Editing Course: Wordplay I

When I opened my tutorial to today’s topic, I thought I’d breeze through it. I was wrong! In fact, I discovered I’ve developed some bad habits over the years, which means more self-retraining for me. I have identified three problem areas: 1) I have never used the word “farther” in my life, which means I have been using the wrong word in all of my manuscripts as I confused the meaning of “further”, 2) I nearly always use the word “alright” when correct grammar means I should have been using “all right”, and, 3) although I knew “a while” and “awhile” meant the same thing, I didn’t know that when you contract “for a while” to “awhile” the “for” becomes implicit and is dropped.

With that large admission out of the way, let’s move on to the tutorial.

9: Wordplay I

Many people confuse certain words that sound the same but have completely different meanings.

Which word is right?

Accept means “to receive” or “to agree”. Example: Dillan refused to accept the present.
Except means “all but” or “other than”. Example: Everyone drank coffee except Tanya.

Advise means “to recommend, suggest or give counsel”. Example: I advise you to be careful when going out alone.
Advice means “an opinion or recommendation about what could or should be done”. Example: Peter asked for advice from his father.
Hint: If you can substitute the work with “inform” and the sentence still makes sense then the word you should be using is “advise”.

Farther relates to “distance”. Example: The shop was farther than I thought.
Further means “more than”. Example: I don’t want to discuss this matter further.

Which means you are including additional information that the sentence does not need.
That means the information you are including is important to the sentence.

Example: The computer that Jane was using at the time was too slow for the work she was doing.

If we change “that” for “which” then we have to insert commas:

The computer, which Jane was using at the time, was too slow for the work she was doing.

In the second sentence we are telling the reader that the “which” clause can be removed. If we remove the clause we’ll have:

The computer was too slow for the work she was doing.

Although this reads well, it is unclear as we don’t know who “she” is. Therefore, the words “that Jane was using at the time” are essential for clarity so “that” should be used. If you read the two sentences out loud you’ll discover the first sentence using “that” sounds better.

One word or two?

Over time the English language has changed. At one time “alone” was actually “all one” but this change is accepted as it’s been this way for a couple of centuries.

However, other words that are commonly joined, such as “all right” and “all ready”, are still not acceptable in certain uses.

All ready means “to be prepared for something”. Example: The family were all ready to go to the party.
Already is an expression of time. Example: Tim was surprised to discover his car had already been fixed.

All right and alright share the same meaning. “All right” is the formal spelling and should be used most of the time depending on context and readership.

All together means “to be grouped together”. Example: All together the restaurant bill came to $452.
Altogether means “entirely, wholly or completely”. Example: Jenny’s whining sparked an altogether different outcome.
Hint: If you can insert the word “completely” and the sentence still makes sense, then you should be using the word “altogether”.

Any one refers to “any one thing in a group”. Example: Any one of the students could fail the test.
Anyone means “any person at all”. Example: Anyone can fail tests if they don’t study.

Every one means “each person”. Example: Every one of us has an opinion.
Everyone means “any person at all”. Example: Everyone has an opinion.

Any way means “any particular course, direction or manner”. Example: Any way Peter looked at it the problem was unresolved.
Anyway means “in any case” or “nonetheless”. Example: Jan didn’t need a new bag, but she bought one anyway.

May be is used to “express the possibility of something”. Example: This may be the only chance I have to change my life.
Maybe means “perhaps”. Example: Maybe we should wait until we have some money before buying a new car.

A while and awhile mean “a short period of time”. However, they are easily confused. Consider this example:

Won’t you stay with me awhile?

Although the above example is acceptable, the correct use is as follows:

Won’t you stay with me for a while?

You should never write: Won’t you stay with me for awhile?

When you contract “for a while” to “awhile” the “for” becomes implicit in “awhile” and so drops off.

Editing Course: Good Grammarian I

Before I get started on this topic I must admit that this area of writing is my weakness, especially passive writing (which isn’t covered here but will be covered later in the course). Yesterday I wrote a short post on Editor and Proofreader’s Tools but I strongly believe one item is missing from that list. Every writer and editor should have a really good (localised) grammar reference book. This is something I don’t have (oh, I have books on the topic but nothing localised) and I need to rectify this oversight. Can anyone recommend an Australian grammar reference book please?

8: Good Grammarian I

No matter why you write — author, journalist, business person, student — and no matter why you may be checking another person’s writing — editor, copyeditor, proofreader — you need to understand grammar.

Grammar is language, it’s words and how they are used, it’s sentences and how they are arranged. As a writer or editor you need good grammar skills.

A Person or People

A person can’t help their birth.

-William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848)

Apparently, over the years there’s been a lot of debate about how this one sentence should have been worded.

Some say he should have written:

A person cannot help his or her birth.

Others say:

People cannot help their birth.

Since the twelfth century dozens of famous authors have chosen use words such as “them”, “theirs” and “they” as single, gender-unspecific words. However from a grammar point of view all these are wrong. The correct useage are those in bold above.

I or Me

Often people use “me” when the correct grammar requires the word “I”. The best way to check which word should be used is to remove the other person.

Example: Me and my friend watched a movie.

When we take out the other person we get:

Me watched a movie.

Obviously this is incorrect so the correct word to use is “I”.

I and my friend watched a movie.

As awkward as this sounds, it is correct grammar, but it sounds better to put the friend first.

My friend and I watched a movie.

Can a thing “see”?

It has become a trend to have non-living things “see”.

Example: The company will see a change of policy next year.

However, the company is not a person and cannot see so the sentence is incorrect. The only way to correct the sentence is to reword it.

The company will have a change of policy next year.


Now this is a difficult one!

An “infinitive” is regarded as a single word.

Example: to go

A split-infinitive is when an adverb is added which separates the infinitive.

Example: to quickly go

From a grammarian’s point of view “to quickly go” is incorrect. However, writers steadfastly claim that split-infinitives are rhetorical faults that can effect writing styles.

There is no actual rule on this one.

Most people have heard of the following:

To boldly go where no man has gone before.

To write this same sentence and have it grammatically correct, it would read:

To go boldly where no man has gone before.

Incorrect or not, the first sentence is the much better choice as it has much more punch.

From an editing point of view, split-infinitives are wrong but an editor should never override the author. The best policy is to avoid them (split-infinitives, not authors) as much as possible, but if it is the clearest and best way to go, use it.