Tag Archives: standard written English

These Words: Weaselly, Superfluous, or Necessary?

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Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.

Maybe

Perhaps

Appears

Seems

Possibly

At this time

In fact, depending on the context, these words could fit into any one of those three categories.

• If you honestly don’t know about a situation, it might be necessary to use one to give yourself some wiggle room and buy some time.

• If you are certain of the situation and you use one of those words, you are adding extra verbiage that serves no purpose. Cut out all deadwood.

• If your intent is to deceive and you use one of those words, you are being a word weasel. Avoid this.

 

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Proofreading for Me, Myself, Personally, and I

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Apparently, Steve Coogan has never seen himself as a paragon of good writing, either.

Have you ever heard another person say or write something similar to the following sentence?  I myself personally am opposed to the senator’s proposal.

I myself personally find that sentence exceedingly painful. It contains a triple redundancy. Get rid of the clutter. Say what you mean. Get in, get out.

Personal and its relative personally are often redundant. Why say you have close personal friends? If they’re close friends, obviously they are people you know well. When you state, “Personally, I enjoy skiing,” that’s the way you feel. Personally adds nothing but redundant clutter.

  • Proofreading involves more than looking for typos. Proofread for spelling errors, grammar and punctuation problems, content, awkward phrasing, redundancies, clichés, parallelism, jargon and slang. If that seems too much to look for on one go-through, proofread more than once, looking for just a few problems (or even one) at a time. Your readers will thank you, and your writing will show you to be a professional.

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Adverbs: Are They Necessary?

I’m not advising you to avoid all adverbs. But so often adverbs are no more than fillers or result in redundancy. Take a look at these:

ALSO:  “In addition, Ronnie is also attending the conference.” In addition/also?  Choose one.

PERSONALLY: If you write, “Personally, I don’t care for pineapple,” you are being redundant.

SIGNIFICANTLY:  When you write that “the horse’s weight dropped significantly,” you are not conveying useful information. Be specific. How much weight did the horse lose?

CURRENTLY: Writing that “Edward is currently living in Chicago,” is redundant.

LITERALLY: You know this is a big annoyance for me; I’ve already written a post or two about it.  It means something actual. If you say someone was “literally blown away by the news,” I expect to see socks and shoes spinning through the air in addition to the body.

ABSOLUTELY: This word adds no meaning. “We were absolutely stunned by the birth of quadruplets” doesn’t make your amazement any stronger. Either you were stunned or you weren’t.

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Subject First?

The most common sentence pattern in English is subject + verb + direct object (S+V+DO).  For instance, The dog chewed the bone. But sometimes it’s more interesting to vary the pattern and put the verb first:  Down the street ran the dog.

Try to avoid starting sentences with There is, There are, Here is, Here are.  But if you do use one of those constructions, be aware that the subject is not There or Here.  It will always be the first noun or pronoun after it:

       There is someone knocking at the door.

       Here are the reports you asked for.

       There are two dogs fighting over the bone.

       Here is the book you asked to borrow.

 

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To Split or Not to Split

I’m sure you have all been warned at some time not to split infinitives when you write.  But do you know what an infinitive is?

It is the form of the verb with to placed before it:

To eat, to sing, to go, to ponder, to do, to split

I am here to give you permission to split any infinitive you choose, as long as your sentence sounds better that way:

To hungrily eat, to lustily sing, to boldly go (the world’s most famous split infinitive), to moodily ponder, to enthusiastically do everything

If you don’t like the way your sentence sounds when splitting the infinitive, just try out the adverb in other places in the sentence, and you will discover the best spot for it.

This so-called rule against splitting infinitives arose because pedants in the mid-18th century thought applying the rules of Latin grammar would result in the best written English.  In Latin, it is impossible to split an infinitive—but English is amenable to it and I hereby give you all permission to do it.

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