Apr 01

Wednesday Writing Tip #114: Disinterested vs. Uninterested

disinterested uninterested writingThere are some words that people use as synonyms when they really aren’t. Yep, this is me calling you out again, language lazy friends. Or perhaps that’s too strong. Maybe it’s not laziness so much as ignorance. Grammar naiveté. So often these are subtleties never taught, after all. So how are you to pick them up on your own? That’s what I’m here for, folks.

“Disinterested” and “uninterested” are another example of words that are treated as synonyms but actually have different meanings.

To be “disinterested” means to be impartial. A disinterested person wouldn’t have a stake in the outcome. To be “uninterested” means that you simply don’t care. This is a subtle difference, but one worth noting.

For example, a disinterested referee would call the game fairly. An uninterested referee might not be paying much attention.

Have you been using these words correctly?

Mar 25

Wednesday Writing Tip #113: You’re Welcome

welcome welcomed cute dog

“Welcome!” says this welcome little bundle of cuteness. (You’re welcome.)

A welcomed question came my way last week. Or was it a welcome question? You see where I’m going here. The word “welcome” can be one that you overthink since it has so many forms. It can be an interjection (“Welcome, friend!”), a verb (“He welcomed them into his home”), or an adjective (“a most welcome language tip”).

Remember that only verbs have to worry about tense. Even if something was welcome last week or last year, if you’re using the word “welcome” as an adjective, you never need to add on that “d” or any other conjugated form. The same thing goes for interjections, of course, but I’m not convinced that’s one that you’d be confused by. (“Welcomed!” “Welcoming!”—Yep, it sounds weird no matter how you do it).

Great question, grammar-concerned friend. Does anyone have any others?

Mar 18

Wednesday Writing Tip #112: For all intents and purposes (not “intensive purposes”)

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Henry VIII - Google Art Project.jpg

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger – Portrait of Henry VIII – Google Art Project

He was Henry the eighth, he was. Henry the eighth, he was, he was.

Did you know that the origin of this tricky idiom goes back to a single member of English royalty? Henry VIII is the one for whom you can blame this phrase. Its first recorded use appears to be a 1539 proclamation of parliament. And yes, it was written “for all intents and purposes,” not “intensive purposes.” As you know, it means “for all practical reasons” or simply “in effect.”

If you were first introduced to this phrase in spoken English rather than written English, I can understand the confusion, but be sure not to sound silly if you use the expression yourself. For all intents and purposes, “intents and purposes” is the way to go.

Got it?

Mar 11

Wednesday Writing Tip #111: Just Deserts or Just Desserts?

Just deserts or just dessertsToday, allow me to blow your spelling-bee hating mind. If someone gets what they deserve, do they get their “just deserts” or their “just desserts”?

Oh, I know, you’re confident on this one. Just listen to that pronunciation!

Starting off with refreshers, we know that a tasty post-meal treat is a “dessert” (s x 2). We know that cacti grow in “deserts” (s x 1).

When you use the “just deserts”/”just desserts” expression, it is pronounced the same way you say “desserts.” It’s clearly not talking about a sandy, dry locale. There’s probably some etymological backstory about a poisoned soufflé or something, right? Yeah, that guy got his “just desserts,” someone once said, and it stuck, right? Someone like Shakespeare? Something from Titus Andronicus? If you think about it hard enough, it almost makes sense, doesn’t it?

But then, of course, you would be wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 04

Wednesday Writing Tip #110: Mastering Description (Three creative tips)

Description - snow

“The only other sound’s the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake/ The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”

When writers show readers the world around their characters, this is when a story can come alive. It’s the difference between dialogue existing on a black movie screen and an exchange that stirs your readers’ imaginations.

