Words: mixed up meanings

English has got to be one of the toughest languages to learn. Even our exceptions to the rules have exceptions.

Here are some of my recent mental meanderings on mixed up meanings.

Confusing homophones
1.                  This bimonthly publication comes out every other month, and that bimonthly publication comes out twice a month. Both sentences are correct.
2.                  Loan (verb) me the money, or I’ll need to get a loan (noun)
Homophones that are antonyms 
3.                  I buckle (bind) my seatbelt so I won’t buckle (fall apart) under pressure
4.                  This Christmas, we will have to trim (reduce) the decorations when we trim (add to) the tree.
5.                  It was an unbelievable (very accurate) documentary on extraterrestrials, but the unbelievable (not credible) accounts of UFO sightings detracted from the real evidence. 
Same phrase that means the opposite thing
6.                  Watch out for (look forward to) opportunities to volunteer, but watch out for (avoid) over committing.
7.                  Person 1: Did you see all the fuss about the new employee.   
            Person 2: Tell me about it?
            Person 2 could be saying “I already know” or “I want to know more”
Opposite phrase that means the same thing
8.                  The two houses met the same fate. This house burned up, and that house burned down.
Not true homophones, but stated orally, these sentences could be confusing.
9.                  I was thinking of moving a broad
10.              It is apparent that you are a parent
If you liked this you might also be interested in 
1. Word Power
2. English is Nutty 5
3.Evolving Language

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Just for today, let’s embrace the cliché – word game

Just for today, let’s embrace the cliché.


I’ve written that a cliché and is an expression that at its birth was both original and clever. But clever expressions spread like wildfire (I couldn’t resist that one!), and over the passage of time such expressions become trite and overused. Readers often see clichés as signs of laziness and/or lack of creativity. http://robsmegaphone.com/2008/02/21/layers-of-revision/


But just for today, let’s embrace the cliché.


Below I’ve written a paragraph using 25 clichés that begin with the letter A. If you would like to do the same, I’ll add you paragraph to this post.  Here’s a partial list of clichés that begin with the letter A.


He was at wits end.  She was the apple of his eye but he always had ants in his pants.  He had always bepuppylove1612en all talk and no action, but now he had an ace up the sleeve.  Actions speak louder than words he thought.  He decided absence makes the heart grow fonder, so he would walk as far as the eye can see.  Then he thought perhaps presents were her Achilles’ heel but that could cost an arm and a leg.  He could get a second job, but all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.  He decided to ask his dad for advice “well son, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree does it?”I was all thumbs when I met your mom.  I was at the end of my rope before I realized that all that glitters is not gold.  The answer is as plain as the nose on your face, expensive presents are as useful as a lead balloon if you’re not there to share them.  Your time is as good as gold.  His dad was right. He would go see her, but he decided to take a small present –an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  So he picked some fruit and ran to her as the crow flies.  He saw her standing there with his best friend.  His heart sunk, but he had no ax to grind with his friend.  So he handed her the fruit and said an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  She said to his friend any friend of yours is a friend of mine.  My friend turned to me, winked and said all’s well that ends well. And she and he, well now they are as snug as a bug in a rug.


You’re invited to add your paragraph and blog address.


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Eight Interesting Words

interesting words
interesting words

 How many words are in your vocabulary? The average high school graduate is said to know about 10,000 words. The average 4-year college graduate is said to know about 20,000 words. Do you have room for any more words in your vocabulary?





Here are some interesting words, which you may not know.

Upon learning an interesting word, if you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to work it into a conversation to improve your vocabulary or just to see the expression on your friends’ faces. Since this is an online conversation, maybe you’re feeling a little motivated now.

If after reviewing this list of eight, you feel up for a challenge, please read through to the Word Power Exercise.


Eight Interesting Words

Zymurgy:  The art or practice of fermentation


Accismus: When you pretend not to be interested in something – when you really are


Snollygoster – A shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician


Josser – One not born to circus life


Tyrotoxism: To be poisoned by cheese


Winklepicker  a style of shoe worn by British rock and roll fans


Defenestrate: To throw out a window


Unobtanium: A material that is unobtainable, often because it doesn’t exist



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Word Power Exercise:

See how many of these Eight Interesting Words you can include in a 50 word (or less) comment. The only two rules are: 1. Your comment must make sense, and 2. You may not use any of the words directly beside another one, such as in a list. Have fun, and add your blog address, so visitors can stop by and say Hi. For more word fun, check out my Eleven Interesting Words post here.




 Waiting my next batch to zymurgy, I was talking with a friend about a snollygoster, I find that accisumus.  This snollygoster was a josser.  They told me this snollygoster suffered from tyrotoxism.  My friend was dressed in an unobtanium winklepicker which made me feel like I wanted to defenestrate him.

Sensfaction: http://262291.blogspot.com


 Son, the worst form of josser is a snollygoster, from whom integrity is unobtanium, and who is more interested in zymurgy than even the trapeze. Their disinterest isn’t accismus; like those winklepickered punks in Clockwork Orange, they could defenestrate August Ringling and still have the appetite to dine unto tyrotoxism.

Drew  http://www.reddit.com/user/drewcamealong/


Politics are the pits these days. All the candidates are a bunch of snollygosters. I am sure some wish they got a case of tyrotoxism. They act so accismus in their speeches. They also try to look cool by wearing winklepickers.

