None For You!

none-for-youIn an effort to stave off the dumbing down of the English language, today’s The Weight of Words focuses on the versatile word none.

None can have a plural sense as in not any as well as a singular sense, not a single one. When followed by of, you need to assess the object of the preposition (the noun in the of phrase). If the object of the preposition is singular, then a singular verb is in order. If the object of the preposition is plural, one has some flexibility with verb choice. Mostly, but not always, you will use the plural verb.

For example:

None of the cake was eaten. (Cake is singular, so use a singular verb.)

None of the puppies were sleeping. (Puppies is plural, so use a plural verb. However, with English, that ever-fickle mistress, when none denotes not a single one, it is also correct to say, “None of the puppies was sleeping.”)

Confused yet?

When writing your sentence, remember there is an implied noun that answers the question, “None of what?” Again, if that noun is singular, none requires a singular verb. If that noun is plural, it is up to you as the writer and the sense you are trying to convey in your sentence that determines whether or not none requires a singular verb or a plural verb.

For example:

None was eaten. (None of the cake was eaten.)

None were sleeping. (None of the puppies were sleeping. But you as the writer may prefer was as in, “Not a single one of the puppies was sleeping.”)

Somewhere along the way, the myth that none is solely singular appeared. Not only is this incorrect based on what I presented above, but it’s up to you, dear writer, to decide if your context is singular or plural. Now you have the information required to defend your choice.

Read This Quickly

read-this-quicklyIn junior high school I had a wonderful English teacher who I remember for her out-of-the-box red hair and amazing blue eyes. I don’t believe colored contacts had been invented yet, so despite the hair, she gets a ten for those eyes.

There are actually many great things I remember about her, except her name, and one of those things is how and when to use –ly when writing and speaking. Mrs. What’s Her Name always used the example of “I feel badly,” and then she would pretend to touch stuff on her desk as if she’d been on a three-day drunk. It was hilarious, and it got the point across.

So, today’s The Weight of Words is devoted to Mrs. Boy I Wish I Could Remember Her Name and what a little –ly can do, or not do, for your writing.

Let’s start at that point when you’re wondering whether or not to add an –ly to your word by taking a moment to refresh on adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. They may come before the word they describe: “That is an adorable kitten.” Adjectives may also follow the word they describe: “That kitten is adorable.” Adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. If an adverb answers how and can have an –ly attached to it, place it there.

Examples:

She walks quickly.

We sang poorly.

He moves fast.

But wait, you say…there’s no –ly on fast in that last sentence. You are correct: Fast may be either an adjective or an adverb. In this example, fast answers how she thinks. Besides, there is no such word as fastly.

As for comparing, don’t drop the –ly, simply add more or less to your sentence.

Example:

Earl speaks more loudly than Joe.

Now for a tricky rule courtesy of our peculiar English grammar: if the verb is one of these four senses—taste, smell, look, feel—don’t ask how. Instead, ask if the sense verb is used actively. If so, attach the –ly. If the sense verb is not used actively, which is more common, don’t attach –ly.

Examples:

Perfume smells sweet. Does perfume actively smell with a nose? No, so no –ly.

The dog looked angry. Is the dog actively looking with its eyes? No, only its appearance is being described. So, no –ly.

She feels bad about the news. She is not feeling with fingers, so no –ly.

She feels badly since burning her fingers. She feels with her fingers here, so the adverb (–ly form) is used.

That last ridiculous sentence is in honor of Mrs. If Only I Could Remember Her Name.

Who is in Your Details?

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

Today’s post counts as two entries in The Weight of Words and one for Research Road. It also stresses the importance of thoroughly editing and researching your work as well as finding a good editor. We’ve all made mistakes. I have received tactful comments from followers pointing out errors I’ve made. It’s easy to correct a blog post even after the fact, but what about my novel? I don’t live in fear of discovering an error post publication…oh, wait—I do.

I can’t tell you how many times my mother has said, “What difference does it make if you’re not 100% accurate? The common reader won’t know if you’re right or wrong.” To which I explained that I would know. Then there is the historian or well-read person who may read my novel and nail me for incorrectly portrayed facts. I’m not talking about the creative license we employ when placing our fictional characters in real periods of history or an entire reimagining of historical events such as the Germans winning World War II. I’m talking about modern words and phrases ending up in the mouths of characters from an earlier century and inaccurately portrayed artifacts, architecture, places, etc. due to lazy research.

A book I finished recently had two such errors. The first was the spelling of the word carcase/carcass. About thirty years ago, I read Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel Have His Carcase. It was part of a trio of Sayers’s books gifted to people who made a donation to the local PBS station. The announcer kept mispronouncing carcase the way one would say car case. How embarrassing. Years went by before I stumbled across the spelling carcass, which, by the way, is the only spelling Word recognizes as correct. I assumed it was another instance of American English vs. British English. What I discovered after reading several definitions for both spelling variations, is that carcase is the older, often consider archaic, of the two spellings although both are acceptable. Why is this important? The author of the aforementioned book used the word in the diary of a Carthusian monk from 1535, but she spelled it carcass. As soon as my eyes fell across the word, I was jolted out of the story to ponder whether the mistake was mine or hers. True, most people would have let it go, but for historical accuracy, well, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Small sidebar: When I checked writing forums for the correct spelling of carcase/carcass, Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel, Have His Carcase, was referenced at least once on every site as the example for the spelling carcase.

