Going on a “which” hunt: choosing between “that” and “which”

[ad name=”Google Adsense 728×90″] Probably no one considers relative pronouns exciting. Maybe most people hardly consider them at all, but writers are not most people. Good writers must know the rules of good usage. Writers might on occasion have good reason to ignore the rules, but know them they must. So when should a writer use “that,” and when “which?” Although writers have been arguing for more than a century whether it matters, the most careful writers recognize that the rule is fairly simple. Use “that” to introduce a relative clause that defines or clarifies the meaning of the antecedent … Continue reading

Pike’s Pique, or, Have I peeked your interest?

Peak. Peek. Pique. All of them can be used as a noun or verb. All of them mean something different. Good writers must know which word is which. Otherwise, they’ll come up with blunders like these: He left in a fit of peek. I peaked out the window. That really peaked my interest. Peak is usually used as a noun. It refers to some kind of tapering or projecting point. The peak of a mountain, therefore, is the summit. You see the mountain going up on one side till it gets to the top. Then it visibly goes down the … Continue reading

Wrong word rant, or, misused pears

I had a chat on Facebook not long ago where my friend was enthusiastically explaining a new school he had started. His writing was atrocious. He never capitalized anything. Punctuation seemed entirely random. Faced with homonyms (words that sound similar but are spelled differently), he used the wrong one more often than not. He took great offense when I expressed the hope that he was more careful in corresponding with parents. I think I know why he misused words with so little concern. Listening to radio news about 30 years ago, I heard about someone who had just gotten a … Continue reading

Affect and effect: two spellings, four words

[ad name=”Google Adsense 468×60″] Two spellings, four words? Unfortunately, yes. “Affect” is usually a verb, but it can be used as a noun. “Effect” is usually a noun, but it can be used as a verb. Although they come from the same Latin root and differ only by their first letter, their meanings are practically unrelated. The accent on “affect” as a noun is on the first syllable. Both meanings of “effect” and “affect” as a verb have their accents on the second syllable. In speech they sound exactly the same. Both spellings take suffixes, which in turn create new … Continue reading

Who? or whom?

Do you ever wonder when to say or write “who” and when to say or write “whom”? Nowadays in informal speech or writing, most people just use “who.” Perhaps most people don’t care, but sometimes it matters. If you are writing a graduate thesis or dissertation (or even an undergraduate term paper), chances are the faculty will care. If you write for Internet content sites where a human editor chooses what to accept, chances are the editor will care. You can’t get away with not knowing the difference. There is a very easy way to know with certainty which is … Continue reading