 Mike  http://geography-trivia.blogspot.com


Recovering from a nasty case of tyrotoxism, I put on my winklepickers and set out to hoodwink a couple of jossers into divulging their zymurgy secrets. Then I ran into Colonel Fraudy, a local snollygoster usually out for cash. Sensing accismus on his part, I defenestrated the unobtanium. Close call.

Angry Max pterodactylpuke.com

Word Power (deep links post)

When you stop and think about it, words are pretty darn important. They are symbols for our ideas which we code into a form that others can understand. With differences in language, culture, experiences, and education, it is a wonder we can communicate at all. Words often have multiple definitions, and their definitions have varying connotations or emotional values associated with them. Colloquialisms and dialect usually give special meaning to words in specific geographic areas. While jargon uses words that are related to a certain profession or subject are. Then there’s slang, which is often perpetuated by pop culture.

In celebration or our ability to communicate effectively, I’ve put together this deep links post to spotlight the wonderful world of words.

Morphology or the study of words can be fun as well. Here are some interesting and curious observations about some of the more special words in the English language. I’ve nicknamed them: wacky, crazy, randomweird,and  unique.

There are also wonderful words with silent letters. There’s the world’s longest word, and the word consider most difficult to translate.

Different levels of education are often associated with the extent of a person’s vocabulary. However, reading and other exercises can increases the size of your vocabulary as well. It seems logical that the more words a person knows the easier it would be to communicate with other. But that’s not always the case. Here are three fun exercises on interesting words that can give you more word power (if the folks your talking to happen to know them as well): Exercise one, two and three.

After you’ve become satisfied with the depth and breadth of you English vocabulary, it might be rewarding to consider the importance of learning a new language. Besides the satisfaction of speaking to foreigners in their native tongue, a side benefit of tackling a second or third language is that mastery of one’s native language is often improved. Check out these easy (and tricky) Spanish words that you may come across in your travels.

For those interested in digging a little deeper. Exploring the origins of words can give us an insight into how the English language evolves over time to accommodate the needs of its users. Here’s a fun column on the etymology of English words as well as another post on the power of popular usage.

The potential for miscommunication is multiplied by some particularly pesky words which seem to be uniquely effective in confusing even the most careful communicator. Have a look at this post of commonly confused words and then have a go at the quiz at the end to see how your fare.

Finally, even the best of us run into a little writer’s block every now and then when you feel like you’ve just run out of words to say. Fortunately it’s usually not so much that you don’t have anything important to say, it’s more likely that you just haven’t tapped into your reservoir of ideas. If you fit this description from time to time, a look at overcoming writer’s block might be helpful.

Words are wonderful when used wisely. Here are three wise and wonderful resources that I recommend for further consideration.

World wide words, Wordsmith.org, Word spy

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Check out One Cool Post


I loved this post from One Cool Site. Please have a look on how to become a better blogger. This post (part 4) deals with the essentials of branding, organizations, content, and seo elements. I use this blog often for tips to improve my blog and my writing.

Branding: Defining your blog’s uniqueness is difficult but critical. It’s what makes your blog memorable.
When crafting blog posts the better blogger considers: The organization of your blog post is an essential part of conveying your message clearly.
Flagship Content (Pillar Posts) In blogging content is king.
Essential SEO Elements Of A Blog Post Unlike normal web pages, blog posts are easier to create and do not require extensive knowledge of HTML to create a search engine friendly page.

Check it out, HERE.

Eleven Interesting Words

 How many words are in your vocabulary? The average high school graduate is said to know about 10,000 words. The average 4-year college graduate is said to know about 20,000 words. Do you have room for any more words in your vocabulary?
Here are some interesting words, which you may not know.
Upon learning an interesting word, if you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to work it into a conversation to improve your vocabulary or just to see the expression on your friends’ faces. Since this is an online conversation, maybe you’re feeling a little motivated now.
If after reviewing this list of eleven, you feel up for a challenge, please read through to the Word Power Exercise.


Eleven Interesting Words


Lamprophony  Loudness and clarity of voice
Floccinaucinihilipilification   Estimation that something is valueless.
Rhinotillexomania  Habitual or obsessive nose-picking  
Honorificabilitudinitatibus  In honor
Deipnosophist   One who excels at conversations at the dinner table 
Sesquipedalian   Using long words 
Farctate  Full (as from eating) to the point of bursting; completely satiated
Onychophagist  Person who bites his fingernails 
Bloviate  To Speak or Discourse at Length in a Pompous or Boastful Manner 
Dextrorotatory Turning Clockwise or to the Right 
Eleemosynary Relating to Charity, Alms, or Almsgiving 


Word Power Exercise:

See how many of these Eleven Interesting Words (EIW) you can include in a 50 word (or less) comment. The only two rules are: 1. Your comment must make sense, and 2. You may not use any of the EIWs directly beside another one, such as in a list. Have fun, and add your blog address, so visitors can stop by and say Hi.

Howdy Pop!

I had two hours with very little to do this morning because today I was a (insert dramatic music)  volunteer test proctor. My job was to ensure that standardized testing procedures were effectively carried out.  My slight smile was the only clue to my intense pleasure at being on the disseminating end of this test: you remember:  the fill-in-the-bubble, number 2 pencil, no-penalty-for-guessing test. 

There I sat watching the students; the only sound came from the clock’s ticking second hand which seemed to move increasingly slower as my borborygmy grew increasingly louder. (And yes, I did have to look up the spelling of borborygmy).

