Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Tricksters

Erasing the "blah" words always perks up your prose, and if you read one of my previous posts I told you about some of my "blahest" words. There's another group that I call the tricksters. I have to be careful because in the heat of writing I often forget about these fellas and blush when I revise and find I've misused them. I'm supposed to be a professional. :)

I try to excuse these errors by rationalizing that these "tricksters" are often ones undergoing change because of popular usage. I admit to being the kind of linguist that errs on the side of "describing" what's going on in our language, but like William Safire, I kinda want to hold to some standard of "good" English. I don't want to be a language snob, but I definitely don't want to be a language slob either.

Here's my short trickster list:

Any more/ anymore:
Oh dear.  It's clear that anyone, anywhere, and anybody always have a single form, but why do we have two choices here? It's all about meaning.

Something in addition:  I don't see any more milk in your refrigerator.
An adverb that modifies a verb: I don't see milk in your refrigerator anymore.

So like Safire wrote, " . . . you can't just use 'anymore' in any way." Clever man.
Pity the poor second language learner of English.

Further/ Farther:

The simplest way to keep these guys straight is to use farther only when you write about distance, real and metaphorical. The rest of the time go with further. I love it when it's simple.

Don't go one step farther or you'll fall off the cliff.
Don't go one step farther with your plan to defeat me.

I want to go further into that discussion with you.

Less has pretty much taken the job of fewer. I seldom hear anyone make the distinction between them, but just in case there are a few writers who want to know I'll give the old rule.

If you can count it, use fewer. If you can't, use less.

He drinks fewer glasses of wine than I do. (So true.)
He has less wine stored than I do.  (Rats!)

Past/ Passed:
With past you have a preposition that shows location. He walked past me.  That's in the past.
With passed you have a verb of action. He passed me.

I won't go any further into these tricksters. Let's just say that there are fewer problem words and less hassle than this post leads you to believe.  Get past these and you'll have passed the revision test.  You won't have to worry anymore about any more words. Well, almost.


  1. Ah grammar... My fatal flaw, which is kind of sad considering I'm a writer. Sigh.

  2. I critique chapters for my partners and point these mistakes out to them, then sub my own work full of the same things! Woe is me.

  3. I make the excuse that I'm in my artistic mode when I'm writing. Artists can't be thinking about word choice when they're in the throes of passionate creativity, right?

  4. Great post!

    I was doing edits for my first book just this week and caught myself with past/passed! Sneaky little devil that Past/Passed!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  5. Good post! Then there's there, they're and their...I see them get misused two (errr to, no that's TOO!)

  6. Oh, those ARE trickster words. Don't forget affect/effect. Great post! :-)

  7. There are quite a few tricky words/phrases in our language. :)

  8. Glad some of you are adding those other tricky guys. I should have asked everyone to pile them on. Jemi's right. We have a lot of them.

  9. Ahem. As you know, I have an issue with farther and further. Very tricky indeed! (That's a great excuse, BTW.) Wonderful post and pix. Love the baby with the bottle. :)

  10. Love that last trickster paragraph! Although, I would be happy if he has less wine than I do. Means I have something to look forward to most nights!

  11. Further and farther do trip me up sometimes.

    Great tips! As a former teacher, my pet peeves were could of/could've and to/two/too!

  12. Good post. Like you, I'd like to find the balance between being the Language Police and letting things go that shouldn't. My question: How long until "they," "their," and "them" become standard-English SINGULAR personal pronouns when you don't know the person's gender? My guess is not long, and it's a change I'll gladly go with.

  13. I'm with you, Marcia, re: that pronoun agreement issue. And you're right. Finding that balance is often difficult. Love to write lots of dialog because then I can let the character make all those mistakes.


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