In this post we’ll look at two-word phrases that commonly appear in error as one word, rare instances when writing in passive voice may be the better choice, and more Confusables.
One- or Two-Word Phrases?
Do you ever notice two simple words that appear often together, mistakenly written as one word? Alot, flowerpot and schoolbus are some examples.
There is a precedent for this odd word fusion. In the Middle Ages, the expressions “all over,” “young man,” “as much” and “as well” were often written as one word. Conversely, some of today’s single words — including tomorrow, forever, instead, nonetheless, somewhat, whatsoever and notwithstanding — originally existed as two or more words.
The most common errors occur when there is both a one-word and two-word form — each with a different meaning. The phrases “every day,” “any day,” “some time,” and “any time” should always appear as two words unless used as adjectives, as in:
“That’s an anytime dress.”
“Everyday people make up this town’s demographic.”
“His sometime friend just called.”
Words like “anybody” and “everyone” should almost always appear as one word, except when you are emphasizing the second word, as in “Every one of those children had soup.”
As a rule of thumb, if you ever wonder whether you should write an expression as one or two words, just quickly consider the meaning.
When to Use Passive Voice
Passive voice gets a bad rap, usually for good reason, but there are times when it makes sense. First, a quick look at the key difference between active and passive voice — in active voice, emphasis is on the actor performing the action. “Joe will lead the sales seminar” is in active voice, with focus on the actor Joe, while “The sales seminar will be led by Joe” is a passive voice statement.
In passive voice, emphasis is on the person or object or situation being acted upon. Grammarians Strunk and White note you should use the clear, active voice most of the time. In advertising, for example, active voice is effective to persuade and motivate, since it is a very direct way to make a statement. But, there are exceptions. For example, you can use passive voice to emphasize the action, the recipient of the action, or to make a non-committal statement.
Tim Corson and Rebecca Smollett, in Passive Voice: When to Use It and When to Avoid It, provide guidelines for using passive voice:
• The actor (person who did it) is unknown: “Stonehenge was erected between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.”
• The actor is irrelevant: “A garden will be planted beside the campus library.”
• You don’t want to specify who is responsible: “A ball was dropped somewhere along the way.”
• You are stating a general truth: “The ocean has yet to be fully explored.”
• You want to focus on the person/object being acted upon, especially if it’s your main topic: “League baseball was first played here in 1885 by The Toronto Baseball Club.”
• You are writing in a scientific genre that relies on passive voice: “The bromine was mixed with that liquid to create a reaction.”
Consider why Thomas Jefferson used passive voice in The Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” The object of the action, “all men,” is the key part of the sentence.
Pairs of words from The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words often mistaken for each other or used incorrectly:
Insinuate/Imply: Both indicate something without a direct statement. To “insinuate” usually means to indicate something negative about a person or situation in a sneaky manner, as in “Are you insinuating I play favourites?” When you “imply,” you are stating something indirectly, as in, “Her track performance implies a commitment to fitness.”
Jell/Gel: The easiest way to differentiate them: “jell” is a verb and “gel” is a noun. In business, you might use “jell,” which means to congeal, this way: “Let’s wait for consensus to jell before moving forward.” “Gel”, is a jelly from animal protein or a thin sheet placed on lights.