Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Then / Than

I haven't posted in a long while as I've been busy with several proofing projects.  Now I'm back, and here's a simple one to get back in the swing of things. 

Then is an adverb related to time:  First I catch up on my blogging friends, then I clean my house.  After you finish that, then you can play.

Than is a conjunction, and is used in comparisons:  I like reading blogs more than I like cleaning.  As in this example, than often follows a comparison word such as better than, more than, other than.

I don't believe I've ever seen than used when then is appropriate, but let's not substitute then when the correct word is than.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spring Snow

You may have seen the picture of my snow-covered lilacs on my niece's blog, Auntie Cake's.  My son gave me a ride in his newest car for Mother's Day, and going through the woods I was surprised by how many trees had fallen due to the weight of the snow.  We only got about four inches, but it was wet and heavy -- and gone within 24 hours.

Did you know a spring snow like that is called poor man's fertilizer?  Partly because the moisture helps things "green up," and partly because it really does add nutrients like nitrogen to the soil.  I was so pleased to hear this because...

...we're supposed to get more on Tuesday!!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Awhile / A While

Another short one today, starting with a confession.  This one took me the longest time to learn, and I'm not sure why.  It's really fairly simple!

Awhile means "for a while."

A while is two words, usually used after the word for.

So, if you say for awhile, you're really saying for for a while --  which is just wrong.

I'm going to stay at my sister's house for a while.
I'm going to stay at my sister's house awhile.

I'll be leaving in a while.

Remember, if I left in awhile, that would be the same as saying I'm leaving in for a while.

The trick I finally came up with to get it right is to remember to use either one word (awhile) or three words (for a while) -- no two words about it.

Hope you all are enjoying better weather than we are in northern Minnesota, where it snowed all dayMy tulips are done, my rhubarb is trying to go to seed, and my lilacs are ready to pop open...and it's snowing like crazy.  There's something wrong here!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Insure / Ensure / Assure

A short lesson today, focusing on the difference between insure, ensure and assure.  Let me start by saying that some sources insist there is no difference between insure and ensure. Most, however, agree with me that in standard American English there is a huge difference.  If you follow these guidelines, no one will ever say you're wrong.  Why take the chance?

To insure means to guarantee payment if something happens.  Money nearly always changes hands. If you're actually buying insurance, you are insuring something:  He insured the old jalopy for much more than I thought it was worth.

If you are acting to make sure something happens, you are ensuring that it will:  If you can substitute be sure or make sure, the word you're looking for is ensure.  I will put up a gate to ensure my grandson doesn't fall down the steps. 

If you are trying to instill confidence in a person or animal, you will assure them.  Assure applies to a living being.  In fact, it's nearly always followed by a noun referring to a person (you, him, her, etc.):  I assured him that his child would be safe near the steps. 

Remember:  Insure -- money changes hands. Assure relates to something alive.  Ensure is to be sure or to make sure.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


(Miscellany - a miscellaneous collection or group of various or somewhat unrelated items.  Dictionary.com, Unabridged)

Let’s look at words that aren’t really words at all.  We hear or read them often, but I want you to remove them from your vocabulary.  Some are real words but -- I don’t mean to sound rude here -- are considered “nonstandard” or "substandard" English, and none of us want to sound substandard!  So here we go, in no particular order. 

Anyways, I’m not going anywheres.  Anyways and anywheres are not plural, say anyway or anywhere.

We headed towards town.  Same thing, just say toward.

She was a long ways from homea is singular, ways is plural.  Please don’t use them together.  She was a long way from home.

Something’s got ahold of me.  This one is in a gray territory.  Ahold not considered “good” English but is used so commonly it’s nearly there.  Most dictionaries now include it, but call it informal or colloquial.  Better to say something’s got a hold of me.

There is alot going on this weekend.  Alot is not a word in any dictionary. Please use a lot.  (Don't confuse  with allot, which means to divide or to set aside.)

The reason why is because I said so.  Please just give the reason, you don’t need to add why or because.  The reason is I said so.

I borrowed ten dollars to my friend; she borrowed me twenty last week.  We borrow from, we loan to, so I loaned her ten after she loaned me twenty is correct.  (Well, it would be correct if either of us had actually asked.)

He got that for free.  No, he got it free.  The for is unnecessary.

The box was two feet in length, width and heighth.   Length and width are correct, but the last word should be height.

Irregardless of advice from others, he (insert whatever he did now.  We know there’s something! LOL).  Irregardless amounts to a double negative, just say regardless.

Could of, would of, should of – It’s could have, would have, and should have.  Or, less formally, use the contractions could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve.

Use to, suppose to – This gets into passive voices and past participles, so save yourself a headache and just take my word for it.  Write supposed to and used to.

Had enough for one day?  Have a blessed Easter and I'll catch you next week!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I'm sorry it's been so long since my last post -- I've been locked out of my blog :-( and have just now gotten back in

A question from a follower (thank you, dear!):

"Whenever I type 'children's' with an apostrophe to show possession, my spell check underlines it. When I click it to get the right spelling they only give the word children or other child-words.  So when there is a plural word like children and you wish to show possession like The Children's Library, are we right to add the apostrophe s or not? I'm thinking of men's club or women's society."

You are exactly right.  When s is used with any word that changes its form when plural (children, women, mice, feet) it changes to the possessive form and must be used with an apostrophe: children's, women's, and so on -- even though your spell checker may not like it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Farther / Further

This is a distinction you may find yourself coming back here to review.

Farther refers to physical distance:  Los Angeles is farther from New York than from Chicago.  I walked farther today than I did yesterday.

Further refers to time, degree or metaphorical distance:  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Let's look into this further. The harder I try, the further behind I seem to get.

The same rules apply to farthest and furthest:  Five miles is the farthest I can run in one session.   That's the furthest thing from my mind.

Occasionally, it isn't quite so easy to decide which word to use:  I read further into my new book today.  Did I get through more pages, so it's a physical distance?  Or did I get further into the story, which is a figurative distance?  The good news is that when the distinction isn't clear, most authorities say it's okay to use either. 

Most of the time, however, you can tell pretty easily if you're writing about an actual distance or not.  You'll sound like a grammar pro if you use these two words correctly!