Lemony Snicket, in The Wide Window, on words:
“Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don’t you find?”
Fall is a great time of renewal, as F. Scott Fitzgerald observed: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” It’s also a good time to renew or build your grammar skills. This month we look at ellipses, hyphenated words and ‘confusables’ – words often mistaken for each other:
Using the Ellipsis …
Those three dots you often see within a sentence, ‘ …’, form an ellipsis, commonly used to indicate omitted words. It’s Latin, with Greek origins meaning to fall short, leave out. It’s like the print equivalent for those times when someone recounts a conversation to you with “blah, blah, blah” or “yadda, yadda, yadda” to indicate that extraneous or predictable words have been omitted. Ellipses are particularly useful for shortening a long quotation. Always put a space before and after the dots. Note also there are two alternate uses, including:
- In informal writing, it also can represent a trailing off of thought, as in, “We wanted to see them again … but oh, there simply wasn’t time before the flight.”
- In quoted speech, it is also used to indicate hesitation or pauses, as in, “I’d like to welcome all of you …even those who really came for the cocktail hour … ha, ha …”
Knowing when, and when not, to use a hyphen can be confusing. Most common hyphenation errors involve compound words – two words joined to form a new word. Take a look at these seven hyphenation rules and examples from the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL):
- Hyphenate compound adjectives that occur before a noun, but not after: e.g. Select a ground-tied speaker. The selected speaker is ground-tied.
- Hyphenate words that begin with ex-, self- and all: e.g. ex-manager, self-employed, all-purpose.
- Hyphenate words that end with –elect: e.g. President-elect, Committee-elect.
- Hyphenate words with a prefix and a capitalized word, but not words with a modifier and capitalized word: e.g. mid-September (but not: late September), non-Americans, (but not: elderly Americans).
- Hyphenate words that would be confusing or awkward without a hyphen: e.g. re-sign a contract (but not: resign from a position), shell-like (but not: childlike).
- Hyphenate words with figures or single letters: e.g. mid-1990s, T-shirt, forty-seven.
- Use hyphens in “compound modifiers”: e.g. a long-standing principle, well-defined rules, a copper-producing region, her new-found knowledge.
‘Confusables’ : These pairs of words are often confused for each other, particularly in business communications. Some are homophones that sound the same; others are similar with subtle differences, or get mixed up for other reasons. They’ve been selected from a larger list of ‘Confusables’ in The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words. We’ll add more in future posts:
- Abundance/plethora. While abundance means an ample amount, a plethora is an excessive amount, as in ‘There is a plethora of work that must be completed today.”
- Adverse/averse – ‘Adverse’ describes an unfavourable circumstance, while someone who is ‘averse’ to something, is repelled by it.
- Affect/effect – ‘Affect’ is usually a verb (but can be a noun) and refers to how something might influence, persuade or cause emotion, while ‘effect’ is a noun referring to a result.
- Apprehend/comprehend – To apprehend something is to see it exists or to have a basic understanding of it, as in, “They walked to the restaurant to apprehend the street scene”, while comprehending something is deeper, about grasping its full meaning.
- Assay/essay – While essay means to try, assay is about testing or analyzing something, as in, “The lab will assay the ingredients in the competitor’s offering.”
The last word – from gocomics.com: