Category Archives: usage

Usage: Farther Vs. Further

Historically, farther and further have been used interchangeably when referring to distance, but their definitions are diverging. Most usage guides, including Chicago and AP, distinguish between the two, reserving farther when referring to physical distances and further for figurative distances, measuring quantity or degree:

When I graduated from college, I moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles. My sister moved even farther, to Honolulu.

Although she is more than four years younger than me, for a while my sister was further along in her studies than I.

It’s easy to remember to use farther when referring to physical distances because it starts with the word far.

However, sometimes it can be unclear whether the distance being described is physical or figurative:

Tanya got to the stable before her brother and so is farther/further into her ride than he.

Whether to use farther or further depends on how you look at it: Is Tanya physically farther along the trail? Or figuratively further into her ride? In cases like these, where the distinction isn’t clear, farther and further can still be used interchangeably.

Further can also be used to modify an entire sentence:

Further, Tanya was riding at a brisk trot, so she returned to the stable long before her brother did.

In cases where you could just as easily use furthermore, use further, not farther.

Do you have a question about usage? Let me know, and I’ll include it in a future installment of Mots Justes’ ongoing series.

Resources

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

“farther.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. 18 February 2010
<http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/farther>

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. 42nd ed. New York: Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

Strunk Jr., William, and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

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Usage: Beg the Question

You can beg for forgiveness. You can beg for mercy. You can beg for money, especially in these tough economic times. But whatever you do, don’t beg the question. And don’t use “beg the question” incorrectly in your writing, either.

Let me explain: The phrase “beg the question” refers to a logical fallacy in which a writer attempts to prove a claim by restating the claim itself, often in different language. For example, consider this hypothetical argument adapted from a practice prompt I use with my students preparing for the ACT:

Locker checks should not be allowed in high schools because authorities should not search students’ lockers.

In this (again, hypothetical) thesis, I haven’t offered a reason for my argument—what I call the “because clause”—but rather simply restated my stand, that locker checks should not be allowed. Avoid begging the question in your rhetorical writing.

Also avoid using the phrase “beg the question” incorrectly. Much too often, it is used in lieu of “raise the question”:

School administrators are determined to institute mandatory weekly locker checks, which begs raises the question, what right do they have?

Really, begging the question should be avoided at all costs, both as a rhetorical device and as a phrase in your writing, and at least one website is dedicated to ending BTQ abuse.

Resource

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

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Usage Thursday: Top Nine Misused Words

One of my oldest, dearest friends uses the word irregardless. She is smart and highly educated, yet insists on using this non-word. Should I correct her? Cracked.com says yes and lists eight other words that don’t mean what we think they do with advice on whether it’s worth insisting people use them the right way. Although the site’s presentation is crude, the explanations of how we’re using peruse, ironic, pristine, nonplussed, bemused, enormity, plethora, and deceptively incorrectly and what they really mean are clear and entertaining. Do you have any to add?

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Usage Thursday: E.G. and I.E.

The abbreviated Latin terms e.g. and i.e. are often confused and used incorrectly. E.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example.” I.e. stands for id est, which means “that is” or, put another way, “in other words.” The two abbreviations have distinct meanings and should not be used interchangeably:

Jeff and I are traveling to Minnesota to visit some of our old stomping grounds—e.g., our old apartment and the movie theater where we worked.

Because e.g. means “for example,” the apartment and the movie theater are just examples of some of the places we visited; we visited other places as well.

Jeff and I are traveling to Minnesota to visit some of our old stomping grounds—i.e., our old apartment and the movie theater where we worked.

Here, because i.e. means “that is,” the apartment and the movie theater are the only places we visited; mentioning them provides further explanation.

To borrow a “quick and dirty tip” from Grammar Girl, you can remember the difference between e.g. and i.e. by associating the abbreviations with their English meanings:

e.g. →for example
i.e. →that is, in other words

Although I’ve used italics in my discussion here for clarification, don’t italicize e.g. and i.e. in your writing. Yes, they are abbreviations for words in a foreign language, which usually are italicized, but they’ve become so standard in English that they no longer need to be. Do, however, put a period after each letter—they are abbreviations, after all—and always follow e.g. and i.e. with a comma.

Resources

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

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Usage Thursday: “Alright” Is (Almost) Never All Right

All right is spelled as two words. Period.

But, yes, you’re going to find alright in the dictionary. That doesn’t mean it’s all right (ha!) to use it. After all, ain’t is in there, too. Dictionaries don’t define how to use words correctly; that’s what usage guides are for. Rather, dictionaries record how words are actually used. And, yes, alright is used, but dictionaries will likely label it as “informal” or “nonstandard.”

