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* …
(Some of these seem pretty obvious – but if you read as many blogs as I do – you’d be surprised how many confused people there are out there. I don’t care how much it is argued, grammatically incorrect writing makes writers look foolish).
1. BACK/FORWARD/UP IN TIME: For most people you move an event forward by scheduling it to happen sooner, but other people imagine the event being moved forward into the future, postponed. This is what most—but not all—people mean by saying they want to move an event back—later. Usage is also split on whether moving an event up means making it happen sooner (most common) or later (less common). The result is widespread confusion. When using these expressions make clear your meaning by the context in which you use them. “We need to move the meeting forward” is ambiguous; “we need to move the meeting forward to an earlier date” is not.
Just to confuse things further, when you move the clock ahead in the spring for daylight saving time, you make it later; but when you move a meeting ahead, you make it sooner. Isn’t English wonderful?
2. BETWEEN YOU AND ME: “Between you and me” is preferred in standard English. See I/me/myself.
3. BELOW TABLE: When calling your readers’ attention to an illustration or table further on in a text, the proper word order is not “the below table” but “the table below.”
4. BLATANT: The classic meaning of “blatant” is “noisily conspicuous,” but it has long been extended to any objectionable obviousness. A person engaging in blatant behavior is usually behaving in a highly objectionable manner, being brazen. Unfortunately, many people nowadays think that “blatant” simply means “obvious” and use it in a positive sense, as in “Kim wrote a blatantly brilliant paper.” Use “blatant” or “blatantly” only when you think the people you are talking about should be ashamed of themselves.
5. BORN/BORNE: This distinction is a bit tricky. When birth is being discussed, the past tense of “bear” is usually “born”: “I was born in a trailer—but it was an Airstream.” Note that the form used here is passive: you are the one somebody else—your mother—bore. But if the form is active, you need an “E” on the end, as in “Midnight has borne another litter of kittens in Dad’s old fishing hat” (Midnight did the bearing).
But in other meanings not having to do with birth, “borne” is always the past tense of “bear”: “My brother’s constant teasing about my green hair was more than could be borne.”
6. BROOCH/BROACH: A decorative pin is a “brooch” even though it sounds like “broach” — a quite different word. Although some dictionaries now accept the latter spelling for jewelry, you risk looking ignorant to many readers if you use it.
7. BEMUSE/AMUSE: When you bemuse someone, you confuse them, and not necessarily in an entertaining way. Don’t confuse this word with “amuse.”
8. BACKUP/BACK UP: To “back up” is an activity; “back up your computer regularly”; “back up the truck to the garden plot and unload the compost.”
A “backup” is a thing: “keep your backup copies in a safe place.” Other examples: a traffic backup, sewage backup, backup plan, backup forces.
Older writers often hyphenated this latter form (“back-up”), but this is now rare.
9. BIAS/BIASED: A person who is influenced by a bias is biased. The expression is not “they’re bias,” but “they’re biased.” Also, many people say someone is “biased toward” something or someone when they mean biased against. To have a bias toward something is to be biased in its favor.
See also “prejudice/prejudiced.”
10. BREACH/BREECH: Substitute a K for the CH in “breach” to remind you that the word has to do with breakage: you can breach (break through) a dam or breach (violate the terms of) a contract. As a noun, a breach is something broken off or open, as in a breach in a military line during combat.
“Breech” however, refers to rear ends, as in “breeches” (slang spelling “britches” ). Thus “breech cloth,” “breech birth,” or “breech-loading gun.”
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” means “let’s charge into the gap in the enemy’s defenses,” not “let’s reach into our pants again.”
11. BUTT NAKED/BUCK NAKED: The standard expression is “buck naked,” and the contemporary “butt naked” is an error that will get you laughed at in some circles. However, it might be just as well if the new form were to triumph. Originally a “buck” was a dandy, a pretentious, overdressed show-off of a man. Condescendingly applied in the US to Native Americans and black slaves, it quickly acquired negative connotations. To the historically aware speaker, “buck naked” conjures up stereotypical images of naked “savages” or—worse—slaves laboring naked on plantations. Consider using the alternative expression “stark naked.”
12. BREATH/BREATHE: When you need to breathe, you take a breath. “Breathe” is the verb, “breath” the noun.
13. BELIEF/BELIEVE: People can’t have religious “believes”; they have religious beliefs. If you have it, it’s a belief; if you do it, you believe.
By the by, if you’re hungry for more writing tips, you’ll find some EXCELLENT advice/lessons at Daily Writing Tips.
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