Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

lundi 5 janvier 2004

Choosing the right word when you write is always difficult, especially when you're not using your mother tongue. The difference between a *correct* and an *incorrect* word can send your text directly in the trash without having been read. And even this is valid for every kind of writer, it is even more true for a blogger who doesn't have an editor to help him clarifying his thoughts and to pick the appropriate word. So I want to thank Darwin Magazine for this new guide about avoiding mistakes in English, "What Are Words For?"

Here are some examples taken from the original article, starting with a very common mistake..

AMONG: refers to three or more. The prize money was divided among the four winners.
BETWEEN: refers to two. The prize money was divided between the two winners.

And what about this trilogy?

ASSURE: to promise. We can assure you of a great stay in our B&B.
ENSURE: to make certain. You can ensure success by careful planning.
INSURE: to guarantee against loss. Here's how to insure all your valuables with one policy.

Now, when do you use *convince* or *persuade*?

CONVINCE: to win an argument through appeals to logic and intellect. The experiment convinced even the skeptics.
PERSUADE: to win an argument through appeals to emotion. His tears and choked voice persuaded her of his sincerity.

Or when will you write *disc* or *disk*?

DISC: correct spelling for all non-computer references: a compact disc, a herniated disc.
DISK: correct spelling for computer references: a ZIP disk, a floppy disk.

I just checked on my blog, and I found 5 posts with "disc" and 17 with "disk," all appearing to be correct.

Another tough one is the distinction between *everyday* and *every day*.

EVERY DAY: each day. We record the air temperature four times every day.
EVERYDAY: routine. Recording air temperature is an everyday activity for us.

Again checking my site, I found 22 occurrences of "everyday" and 13 of "every day". But I'm sure some are wrong.

I could add more examples, but let's turn to another resource on the Web, "Common Errors in English," maintained by Paul Brians. Let's see what he says about *everytime.*

"Every time" is always two separate words.

Let's close by a final example, which always confuses me a little, "may" or "might"?

Most of the time "might" and "may" are almost interchangeable, with "might" suggesting a somewhat lower probability. You're more likely to get wet if the forecaster says it may rain than if she says it might rain; but substituting one for the other is unlikely to get you into trouble--so long as you stay in the present tense.
But "might" is also the past tense of the auxiliary verb "may," and is required in sentences like "Chuck might have avoided arrest for the robbery if he hadn't given the teller his business card before asking for the money." When speculating that events might have been other than they were, don't substitute "may" for "might."

Paul Brians has gathered many of these common mistakes into a book published by Franklin Beedle & Assoc. in June 2003 and available for $13.

But if your needs don't exceed mine, what is available on the Web is certainly good enough to correctly express yourself.

Sources: Crawford Kilian, Darwin Magazine, December 2003; Paul Brians's Common Errors in English Usage

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