My mind drifted back to the morning before when I returned my signed packet of “proctor” instructions to the school office receptionist.  While exiting the office a young wisenheimer, probably a juvenile delinquent called in to see the principal, I later concluded, looked up at me and said “Howdy Pop.”  The overly innocent tone of this boy’s voice together with his choice of greetings set off a chain reaction in my brain which resulted in my conclusion that he was calling me over-the-hill.

So there I sat with nothing to do except to count the number of brand names on the students’ clothes. Then like a sudden itch that needs immediate attention, the unresolved mysterious “Pop” returned to my consciousness. Like a scientist analyzing all the causes of an experiment gone wrong, I pondered the term. I had no idea just how busy those three little letters would make me. I took out a piece of paper, and started scribbling.  The next sound I heard was the teacher’s voice, “Pencils down,” so I put my pencil down. Here’s what I wrote.

 Pop I realized was an important word, for pop is an example of all of the following:

Onomatopoeia for the sound made when a balloon pops.

Palindrome for pop is spelled the same backwards and forwards

Homonym for pop means to burst, and pop means dad

Colloquialism for pop means soda in certain geographic areas.

Acronym  for pop means  point of presence, an access point to the internet

Abbreviation for pop is short for popular

Jargon  for in baseball a hit which is easily caught is called a  pop fly

Noun for pop means Father

Verb  for pop means to ask as in pop the question

Adjective for pop describes some music

Adverb  for pop describes some verbs as in I’ll pop by

I just realized I figured out everything I ever wanted to know about the word pop . . . except maybe what that kid meant by “Howdy Pop.”  🙂

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Write Good 4: Don’t wright like this.

1.   Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispeling and to catch typograhpical errers.

2.   Don’t repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.

3.   Don’t be redundant.

4.   Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.

5.   Don’t never use no double negatives.

6.   Poofread carefully to see if you any words out.

7.   Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

8.   Eschew obfuscation.

9.   No sentence fragments.

10.   Don’t indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.

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Blog writing presents opportunities, obstacles

   Communicating online presents unique opportunities and obstacles. When people communicate face to face, they have the opportunity for immediate feedback. For example, if I said, “The movie, Leatherheads was good,” you could reply: “In what way was it good?” Because of the opportunity to clarify our meaning through follow-up questions, many of us have become accustomed to not striving for clarity in our casual conversations. A typical conversation might go something like this:
  • Mr. Jones: “I had a bad day today.”
  • Ms. Smith: “What happened?”
  • Mr. Jones: “We missed a deadline.”
  • Ms. Smith: “Why.”
  • Mr. Jones: “Jimmy was just off.”
  • Ms. Smith: “Do you mean off work, or he was not very productive?”
This conversation is an example of interpersonal communication. The process works something like this: Mr. Jones starts with an idea that he wants to communicate to Ms. Smith. He goes through a process called encoding. That’s the process of changing ideas to symbols (symbols can be spoken words, written words, body language, etc.) Ms. Smith heard the words or symbols and decoded them into meaning for her. Because Mr. Jones’ symbols were ambiguous or vague, Ms. Smith provided necessary feedback. Mr. Jones continued encoding symbols until he and Ms. Smith achieved effective communication.
In mass communication such as with newspapers and radio, the sender of information and the receiver of information usually lack the opportunity for immediate feedback. If receivers don’t understand what they read in the newspaper or heard on TV, they often just put down the paper or change the channel. The lesson here is that in mass communication, the sender must chose the best symbols to be clear the first time or risk losing the attention of the receiver.
Blogs are unique. Communicating through blogs is similar to interpersonal conversation in terms of the casualness of the conversation and the opportunity for comments. Communicating through blogs is also similar to mass communications in that there is one sender and numerous receivers, and while the feedback opportunities exists, relatively few bother to take advantage of the opportunity. Even when receivers leave remarks seeking clarification from the blog writer, it is often too late to benefit everyone involved because bloggers participate in online conversations sporadically.
That said there is ample opportunity for miscommunication through blogging, especially as it relates to the writers’ tone, inflection, and connotation. Emotion is difficult to convey online. Bloggers may choose to use emoticons such as smiley faces to indicate emphasis and emotion. However, careful attention should be used for noobs or new bloggers,  who may be unfamiliar with the less common emoticons. Some emoticons are easy to misinterpret.
Then there’s the abbreviated, text-message carry over to blogs. I remember years ago when I received a message with “lol” included. I wondered why my student was responding with “lots of love.” Fortunately before responding I discovered “lol” stood for “laugh out loud.”  Another potential for miscommunication for writers and readers of blogs is a word in ALL CAPS. To some a word in all caps means an important term, to others it connotes shouting.
Because of the numerous opportunities for misunderstanding, those who write for blogs might consider how each word could be received by the reader. If, for example, sarcasm is intended, the blog writer might consider a parenthetical expression, ie (sarcasm). While this may seem cumbersome, the alternative is the potential for misunderstanding. If the goal is effective communication, blog writers should be careful to avoid vague, ambiguous terms or terms that may have unintended consequences. With all the online competition, attracting readers to your blog or website is difficult. But getting frustrated readers to return is a steeper hill to climb.  
Feel free to share your thoughts on this.

