May 24th, 2016
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words: When ‘like’ doesn’t fit

may 20 image

This month we have a pot pourri of interesting and informative insights:
• Use of French words and phrases in English
• Common usage of “like” that is actually incorrect
• More Confusables

French words used in English

Peppering your speech with international words and phrases can enhance the meaning of what you are saying or writing … when used appropriately and in moderation, of course. In fact, many French words and phrases have become part of the English vernacular – banquette, cul-de-sac, femme fatale, faux pas, pied-à-terre and hundreds of others. Beyond those, there are French words and phrases that express an idea more succinctly than the English equivalent. For example, bourgeois is a concise way to refer to someone whose ideas are conventionally middle class; and noblesse oblige is far more succinct than saying “the responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged.” Read More

April 12th, 2016
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words Grammar Tips: Incomplete Comparisons

cartoon6736                                                                                                                                                                      Image Credit

In this post:

  • Incomplete Comparisons
  • Sentence Adverbs (aka Disjuncts)
  • Confusables – pairs of words often mistaken for each other.


Incomplete Comparisons

Some language faux pas are more accepted and much more common in advertising than in regular speech and writing. Incomplete comparisons, like “faster, better, stronger,” which don’t specify what a subject is being compared to, are among those. This is really a misleading argument — simply saying “product X is faster, better, stronger,” is considered an incomplete assertion that can’t be refuted. No wonder it can be an effective marketing tactic!

Read More

March 2nd, 2016
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words: Is it Was or Were in “If” Clauses?

march 2 blog imageIt’s a new year.  A blank page.  So let’s fill it with good grammar!  This month:
-Using was vs. were and the common error of choosing the wrong relative pronouns
-Relative pronoun mix-ups such as using that or they instead of who
-As always, we also share some Confusables – pairs of words often mistaken for each other Read More

December 18th, 2015
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words: Avoiding Tautologies

On Words Tautologies                                                                                                                                                            Image source: xkcd

Happy holidays! As the year wraps up we look at why avoiding tautologies is a great way to avoid repetitive writing.  We also explore whether or not to capitalize ‘Internet’.  And as usual, we share some Confusables – pairs of words often mistaken for each other. Read More

November 13th, 2015
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words: When Not to Use a Hyphen

Rubes Comic - Nov 2015 On Words                                                                                                                                                 Comic by Leigh Rubin.

This month …
-‘Between’ or ‘among’ – which to choose
-When not to use a hyphen
-Confusables Read More

October 6th, 2015
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words: Top Misspelled Words … and more

The word MISPELL ironically misspelled.

As the sun sets on summer, here’s our monthly look at words:
-‘Different from’ vs. ‘different than’
-Expressing job titles
-Top misspelled words
-Some Confusables

Different From vs. Different Than
A friend told me she can’t bear it when TV news anchors say “different than” instead of “different from” when making a distinction.  This is one of those ‘common language’ differences.  While it may be generally accepted to say “different than” in everyday speech, it is grammatically incorrect. Read More

August 31st, 2015
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words: When to use passive voice

Hand with Red Pen Proofreading Text Closeup

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.

Read More

July 21st, 2015
Author: Dianne Craig
How to pluralize compound nouns

literally word on the torn paper background

This month we’ll explore variations in form that can be confusing when some compound nouns move from singular to plural.  We’ll also take a look at the word ‘literally’, semi- and bi- prefixes, and other Confusables.

Plural of Compound Nouns

There are several different types of compound nouns, so it’s not surprising errors often occur when they are pluralized.  They can be hyphenated, as in ‘sister-in-law’; have spaces between the words, as in ‘cup of tea’; or be merged words, also known as closed compound nouns, such as ‘classroom.’  Mistakes are common in pluralization of the first two types.  For virtually all merged compound nouns, like ‘toothbrush,’ you would simply add ‘es.’ But even that simple pluralization rule has some exceptions, such as ‘passersby’ and ‘paperwork.’

The instinct may be to pluralize the last word of compound nouns that have hyphens or spaces — common errors are ‘sister-in-laws,’ and ‘hole-in-ones’.  In most cases you should simply pluralize the principal word, and/or the word that changes in number.

Some examples of exceptions and unique plurals:

OnWordsJune 2015_FINAL_001

*Other examples: ‘spoonfuls of honey,’ ‘bucketfuls of apples.’  Pluralizing the principal word, such as ‘teaspoonsful,’ is considered archaic.

Literally vs. Figuratively

The use of ‘literally’ when a meaning is intended figuratively happens frequently, though more often in speech than in written communications.  If someone says, “This quarter was so tough we were literally pulling teeth to get enough sales,” you’d know they are joking (about the teeth, of course).  Another example: “I have literally created a monster!”  If you mean something figuratively, avoid using ‘literally.’  If you really want to use ‘literally’ — and it’s often not necessary to make your point — reserve it for expressing something that is true, such as “I literally walked three miles to get here.”

Bi-weekly vs. Semi-weekly; Bi-annual vs. Semi-annual

It’s easy to forget distinctions between similar words, like bi-weekly and semi-weekly.  The simple way to remember is to consider their Latin roots:  the prefix ‘bi’ means two, while ‘semi’ means half.  A ‘bi’ prefix usually means “every two,” so ‘bi-weekly’ refers to every two weeks, and ‘bi-annual’ refers to once every two years.  ‘Semi-weekly’ means every half week, and ‘semi-annual’ refers to every half year.   A less common usage for ‘bi’ is “twice every,” but to avoid confusion it’s best to use ‘bi’ for “every two” and ‘semi’ for “twice every” week/month/year.


Here are pairs of words from The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words often mistaken for each other or used incorrectly:

Inapt/Inept: These words are often mixed up.  While ‘inapt’ means unsuitable or inappropriate, such as an inapt comment, ‘inept’ refers to incompetence, as in “The inept bartender didn’t know what a Rusty Nail was.”

Insightful/Perceptive: ‘Insightful’ means characterized by an intuitive ability to understand the inner nature of something, as in “She made insightful comments about the cost of generating leads.”  ‘Perceptive’ refers to the ability to clearly see and understand the external aspects of something, as in “He made a perceptive observation about my stage fright.”

May 27th, 2015
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words: May 2015

May - OnWords 2015

Finally we’ve passed through the portal that leads to the warm summer months. This month, we examine use of hyperbole, vocative case and the pronoun ‘this’ – as well as Confusables. Read More

March 27th, 2015
Author: Dianne Craig
On Words: March

It’s spring! A season of growth, or as Robin Williams once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, Let’s Party!” In the spirit of this growing and building season, this month we look at some structural grammar issues – specifically, double constructions and squinting modifiers.

Double Constructions

This is a reference to those times when a part of speech is duplicated unnecessarily in an effort to ensure clarity. Simply put, it’s a way of over-explaining. The University of Toronto calls this ‘grammar overkill’. Double constructions are unnecessary, read as clunky, and break the flow: Read More