Simple, clear help for your writing problems

Archives for February, 2009

Whether Or Not?

You can explain away so many writing problems as extensions of conversational English! But hearing the same incorrect expression day-after-day is no excuse for using that expression in your writing. You hear some expressions so often that they sound natural. Then you cough up the expressions without thought.

A case in point: so many writers and speakers heap abuse on the word whether. Stop, and you’ll improve the quality of your writing.

Writing Problems with Whether

You’ve heard the expression whether or not hundreds of times:

I don’t care whether it snows or not.

I’m not sure whether or not you care.

It doesn’t matter whether you let the wine breathe or not.

Don’t let hearing the expression cause it to turn up in your writing. Consider: you can omit or not from each sentence without changing its meaning. Without or not, the sentences become:

I don’t care whether it snows.

I’m not sure whether you care.

It doesn’t matter whether you let the wine breathe.

When you respect the word whether you decrease wordiness, and that’s good for your writing.

Should you ever use Or Not?

Whatever rules you know about writing, apply this rule above all others: try to make your readers comfortable. When you write a sentence using the word whether and it sounds awkward, you may need to add or not for your readers.

Consider: The statement I’m having dessert whether you have any doesn’t feel right. Recast it as I’m having dessert whether or not you have any and it sounds better.

Be judicious. As a rule, use whether alone in all its glory. When whether alone doesn’t cut it, reluctantly add or not.

Please help reduce writing problems on the internet by bookmarking this article.

 

Technorati Tags: ,

Ryan Seacrest said this at the end of an installment of American Idol: In the end there can only be one American Idol. Don’t count this mistake among your writing problems.

Mistake? You ask. This sentence could easily mean that the only thing left in creation at the end of the show is an American Idol. Consider: …there can only be one American Idol implies that nothing else at all can exist.

It seems likely Mr Seacrest was telling us that eventually there would be one American Idol. His statement would be clear if he simply omitted the word only so the sentence became In the end there can be one American Idol. By misplacing the word only in an attempt to add emphasis, he has, instead, made the statement unclear.

Put Only Where it Belongs

The statement, In the end there can be one American Idol is clear. Spoken emphasis on the word one achieves Seacrest’s intent. However, if you really need to use the word only, use it as follows: In the end there can be only one American Idol.

This minor rewrite of Seacrest’s sentence ties the words only and one together. It leaves the possibility that there can be other things besides that one American Idol.

Use Only Sparingly and Appropriately

Consider the title of this post: Today, Only Fix One of your Writing Problems. It suggests that the only thing you should do today is fix one of your writing problems. If it must include the word only, the title should be, Today, Fix Only One of your Writing Problems. With that change, it suggests you should fix one writing problem, but let the others go for today. It doesn’t forbid you from doing other things.

When you use only in a sentence, reread the sentence carefully and decide whether only is in the right place. Here are some examples to help you recognize how a misplaced only changes the meaning of your words:

The sentence: You should only move this box.

Means: You should do nothing except move this box.

In contrast:

The sentence: You should move only this box.

Means: This box is the only thing you should move… but there may be other things for you to do as well.

Here’s another:

The sentence: Are you only giving me a tomato?

Means: Are you doing nothing more than giving me a tomato?

In contrast:

The sentence: Are you giving me only a tomato?

Means: Are you giving me nothing more than a tomato? I understand that you may do other things as well.

Please help reduce writing problems on the internet by bookmarking this article.

Technorati Tags: , ,