For improved writing, think visually

When writing, think visually
To be engaging as a writer, continually ask yourself —  can my readers visualize what I am trying to communicate. The journalist’s maxim: Show, don’t tell will take you a long way to accomplish effective writing. Consider the following:I could write the girl was sad. Or, I could write: Little Sally Smith walked down the street, tears rolling down her cheeks, calling “Fido.” If you can picture what I am describing, then I have written vividly, which is a useful tool for keeping the reader interested.
Another tool in writing vividly is what I call the ladder of abstraction. Consider this: Can you see the following? “I brought my “things” with me.” You might have a guess, but you can’t accurately visualize my meaning because I was too vague. Vague terms are at the bottom of the ladder of abstraction; concrete terms are at the top. Many write with vague terms during the initial draft, but during the revision process, it is important to supplant vague terms with concrete terms. 
When I move slightly up the ladder, I change “things” to “lunch”. A little further up “lunch” becomes “apple and ham sandwich.” Way up at the top step of the ladder of abstraction is: “Four by five inch, honey-baked ham sandwich with lettuce and mayo on whole wheat with the crust cut off and a Granny Smith apple measuring 11 inches in circumference.”
The problem with the last extreme example is that being too concrete will bog the reader down in details and slow down the tempo of the story. The theme of your article will dictate how specific or concrete you need to be. If the story was about types of apples, then I’d include the descriptor “Granny Smith.” If the story was about my process for getting ready to teach, for example, I’d stop at: I brought my sandwich and apple with me. Remember your guide is always “Can my readers visualize what I am writing?” 
One more tool for writing vividly includes precision or using the exact word needed in that context. Spend time considering if you have strong nouns and verbs. Remember, it’s considered weak to prop up weak nouns with adjectives. It’s much better to say “palace” than large, fancy building. Similarly, use action verbs that convey your specific meaning. Instead of writing “said,” consider using “stated,” “explained,” “commented,” confessed,” “admitted,” or any of a hosts of verbs for attribution.  Here is a good rule of thumb: write to express, not impress.
If your goal when writing is to communicate effectively, it’s a good idea to think visually. Think of yourself as a mirror reflecting your ideas. Allow your readers to see what you’re thinking. Following these tools should help reduce misconceptions and improve clarity. 

Spanish makes a great second language

Learning another language can be a fun and satisfying experience. Moreover, the joy of communicating with folks in their own language can be contagious. Just observe your kids or your neighbor’s kids. With the steady influx of immigrants and international students to our neighborhoods, children are picking up new languages from their friends and classmates right before our eyes.  And, they’re loving it.

More than half of European citizens speak a second language. However, in the U.S. a measly 9 percent of Americans are fluent in a second language. Perhaps it’s due to our geography, or perhaps it’s the global influence and status of the English language; whatever the reason most Americans have not felt the need to learn a second language.  

Have you ever wondered what we are missing by remaining monolingual? Why should we deny ourselves the ability to fully appreciate the global community?  Imagine experiencing a new culture as a participant rather than as a visitor.

Spanish is a wonderful choice for a second language. It is already the most popular second language in the U.S. and Canada. It is one of the easiest foreign languages for native English speakers to learn. There are plenty of similarities between the two vocabularies. Furthermore, written Spanish is simple to pronounce. It is almost entirely phonetic.

You may already know more Spanish than you think. Below is a short quiz. Give it a try.

  • rapido
  • universidad
  • problema
  • estudiante
  • pantelones
  • complicado
  • artista
  • fabuloso
  • geografia

All the terms in the above quiz are examples of “cognates.” Cognates are words that are easy to translate and recognize in English. The answers are as follows:

  • rapido/rapid
  • universidad/university
  • problema/problem
  • estudiante/student
  • pantelones/pants
  • complicado/complicated
  • artista/artist
  • fabuloso/fabulous
  • geografia/geography

Besides the fun and satisfaction derived from learning a new language. There are other benefits to being bilingual: 

*Learning a second language is an excellent way to learn English grammar, for the study forces you to examine how English is structured.

*Spain and Mexico are very popular vacation destinations. While visitors could have a wonderful time without knowing a single word in Spanish, speaking the language multiplies the fun.

*Immerse yourself in a different culture. Almost every Mexican restaurant has Spanish-language newspapers and periodicals available. Pick one up and see if you can translate any words. As you learn more Spanish, you’re enjoyment will grow. The ability to learn about a different culture in their own language is a ticket into a new culture. By the way, I’ve noticed nearly all the workers in the local Mexican restaurants will go out of their way to help us Gringos learn a little Spanish.

*In terms of jobs, learning Spanish can open numerous doors. A variety of opportunities are available to Americans who speak Spanish as a second language. Such employment can be found in the health, education, communication, and service industries, not to mention international trade and tourism.

 Now, let’s try one more quiz. Translate the following terms into English: 

  • Asisistir
  • Carpeta
  • Éxito
  • Largo
  • Parientes
  • Recorder
  • Vaso  

This was tricky. The terms in quiz 2 were examples of “false cognates,” words that look similar to English words, but have an entirely different meaning. 


  • Asisistir/to attend
  • Carpeta/file folder
  • Éxito/success
  • Largo/long 
  • Parientes/relatives
  • Recorder/to remember
  • Vaso/drinking glass   

This second quiz serves as a reminder that while Spanish is one of the easier languages to learn, learning a new language takes commitment. 

There are a variety of methods to learn a foreign language. Probably, the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in that culture by interacting with native speakers. In my opinion, printed books are the least effective method to learn a new language; the importance of hearing authentic accents and inflections of the spoken language can’t be overstated. You might also enroll in a foreign language course. There are also numerous online sites that are well worth exploring. A few online sights are http://www.loquella.com/learn-spanish/, http://www.studyspanish.com/, and http://www.rosettastone.com. 

Felicitaciones. Usted ha tomado la primera medida.  



