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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #8

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:
  • That. Which.
    • The first is defining and restrictive. It tells which object you are talking about. The second is nondefining and nonrestrictive. It adds a fact about the only object in question. While modern language uses the two words almost interchangeably, it is best to know the difference between them and use them according to their definitions. This improves the clarity of your work and eliminates any ambiguity.
  • The foreseeable future.
    • This is a horrible cliche. It has no real meaning and doesn't add to your writing at all. Instead, tell exactly what time frame you are talking about. Will this event take place within the next week? Will your goal be accomplished within the next year? Be more precise with your wording.
  • The truth is. The fact is.
    • In most cases, the reader will already be aware that you are talking about your opinion. They assume that you are telling the truth. If you are writing a scientific paper or something similar, then the reader will already know that you are stating facts. Considering these two situations, it makes "the truth is" and "the fact is" unnecessary statements.
  • They. He or she.
    • If you start with one pronoun, do not finish with the other. Make a decision about which way you are going to write and stick with it. It is improper in any type of writing to say "If they go to the movies, he or she must buy popcorn." If this gives you trouble, try using a different pronoun in your draft, such as "you" and "your."
  • Tortuous. Torturous.
    • Tortuous describes a winding, physical situation. The other describes a painful situation. Both are indicative of twisting, but each is only applicable in its own way. Save the second for situations that replicate actual torture.

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