Jul 01

Wednesday Writing Tip #126: Alot vs. A Lot vs. Allot

a lot of stripes

Zebras have a lot of stripes, but I don’t think a specific number is allotted to them.

“Alot” isn’t a word, people. Just save your writing dignity (and the headaches of the grammar-picky) and add a space in there. It’s not that hard. Look, I just did it. There I did it a few more times. Wow. I’m awesome at this.

Okay, I digress…

If you like something bunches, you like it a lot. Two words. A lot.

Allot is indeed a word, meaning to give or to allocate a share of something, but I’m still pretty sure that’s not the one you’re misspelling.

Unless it’s a hashtag, put that space in there, folks. We’ll all be the better for it. #Grammarrocks #alot

Jun 24

Wednesday Writing Tip #125: Inquire vs. Enquire

Some inquiries are indeed more formal than others.

Some inquiries are indeed more formal than others.

Inquiring minds want to know: is there a difference between “inquire” and “enquire”? A difference in “inquiry” and “enquiry”? Which one flows of your tongue… or… should I say… keyboard?

If you’re looking for a subtle distinction, there is one (ooh, a teaser…), but in almost all cases, the words are interchangeable. The biggest difference is that “inquire” and “inquiry” are more common in the U.S. and “enquire” and “enquiry” are more common in British English.

To some across the pond, “to enquire” means to ask more generally, and “to inquire” has more of a link to a formal investigation of some sort; however, if you’re Stateside, I wouldn’t really worry about this. Stick to “inquire” and “inquiry” for all uses, and you’ll be just fine.

Jun 17

Wednesday Writing Tip #124: There vs. They’re vs. Their

There, there, dear reader, don’t be distraught by the spelling of “there,” “their,” or “they’re” anymore. This has to be the most confused set of words in the English language. Social media would practically shut down if posts with this typo were denied. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. But just a little bit.

Quick review:

Donuts there their they're

They’re eating their donuts over there.

  • There – A place (e.g., I want to go there). Hint: you’ll find the word “here” inside of “there.” Both of these words are places. If you can swap out “here” for “there” in your sentence, you need this t-h-e-r-e form.
  • They’re – A contraction meaning “they are.” Why do contractions continue to baffle us? The world will never know.
  • Their – A possessive pronoun (e.g. That was their dog). Hint: you’ll find the word “heir” inside of “their.” And an heir has lots of stuff to possess, right?

You’ll remember now, won’t you? Please? Don’t make me appeal to the social media powers that be. I hear grammarians have some pull. Maybe. I tell myself. (sigh) Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 10

Wednesday Writing Tip #123: Affect vs. Effect

If twins were named Cara and Sara, you'd probably be similarly confused.

If twins were named Cara and Sara, you’d probably be similarly confused.

Words that sound similar and look similar are kind of like twins. At first glance, they seem like duplicates, but in the end, a lot of people will be annoyed if you confuse them. Time to stop insulting words, people! Are you using “affect” and “effect” correctly?

In most situations, “affect” is a verb with “influence” being a close synonym. For example, “Quick communications online have affected people’s writing habits.”

In most situations, “effect” is a noun with “result” being a close synonym. For example, “One effect of quick communications online is a proliferation of casual, incorrect writing.”

When you affect something, there is an effect.

However, the English language is never that simple—if you even call this description simple. Affect and effect also have other forms, which add confusion. Nine times out of ten, though, follow the above guide, and you’ll be all set. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 03

Wednesday Writing Tip #122: Lose vs. Loose

Writing tip lose looseSure, we can be loose with our grammar sometimes, but we shouldn’t lose it all together. This is admittedly tricky sometimes when logical pronunciations don’t follow certain spelling rules, but we have to take a moment, ponder what we mean to say, and get it right.

For example, “loose” is the opposite of tight. We hear that “oo” sound like in “caboose,” so this is a logical spelling. The problem comes with “lose,” which, of course, is the opposite of win. It’s not a rhyme for “hose” or “rose.” It also has the “oo” sound, but without the double “o.”

Lose vs. Loose comes down to just remembering the difference. Just take a moment when you’re writing these two. Loose interpretations of spelling tend to lose their meaning.

May 20

Wednesday Writing Tip #121: What is the Plural of Dwarf?