The problem with pronouns


Does this sound familiar? You dial the telephone number, and three rings later, a voice responds: “Hello. You’ve reached company xyz. Billy and me ain’t in right now. We’s on vacation. Leave us a message, and he’ll call back as soon as we can.”

If you’re like most folks, you’ll consider using a different company after hearing this recording. If a company can’t get their outgoing message right, how can they be trusted to get anything else right?

Much the same way that we reach conclusions about a business from the person who answers the company telephone, we are often measured by our command of English cgrammar. While we’ve all been advised not to judge a book by its cover, we’ve also been taught the significance of first impressions.

With the importance of projecting a positive image in mind, let’s take a peek at pronouns. Consider the following example: An elementary school student tells you:

“Billy left Billy’s pencil in Billy’s locker.” As this statement illustrates, writing without using pronouns can cause sentences to be awkward and repetitive. The solution to this example is simple: replace the second and third reference to “Billy” with the pronoun “his”. “Billy left his pencil in his locker.” But don’t get too comfortable yet; not all pronoun problems are this easy.

In case you have forgotten, a pronoun simply is a word that takes the place of a specific noun. Your goal when writing clearly is to choose grammatically correct pronouns. In order to use pronouns correctly, you must understand the specific case (or purpose) to be satisfied by the pronoun (subjective, objective, or possessive).

Me, myself, and I are among the messiest pronoun problems. I recently heard a disc jockey announce to her listeners, “Rick and myself will be participating.” Because the pronoun needed in this sentence will serve as the doer of the action, a subjective case pronoun is needed. Thus the correct pronoun to use is I, not myself. The disc jockey should have said, “Rick and I will be participating.” Occasionally, we also hear people misuse me as in “Rick and me will be participating.” The pronoun “me” should only ever be used as an object. Possessive pronouns can be tricky too, especially prior to gerunds (the ing form of a verb used as a noun). It’s not, “I applauded him singing a cappella;” it’s, “I applauded his singing a cappella.” I am applauding his playing, not applauding him. Interestingly, if the singer was a female, there would be no confusion.

The pronoun, “her” satisfies both possessive and objective cases.

Now imagine that one of your friends tells you, “Mary runs faster than me.” At first glance, this sentence may appear correct. But do we really need an objective case pronoun in this situation. The answer is: No. If you make this mistake, you’re in good company. This is a popular pronoun problem. A deeper look at the meaning of this example reveals a comparison. The sentence is actually stating that Mary runs faster than I run. Even though the comparative verb is frequently dropped, run in this case, a subjective pronoun is needed as the doer of the action. Thus, your friend would be correct by saying, “Mary runs faster than I.”

What would you say if your sister or brother remarked, “A student who wants to get good grades should bring their books to class”? This illustration shows the importance of maintaining consistency in number when using pronouns. If the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural. If the antecedent is singular, the pronoun must be singular. In this example, the antecedent student is singular, but the pronoun their is plural. This is a pronoun-antecedent error. Your sister or brother could fix the sentence as shown in the following example, “A student who wants to get good grades should bring his or her books to class?” While this solution is technically correct, many people find the constructions his or her to be wordy. A better solution is to pluralize the antecedent when possible as in, “Students who want to get good grades should bring their books to class.” Don’t forget when you change a singular subject to a plural one, you must also pluralize the verb.

And then there’s they — the infamous pronoun without an antecedent. Can you remember a situation when your boss or teacher was trying to persuade you to think or do something with a statement like, “They say exercise helps your memory,” or “Did you hear what they’re saying about aromatherapy?” Who are they? In casual conversation we may hear expressions like these frequently. However, to maintain credibility, it is important to remember to attribute news and information to a specific source, not an unidentified pronoun.

Consider this example, “When a driver approaches a school bus, you should expect to slow down.” Have you ever read a statement like this in a newspaper or magazine? Maintaining consistency in terms of person is also important when using pronouns. When you are writing in the “first person” ( I), avoid switching to the “second person” (you) or “third person” (he, she, they, it, etc.). Also, if you are writing in the “second person,” don’t switch to “first person” or “third person.” In this example “a driver” is third person and “you” is second person. The sentence should read, “When a driver approaches a school bus, he or she should expect to slow down.”


Remember also to be clear when using pronouns. Do you know people who depend on follow-up questions to get their point across? For example, in conversations with them, the request, “Would you get me that?” is frequently followed by the response, “Get you what?” To use pronouns effectively, we must avoid ambiguities. In the example: “If you put this apple in your lunchbox, don’t forget it,” what does “it” refer to? your lunchbox or the fact that you put the apple in your lunchbox? The sentence should be rewritten to eliminate the possibility of confusion. “Don’t forget you put your apple in your lunchbox.”

Finally, let’s visit the universal “he,” — such a small word to cause such big problems. The practice of using a male pronoun to refer to both males and females is increasingly inappropriate. Originally “man” meant both adult human and adult male. Now, however, the National Council of Teachers of English recommends that because “man” has come to be so closely associated with the adult male, the use of “man” and “he” to represent males and females should be avoided. By the way, for the men out there who don’t see what all the fuss is about, consider living with the universal “she.”Pronoun problems often develop due to the writer forgetting a grammar rule or two and then relying on popular usage for the solution. If you fall into this category, and you’re not sure if you need to dust off your English grammar handbook, why not try this little quiz to measure your propensity for pronoun prowess? Oh, and before your telephone rings again, consider this: what impression do you want to make? Correct the pronoun errors in the following sentences.


