Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Misused words

Strunk and White* have a long list of misused or commonly confused words and here are my top five picks, the ones I encounter frequently:

As to whether: whether is sufficient

Not appropriate to use after regard or as:
Don’t do: "He is regarded as being the best cook in the group".
Instead do use: "He is the best cook in the group".
(this use of “as being” weakens your writing as it is unnecessary).

Different than: you are comparing, so use different from.

Irregardless: is not a word. Use regardless.

Less versus fewer: less refers to quantity, fewer to number. “After she moved, we had fewer neighbors.” “As the sand fell, there was less in the top of the hourglass.”

Bonus: that versus which:
That is a defining, or restrictive pronoun.
Which is nondefining, nonrestrictive. What does this mean?
That specifies “The bicycle that is broken is in the shed.” This specifies the broken bicycle.
Which does not specify: the bicycle, which is broken, is in the shed.” In this case, you are incidentally made aware that the bike is broken...or give a fact about the only bicycle.

Double bonus: Dr. T's pet peeve "I honestly feel..." Aren't you always being honest?

*Strunk, W. and White, E.B. (1979). The Elements of Style (3rd ed.). NY: Macmillan.

Keep writing!