My thoughts on writing tips found online and in published works (with some random thoughts thrown into the mix).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #6

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • Meaningful.
    • This word is bland and meaningless. It conveys no actual information and is basically a placeholder. Take it out of any sentence and replace it with more specific wording. What made it meaningful? Who considered it meaningful? Was it meaningful to the person doing it/giving it? Give your reader more details.
  • Nauseous. Nauseated.
    • "Nauseous" means that it is sickening to think of. "Nauseated" is the physical feeling. Most people have gotten into the habit of using the first to mean the second; don't be one of those people.
  • Nice.
    • Use only for its traditional meanings, "precise" or "delicate." If you use it to mean anything else, you are falling into the same trap as using "meaningless." You will turn out sounding vague and as if you really have nothing to say about the subject. Then, the reader will wonder why you are writing about it at all, if you don't want to spend the time to say exactly why it was nice. Always use descriptions in place of bland words.
  • Partially. Partly.
    • These two words get confused a lot. Partially is about a certain degree. It is more about a mindset. Partly is used to describe parts of a whole; a physical situation. If you are unsure, it is probably better to go with a different wording.
  • People. Person.
    • It is common to say "20 people" and "one person." In proper English, however, it is incorrect to use them in this way. It is better to write "20 persons," so that if 19 of them leave, it is still the same noun, "one person." However, it is unusual to see this formal way of writing used today, so this is best left up to your personal preference and the particular situation you are writing for.

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