guest post by Kellee Kranendonk
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be interspersing Scott’s and my posts with some posts on writing craft by Kellee Kranendonk. Kellee has given us a number of excellent posts in the past, so we’re pleased to have her back. Enjoy.
UPDATE NOTE FROM RICK ADDED AFTER POSTING: The following points apply primarily to narrative, NOT to dialogue, particularly if the character would say things like “my head literally exploded.” However, be careful of misspellings in dialogue. If a character meant to say “loose” but said “lose,” or said “mute point” instead of “moot point,” then it behooves you as a writer to ensure that your reader understands this was intentional and not an error on the writer’s part.
By now I’m sure you’re well aware of the difference between “you’re” and “your” and “lose” and “loose”. But there are also some phrases that are commonly confused. The placement of a single word, or misuse of the correct one, can change the meaning of your sentence. It’s not just semantics. You may or may not mean what you say, but you certainly want to say what you mean. To do that, you need to arrange your words in a way that makes sense, that conveys what you’re saying to your readers.
SAYING WHAT YOU MEAN
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I COULD CARE LESS”? I’m sure you have, and maybe it’s as annoying to you as it is to me. If you “could care less” that Jenny got her hair cut, then you must care some. You must have some feeling towards Jenny and her hair. However, if you have zero interest in Jenny, which is what the phrase is meant to convey, then you couldn’t care less that Jenny got her hair cut. Is it possible for you to care less than you do? If not, you couldn’t care less.
“MY HEAD LITERALLY EXPLODED.” If you use this phrase, do you know what “literally” means? Try thinking back to your high school English class when you learned the difference between “literal” and “figurative.” When I was in middle school, my English teacher told a student, “Throw that chair at me.” She meant it figuratively, not literally. If she meant it literally, some lucky student would have been able to vent his frustrations by throwing a chair at the teacher. And, if your head literally exploded, you’d be dead.
How often have you heard or said, “I DON’T HAVE NOWHERE TO GO” or “I DON’T HAVE NONE”? You know it’s wrong, but you say it anyway. That might be fine if you’re just chatting among friends and family, but if you need to be professional, or you’re teaching someone else proper English, you need to remember, “I have nowhere to go” or “I don’t have anywhere to go.” “I don’t have any” or “I have none”. If you don’t have none and nowhere to go, then you must have some and somewhere to go.
“THIS IS A GOOD ARTICLE.” “IT’S WELL WRITTEN.” While that may be true, it’s not true that “good” and “well” can be interchanged. Remember your lessons on “May I” vs. “Can I.” Another word for “can” is “able.” So if you ask a question such as “Can I eat that cake”, you’re probably the only one who can answer, because only you know if you’re able. Good vs. well is a similar thing. You couldn’t say “This is a well article. It’s good written.” We often hear people say “You did good” and it’s acceptable, but it really should be “You did well,” unless “You did a good job.”
“DON’T TAKE ME FOR GRANTED” Yes, that’s correct. If you “take me for granite”, do I look like rock to you? Granite is a type of stone, often used to make countertops. Granted is something given, like a genie’s wish, or land granted to Irish immigrants. In other words, don’t take me as a given.
“THAT’S A MUTE POINT.” Of course it is. “Mute” is something that can’t speak. When you hit the “mute” button on your television remote, your TV stops making noise. If your point has stopped making noise, then it can hardly be considered moot, which is the correct word for this phrase. A moot point is something up for debate, or a non-issue, something of no importance.
Have you ever gotten peace of mind? In all likelihood you have at one time or another. You may have had a test done, or talked to a child’s teacher. These things ease our worries to give our minds a rest, or peace. “Peace of mind” and not “piece of mind” is the correct phrase here. Unless of course you do want to give someone a piece of your mind (not literally, of course), and that’s a whole other thing.
“BUY THIS PRODUCT AND YOU’LL GET A FREE GIFT.” Hmmm, a free gift? I guess it’s better than those gifts you have to pay for….
“AS AN ADDED BONUS, YOU’LL GET A FREE PEN.” If it’s a bonus, it has to be added. If you’re getting something in addition to the pen, then what else is it if it’s not a bonus? And if it’s not added you’re not getting it, so it’s not a bonus. What you really want to say is “In addition, you’ll get a free pen” or “You’ll get a pen as a bonus”.
