Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 7 of 16)

What’s the difference between a while (two words) and awhile (one)? Here’s the rule: A while is an article and a noun and normally comes after the preposition for. When you use two words, you’re going to use a noun and refer to a period of time.

Example: It has been a while since I saw you. You could substitute another article-noun, such as a month: It’s been a month since I saw you. If that makes sense, you’ve made the correct choice.

Awhile (one word) is an adverb and means “for a short time.” Go dance for awhile—that is, dance for a few minutes.

This bothered me for years, until I figured out that a while is a noun phrase.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 6 of 16)

A trend today, and I hear newscasters say this regularly, is as to. That’s an awkward expression and it’s better to say, about. Instead of “As to the situation in Central Park,” try, “About the situation in Central Park.”

A friend said, “I have no idea as to where I want to eat.” It would have been better if he had said, “I have no idea about where I want to eat.” (I would have eliminated about.)



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 5 of 16)

Many writers aren’t sure of the difference between among and between. Both are prepositions. Among always implies three or more; between refers to two people or groups.

Another way is to use among when you refer to things that aren’t distinct items or individuals. Mary had to choose between Harvard and Yale; Yves chose among the universities in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 4 of 16)

Eldest or oldest? What’s the difference? Both words refer to those greater in age. The difference is that eldest can be used only to related individuals, such as, “Jack is my eldest living relative.” Oldest is more general and fits most situations.

Either word, however, must refer to two or more. It grates on me when someone refers to “my oldest sister, Anne,” when he has only two female siblings. In that case, he should have written, “my older sister, Anne.”

As a growing writer, I’m aware of correct word usage.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 3 of 16)

Reflexive pronouns trouble some writers. Some, who don’t know grammar but try to act knowledgeable, often use sentences like “He gave the money to Maggie and myself.” The person should have said, “Maggie and me.” The incorrect usage is because the speaker probably doesn’t understand reflexive pronouns.

Here’s the rule: Whenever we use a pronoun ending in -self or -selves, that form must point back (reflect) to a noun or pronoun near the beginning of the sentence. For example, Herb poured himself a drink. (Himself is correct because we know it refers to or reflects the subject, Herb.) I doubt that anyone would write this sentence: I poured a drink for Maggie and himself.

Because I’m a careful, professional writer, 
I remain aware of reflexive pronouns.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 2 of 16)

All ready (2 words) is a phrase that means completely prepared. We’ve finished lunch and we’re all ready to leave. Michael hooked up my computer so I’m all ready to start typing my manuscript.

Already is always an adverb and refers to something that happened before a certain time. Doesn’t every American city already have the Internet? They have already eaten. The battle may already be lost but the one-word and two-word argument goes on.

What about all right or alright? Two words was the standard, but for the past four decades, writers have increasingly opted for one word, alright.

These days, I suggest you choose. I still use two words. I suggest you use two words when submitting for publication and if the publisher has decided on one, your editor will change it.

I prepare to be all ready to work; 
and it’s not only all right to improve—it’s mandatory.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 1 of 16)

In this series, I want to point out problems many writers face (and their incorrect usage).

We’ll start with adopt and adapt. Most writers have no problem with adopt, which means to take something as your own.

Adapt means to change.

If your book is sold to the movies, the producers used to list the title and byline and then add, “adapted by . . .” (These days, they simply say written by and refer to the screenplay.) That means they changed the form from a novel to a script.

Affect and effect. This one used to trouble me until I learned a simple rule. Affect is nearly always a verb; effect is nearly always a noun. Affect means to “have an influence on.” Marvin’s brusque tone negatively affected Grace. (His attitude influenced her emotions.)

Think of effect as a noun that means result. His raised eyebrow had the effect of silencing Grace. (Raised eyebrow brought about a result.) That’s the basic rule.

There are deviations, but my advice is that when you have doubts use this simple mnemonic sentence: Action is affect; the end result is effect.

Because I’m serious about writing, 
I want to know the language well.