However, that doesn’t preclude you from using alright in dialogue. As we’re well aware, people don’t speak in standard written English, so our characters shouldn’t either, so I would never object to seeing, say, them when his or her is correct inside quotation marks.

Now, you might argue that all right and alright are pronounced the same, so why not opt for the correct two-word spelling. Your point would be well taken, but playwrights, for example, might argue that alright is actually pronounced differently from all right, the syllables run slightly together rather than distinct.

Generally I’m a pretty strict adherent to standard written English, but when we’re dealing with fictional dialogue, all bets are off.

Do you have a question about usage? Let me know, and we’ll discuss it in a future installment of Usage Thursday.

Resources

“alright.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 20 August 2009 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alright>

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. 42nd ed. New York: Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

Strunk Jr., William, and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

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Usage Thursday: Complement Vs. Compliment

Always on the hunt for new opportunities, I had a job interview yesterday that included a pretty rigorous, three-part editing test. The first part was timed: I had thirty minutes to rewrite thirteen sentences that had been rejected from real marketing materials. The second part was two pages of copyediting questions ranging from choosing the right word (to vs. too vs. two) to correctly placing an apostrophe in singular and plural possessives, to punctuating sentences, to not only correcting grammar but explaining why it needed to be corrected, to explaining the difference between sentences that differed only by a comma (I included all the departments including artists and engravers vs. I included all the departments, including artists and engravers). The third part involved comparing cover proofs. It was gratifying to realize that other people care about this stuff as much as I do!

Anyway, one of the questions that gave me (slight) pause was a sentence that asked me to choose between complement and compliment. Both can be used as either nouns or verbs, and they are pronounced exactly the same. In fact, they differ in spelling by only one letter.

A compliment, with an i, is an expression of flattery or praise:

The human resources representative paid me a compliment on how I performed on the editing test.

The verb to compliment means to flatter or praise:

She also complimented my thorough examination of the cover proof.

A complement, with an e, however, is something that completes:

My skills as a writer were a complement to my experience as an editor.

And the verb to complement means to supplement or complete:

For this particular position, my background as a musician complemented my resume.

Grammar Girl has a nifty trick for remembering the difference: “Things that complement each other often complete each other.” Both complement and complete are spelled with e’s and no i’s.

Do you have a question about usage? Let me know, and we’ll discuss it in a future installment of Usage Thursday.

Resources

“complement.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 6 August 2009 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/complement>

“compliment.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 6 August 2009 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compliment>

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. 42nd ed. New York: Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

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Usage Thursday: Affect Vs. Effect

I just started working with a new client for whom I am copyediting several hours a day, and every time I run into affect or effect, I stop and ask, Is it used correctly? Is it a verb or a noun? Should it be affect with an a or effect with an e? Every time. Fortunately, the client appears to understand this rule. Yet still I pause and consider. I bet I’m not the only one.

Affect Is a Verb; Effect Is a Noun

Affect is usually used as a verb that means “to produce an effect upon”—there it is again!—or “to influence”:

Yesterday’s unusual weather affected Jim and Derrick’s plans to go to the beach.

Effect is usually used as a noun that has a lot of different meanings, but it gets confused with affect when it’s used to mean “a result”:

The effect of the thunder and rain was that they went to a museum instead.

Grammar Girl offers this “quick and dirty tip” for remembering the difference between affect and effect: “Because effect is usually a noun, that means you can usually put an article in front of it and the sentence will still make sense”:

At the Getty, Jim admired the effects of brushstroke, color, and composition in van Gogh’s Irises.

However, you can’t insert a, an, or the before affect because it wouldn’t make sense to use an article with a verb:

The artwork, however, did not [the] affect Derrick.

Grammar Girl’s trick, then, is to try putting the before affect and effect when you run into either of them in a sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, effect is a noun and should start with an e. If it doesn’t, affect is a verb and should start with an a. You can remember which is which “by remembering that the ends with e and effect starts with e, so the two e’s butt up against each other.

Except When Affect Is a Noun and Effect Is a Verb

This trick will work most of the time but not always, because sometimes effect is a verb. In these cases, it means “to cause to come into being” or “to accomplish”:

Jim hoped to effect a change in Derrick’s attitude by showing him the museum’s photography collection.

Meanwhile, very rarely, affect is used as a noun in psychology to describe an emotion:

Derrick exhibited a positive affect in the photo gallery.

AP advises that this use of affect “is best avoided. … there is no need for it in everyday language.”

Usually, though, affect and effect will refer to the verb and noun forms of basically the same causal concept—“to influence” versus “an influence”—and the rules and tips discussed in the first part of this post will apply.

Resources

“affect.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 4 June 2009 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/affect

“effect.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 4 June 2009 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/effect

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. 42nd ed. New York: Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2007.

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