Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen (More) Common Writing Mistakes

I hope posting these tips help you. I hope they don’t bore you. (Obviously, the baby shown here is pretty bored with these language posts). But this sort of stuff interests me and being the self-absorbed peon that I am, I always assume anything that interests me, interests YOU. If I’m wrong, I do apologize. 😀

I did not write these tips. These tips, and many more like these, can be found at Common Errors in English. So, if you disagree with these rules, then please, don’t kill the messenger. These are here just for your learning/entertainment, nothing more, and nothing less.

Now that you know my disclaimer, let’s move on to the juicy stuff … *rubs hands together in glee* …

1. ALRIGHT/ALL RIGHT: The correct form of this phrase has become so rare in the popular press that many readers have probably never noticed that it is actually two words. But if you want to avoid irritating traditionalists you’d better tell them that you feel “all right” rather than “alright.”

2. ALTAR/ALTER: An altar is that platform at the front of a church or in a temple; to alter something is to change it.

3. ALTOGETHER/ALL TOGETHER: “Altogether” is an adverb meaning “completely,” “entirely.” For example: “When he first saw the examination questions, he was altogether baffled.” “All together,” in contrast, is a phrase meaning “in a group.” For example: “The wedding guests were gathered all together in the garden.” Undressed people are said in informal speech to be “in the altogether” (perhaps a shortening of the phrase “altogether naked” ).

4. ALUMNUS/ALUMNI: We used to have “alumnus” (male singular), “alumni” (male plural), “alumna” (female singular) and “alumnae” (female plural); but the latter two are now popular only among older female graduates, with the first two terms becoming unisex. However, it is still important to distinguish between one alumnus and a stadium full of alumni. Never say, “I am an alumni” if you don’t want to cast discredit on your school. Many avoid the whole problem by resorting to the informal abbreviation “alum.”

5. AMBIGUOUS/AMBIVALENT: Even though the prefix “ambi-” means “both,” “ambiguous” has come to mean “unclear,” “undefined,” while “ambivalent” means “torn between two opposing feelings or views.” If your attitude cannot be defined into two polarized alternatives, then you’re ambiguous, not ambivalent.

6. AMORAL/IMMORAL: “Amoral” is a rather technical word meaning “unrelated to morality.” When you mean to denounce someone’s behavior, call it “immoral.”

7. ANCESTOR/DESCENDANT: When Albus Dumbledore said that Lord Voldemort was “the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin,” more than one person noted that he had made a serious verbal bumble; and in later printings of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets author J. K. Rowling corrected that to “last remaining descendant.” People surprisingly often confuse these two terms with each other. Your great-grandmother is your ancestor; you are her descendant.

8. AND ALSO/AND, ALSO: “And also” is redundant; say just “and” or “also.”

9. AND/OR: The legal phrase “and/or,” indicating that you can either choose between two alternatives or choose both of them, has proved irresistible in other contexts and is now widely acceptable though it irritates some readers as jargon. However, you can logically use it only when you are discussing choices which may or may not both be done: “Bring chips and/or beer.” It’s very much overused where simple “or” would do, and it would be wrong to say, “you can get to the campus for this morning’s meeting on a bike and/or in a car.” Choosing one eliminates the possibility of the other, so this isn’t an and/or situation.

10. ANECDOTE/ANTIDOTE: A humorist relates “anecdotes.” The doctor prescribes “antidotes” for children who have swallowed poison. Laughter may be the best medicine, but that’s no reason to confuse these two with each other.

11. ANGEL/ANGLE: People who want to write about winged beings from Heaven often miscall them “angles.” A triangle has three angles. The Heavenly Host is made of angels. Just remember the adjectival form: “angelic.” If you pronounce it aloud you’ll be reminded that the E comes before the L.

12. ANXIOUS/EAGER: Most people use “anxious” interchangeably with “eager,” but its original meaning had to do with worrying, being full of anxiety. Perfectly correct phrases like, “anxious to please” obscure the nervous tension implicit in this word and lead people to say less correct things like “I’m anxious for Christmas morning to come so I can open my presents.” Traditionalists frown on anxiety-free anxiousness. Say instead you are eager for or looking forward to a happy event.

13. ASCRIBE/SUBSCRIBE:If you agree with a theory or belief, you subscribe to it, just as you subscribe to a magazine. Ascribe is a very different word. If you ascribe a belief to someone, you are attributing the belief to that person, perhaps wrongly.

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9 thoughts on “Thirteen (More) Common Writing Mistakes”

  1. I loved this list because I’m a bit of a grammar Nazi myself.

    Affect/effect–no one seems to use this one correctly. And alot/a lot–its misuse makes me crazy. I have to admit, I’m guilty of the and/or usage. I don’t think OR is always a suitable option.

    I’m not going to kill the messenger though! 🙂

  2. Oooo great list. I’m such I dork for correct verbage and pronunciation. I want to slap people that say “suposubly” it’s “supposedly” people! 🙂

  3. Shoot, I’d just be happy to get the people at work not to put a hyphen in email and to get their and they’re right. Grr. 🙂

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