The only really wrong words are those that either are not understood or are misunderstood. You know what you mean, but you’re the one person who won’t be reading your work. That’s why Story Help groups are so valuable. When other eyes see what you’ve written, you get valuable suggestions that can make the meaning of your message clear.
- Be Sure You Have the Right Word
The spelling and grammar-checking features of word-processing software won’t find wrong word choices. Martha Snow is said to have written a cute poem to illustrate that point. For “Ode to the Spell Checker,” Click Here.
- Be Sure You Have the Best Word
You can’t go to a dictionary, look up a word, and assume that everyone else has assigned the same meaning. Language is constantly evolving, acquiring new meanings. Dictionaries are the last to document those changes. At one time, thongs were like sandals, worn on the feet. Now we call them flip-flops because thongs refer to the brief garment that exposes the buttocks. Both definitions in the dictionary, so which is correct? The one your audience will understand.
- Toward or Towards?
In American language, the better expression leaves the s off all the –ward words. Using the s is like saying “anyways” or “behinds.”
- What happened afterwards afterward was what mattered most.
- She pointed towards toward the far door.
- It was an inwards inward sign of an outwards outward work.
- The station attendant said the road went westwards westward for a mile and then turned northwards northward.
- Farther or Further?
Use farther when referring to physical distance. Remember, farther as the word far in it. You wouldn’t say, “How fur is it?” Use further for figurative distance, such as “he explained further.” If the distinction between physical and figurative isn’t clear, you have your choice.
- He ran further farther into the woods.
- John is further along in his studies than I am. (Further has an figurative sense.)
- John is farther along in his studies than I am. (Farther has a physical sense.)
- One Another or Each Other?
Use each when referring to two people. Use one another with more than two or when the number is indefinite.
- Observers whispered to each other one another as they watched the man struggle.
- Bill and John argued with one another each other for fifteen minutes.
- Anymore or Any More?
Use two words when referring to a quantity of something. If you can replace the expression with “more,” then use two words. The one word anymore means “currently,” “now,” or “at this moment.”
- Do you want anymore any more potatoes?
- No, Pooh, I do not have anymore any more honey.
- I don’t love you anymore. (I have stopped loving you.)
- I can’t love you any more. (I love you as much as is possible.)
- Gray or Grey?
In American English, always use gray. Think of the a in gray standing for America, the e in grey standing for England.
- The horrible grey gray creatures swarmed over him.
- In or Into, On or Onto?
Both in and on indicate a position or place. The prepositions into and onto show movement to that position or place.
- At midnight, we fell in into bed. (If already in bed, where do you fall to?)
- Jane tossed a dented can in into the trash. (She wasn’t in the trash when she tossed the can.)
- A While or Awhile?
Use two words when preceded by a preposition.
- Patricia thought for awhile a while before changing her mind.
- Stay a while awhile and let’s talk.
- Stay for a while and let’s talk.
- Ok, O.K., OK, or Okay?
There’s no good reason to abbreviate a four-letter word with four characters. Few people are aware that O.K. is an abbreviation for “oll correct,” associated with “Old Kinderhook” in the Martin Van Buren” campaign to become the eighth President. While all styles may be seen in print, the best choice spells out the sound that means “all right.”
- I want you two to play outside, O.K. okay?