech, and sentence structure--you won't find it in this article. My online editorial style manual provides some grammar  advice, though its editorial style preferences (for capitalization, numbers and so on) also aren't grammar "rules."

Anyway, here's additional advice, in alphabetical order, from Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual on the terms discussed in this article:

affect, effect Often misused, confused or overused. Usually used as a verb, affect means "to influence, to have an effect on, to change": The pesticide will affect the stream. The new feature should affect sales. Better yet, use a verb that's describes the effect more precisely, like pollute the stream or stimulate sales. Avoid using affect as a noun that sometimes means "emotion" to psychologists. Effect is usually a noun, meaning "result," "reaction" or "consequence": The effect of the project was disappointing.Avoid using effect formally as a verb, meaning "to cause, to bring about, to produce": She will effect many changes in the group.Instead, use simpler, less formal bring about or cause.

bring, take Often confused. Their meaning is similar, but their points of view are different. Bring suggests motion toward the speaker or writer: We bring in the mail. If something is coming to your home or office or city, someone is bringing it. Take suggests motion away from the speaker or writer: We take out the recycling. If something is leaving your home or office or city, someone is taking it. Usually, the distinction is easy to make. But it might be best just to say what feels natural to you if you are offering dessert for a potluck dinner: You'll be bringing it to the potluck (its destination), but you'll be taking it with you from home (its origin). Either way, it'll probably be delicious!

capital, capitol Often confused or misspelled. Capital is a city, the seat of government. Do not capitalize: Salem is the capital of OregonCapital city is redundant. Capital also refers to money. Capitol is the building in which the U.S. Congress or the state Legislature meets. Capitalize U.S. Capitol and the Capitol when writing about the building in Washington, D.C., and do the same when writing about state capitols: The California Capitol is in SacramentoCapitol building is redundant.

complement, compliment Often misused or confused. Complement is a noun or verb for "something that fills up or completes": The company has a complement of 250 drivers, 75 mechanics and 10 office workers. The two ideas complement each other well. A hat may complement a suit, but you would compliment the wearer on her or his hat. A related term: full complement.

Compliment is a noun or verb for "praise or a flattering remark" and "something free": The supervisor complimented the staff for a job well done. The supervisor's compliment boosted morale.

continual, continuous Often misused or confused. Continual means "repeatedly, often recurring or intermittent, with breaks in between": She has to repair the car continually. Periodically or intermittently are useful, clear synonyms for continually to describe something that starts and stops. Continuous means "uninterrupted, in an unbroken stream": Sales have been growing continuously for the past five years.

either ... or, neither ... nor The nouns that follow those words don't make a compound subject. They are alternative subjects and need a verb that agrees with the nearer subject; a singular verb if the nearer subject is singular and a plural verb if the nearer subject is plural: Neither his sisters nor he is going. Either he or they are going.

elicit, illicit Sometimes confused. Elicit is a verb meaning "to reveal information or provoke a reaction, draw out." Illicit is an adjective for describing something that's unlawful, forbidden or improper.

enormity, enormousness Sometimes confused as synonyms. Use enormity to label a wicked, monstrous or outrageous act or crime. Use enormousness to label something that exceeds what's normal or usual in size, amount or degree.

fewer, less Fewer (or few) stresses number, and less stresses degree or quantity. Use fewer for plural nouns and individual items that can be counted, less for singular nouns and a bulk, amount, sum, period of time or idea that is measured in other ways: Fewer than 10 applicants called. I had less than $50 in my pocket. Fewer dollars, less money. Less food, fewer calories.

I, me Often confused. The pronoun I (like he, she, we and they) is always the subject of sentences and clauses. And the pronoun me (like him, her, us and them) is always the object of verbs and prepositions. In other words, I is more likely to be at the front of a sentence or clause (typically before the verb). And me is more likely to be at the back of a sentence or clause (typically after the verb): I hugged her. He talked to me. She hugged him. We talked to them. They talked to us.

