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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #7

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:
  • Personally.
    • This phrase is often used in speech, especially in a relaxed or casual atmosphere. It is also used when someone wants to sound more intelligent or is worried about offending someone else. In your writing, it should be avoided (because of the above-mentioned implications). It also can be eliminated from your writing vocabulary because, in most cases, it is just an extra word. The reader is usually expecting your personal opinion, which makes "personally" rather redundant.
  • Regretful. Regrettable.
    • Regretful is incorrectly used in place of regrettable. Think about their suffixes for a minute. Regretful: -ful means to be full of; to be overwhelmed with. Is your character brimming over with regret? If you are talking about a regrettable situation, it would definitely be wrong to say the situation was filled with regret (unless you are using personification, which is another matter altogether.)
  • Secondly, thirdly, etc.
    • If you want to use these words, you have to be willing to lead with "firstly." That is a hard trick to pull off and is generally frowned upon. Instead, leave off the suffixes and go with second, third, etc., or pick another way to introduce your topics. A smooth transition might be better than a list.
  • So.
    • Some writers pretend that this word works as a description. No. It never has worked that way and it never will. Don't get lazy and try to use this in front of your adjectives. "It was so beautiful" does not give your reader anything to work with. Put in some real descriptions, please.
  • State.
    • This does not mean "say." This does not mean "say." This does not mean "say." Reread that line until it sticks. It can only be used to mean "express fully or clearly." 


  1. excellent tips - definitely a page for the grammar police to check out!

    1. Thank you Tracy! And thank you for reading!

      I strive to post daily (and so far am succeeding!) so be sure to check back often.