1. She draws better than me.

2. Don’t forget to pack the toothbrush in the suitcase. It is in the guestroom.

3. If a student asks a question, you must answer him.

4. They say to drink seven glasses of water per day.

5. Everybody ought to do his or her best.

6. None of the girls brought their hats.

7. When a shopper finds an unexpected bargain, you should take advantage of it.

8. Everybody attending the meeting brought a notebook with them).

9. We applauded their playing.

10. Me and Sue are coming to the party.


1. She draws better than I.

2. Replace “it” with either toothbrush or suitcase.

3. Change to: If students ask questions, you must answer them. You may also choose to

leave the antecedent student singular and use the pronouns “him or her.”4. (Attribute to an authoritative source, or say It is important to drink seven glasses of water per day).

5. Correct. Everybody is singular, so we need to use “his or her.” You may elect to make the subject of this sentence plural to avoid the wordy construction “his or her.”

6. None is singular, so we need to use “her.”

7. If you leave “shopper” singular, use “he or she.” Alternatively, pluralizing shopper to shoppers requires the use of the plural pronoun “they.”

8. Everybody is singular, so use “him or her”. If you choose to change everybody to a plural antecedent, change the pronoun to “them.”

9. We are not applauding them; we are applauding their playing. Use the possessive form before a verbal.

10. Rewrite as Sue and I are coming to the party.

These words take root in our subconscious


Like the incessant, drip, drip, drip of an old, leaky faucet, a flood of words has saturated the English language, and they just won’t go away! This group of commonly confused words takes root in the subconscious and seems able to withstand the efforts of even the most well intentioned speaker. I suspect that for many, the source of misunderstanding about commonly confused words stems from the method in which we acquire them. Like sponges, we “absorb” their usage on a daily basis without even noticing.

Remember the days of subliminal advertising? At the local cinema, an image of popcorn would flash for a split second on the screen. As theory has it, upon unconsciously viewing the image the audience would soon find itself on a pilgrimage to the concession stand driven by a sudden inexplicable popcorn craving. Advertisers still seek to infiltrate our subconscious through sheer repetition of their client’s brand name. Why? Because it has proven to be an effective method. Commonly confused words reach our subconscious following the same path.

People often acquire commonly confused words without their knowing consent, and then they perpetuate the problem as they repeat the words. Even after the usage reaches their consciousness and they become aware of the confusing culprit, many otherwise articulate speakers continue to fall prey to the commonly confused words’ drip, drip, drip strategy and, over time, revert back to the popular but nevertheless incorrect usage.

As if their plot to foil the English language wasn’t complete, commonly confused words have other lines of attack. Once a commonly confused word makes it into print, it inherits a kind of superpower. Readers tend to remember what they read, so if a commonly confused word is published, the confusion factor is multiplied. Furthermore, these misused words are seemingly contagious. If you observe two people talking for long enough, one will eventually, unknowingly unleash a commonly confused word. The defenseless recipient of the word will become infected with its dastardly definition. He tells two friends; they tell two friends, and so on . . .

The following items are a sampling of commonly confused words, along with their respective descriptions.

a, an

The use of these two articles is dictated not by the following letter but by the sound of the following letter. A precedes a consonant sound. An precedes a vowel sound. (A historian,but an honor; An owl, but a unicorn)

among, between

Something is between two things but among more than two things.We are here  among friends to discuss the difference between right and wrong.

can, may

Can means to be physically able. May means to have permission. May I go to the store? My leg has healed, and I think I can do it!  Hopefully means full of hope. Do not use it to mean “I hope.” Jaime watched hopefully as the raffle tickets were drawn…not, Hopefully, his raffle tickes will win.

lay, lie

Lay means to put or place and takes a direct object. I went to lay the carpet. Lie means torecline. I’m just going to lie back and relax. The problem is that the past tense for lie is  lay.

Now, it’s your turn. The following sentences include some of the most used commonly confused words. See if you can select the right word. Good luck!

Commonly Confused Words Quiz:

1. The girl has (a lot or alot) of friends.

2. (Bring or Take) this apple to that teacher.

3. He (complimented or complemented) her about her new outfit.

4. The youngest runner ran (further or farther) than the others.

5. Are you sick? You don’t look (good or well).

6. The dog lost (its or it’s) collar.

7. Will you (lend or loan) me the money?

8. (Sit or Set) that box over here.

9. They will come (regardless or irregardless) of the weather.

10. Susan has (fewer or less) pets than does Nicholas.


I hope you did well. These words can be tricky. The only defense against commonly confused words is to learn their correct definitions and then consistently practice their correct usage. Consider this sports analogy: If you learned to serve a tennis ball incorrectly and you practiced and practiced this method every day. You would become very good at serving a tennis ball incorrectly.

If we are to defeat these commonly confused words, we must be on our toes!


1.A lot. Alot is not a word but is commonly (and improperly) used to mean “many”.

2. Take. Bring is reserved for movement from a farther place to a nearer one. Take is used for any other movement. Take these books to Mr. Smith for approval and bring them back to me.

3. Complimented. To complement is to add to or reinforce something. The belt complements her wardrobe.Compliment means to flatter. He  complimented her on her lovely new belt.

4. Farther denotes physical advancement in distance. Further denotes advancement to greater degree, as in time.( www.lessontutor.com) Anthony ran farther than Steven. I don’t want to discuss this any further.

5. Well. Good is an adjective. Well is almost always an adverb Well can be used as an adjective only in reference tohealth. Anna Katherine is a  good dancer. Joseph runs well.