Tolkien-Dwarf-187x300J.R.R. Tolkien is famous for the invention of elaborate fantasy worlds, with their own languages, mythos, and races of beings, but did you know he is also largely the root of a common misspelling? Not getting into the correctness of using the noun “dwarf” for anything but the fictional beings, do you know the plural of this word?

“Dwarves,” you might say—that’s what Tolkien uses, after all. But then, of course, you’d be wrong. The plural of “dwarf” is actually “dwarfs.” Don’t believe me? Disney got it right when they titled their movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Astronomers talk about “white dwarfs.” The non-traditional plural ending “-fs” is in fact the correct answer.

When you use the word “dwarf” as a verb, the same form appears. For example, “In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, an elf dwarfs a dwarf.”

Was Tolkien trying to continue his original world-building by using the non-traditional ending for the plural of dwarf? Who knows. All I know is that I see it incorrect all of the time.

But no longer from you, dear reader, right?

May 13

Wednesday Writing Tip #120: Fortuitous vs. Fortunate

fortuitous vs fortunate bubbleThere are words in our vocabulary that we misuse all of the time—think nauseous vs. nauseated, famous vs. infamous, convince vs. persuade, historic vs. historical, etc. Another easily confused pair is “fortuitous” and “fortunate.” Are you aware that both don’t necessary imply any degree of luck.

Yes, to be “fortunate,” is to be lucky or auspicious.

For something to be “fortuitous,” however, it means that it happened by chance or by accident. There is no positive or lucky implication inherent in this word.

Of course, the English language is a malleable thing—whether the by-the-book grammarians of the world like it or not. Because of this fortunate/fortuitous confusion, recent dictionaries have started to include a second “informal” definition of “fortuitous” as “something favorable or lucky that happens by chance.” Is this the true meaning? No. But just like literally now can mean to opposite of literally, “fortuitous” can now mean a misunderstood version of its definition. Sigh.

Take it or leave it, but now you can at least be aware you’re annoying the grammar-righteous. And knowing you’re troubling people is the first step, I suppose.

May 06

Wednesday Writing Tip #119: Spigot vs. Spicket


The earth laughs in flowers…especially when your spigot is working.

When you’re referring to your outdoor faucet, are you using the right word? Think fast. How do you spell it? How do you pronounce it?

“Spigot” is the correct answer. Did you get it? “Spicket”—though commonly said and written—is not actually a word. This confusion dates back to the Middle English “spyket,” according to Merriam-Webster though, so I wouldn’t feel so bad about it if you had it wrong.

Now you know, right?

Okay, back to watering my garden…

Apr 29

Wednesday Writing Tip #118: Overdo vs. Overdue

Overdo overdue

Don’t overdo it with your overdue books.

When you do something over, you don’t “overdo” it; you “redo” it. When something needs to be returned, it’s “due.” When it’s late, it’s “overdue.” When perhaps the barometric pressure has a weird effect, maybe there’s such a thing as “overdew.” Okay, I might have made up that last one.

Admittedly, this is one that sometimes makes me stop and think. But remember, “overdo” always involves the verb “do” as in “doing” something. “Overdue” always goes back to that “due date.”

Am I overdoing it with these grammar tips? I hope not. Do I have any library books that are overdue? Possible. Did my feet get wet because of some “overdew” when I walked through the grass this morning? I’m going to call artistic license on that one.

Happy writing, everyone.

Apr 22

Wednesday Writing Tip #117: Wack vs. Whack

Whac a MoleYou know what’s wack? Spellcheck. It isn’t up with the times—and by “times,” I don’t just mean the past few decades.

“Wack” has been an accepted term for someone who is a bit odd for a long time (originating roughly in the 1930s), most likely coming from the adjective “wacky.” More recently (roughly the 1980s), it became a term for something of dubious quality or something inferior or bad. It’s slang, sure, but when it has a unique spelling, you need to make sure you’re not misusing it when you mean something else.

“Whack” (with the “h”) has a few definitions from striking forcefully to the strike itself to murdering and beyond, but that “h” is necessary in all of these forms.

And here’s a twist: remember that old arcade game where you whack moles with a big mallet? That was called Whac-a-mole. I know. It’s wack.

Thus ends today’s random lesson in word confusion.

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