Also, please remember these correct uses when the sentence has a conjunction (such as and or or): He talked to Linda and me. Linda and I talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and me. Debbie and I rode the horse. Incorrect: He talked to Linda and I. Linda and me talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and I. Debbie and me rode the horse. To be polite, me or I usually follows the conjunction.

To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving the pronoun; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He talked to I" or "Me talked to him" or "Me rode the horse." 

its, it's Often confused or misspelled. Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it, meaning "belonging to it." The possessive its never takes an apostrophe: Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was white as snow. It's is a contraction that means "it is" and sometimes "it has." The contraction always takes an apostrophe: It's a beautiful day. It's gotten out of hand. If you often mix up these words, consider using only it is or it has and its; drop it's. Finally, use its' only when you're trying to show poor spelling skills or confuse your readers. It's not a word, and no one will know its meaning.

literally Overused and misused. It means "actually or in fact," not "figuratively." No politician, rock band or cult, for example, can literally sweep the Earth. In other words, use literally only when describing reality, or consider dropping the word.

principle, principal Commonly confused. Principal is a noun and adjective meaning someone or something first in rank, authority, importance or degree: She was the principal player on the team. Money is the principal problem. Think about using simpler adjectives main or chiefPrincipal is also the amount of debt, investment, stock or bond.

Principle is a noun that means a basic truth, belief, understanding, law, doctrine or motivating force: They fought for the principle of free speech.

than, then Often confused or misspelled. Use than when you're comparing things: No one is more aware of local driving behaviors than bus drivers. Use the adverb then when you're writing about time -- if one thing follows or results from another, suggesting a logical conclusion, or meaning "soon afterward": If this, then that. First they toured the vehicle maintenance shop; then they visited the sign shop.

their, there, they're Commonly confused, misspelled or mistyped. And computer spellcheckers won't catch the mistaken substitution of one of these homonyms for the other--nor for there's and the plural possessive theirsTheir is the possessive form of the pronoun they, meaning "belonging to them." Don't misspell it as thierThey're is a contraction of they are. (And there's is a contraction of there is.) There (like here) refers to place. But see below for more on there.

to, too, two Computer spellcheckers won't note the mistaken substitution of one of these homonyms for the other.
too When using too to mean "also," no comma is necessary before too at the end of a clause or sentence: She finished her first task and her second task too. But set off too with commas elsewhere in a sentence: He, too, finished both tasks.

ultimate, ultimately Overstated. Simplify. Try most, final, last, best, crowning, perfect, supreme or eventual for ultimate and at last, in the end, finally, lastly or eventually for ultimately.

who, whom [I should note that some writing authorities suggest or contend that whom is a dead word because it's so poorly understood and used. While I agree, I provide this advice anyway for people who want or need to know.] 

Often confused. Who does something, and whom has something done to it. Use whom when someone is the object of verb or preposition: The man to whom the car was rented did not fill the gas tank. Whom do you wish to see?

A preposition (such as to, at, by, for, from, in, toward, upon and with) often comes just before whomWho does something to whomWho is the word in all other uses, especially when someone takes an action as the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase:The man who rented the car did not fill the gas tank. Who is still here?

To test for correctness: Who equals he, she or they while whom equals him, her or them. Replace who or whom in the sentence with one of those pronouns. If it sounds wrong, it probably is.

who's, whose Who's is a contraction for who is or who has, not a possessive: Who's using the cellular phone? Who's been eating my radishes? For the possessive, use whoseI do not know whose galoshes these are. Whose may refer to things as well as people: The shopping mall, whose customers come from miles around, began charging for parking.

your, you're Often confused or misspelled. And computer spellcheckers won't catch the mistaken substitution of one of these homonyms for the other. Your is the possessive form of the pronoun you, meaning "belonging to you," while you're is a contraction of "you are."

The Business Executive article is featured today, May 4, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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