We use words to communicate. We also use them to create. But do our words communicate
our intentions? Have we created the feeling or meaning we hoped to foster?
When we use words incorrectly, not only do communications suffer, but our credibility
can suffer as well. If we repeatedly misuse a word, the reader might lose trust.
His thought: If a writer gets the basics wrong—the simple words—might he also have
the facts wrong?
Such a thought might remain unspoken, but a reader will notice and be subconsciously
affected (not the same as effected).
Ever use their when you meant there? Or was it they're? How about it's when the
meaning called for its? Have you ever written something such as the group was comprised
of five women and one man when you should have written the group comprised five women
and one man? (Think of comprise as meaning include and don't say anything is comprised
Alot is not a word. A lot, meaning many, is always two words. Always. Allot, with
two Ls, means to apportion.
Alright is not a word either. All right is two words. Awright, used in dialogue
for slang, can be effective. But alright in narrative doesn't cut it. You'll hear
writers argue for alright. And like ain't, it may gain approval. But if you're
(not your) an unknown author submitting a novel or short story or white paper, stick
to all right.
Consider, "It was further than he'd indicated." Anything out of place? Further
should be farther. Farther is used for distance—far, farther, farthest. We don't
usually use further and furthest for distance. Though we might say, the furthest
outpost or furthermost point when referring to something that is the farthest away.
In general, use further to mean more (further information). And unless you want
a laugh, never use frutherest.
Something that is nauseous (stomach-turning) makes us nauseated. Unless someone
is particularly foul, he is not nauseous. Though, like alright above, this usage
finds its (not it's) way into texts more and more often.
If you've given someone in a story the freedom to do whatever he wants, you've given
him free rein, not free reign. This refers to a horse being free of a rider's control
rather than a person given the unlimited rights of a king.
How about using come rather than go? Is "Come to the park" a valid construction?
Sure. If the speaker is in the park. Use come when you want person B to join person
A where A already is. But use go when neither is in the locale you want to invite
one or both to. "Let's go to my house after school." (Neither is at the house.)
"Come over to my house when you're through with your chores." (The speaker is at
Not only does the use of correct words—and the correct use of words—show a publisher
or editor or reader that you know how to use the basic tools of writing, it also
paints clear pictures. In the preceding example, we know that the speaker is either
at home or not, depending on the word choice, and the writer doesn't have to tell
us in a separate sentence.
One other category of misused words—the cliché. If you are crafting a work, whether
fiction or non-fiction, why would you want to use someone else's phrasing? Why say,
raining cats and dogs, hate with a passion, American as apple pie, or one of thousands
of other trite phrases when you can be genre and story-specific with your own words?
You are the author. Write your own words. That's what we always wanted to do, wasn't
Create a world. Or explain the one that we all know. Do it well.
And we will join you in that world of words.†
© 2007 E. A. Hill