Sometimes, you might realize description would enhance a scene, but you aren’t quite sure how to turn a sentence from simple into masterful. There are three common weaknesses I stumble upon again and again in my editing work, so I wanted to pass on some possible solutions that may help. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 25

Wednesday Writing Tip #109: Who’s vs. Whose

Who’s on first? Whose shoes are those? Who’s that girl? Whose cupcake is that? Can I have it?

whose cupcake is thatWait, before I get distracted by my sweet tooth, let’s dive into the differences between “who’s” and “whose” today. Logic doesn’t always apply easily to grammar. This one—like “its” and “it’s”—is another exception to the rule that possessives have the apostrophe “s.”

“Who’s” is a contraction—just like can’t, you’re, or y’all—short for “who is” or sometimes “who was” or “who has.”

“Whose” is the possessive form.

Yes, it’s true. Every time you’ve assumed “who’s” was possessive, you’ve been wrong. Hopefully, those were just emails to your friends, not your boss’s boss’s boss. My fingers are crossed for you.

We’ve talked “who” vs. “whom,” but this simpler distinction is sometimes equally as confused. Or perhaps it’s less confused and just typed quickly without thinking about it. Either way, it’s time to pause and get it right, don’t you think?

Feb 18

Wednesday Writing Tip #108: Unpalatable (Palate vs Palette vs Pallet)

Wine palate or palette or palletIf you have an artist who’s also a foodie, who has a day job driving the forklift at a big box store, do you know what vocabulary you should be using in all instances? Hey, everyone needs a day job—most of us anyway—so it could happen.

This spelling distinction doesn’t come up often, but when it does, there’s often confusion.

“Palate” is the word used when describing your sense of taste or simply the roof of your mouth.

A “palette” is a selection of colors or the flat board an artist mixes her paints upon.

A “pallet” is the large platform upon which goods are loaded or rarely a term used for a makeshift bed, perhaps made of straw. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 11

Wednesday Writing Tip #107: Money vs. Moneys vs. Monies

Destinys Child

Grammar divas?

Here’s a thought: when Destiny’s Child sang, “All the honeys that making money, throw your hands up at me,” were they annoyed that “honeys” and “money” didn’t make an exact rhyme? Were they right to say “money” and not “moneys” or “monies”? Did they miss an opportunity for poetic perfection? Am I over-analyzing things again?

Hold that thought, early-Beyonce fans. Do you know the difference between “money” and “moneys” and “monies”?

The good news here—for all of us—is that Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle were absolutely right in their use of “money.” This is an example of a mass noun, which often refers to an uncountable abstract. We’re talking about the idea of cash or capital, not a specific amount of dollars or cents. There’s a plurality that’s understood in “money,” which is what often confuses people about the uses of “moneys” or “money.” Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 04

Wednesday Writing Tip #106: Tenant vs Tenet

tenant vs tenetIf you hold a tenant close to your heart, you might not be a good landlord. Just sayin’.

In case you’ve ever wondered which word is the one you really need, you’re confusion is understandable. Both words come from the same Latin root, tenere, which means “to hold.” It’s just a matter of holding beliefs (tenet) or holding a lease (tenant).

Are there any other words that make you wonder if you’re using the right one?

 

 

Jan 28

Wednesday Writing Tip #105: Toward vs Towards

Grammatical dual-citizenI’m not one who can don a believable British accent, so maybe that’s why I always use “toward” and not “towards.” Don’t know what I’m talking about? This is another case of regional differences.

The choice of “toward” or “towards” is not a matter of right or wrong. Usually, it’s a matter of geography. Across the pond, “towards” is more commonas are related forms: “backwards,” “forwards,” “upwards,” “afterwards,” etc.

In the U.S., “toward” is more common—as are “backward,” “forward,” “upward,” “afterward,” etc.

I guess I’m conventional and follow the crowd on this one—my crowd being American. Either one you choose, though, make sure you’re consistent about it. If your writing waffles between the two, it’s jarring not only for your reader, but also for your national identity. There’s no such this as a grammatical dual-citizen.

Read the rest of this entry »

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