I was much less forgiving toward the second mistake. Another character, also from 1535, mentioned seeing a nine-branched menorah used in the second temple of Israel. Did you catch that? Talk about being shocked right out of the story. All my research on the subject verified what I already knew to be true: menorahs used in the temple of Israel have seven branches. The most reliable source of this information is the Bible. I don’t doubt that the candelabra people see the most and the one with which they are familiar is the nine-branched version known as a chanukkiah used in celebration of Chanukkah. The terms are used interchangeably and incorrectly. However, the two items are absolutely not the same thing.

My thoughts on the subject ranged from disappointment toward the author to wondering if the editor was too young to care about such facts or not interested in verifying them. Several years ago a self-published author gave the advice that you should research your history to the nth degree because your readers will trust that what you have written is true. That advice is what prompted me to research my own novel in minute detail. At one point, I had a fellow author/history buff tracing World War II troop movements to ensure I had placed my protagonist with a unit that had actually ended up in a battle I needed to feature.

Perhaps I sound like a fanatic. Even Andy Weir, author of The Martian, admitted to minor mistakes pointed out by other brilliant scientists, the type of knowledge the common reader wouldn’t possess. There may even be mistakes in my own novel. I sincerely hope someone catches them before it goes to printing. Still, I cannot stress enough that the writing and research of your work in progress begins with you. Beta readers and editors are essential to the process, but there is no excuse for a lazy author.

In closing, I’ll point to the title of this post as my final comment on the importance of using the correct words/phrases and conducting research. You’ve probably heard the devil is in the details and the older, slightly more common phrase, God is in the details. The first means that mistakes are usually made in the small details of a project. Usually it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. The second means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important. Who is guiding your writing efforts?

If Only…

One modifier I see and hear used improperly quite often is only. A simple trick to remember how to use it is to place only closest to the word or phrase it modifies. True, you can shift only throughout a sentence, but by doing so, and not paying attention to where it lands, you may actually be saying something you didn’t intend. Consider the following sentences:

Only Ralph plays the guitar in our band.

Ralph only plays the guitar in our band.

Ralph plays only the guitar in our band.

Ralph plays the guitar only in our band.

In the first sentence, Ralph alone plays the guitar in the band. In the second, Ralph plays the guitar in the band rather than using it for some other activity. In the third, the guitar is the sole instrument Ralph plays. In the fourth, Ralph’s talent on the guitar is reserved for one band.

If Only

It’s only a cup of tea, Omar.

The most recent place I encountered the improper placement of only was in Omar Bradley’s autobiography, A Soldier’s Story. The sentence that prompted this post reads, “If only Monty would take a chance and attack without insisting upon an overwhelming preponderance in force, we might use those two remaining corps to reinforce our lower thrust into the Rhine.”

Monty was a rather arrogant fellow and a good tactician, however, I doubt even he would attack the German’s alone. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but I suspect what General Bradley meant was, “If Monty would only take a chance and attack without insisting upon an overwhelming preponderance in force, we might use those two remaining corps to reinforce our lower thrust into the Rhine.”

In either case, we won the war against evil in 1945. The war against the improper placement of the word only rages on.

Farm Implements Useful to Writing

Sometimes, writing a blog post to share with all the world is like tap dancing on the stage alone when you took piano lessons: your mistakes will be obvious and glaring. Thankfully, Word catches the majority of them, but there are days when almighty Word isn’t enough. That’s when we turn to our Google search bar, right?

I’m going to extend myself some grace here and admit that I’ve gone back to correct mistakes I spotted after major editing, proofreading, and posting. With all that being said, what tripped me up most recently was another dual spelling. Word didn’t issue the customary red squiggles when I typed it, but I kept staring at my laptop because something didn’t look quite right. You have to love the contrary English language.

Farm Implements Useful for WritingToday’s The Weight of Words focuses on plow vs. plough. Locale factors in to this one with American and Canadian speakers of English preferring plow as the spelling for the farm implement and the related verbs. Our British and Australian neighbors prefer plough. In either case, the word is pronounced the same. Although I do think it would be hilarious if plough was pronounced the same as rough.

How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words

How Reading Taught Me To Misspell WordsI’ve read so many books during my life that I’ve started to misspell words. I’ll give you a minute to think about that.

I didn’t pay attention to which books were written by English authors and which by American authors. There must have been a time when my selections were top heavy with Brits because I started dropping a U into words that Microsoft Word kept underling, claiming that a U didn’t belong in said word. When it happened with the word color, well, that one seemed rather obvious.

Then came a day when Word underlined realise. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I kept re-reading the sentence for grammar and content to make sure it wasn’t a fragment, etc., etc. But wait, the underline was red, squiggly, and mocking. What in the world was wrong with this word?