6. Its. Its is possessive. It’s is the contraction of it is. The calico cat lost  its toy. It’s time to buy a new toy.

7. lend / loan (either) According to the Columbia Guide to Standard American English, Lend and loan are both acceptable as verbs instandard English: “Can you lend (loan) me a dollar?” However, only lend should be used in figurative senses: “Will  you lend me a hand?” Importantly, there is an ongoing debate about these two commonly confused words. Columbia Journalism Review wrote this about loan, “Why take a perfectly good noun and make it a verb when there’s already a  perfectly good verb? A loan is what you get when somebody lends you something.”

8. Set. Set is a transitive verb meaning to put or to place. Its principal parts are set, set, set. Sit is an intransitive verb  meaning to be seated. Its principal parts are sit, sat, sat. Set the vase on the table. Sit on the couch and rest for a moment.

9. Regardless. There is no such word as irregardless.

10.  Fewer. Less refers to quantity, fewer to number. “His troubles are less than mine” means “His troubles are not sogreat as mine.” “His troubles are fewer than mine” means “His troubles are not so numerous as mine.”




Effective Listening

Listen up: you can use your ears to write better. It’s true; improving listening skills can go a long way toward improving writing skills. Many people who scoff at such advice probably overlook the subtle, but significant distinction between hearing and listening. The difference between hearing and listening is as real as the contrast between talking and public speaking. Hearing, like talking, comes naturally, but to be effective, listening, like public speaking, takes training and practice. One’s ability to listen effectively can make or break a story. Writers must initially be effective listeners to achieve accuracy.Good writing is like a healthy meal; both require quality ingredients. Shopping for the necessary ingredients for a good story, many writers turn to interviewing. Interviewing is an indispensable research tool which thrives on effective listening. Imagine, for example, that you are being interviewed for a story about an upcoming event. You notice that the interviewer does not appear to really listen to your responses. If you are like most people, you will probably become concerned about the potential accuracy of the story. Not listening effectively will therefore erode credibility and may likely result in an interviewee providing only short, carefully worded responses. The goal of a successful interview, to achieve a conversation to gather quality information, will most likely be only partially achieved at best.

For novice writers, the hazards of poor listening multiply; for example, writers who have yet to master effective listening skills may likely and unwittingly, perpetuate propaganda. Politicians and others who have public agendas to posit are often skilled in using interviews to bring attention to their position without actually responding to the writer’s questions. Interviewers who are too busy preparing for their next question to practice effective listening skills may overlook this tactic, and the result will likely be an inaccurate, one-sided article.

Seasoned writers may also face challenging obstacles to effective listening. Upon hearing a source react to a controversial issue, for example, the veteran writer, may rush to judgment and unfairly categorize a response incorrectly. Thus a potential source might be immediately discounted without being given a legitimate opportunity to be heard. The resulting article will probably be unfair and incomplete.

For the writer who seeks to cover a speech or a meeting, other obstacles to effective listening can emerge. Because people can think four times faster than a speaker can speak, writers must learn to compensate for this time discrepancy. A writer can use the extra time to jot down observations or make relevant personal notes in preparation for writing the article.

Effective note taking skills can overcome obstacles to effective listening. These skills include highlighting material the speaker emphasizes, grouping related items, categorizing information as key points or supporting material, identifying information that needs to be verified, etc. To maximize listening efficiency, writers must be determined to resist internal distractions such as hunger or anxiety concerning an unrelated problem and external stimuli such as noise or the speaker’s physical appearance (if it is unusual).

Writers who are gathering information for an article must avoid being passive listeners. Passive listening is the listening mode associated with listening for entertainment purposes. A more proactive listening mode is comprehensive listening. At the comprehensive listening level, a writer listens to understand a source, taking into consideration what is being said, how and why it is being said, and who is saying it. Analytical listening is also a valid mode for writers.

Analytical listening puts into gear one’s critical thinking skills and creates a necessity to accept or reject the validity of information. A writer who is seeking to determine the honesty of a speaker, for example, should employ the analytical listening mode.

A writer, who is an active listener, sends important feedback signals to the speaker. A dazed look might signify to the speaker that the presentation is too complicated. A sleepy look might indicate that the presentation is boring. An inquisitive look might cause the speaker to elaborate. As with any interpersonal communication, feedback is important for the speaker to assess and perhaps modify his timing, delivery, content, pace, style, and vocabulary. Habits that defeat effective listening are especially difficult for some writers to overcome. Writers may find that when they hear information to which they can relate, they daydream or interrupt the speaker to share their personal experiences. Also, when gathering information for stories, writers are supposed to disregard their feelings and strive for objectivity. However, writers will feel strongly about certain issues. Some writers may be inclined to argue with a source as opposed to listening to a point of view contrary to that of the writer. In daily conversation, these habits may be viewed as annoying, but for writers gathering information for stories, these habits can be downright counterproductive.

Hearing comes naturally for most writers. Listening, on the other hand, is a skill that must be honed to be effective. For many writers, giving complete and undivided attention to a speaker is considerably more challenging than first expected. As with any learned skill, practice is the key to success. In her book “Staying Well With The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense,” Suzette Haden Elgin suggests first practicing with a television or radio. Select a program in which a speaker talks uninterruptedly for about five minutes and listen “hard.” Set aside a few minutes each day to practice effective listening skills. Focus on blocking out all distractions except for what the speaker is saying. At first, most writers may lose focus rather quickly. It is important to remember that as soon as you catch your mind drifting, stop and return your focus to the speaker.

