The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Good versus Well

This is a word usage post that I’ve wanted to write for a while, but have hesitated doing so because I felt like a hypocrite. I am very aware that I constantly misuse these words and swap them around, mostly out of sheer laziness. However, in my defense, I attempt to be correct when I’m writing. When I’m talking, laziness prevails.

So what is the difference between these words, you ask?

Good: an adjective or a noun. It means to be proper, right, of high quality, morally excellent, full of worth.

Well: an adjective or adverb. It can also mean right, full of worth, etc; or healthy, thorough, or with positive intentions.

Let’s look at some examples. You meet a friend on the street, and he says: “Hey, Joe, how are you?” You reply with “I’m good.”

To be completely correct, you should say “I’m well.” What you are describing is your state of being, and well is an adverb that modifies the verb of the sentence (which is “am,” the first person form of our “to be” verb). Good is usually an adjective, and in this case would be modifying you as a person, not what you are doing.

“I’m good” in this case actually means that you are proper and right (as opposed to immoral or wrong). Of course, if that’s your intent – to communicate how morally superior you are at that moment – then saying you’re good would be fine.

For another example I’ll use Glinda the Good Witch. (Side note: I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz and Oz the Great and Powerful close to 5,324,658 times. Which has nothing to do with anything, but I’ve been wanting an excuse to say that).

Anyway, Glinda’s title, “The Good,” doesn’t mean that she’s feeling fine that day, or that things are going great in her life. In this case, good describes her as a right and proper person – the opposite of wicked.

If she were Glinda the Well, not only would this sound strange, but it would totally change the meaning. Well in this case could mean the opposite of inept or the opposite of ill. While Glinda is neither ill nor inept, she wants to emphasize her opposition to the Wicked Witches; therefore, she is Good.

So, in daily life – or at least in your daily writing – remember to differentiate between good and well.

Well = not sick, functioning poorly, or otherwise behaving negatively.

Good = not the Wicked Witch of the West.

And that’s good.

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The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Latin Abbreviations – i.e., e.g., etc.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes Latin abbreviations just confuse me. Despite my love of languages, I never took a Latin class in school. I don’t know if that puts me at a disadvantage or not when it comes to scientific and literary Latin-isms. But I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who gets confused sometimes about the proper usage of some of these oft-used Latin terms.

Rather than teach an entire Latin lesson (which I can’t do, because, as I just stated, I never studied it)—I’ll just cover three common Latin terms used in writing. Let’s start with i.e. and e.g.

The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, which means “that is.” It’s a way of explaining in further detail something that was stated in the first part of a sentence. If you substitute “that is” or “in other words” for the i.e. and the sentence still makes sense, then i.e. is probably the abbreviation you need.

Since I’m lactose intolerant, I can’t eat the best part of the pizza, i.e., the cheese. (Since I’m lactose intolerant, I can’t eat the best part of the pizza, in other words, the cheese.)

To help you remember what i.e. means and you’re not a Latin expert, pretend that it means “in essence.”

The abbreviation e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for the sake of example.” It can be used to describe a list (or a single item) that is an example of what was stated in the first part of a sentence. If you substitute “for example” in place of the e.g. and the sentence still works, that’s probably the right choice.

I grew up reading super hero comics, e.g., X-Men, Fantastic Four, Batman. (I grew up reading super hero comics, for example, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Batman.)

To help you remember what e.g. means, pretend that it stands for “example given.”

I may be going against a rule book of grammatical standards, but for general usage, these two abbreviations should be lower case, always have the period after each letter, and should be followed by a comma. (I think this last, about the comma, applies primarily to American usage. British usage doesn’t have the comma).

The abbreviation etc. stands for et cetera, which means “and so forth” or “and other things.” It is used at the end of a sentence to indicate a continuation of a list of related items.

I’ve owned many different breeds of rabbits: mini lop, rex, lion head, etc. (I’ve owned many different breeds of rabbits: mini lop, rex, lion head, and so forth/and other similar things.)

Like the other two abbreviations, etc. is always lowercase and always followed by a period. It’s usually used at the end of a sentence, but it should be proceeded by a comma after the last word of the series.

I hope this helps to clarify some of these Latin abbreviations, both when you’re reading and when you’re writing. Just remember:

i.e. – in essence

e.g. – example given

etc. – and so forth

 

Does anyone else have any other troublesome abbreviations and easy tricks for remembering how to use them?

The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Homophones

So what is a homophone anyway, and why should a writer care? Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings (homo=the same, phone=sound). These are words that are fine when you’re speaking them, but writing them can sometimes be a bit more confusing.

For this post, I’ll highlight three sets of homophones that I see giving people the most trouble. Here are two words that I see misused and mixed up the most often: you’re and your. You’re is a contraction of you are (see my previous nitty-gritty post about the apostrophe). Your is possessive, meaning that the word represents something belonging to you. The best way to break it down and remember which one to use when writing is to break up the contraction of you’re.

Correct:

I think you’re going to enjoy this book. (I think you are going to enjoy this book.)

Is that your book? (Is that the book that belongs to you?)

Incorrect:

Your very pretty. (Your pretty what? What belongs to you that’s very pretty?)

