Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More Word Choices (Part 3 of 7)

It's or Its

I don't understand why people have trouble with this pair of words. We remind ourselves that the apostrophe means we've omitted a letter and combined two short words. We've—which I used in the previous sentence—refers to we have and the apostrophe points out the deletion of the first two letters of the word.

With the apostrophe, we mean it has or it is. Its (without the apostrophe) is the possessive form of it. Its is the neuter form. Most of us don't have trouble with his or her.

· To lose weight, Gerald decreased his food intake.

· Marilyn ate only a portion of her meals.

· Reg wanted to eat the cheese but he didn't know its caloric content.

The third sentence is where people stumble. Its refers to inanimate objects.

It's not difficult for me to remember 
that grammar has its rules.

Friday, January 25, 2013

More Word Choices (Part 2 of 7)

What's the Reason Why?

The question above may sound correct and the reason why is because we hear and see it all the time. It's incorrect because one word is redundant. That is, the two words say the same thing.

Or we sometimes say it this way: The reason is because . . . which is also redundant.

The reason why I didn't come to your house is because I was sick.

Reason, why, and because all mean the same thing.

I didn't come to your house because I was sick.

Here's another one. At a coffee shop they listed their beverages, including seventeen different kinds of coffee, six flavors of tea, and nine of chai tea. The word chai comes from Sanskrit and a number of languages in the East, Middle East, and Africa use chai. Thus to ask for chai tea is to say, "I want tea tea."

I say it once.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More Word Choices (Part 1 of 7)

In Spite of or Despite?

A blog follower asked me which of the two is correct.

* Marty succeeded in business in spite of the poor economy.

* Marty succeeded in business despite the poor economy. 

Either is correct; however, I suggest using despite, because I advocate using as few words as possible to express a thought. Despite is one word, in spite of are three.

My word choices are often matters of personal preference.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Word Choices (Part 6 of 6)

Is it valuable or invaluable?

The words are fairly close in meaning, but here's how I keep them straight. If something is valuable, it's costly or worth a great deal, and we generally put a dollar figure with it. If it's invaluable, it means it's so important that I can't put a price on it.

1. Sue's engagement ring was valuable because it cost Ned $25,000.

2. Your expertise is invaluable—I could never have figured out how to set up my computer without your assistance.

In the second example, unless your friend charges you, the help is so deeply appreciated you can't put a money figure on what it's worth.

If it's valuable, I can put a price on it; 
if there is no way to calculate the worth, it's invaluable.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Word Choices (Part 5 of 6)

Did you lose the knot or did you loose it?

It depends. If you lose a knot, it means you've misplaced it or you can't find it. If you loose a knot, you untie it. Many people pronounce both words the same, which is confusing. (Pronounce lose with a z sound at the end.)

Think of loose as the opposite of tight; lose refers to something you no longer have.

If I lose it, I don't have it; 

if I loose it, I free it from restraint.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Word Choices (Part 4 of 6)

What makes it historical?

"Going to the concert last night was one of those historical occasions," Mattie enthused.

Really? I'd hardly call last night historical. When you use historical, you are referring to something significant in the past. If you use historic (as Mattie should have), you mean important to Mattie; it may not be important to you.

Read the following two sentences.

1. To be old enough to vote for the first time was a historic moment for me. This is correct because it refers to an important moment in my life. Your first opportunity to vote may not have been of great consequence to you.

2. It was a boring lecture about the historical romance of Napoleon and Josephine. This is correct because the romance was an important event in the past. It's a recorded romance, so it's not just one person's perspective.

How can you remember the difference? This is one of the terms I've struggled with, so I'll tell you how I distinguish them. When I use the word historic, it's a subjective term. That is, I make a judgment or decision about the importance of an event. Historical refers to the past and is a neutral word.

If it's historic, it's important to me; 

if it's historical, it means an important event in the past.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Word Choices (Part 3 of 6)


Karen withdrew money from the ATM machine at the drugstore.

"I think that man has the HIV virus," Ellie said.

Although I hear both sentences, they contain redundancy or what a friend calls an echo. If you like saying something twice, don't change anything. ATM means Automated Teller Machine. HIV is an acronym for human immunodeficiency virus. The final letter of both words explains what they are, so why repeat?

When I use acronyms such as HIV or ATM, 

I don't repeat the last letter as a word.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Word Choices (Part 2 of 6)

Oral or verbal?

This is one of those distinctions I have to think through when writing. The use of oral doesn't seem to trouble anyone—that means words you speak. The problem comes with verbal, because it's not limited to spoken words. The words can be written or spoken.

"I have a verbal agreement," Mac said.

"Was it written or oral?" Tina asked.

Tina's question is correct. Verbal refers to the use of words, not to the form of communication. Verbal communication can be written or spoken.

If I refer to words spoken aloud, I use oral
If I refer to the use of words, written or oral, I use verbal.