Practice this until you can regularly keep your focus on target for 10 minutes. At this point, the reporter’s practice should involve the same procedure, but with the speaker actually talking in person.

Ten Steps to Effective Listening:
1. Be prepared to really listen.
2. Maintain strong eye contact, consistent with the source.
3. Visualize what is being said.
4. Avoid interrupting.
5. Wait until the speaker is finished to reach conclusions.
6. Ask questions only to clarify what was said.
7. Give relevant feedback;
8. Avoid internal and external distractions.
9. Concentrate on the speaker’s words.
10. Restrain your emotions, stay completely objective.

The rewards reaped by writers who practice effective listening will be reduced misunderstandings and improved accuracy of information. A high quality article requires high quality information, and effective listening is a significant tool that helps writers achieve that goal. So remember, the next time you get the urge to write, remember this: before the time comes to sharpen your pencil, it just might be beneficial to sharpen your listening skills first.


Grammar problems

By Dr. Robert F. Stevenson
A few days ago, a friend of mine struck up a conversation with me concerning the pervasive problem of poor grammar. The discussion centered on the fact that one of the biggest complaints employers across the country have concerning those applying for entry-level jobs is the potential employees’ poor grasp of English grammar. I contributed my observation that in the not-too-distant past a good test for writers frustrated over a grammar conundrum included the simple question: “Does it sound right?” Unfortunately, a problem facing today’s youth is that poor grammar has seeped so deeply into daily conversation that, “Does it sound right?” just doesn’t work anymore. A little research confirmed the existence of that problem.
In an article entitled Poll finds grammar not prized by high school teachers, published in Education Daily, April 21, 2003, author Michael Cardman reported, “Among six general writing skills, high school teachers in a recent poll rated grammar and usage as the least important.” Cardman went on to say, “Of seniors who graduated in 2002 and took the ACT (standardized test), 46 percent scored at or below a level of marginal preparedness for college coursework, meaning they may struggle with such tasks as using punctuation to clarify meaning, making subjects and verbs agree, or linking clauses clearly and logically.”

In a separate article by United Press International, March 18, 2003 entitled, Top 20 mistakes in writing resumes, Mike Worthington, the so-called “Resume Doctor,” discussed recruiters’ top 20 complaints. Recently, Worthington’s firm interviewed hundreds of recruiters and headhunters in the United States and Canada to find out what turns them off. The report, available at ResumeDoctor.com, found that, “The No. 1 thing recruiters hate is bad writing: spelling errors, typos and poor grammar.”

Are you one of the countless hordes of seemingly normal people with a “closet” grammar problem? Maybe you were absent (in mind if not in body) when your fifth grade English teacher discussed pronoun-antecedent agreement. Or, maybe the pluperfect tense makes you perfectly tense. Or, maybe you are one of the lucky ones — who invariably “gets it right,” without a clue as to why. Whatever the reason, if you have concealing a grammar phobia, it’s not too late to conquer the comma!
Why not make this the day that you begin to liberate yourself from that cloud of confusion surrounding English grammar? It can be done. When I taught English as a Second Language to international students at a community college north of Seattle, one of my most common replies to my students was, “That’s another exception to the rule.” I sometimes felt a little guilty that I was fortunate enough to grow up speaking English because English seemed to me a relatively difficult language for a non-English speaking adult to master.

Shown below is a quick test of common grammar and spelling problems. Why not take a minute to see how you fare? Just circle the correct responses.
a. The dog lost (its or it’s) collar.
b. Give the money to (whoever or whomever) you like.
c. Exercise may be difficult (comma, semicolon, or no punctuation) but it can be very rewarding.
d. The (effect or affect) of the experiment would negatively (effect or \ affect) the group.
e. Our garden has (a lot or alot) of weeds this year.
f. The team comprised entirely of girls made (their or its) debut last Saturday.
g. It is (all right or alright) that you are finished (all ready or already).
h. You (two, too, to) have (two, too, to) much time (two, too, to)!
i. She made this gift for you and (I or me).
j. The committee discussed the issue amongst (themselves or itself) before rendering (their or its) decision.
The answers are:
a. its (“it’s” only means “it is”);
b. whomever (we need an object to fit with the preposition “to” in this sentence – “whoever” is nominative case or a subject; whomever is the objective case pronoun);
c. comma (there are two independent clauses [phrases with a subject and a verb] combined by the coordinating conjunction “but.” The rule is to “always precede a coordinating conjunction with a comma.” )
d. effect (“effect” with an “e” means result); affect (“affect” with an “a” means change). e. a lot (“a lot” is always two words);
f. its (in this sentence, we’re dealing with a pronoun/antecedent agreement. “Their” is plural and therefore incorrect because the antecedent “team” is singular).
g. all right (alright is non-standard English); already (already means “by now”).
h. two (always a number); too (excessively); and too (as well).
i. me (the pronoun “I” is always a subject, and “me” is always an object. In this sentence we need an object).    
j. themselves (“committee” is a collective noun; it can either be singular or plural depending on its usage. [In the first reference, “committee” is plural, so we need a plural pronoun) its (committee is acting as a singular noun in the second reference.] “Its” is therefore the correct pronoun).

If you missed 0-2, go back to your reading; you’re doing fine.
3-5, maybe a little brush up wouldn’t hurt.
6-8, time to get a library card and enhance your writing through reading
9-10, time to get a grammar book.
If you felt a little rusty with this English grammar challenge, I recommend acquainting yourself with either of these two books: THE LITTLE BROWN HANDBOOK or STRUNK
Don’t let a comma come between you and your next job.