Ellen

Hisself vs. himself, theirselves vs. themselves, and other reflexive pronoun problems

Pronouns can cause writers problems, as we have seen in two previous posts on vague pronoun reference and on pronoun antecedent agreement. The pronouns we’ll be examining in this post are called reflexive pronouns. As with many of the words we’ve discussed in this space, these pronouns have varied histories and spellings, as well as …

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When to use aggravate vs exasperate vs exacerbate?

Recently, I discovered Bad English by Ammon Shea. Shea is the author of Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, a book which details a year he spent reading the Oxford English Dictionary (or OED). In the chapter “Arguing Semantics” in Bad English, Shea brings up a ghost from my education and editing …

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Bird by bird – writing inspiration and practice

This post is celebrating writers and writing, including over a year of weekly blog posts on writing essentials and English fundamentals here. Recent posts have looked at confusing words, such as the previous post on allude, elude, allusion, illusion. Many have focused on grammatical and usage errors, including language myths and points of contention among …

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Word play – allude vs. elude and allusion vs. illusion

In continuing our examination of words often mixed up, we’ll consider some pairs of words that have a playful connection, and although some language experts dislike when they are confused or misused, they do not hold the same intense controversy as the pairs alright and all right or anxious and eager. These sets of words …

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Do you know “assure” from “ensure” from “insure”?

This trio – assure, ensure, insure – is another example of words that appear on many lists of words often confused. As with earlier pairs discussed, such as alright vs. all right and anxious vs. eager, the usage guidelines vary since, as merriam-webster.com asserts, “there is no unanimity of opinion as to what is correct” …

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Lost positives and false negatives – disgruntled and inflammable

Recently, we’ve been focusing on commonly confused words, such as  farther vs. further or imply vs. infer. Among often confused words are those that can said to be those with a “lost positive” or a “false negative,” such as disgruntled and inflammable. Disgruntled, like unkempt, discombobulate, and nondescript, is a part of a category of …

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How far the difference between farther vs. further?

In the last few posts, we’ve been considering pairs of commonly confused words, such as alright vs. all right and anxious vs. eager. These pairs have been the cause of sometimes heated debate by language and usage experts. Other pairs, like farther and further, have their supporters, but the discussion is less acrimonious. As with …

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No need to be anxious about “anxious vs. eager”

Browsing through the book, Woe is I (1996) which we’ve referenced in this blog several times, I came across O’Conner’s use of the words eager and anxious. These words often appear on lists of words usually confused, though O’Conner was discussing them in relation to the misuse of infinitives. She includes anxious in a list …

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How to deal with dialogue

Writers, especially beginning ones, often struggle with dialogue. There are many aspects to handling dialogue in your writing, including distinguishing between direct quotation and indirect quotation. Since direct quotations repeat a person’s remarks in their own words without deviation, they require quotation marks; for example: Mary said, “I am ready.” Indirect quotations, on the other …

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