I deleted it, retyped it, and again the ugly red squiggles popped up. It was time to resort to the good ole Google search bar. When the first article to pop up was titled Realise vs. Realize, I had a sneaky suspicion of the mistake I’d made. I was having my own private British Invasion.

According to Grammarist.com:

Realise and realize are different spellings of the same word, and both are used to varying degrees throughout the English-speaking world. Realize is the preferred spelling in American and Canadian English, and realise is preferred outside North America. The spelling distinction extends to all derivatives of the verb, including realised/realized, realising/realizing, and realisation/realization.

None of this may seem relevant to a writer, but on the off chance your writing includes a letter composed by someone born and raised outside of North America, think how smart you’ll look to your editor when you spell realize with an S.

Three’s a Crowd

Three's a CrowdTwo words that are similar are enough to drive this writer crazy, but when there are three that actually give me pause concerning spelling, definition, and usage, well, that’s when the ole Google search bar gets quite a workout on my laptop. Today’s The Weight of Words focuses on eminent vs. imminent vs. immanent.

And by the way, I don’t really use my Google search bar to look up words. That’s what Grammarist is for. Per the website:

Someone or something that is eminent is of high rank, noteworthy, distinguished, or prominent. An accomplished world leader and a respected intellectual, for instance, are eminent.

Something that is imminent is (1) very near or (2) impending. For example, when the weather forecast calls for a 100% chance of thunderstorms, we might say that storms are imminent.

Something that is immanent exists within or is inherent to something else. The word is often used in reference to spiritual or otherwise nonmaterial things. For example, a spiritual person might say that God’s power is immanent to the natural world.

Though the three adjectives are not exact homophones, they are similar enough to engender occasional confusion. Immanent in particular is very often used in place of imminent in popular usage, and imminent and eminent are also frequently mixed up.

Clear as mud? Now go forth and use them!

One For the Gangstas

Today’s The Weight of Words was generated by my need to know the correct spelling of a word that I’ve said quite often but never needed to write. Until now.

Pants, jeans, slacks, trousers, breeches…or is it britches?

Pull Up Your Pants or Else!

Pull Up Your Pants or Else!

According to Grammarist.com, breeches are short trousers that extend to or below the knee. When speaking informally, breeches is a term that may refer to any trousers. Breeches is a plural noun, the preferred pronunciation is BRIchiz. The word breeches appears around 1200 and comes from the Old English word brec, the plural of broc, meaning a garment for the legs and trunk. Breeches cover a person’s posterior. The word breech has come to refer to a baby trying to emerge from the womb posterior first, and the part of a gun behind the bore.

Britches are also short trousers that extend to or below the knee, but when speaking informally, britches is a term that may refer to any trousers. Britches is a plural noun, the preferred pronunciation is also BRIchiz. Britches first came into use in 1571. It is an alternate spelling of breeches, and also, a less formal spelling.

I’ve compared the definitions several times and conclude that the only difference is whether or not you want to use the formal or informal spelling in your writing. They are pronounced the same.

In either case, gangstas, please pull up your BRIchiz. Problem solved.

Quit lolliking about an’ read this!

Gladstone_Pottery_Museum_Stoke-on-Trent_450Today’s The Weight of Words blog post began as tweets between me and my brilliant, artistic friend, Michael Ferguson. Mike lives in England, and right before the holidays, he came across the word crimbo in his tweet. I had a pretty good idea of what the word meant, but it generated a LOL and the request for an explanation.

This prompted Mike to go all ar ter toke crate on me (I still have no idea what this means!) and provide a link that would help me decipher what he was saying. At least in theory the link was to have done this.

Since The Weight of Words, Writing Toolbox, and Research Road are all present to assist other writers in need, I thought the link Mike sent would prove most helpful to anyone wishing to write in the language of the Potteries, a North Staffordshire Dialect.

As I scrolled through the list, I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that I recognized several words and phrases because I have heard them employed throughout my lifetime. I always believed them to be West Virginia-isms, but now I’m curious as to how these odd turns of phrase ended up in the mouths of my Mountain State ancestors when they have been credited to Stoke-on-Trent, England, and not Camden-on-Gauley, West Virginia.

Perhaps we shall never know…

Goodnight, Irene. Have a Good Night.

soiree1Today’s The Weight of Words blog post tackles the tricky question of whether you meant to write goodnight or good night.

Picture yourself enjoying a night out on the town that has, unfortunately, come to a thrilling but exhausting end. Your friends have graciously delivered your slightly intoxicated self to your doorstep, and you send them off with kind words. At this precise moment, you experience brief clarity and decide that you must rush to your laptop to chronicle the exciting evening including your final farewell.

If, in your parting statement, you meant to convey “Have a good night,” then you would type it as two words, good night.

However, if your last comment was a benevolent wish upon your friends, you would type goodnight.

Confusing? Not really. Just keep in mind that the first is an abbreviated form of “Have a good night” and the second is a pleasant wish bestowed.

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