Friday, February 28, 2014

Tricky Words (Part 8 of 8)

Hung or hanged? Most people probably know the present tense is hang, but what about the past tense? When we say a person was executed by using a rope, that person was hanged. That's the exception of the past tense. Otherwise, hung is correct.

Here's an easy way to remember the difference. In "The Night Before Christmas," one line goes, "The stockings were hung by the chimney . . ."

The right word is the correct word used correctly.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tricky Words (Part 7 of 8)

What's the difference between arbitrate and mediate?

Both words mean people seek to settle disputes between two (or more) parties. And both refer to individuals who listen to the disputes. They go into arbitration or mediation because they can't agree.

Here's the difference: An arbitrator has power. Some agents have an item in their contracts with writers that says if they have a dispute they can't settle they will go into arbitration.

I like to say it this way: The word mediate, over the centuries, has lost its power. It has come to refer to a person who helps disputing parties come to a satisfactory conclusion. It's usually less formal than arbitration and is rarely binding.

I'm careful about the use of words.
The more careful I am, the better writer I become.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tricky Words (Part 6 of 8)

"Is it all right to use a lot? My spellchecker flags it every time and suggests much or many.

Instead of a yes or no answer, we need to consider how we use the term. A lot is the opposite of a little or a small number and is used as a noun. When used as a noun, it refers to something countable. A lot can also be an adverb and means to a large degree or extent (and always appears as two words.)

* Edith cheats a lot in math class. (adverb)

* Marti has a lot of money. (noun)

English continues to grow. The old rule about a lot as something countable is losing its power. In time, even the purists will probably say we can use the term as a noun without restriction.

English constantly changes. 
I stay aware of the changes.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tricky Words (Part 5 of 8)

Is impact only a noun or can we use it as a verb?

A decade ago one of my writer friends demanded that I not use impact as a verb. "It is a noun and only a noun." I agreed with the first part of his sentence that it is a noun and means to have a strong and often bad effect on something or someone.

I disagree with the second part because impact can function as a verb. In researching the word, I learned that the verbal usage has been around since the early 1600s. It means to influence or to strike forcefully. For example: The down economy impacted his sales commission.

Others will allow impact only as an intransitive verb (that is, a noun doesn't follow the verb or take a direct object). That seems arbitrary to me. To make the verb intransitive, they add the preposition on. The new law impacted on the poorest people. I see nothing wrong with writing it this way: The new law impacted the poorest people. It had a powerful, direct influence.

I am careful and certain about the words I use.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tricky Words (Part 4 of 8)

Is it all right or alright? sneaked or snuck?

Those of us who hold out for two words for all right are losing the battle. Long ago, all ready and all together merged into single words and alright rushes toward the same status; however, most publishers still consider alright as substandard.

The same is true with the past tense and past participle of sneak. From the best evidence I can find, snuck crept into American vocabulary about 100 years ago and has slowly demanded recognition. A few months ago, a CNN headline read, "A boy snuck on to airplane and flew to Las Vegas."

I'm for staying with sneaked, and most publishers prefer the older form.

Because I'm a professional,
I know the standard forms of words.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tricky Words (Part 3 of 8)

What's the difference between titled and entitled?

Two decades ago we used entitled in sentences such as "This is from the book entitled . . ." Today the word titled is enough and means it's the name of a book or a play.

Entitled now carries a restricted use that means a right to have something or a claim: I worked harder than anyone else, so I am entitled to the biggest portion.

Entitled implies deserving or a right protected by law: As the older sibling, I'm entitled to (I deserve) more of the inheritance. Despite that, my father says I'll receive one-third. That is, one-third is my lawful portion.

English keeps changing,
and I grow with the changes.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tricky Words (Part 2 of 8)

On and onto.

"I get hung up on the difference between on and onto," one reader wrote. "What's the difference?"

The simple answer is whether it involves movement. The bread is on the table (no movement). Harold is putting the salad onto the table. Most people would use on in both sentences, but onto is correct in the second sentence because it shows the salad is being moved.

Try this: Replace on with on top of or in the position of. If it fits, we know that on is correct.

* Her hand rested on mine. (The hand is there—no movement.)

* That tie looks elegant on you. Here the tie is in position. The man is wearing it.

* Baby Todd jumped onto my back. (The boy moved from where he was to me.) 

As a growing professional,
I distinguish between even the small words.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tricky Words (Part 1 of 8)

Do I "home" or "hone?"

Although both are useful verbs, their meanings differ. To hone means to sharpen: Each day I hone my writing skills and I'm improving.

To home—usually written as "to home in on" means to aim at a destination or target with accuracy: Ignore the damage, just home in on the target.

Here's my easy-to-remember rule. If you add "in on" after the verb, you probably need to use home.

As professional writers we don't guess at word meanings; 
we know their definitions.