5 Assorted Usage Errors

By Mark Nichol

Using the right word for the job, or considering whether a word is needed at all, distinguishes careful writing from careless writing. Discussion and revision of the following sentences illustrate various ways in which writing can be improved by word-by-word attention to detail.

1. Here’s a list of several webinars that we have hosted that we think you may be interested in.

The conjunction that is often optional in a sentence, but when it appears twice in a sentence, omit at least one expendable instance: “Here’s a list of several webinars we have hosted that we think you may be interested in” (or “Here’s a list of several webinars we have hosted we think you may be interested in”).

2. Smith snapped back in a rare display of emotion during an otherwise unflappable matter-a-fact testimony.

Venerable idiomatic phrases a writer may have heard spoken but not seen written out may be misheard or misremembered and subsequently erroneously recorded, so always double-check the exact wording of such phrases: “Smith snapped back in a rare display of emotion during an otherwise unflappable matter-of-fact testimony.”

3. Jones’s teammates stressed how little he stresses in the postseason.

Stress is often used as a synonym for emphasize, but it is better to employ it only to refer to physical or mental pressure, and emphasize is especially preferable if, distractingly, both senses of stress are used in the same sentence: “Jones’s teammates emphasized how little he stresses in the postseason.”

4. He’ll make his first scheduled public remarks at the state convention, where he is expected to address his future plans.

Plans are, at least in the context of this sentence, something pertaining to the future, so future is redundant here: “He’ll make his first scheduled public remarks at the state convention, where he is expected to address his plans.” Always scan your writing to delete such extraneous wording. (See this DailyWritingTips.com post and this one for more examples.)

5. Depressed labor markets incent people to monetize their possessions, time, and talents in whatever ways they can.

This sentence is a matter of aesthetic consideration rather than error, but avoid using neologisms when perfectly adequate (and often superior) antecedents exist: “Depressed labor markets incentivize [or “motivate”] people to monetize their possessions, time, and talents in whatever ways they can.”

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7 Responses to “5 Assorted Usage Errors”

  • Jake Marek

    In #5, I had to stifle a laugh at how “incents” is considered a neologism but “incentivize” is NOT. Although it may have indeed entered the vernacular, the latter still grates on my ear.

  • Andy Cunningham

    Surely, at least to a British speaker, incent is the correct word in the last example, and incentivise a horrible neologism.

  • Evelyn Howell

    Example 2 has me confused. The “rewritten” sentence appears to be exactly the same.

  • Mark Nichol

    Evelyn:
    The idiomatic phrase matter-of-fact had been mistakenly written matter-a-fact by someone evidently unaware of the correct wording.

  • venqax

    Hmmm…But I had a paper that clearly said, “I am still angry about this incident. As a madder affect, I’m angrier than [I] ever was before.” So are you sure it’s not, “madder affect”? (This was not the same person, BTW, who wrote about the tuks sedo he wore to his high school prom).

    A hearty cheer for the condemnation of the mythical verb “to incent”. I wouldn’t even smile politely at “incentivize”; you’re a softy! Now they are “efforting” to incent people because the latter just wasn’t an awful enough asault on the ears. Business-speak is near the bottom in several ways when it comes to usage. Not neo, but nonologism.

  • Agua Caliente

    “Jones’s teammates stressed how little he stresses in the postseason.”

    Call it dry humor, but I like it like that.

  • Steve.

    Mark –

    Today you’re more modern than I am! My ear and my American dictionary register “stress” in the sense of feeling stress as informal and trendy. Also, “incentivize” is a jargon gateway drug. “Motivate” was spot on, and I’d even go the long way around with “gave an incentive to” before I’d concede to verbify here. (Oops.)

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