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

Friday, February 17, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #9

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

  • Try to. Try and.
    • In proper English, it is correct to say "We will try to fix the train." It has become common in casual conversation to say "We will try and fix the train." This obscures your meaning though, as it could be taken that not only will you try, but you will undoubtedly fix it. If you use "try to," it makes it absolutely clear that you are going to try but cannot guarantee the results.
  • Unique.
    • This word cannot be qualified by words such as "most" or "very." Something either is unique or it is not.
  • Very.
    • This word really has no meaning left in today's world. If you need to use it to emphasize your meaning, then you should be using stronger words instead. For example, instead of saying that the ride was very exciting, say why it was exciting. What made it more exciting than other rides? Give your reader more description so they know exactly what you are trying to express.
  • Worth while.
    • This is another bland phrase that should be avoided at all costs. It doesn't tell the reader anything in particular and certainly lacks any descriptive qualities. If I told you that a certain book was "worth while" to read, what could you infer from that? Almost nothing. If I told you that a certain book has "invaluable information about improving your short stories," that gives you a lot more information, doesn't it?
In short, most of these commonly misused words and expressions can be boiled down to a few simple rules. Use precise, specific phrases instead of vague ones. Favor clarity over shortcuts. And give your reader descriptions, not bland phrases.

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