Quiet or Quite?

The words quiet (two syllables) and quite (one syllable) are frequently confused. Quiet! Please be quite. Quiet! I encountered this bit of dialogue in a mystery published by W.W. Norton. A character is being kidnapped and the words are spoken by one of the kidnappers. Obviously all three words are meant to be quiet. Quiet … Read more

Is that “-ness” Really Necessary?

The ending -ness can be added to any adjective and most past participles to create abstract nouns: happiness randomness misguidedness Some adjectives, however, already have corresponding nouns that do not end in -ness. Many beautiful and expressive abstract nouns are falling into disuse because writers and speakers are too quick to use a -ness word. … Read more

“Fictional” and “Fictitious”

Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary gives the same definition for both fictional and fictitious: of, relating to, characterized by, or suggestive of fiction. “Fiction,” of course, is anything untrue, whether it’s a lie or a novel. Webster’s gives six definitions for fiction, among them: 1 : the act of creating something imaginary : a fabrication of the … Read more

Less is More When it Comes to “Unique”

The word unique is related to a whole class of words derived from the Latin word for one, (unus) for example: uniform, unilateral, and unicorn. Soldiers tend to look alike when they are in uniform. Among allied states, a unilateral action is one taken by one member or “side” only. (Latin latus = side) A … Read more

Folks versus People

Recently I was amused to hear Jon Stewart express bewilderment at George Bush’s continued use of the word folks in inappropriate contexts. This is one of many of the President’s peculiarities of speech that has bothered me for some time. Stewart was referring to this remark in the President’s July 4 speech: Many of the … Read more

Then or Than?

Many people confuse the words then and than. They’re separated by just one little letter, and lots of people even pronounce them nearly the same way. Then (rhymes with Jen) is a word that’s used to mark time, or show a sequence of events. For example: First, preheat the oven to 325. Then, grease a … Read more

Where and Whence

A few years ago a TV special aired with the title “The From Whence We Came Awards.” I don’t recall what the awards were for. I just remember reacting to the use of “from” with the word “whence.” “Whence” is not synonymous with “where.” Whence means “from what place/source/origin.” Examples: The wealthy man never forgot … Read more

Loose or Lose?

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There’s no formula for what I do,” said King, who added that if he tried to analyze and formulate his approach to writing, he might loose his touch.

The word “loose” in this quotation from a site about publishing is incorrectly used. King might lose his touch.

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Accept the Effect

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These words give writers trouble since the two can be both a noun and a verb, although affect is typically verb and effect, noun. Normally, you will use affect to denote influence. For example:

If I play music will it affect your studying?

Affect used as a noun means “emotion.”

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Are We All Together on This?

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Unlike alright and all right, altogether and all together are both legitimate usages with entirely different meanings. Their differences are best illustrated in this quote from the movie Airplane!

Striker: “Its an entirely different kind of flying, altogether.”
All Together: “Its a entirely different kind of flying.”

In Striker’s statement, altogether means completely or utterly (and truthfully, it’s a bit redundant in the sentence–entirely fulfills the same purpose).

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