Saturday, February 4, 2012

Advice or advise?

"Advice" is a noun; "advise" (which rhymes with "size") is a verb. When you advise someone, you are giving him or her advice.

Incorrect: "My parents will advice me what to do."
Correct: "My parents will advise me what to do."

Incorrect: "Do your parents have any advise for you?"
Correct: "Do your parents have any advice for you?"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

There Is No "d" in Congratulations

The title of this post says it all. There's no "d" in the word "congratulations." Congratulations is spelled with the letter "t." Its root word is congratulate.

So, the next time you want to commend someone for a job well done, or a milestone event like a marriage or birth, bring to mind the informal short form of congratulations, which is congrats. This will remind you of the correct spelling.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Compliment vs. Complement

Two soundalike words that are frequently mistaken for one another in written form are "compliment" and "complement."  Often, compliment is used when what is meant is complement.

Compliment, which can be used as either a noun or a verb, means praise.  One can either compliment someone or give someone a compliment.  Examples: "I would like to compliment you on your attire."  "I must compliment her dress."  "He gave me such a nice compliment abuot my hairstyle."

In addition, if something is free of charge, we often refer to it as "complimentary."  Examples: "Admission to the ball game is complimentary on Sunday."  "The restaurant owner served me a complimentary bowl of soup."

Complement is a term that refers to completing or supplementing and can also be used as either a noun or a verb.  An easy way to remember its spelling is to think of the word "complete," which is a reminder to use an "e" rather than an "i."  Examples: "The dessert you brought is a perfect complement to the main course."  "His talent as a pianist complements my skills as a singer."

Essentially, if you're not praising someone or something, or referring to something that's free of charge, the word you want to write is "complement."

Incorrect: "Your new carpet is a perfect compliment to the furniture."
Correct: "Your new carpet is a perfect complement to the furniture."
Correct: "I would like to compliment your beautiful new carpet."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Apostrophe Is Your Friend - But Don't Overdo It

The apostrophe (') is often over-used.  Some folks erroneously add an apostrophe before the "s" when making a word plural.  Additionally, people will sometimes use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun such as "its" or "theirs."

Or, sometimes people will just dispense with the apostrophe altogether, even where it's required, possibly due to uncertainty as to usage.

Keeping in mind just two very basic rules will help dissolve the confusion:

1. An apostrophe is used in contractions, in place of the missing letter or letters.
Examples: Don't (do not); you're (you are); could've (could have); it's (it is or it has); we'll (we will)

2. An apostrophe is used along with an "s" to indicate possession, except in the case of possessive pronouns like his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs, and whose.
Examples: Bonnie's hairbrush; Florida's weather; the dog's fur

When indicating possession for more than one person or entity, make the people or entities plural before adding the apostrophe.  (A list of rules governing the use of the apostrophe can be found on this excellent site.)
Examples: "The cars' roofs were all damaged by hail." "We are going to paint the twins' bedroom."

No apostrophe is needed to pluralize words.  Merely add an "s" (or "es" or "ies") at the end, as appropriate.
Examples: Photos; toys; dresses; anniversaries

The same goes for numbers.  Just add an "s" without an apostrophe.
Examples: his 50s; the 1960s

Incorrect: "He took many photo's at the wedding." "They all had lot's of fun."  "We have celebrated many anniversary's together."
Correct: "He took many photos at the wedding." "They all had lots of fun."  "We have celebrated many anniversaries together."

Incorrect: "I dont want to go to the store." "He does'nt want to go to the store either."
Correct: "I don't want to go to the store." "He doesn't want to go to the store either."

Incorrect: "Marthas house has just been painted."  "All of the neighbors houses were painted, too."
Correct: "Martha's house has just been painted."  "All of the neighbors' houses were painted, too."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ware, Wear, Were or Where?

Ware, wear, and where are soundalike words that are sometimes confused with one another in written form.  The word "where" is often misspelled as "were," which is another proper word (and another case in which spellcheck won't flag it).

Ware is a somewhat archaic form of "aware," as in "Be ware" or the derivative "beware."  These days, the word "ware" is seldom used in this fashion except in literature.  It can also refer to a product or commodity that is purchased.  ("He is selling his wares door-to-door.")

To "wear" means to "be clothed in" or to have or carry on the body, among other definitions.  You can wear a coat, or you can wear a smile on your face.

"Were" is the past tense of "are."  ("Were you at the party last night?")  ("They were at the beach yesterday.")

"Where" means "what place."  ("Where would you like to go today?")  ("Where did I put my keys?")

Incorrect: "Were did they go?"
Correct: "Where did they go?"
Incorrect: "I want to ware my new clothes today."
Correct: "I want to wear my new clothes today."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Affect vs. Effect

Affect and effect are frequently mixed up with one another, like breath and breathe.  Both "affect" and "effect" have multiple meanings - check out Common Errors in English Usage for their definitions along with some excellent contextual examples - but this blog post addresses only the most common usage for both.

"Affect" is a verb, and "effect" is a noun (in most cases). To affect is to "have an effect on."  "Affect" is often written when "effect" is what is meant.

Incorrect: "His parents' divorce had a profound affect on him."
Correct: "His parents' divorce had a profound effect on him."
Correct:  "His parents hadn't realized that their divorce would affect him that much."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Breath vs. Breathe

The word "breath" is often erroneously written when "breathe" is what is meant.  This is another instance where spellchecker won't catch the mistake, as both are legitimate words.  "Breathe" is the verb, the action.  "Breath" is the noun, the result of breathing.  When you breathe in, you take in a breath.  When you breathe out, you let out your breath.  (When you're doing neither, you're holding your breath!)

Both words are pluralized merely by adding an "s" at the end.  ("She breathes through her mouth."  "He was taking very deep breaths.")

When spoken, "breathe" is pronounced with a long "e" sound, as well as a soft "th" as with the word "the."  Keeping both of these points in mind can help in remembering the extra "e" at the end.  "Breath" is pronounced with a short "e" sound and a hard "th" like "think."

Incorrect: "It was so hot out, she could hardly breath."
Correct: "It was so hot out, she could hardly breathe."  "I took a deep breath before going outside."