“MY AUNT AND UNCLE ARE A PAIR OF TWINS.” They are twins, not a “pair of twins.” A pair is two of something. In order to be a twin, there has to be two. One can’t be a twin alone. Therefore, if you have a pair of twins you have two of a set of two. In other words, you have four. You can have a pair of twins if you have two sets of twins, but a single set is just called twins.
“I FORGOT MY PIN NUMBER.” Really? Your PIN has a number of its own? PIN = Personal Identification Number. Therefore, if you forgot your PIN number, then what you’re saying is you forgot your Personal Identification Number number.
“WHAT ABOUT MERGING TOGETHER?” The definitions of “merge” are to become one, join, unite or combine. “Together” means at the same time, in sync, or in the same place (among other things). Saying merge together is like saying “become one at the same time”. You could say it, but it’s redundant because you can’t really become one at different times.
“THE PEOPLE ON THE BUS WERE FEW IN NUMBER AFTER THE HOCKEY PLAYERS GOT OFF AT THE ARENA.” You can tighten this sentence up by saying “The people on the bus were few after the hockey players got off at the arena.” Saying “few” is the same as “few in number”. It isn’t really so much a redundancy than just tighter writing.
There are many of these redundant and misused phrases that we’ve grown so used to hearing and saying that most of us don’t even notice anymore: “Give me an unexpected surprise each and every morning at 9 A.M.” Is there anything wrong with that sentence? Plenty! First of all, if something is expected it can’t be a surprise. Second, “each” and “every” mean the same thing. Finally, “AM” already means morning, so there’s no need include both.
Sometimes what you say is correct, but spelled out, it’s incorrect. Oh, those pesky homophones. Have a look:
“LET’S GO DOWN TO THE THEATRE FOR A SNEAK PEAK OF THAT NEW MOVIE. IT REALLY PEAKED MY INTEREST.” Peak vs. peek is a mistake I see often. “Peak” is the pointed top of something, or the highest level or point. If you want to take a peak, where do you want to take it? Will it need a passport? It might look cute to see the rhyming words spelled so similarly, but it’s incorrect. Indeed, there are different meanings for “peaked,” but none of them apply to your interest. The correct phrase there would be: THE NEW MOVIE PIQUED MY INTEREST. “Piqued” is a word that means “arouse.” Saying the new movie aroused your interest is quite correct.
“I’LL HAVE TO MAKE DUE WITH THE LAWN MOWER I HAVE UNTIL I CAN AFFORD TO BUY A NEW ONE.” Make due? “Due” means something owed. I have enough bills, I don’t need anymore. What I really need is to make do with the lawn mower I have. In other words, make it work until I can get a new one. In the same vein, you give due respect, not “do” respect. “With all due respect, sir, I disagree with you.” Even though you disagree, you’re giving someone the respect he’s owed. Respect isn’t something you do, like you do a cartwheel. Rather, it’s something you show.
ADVERBS IN SENTENCE STRUCTURE
What does an adverb do? Its job is to modify, but you want to make sure you’re modifying the correct word. To do that, the adverb needs to go in the correct spot in your sentence. Take this sentence: THE NEW BUS STOPPED BY OUR DRIVEWAY. Now add an adverb: only. But where do you put it? That depends on what you want to say.
Only the new bus stopped by our driveway. (The old one didn’t stop there, nor did anything else—here, only refers to the bus.)
The new bus only stopped by our driveway. (It didn’t stay there or do anything else—only refers to the stopping.)
The new bus stopped only by our driveway. (It didn’t stop anywhere else—only refers to our driveway.)
The only new bus stopped by our driveway. (There was just one new bus, not two or more—only refers to the bus’s newness.)
As another example, try this sentence: I GOT A RAISE. Add “just.”
I just got a raise. (Just = recently—I received it now or not long ago: I recently got a raise.)
I got just a raise. (Just = only—I got nothing else: I got nothing other than a raise.)
I got a just raise. (Just = fair—The raise was sincere, generous: I got a fair raise. But note that in this case “just” is an adjective, not an adverb, describing the type of raise you got.)
When you write, or even when you speak, think about what you want to say. Is it correct, is it redundant? Or does it say exactly what you want to say? If it sounds like it means something else, chances are it does, and you need to do some editing.