Let’s take you’re car to the store. (Let’s take you are car to the store. Makes no sense.)

Another common homophone mix-up is they’re/their/there. One of these is a contraction, like you’re, so again, you can split it up into its component words to clarify the meaning for yourself. As for the other two words, someone might have an easy to trick to remembering which spelling means what; but, failing that, you’ll just have to memorize them.

They’re is a contraction of they are.

Their is possessive, referring to something that belongs to them.

There refers to a place or location, usually a little farther away than here.

Correct:

They’re running late. (They are running late.)

I love Fluffy, but he’s their cat. (I love Fluffy, but he belongs to them.)

The book is on the table over there. (The book is on the table a short distance away, rather than table here close by.)

Incorrect:

Their running late. (Being possessive, using their makes no sense. What belongs to them that is running late?)

I love Fluffy, but he’s there cat. (Meaning the cat that is there instead of here?)

The book is on the table over they’re. (The book is on the table over they are. Um, what?)

Some other commonly misused homophones:

To/too/two:

To is a preposition, and usually refers to direction or is the infinitive form of a verb. He went to the store.

Too means also. I love pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms—and sausage, too!

Two is the number after one and before three. I was hungry so I ate two burgers.

Hear/here:

Hear means to listen or to be aware of sound. I hear the neighbor’s dog barking again.

Here is similar to there, but usually closer. Sit here on the sofa next to me.

By/buy/bye:

By is a preposition, and usually functions as from or as part of a location. This book is by my favorite author. Come by my house at ten.

Buy means to purchase or accept. I need to buy dog food tonight.

Bye is a shortened form of good-bye, a farewell greeting. Bye, Jimmy! See you in school tomorrow.

Yes, English can be a confusing language, and the abundance of homophones doesn’t make it any easier. If you text your friend that “their running late,” he or she will usually know what you mean and it’s not a big deal. But if you’re turning in a paper for school, or a short story for your creative writing group, or writing a blog post selling your services as an editor, these little homophone mix-ups become a much bigger deal.

If you hear of a trick to help you keep straight which spelling means what, please share! But otherwise, good old fashioned memorization (and maybe another pair of eyes to read over your work) will be your best friends for helping with homophones.

The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: That Pesky ‘s

I’ve decided to create a series of posts to channel my inner Grammar Nazi, and to hopefully help people with their writing. I blog about writing tips of all sorts, but I haven’t yet gotten into that tedious subject of spelling, grammar, and word usage.

It’s not fun, but it’s necessary if you want to move your writing past the rough draft stage. Please note, that if your main concern right now is pushing past your writer’s block, or developing your main character, don’t worry too much about spelling and grammar at this point. But if you’re wanting to put some polish on that story before you submit it, or that essay before you turn it in to the teacher, or that blog post before you hit publish, this might help you.

My subject for today is the apostrophe s. A lot of people seem to get confused about the proper use for an apostrophe, and especially an apostrophe s. So here’s the deal: an apostrophe is that little mark that looks like a single quote mark that appears in words like don’t, I’m, and McDonald’s.

The apostrophe has two functions: it can represent a letter or series of letters that is missing from a word or phrase, and it also can represent a possessive.

In the case of “don’t” and “I’m,” the apostrophe is replacing the missing letter from the pair of words “do not” and “I am,” respectively, thus creating a contraction. In the case of “McDonald’s,” it indicates that something belongs to McDonald—as in, McDonald’s Restaurant.

This possessive apostrophe s is what trips up a lot of people. In English, the plural for a word (usually) has an s on the end, so many people get these two s word endings confused. I’ll lay out some examples:

Correct:

I saw the cat’s toy. (I saw the toy that belongs to the cat.)

The car’s rear window was broken. (The rear window belonging to the car was broken.)

I’m going over to Antonio’s to play video games. (I am going over to the home of Antonio to play video games.)

Incorrect:

I saw the cat’s toy’s. (The toy’s what? The color of the toy? The painted smile on the toy?)

The cars rear window was broken. (“Cars” with no apostrophe is plural, meaning that “was” should be replaced with “were.” And “window” is still singular. But that’s a subject for a different blog entry.)

I’m going over to Antonio’s to play video game’s. (What belongs to the games of Antonio?)

Here are some common misuses of the apostrophe s that I see:

We sell DVD’s! (You sell something that belongs to a DVD? Oh, you mean you sell multiple DVDs.)

The dog shook it’s head. (This translates into “the dog shook it is head,” which makes no sense. And even though “its” would be correct and is possessive, there is no apostrophe. More on the inconsistencies of English in another post.)

Lets go! (Technically, this is an incomplete sentence. It might be the last part of a phrase like “She slides down the rope and then lets go.” But I think what you meant here was a contraction of “Let us go.”)

Grammar goofs and incorrect apostrophes are not a big deal on your Facebook status or your text to your brother. But for a blog post, an article, a report for school, a brochure that represents the face of a company, etc—try to double-check your possessives and your plurals. Get a friend to look over it—sometimes an extra pair of eyes can help.

I hope this grammar rant was helpful to you! English is confusing even to us native speakers. I hope I helped to clear up a little confusion about a language of inconsistencies!