Sunday, June 24, 2007

Usage: Words Often Confused. B. C.

Question: How can I clarify the differences in words frequently confused?

Answer: In this issue of "Q & A on Writing," I distinguish between "bad"/"badly"; "banned"/"barred"; "bring"/"take"; "cancel, "canceled," "canceling" and "cancellation"; "cannon"/"canon"; "chairwoman" and other possible expressions; "complementary"/"complimentary"; "convince"/"persuade"; "continual"/"continuous"; "criterion"/"criteria." [Note: This blogger does not hyphenate accurately. RayS.]

With each item I attach a "scale of distraction," a measure of how many readers are distracted by the mistake.

* Who cares?
** Some people you respect will be distracted.
*** Many educated people will be distracted.

"Bad"/ "badly" = After the verbs, "be," "appear," "look," "feel," "seem," "smell" or "taste," use "bad." As the NYT Manual of Style and Usage says, "Someone who smells bad should bathe"; "someone who smells badly should see a doctor." DEFINITELY, don't use "I feel badly." (***)

"Barred" / "banned": People are barred; books are banned. (**)

"Bring" toward; "take" away. (*)

"Cancel"; "canceled"; "canceling"; "cancellation": The first three have the accent on the first syllable; therefore, a single "l." The last item has the accent on the third syllable, so the "l" is doubled. (**)

"Cannon" = artillery; "canon" = literature or laws. (***)

"Chairwoman" = don't use "chairlady" or "chairperson." (**)

"Complementary" = completes; fits to form whole. "Complimentary" = praise or flattery. (***)

"Continual" = over and over; "continuous" = unbroken. (**)

"Convince of or that...." "" (***)

"Criterion" = singular; "criteria" = plural. (***)

Note: The preceding usage items were taken from a variety of resources, including dictionaries and style manuals. For me, the best style manual for desktop reference is The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly. Times Books. 1990. Items on capitalization, usage and punctuation, etc., are alphabetized and easy to find, with explanations that are clear and concise.

All the best. RayS.

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