2.1Commonly Confused Words
- Identify commonly confused words
- Use strategies to avoid commonly confused words
Just as a mason uses bricks to build sturdy homes, writers use words to build successful documents. Consider the construction of a building. Builders need to use tough, reliable materials to build a solid and structurally sound skyscraper. From the foundation to the roof and every floor in between, every part is necessary. Writers need to use strong, meaningful words from the first sentence to the last and in every sentence in between.
You already know many words that you use every day as part of your writing and speaking vocabulary. You probably also know that certain words fit better in certain situations. Letters, emails, and even quickly jotted grocery lists require the proper selection of vocabulary. Imagine you are writing a grocery list to purchase the ingredients for a recipe but accidentally write down cilantro when the recipe calls for parsley. Even though cilantro and parsley look remarkably alike, each produces a very different effect in food. This seemingly small error could radically alter the flavour of your dish!
Having a solid everyday vocabulary will help you while writing, but learning new words and avoiding common word errors will make a real impression on your readers. Experienced writers know that deliberate, careful word selection and usage can lead to more polished, more meaningful work. This chapter covers word choice and vocabulary-building strategies that will improve your writing.
Commonly Confused Words
Some words in English cause trouble for speakers and writers because they share a similar pronunciation, meaning, or spelling with another word. These words are called commonly confused words. For example, read aloud the following sentences containing the commonly confused wordsnewand knew:
I liked hernewsweater.
Iknewshe would wear that sweater today.
These words may sound alike when spoken, but they carry entirely different usages and meanings.Newis an adjective that describes the sweater, andknew is the past tense of the verbto know. To read more about adjectives, verbs, and other parts of speech seeSection 3.1: Sentence Writing.
Recognizing Commonly Confused Words
Newandkneware just two of the words that can be confusing because of their similarities. Familiarize yourself with the following list of commonly confused words. Recognizing these words in your own writing and in other pieces of writing can help you choose the correct word to avoid confusing the reader and, ultimately, being incorrect in your writing.
Commonly Confused Words
A, An, And
A(article). Used before a word that begins with a consonant.
An(article). Used before a word that begins with a vowel.
And(conjunction). Connects two or more words together.
peanut butterandjelly, penandpencil, jumpandshout
Accept(verb). Means to take or agree to something offered.
Theyacceptedour proposal for the conference.
Except(conjunction). Means only or but.
We could fly thereexceptthe tickets cost too much.
Affect(verb). Means to create a change.
Hurricane windsaffectthe amount of rainfall.
Effect(noun). Means an outcome or result.
The heavy rains will have aneffecton the crop growth.
Are(verb). A conjugated form of the verbto be.
My cousinsareall tall and blonde.
Our(pronoun). Indicates possession, usually follows the pronounwe.
We will bringourcameras to take pictures.
By(preposition). Means next to.
My glasses arebythe bed.
Buy(verb). Means to purchase.
I willbuynew glasses after the doctor’s appointment.
Its(pronoun). A form ofitthat shows possession.
The butterfly flappeditswings.
It’s(contraction). Joins the wordsitandis.
It’sthe most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen.
Know(verb). Means to understand or possess knowledge.
Iknowthe male peacock sports the brilliant feathers.
No. Used to make a negative.
I havenotime to visit the zoo this weekend.
Loose(adjective). Describes something that is not tight or is detached.
Without a belt, her pants arelooseon her waist.
Lose(verb). Means to forget, to give up, or to fail to earn something.
She willloseeven more weight after finishing the marathon training.
I studied mapsofthe city to know where to rent a new apartment.
Have(verb). Means to possess something.
Ihavemany friends to help me move.
Have(linking verb). Used to connect verbs.
I shouldhavehelped her with that heavy box.
Quite, Quiet, Quit
My work will requirequitea lot of concentration.
Quiet(adjective). Means not loud.
I need aquietroom to complete the assignments.
Quit(verb). Means to stop or to end.
I willquitwhen I am hungry for dinner.
Right(adjective). Means proper or correct.
When bowling, she practises therightform.
Right(adjective). Also means the opposite of left.
The ball curved to therightand hit the last pin.
Write(verb). Means to communicate on paper.
After the team members bowl, I willwritedown their scores.
Set(verb). Means to put an item down.
Shesetthe mug on the saucer.
Set(noun). Means a group of similar objects.
All the mugs and saucers belonged in aset.
Sit(verb). Means to lower oneself down on a chair or another place.
I’llsiton the sofa while she brews the tea.
Suppose(verb). Means to think or to consider.
IsupposeI will bake the bread, because no one else has the recipe.
Suppose(verb). Means to suggest.
Supposewe all split the cost of the dinner.
Supposed(verb). The past tense form of the verb suppose, meaning required or allowed.
She wassupposedto create the menu.
Than(conjunction). Used to connect two or more items when comparing.
Registered nurses require less schoolingthandoctors.
Then(adverb). Means next or at a specific time.
Doctors first complete medical school andthenobtain a residency.
Their, They’re, There
Their(pronoun). A form oftheythat shows possession.
The dog walker feedstheirdogs everyday at two o’clock.
They’re(contraction). Joins the wordstheyandare.
They’rethe sweetest dogs in the neighbourhood.
There(pronoun). Indicates the presence of something
Thereare more treats if the dogs behave.
To, Two, Too
To(preposition). Indicates movement.
Let’s gotothe circus.
To. A word that completes an infinitive verb.
Two. The number after one. It describes how many.
Twoclowns squirted the elephants with water.
The tents weretooloud, and we left.
Use(verb). Means to apply for some purpose.
Weusea weed whacker to trim the hedges.
Used. The past tense form of the verbto use
Heusedthe lawnmower last night before it rained.
Used to. Indicates something done in the past but not in the present
Heused tohire a team to landscape, but now he landscapes alone.
Who’s(contraction). Joins the wordswhoand eitherisorhas.
Who’sthe new student?Who’smet him?
Whose(pronoun). A form ofwhothat shows possession.
Whoseschedule allows them to take the new student on a campus tour?
Your(pronoun). A form ofyouthat shows possession.
Yourbook bag is unzipped.
You’re(contraction). Joins the wordsyouandare.
You’rethe girl with the unzipped book bag.
The English language contains so many words; no one can say for certain how many words exist. In fact, many words in English are borrowed from other languages. Many words have multiple meanings and forms, further expanding the immeasurable number of English words. Although the list of commonly confused words serves as a helpful guide, even these words may have more meanings than shown here. When in doubt, consult an expert: the dictionary!
Self-Practice EXERCISE 2.1
Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct word.
My little cousin turns ________(to, too, two) years old tomorrow.
The next-door neighbour’s dog is ________(quite, quiet, quit) loud. He barks constantly throughout the night.
________(Your, You’re) mother called this morning to talk about the party.
I would rather eat a slice of chocolate cake ________(than, then) eat a chocolate muffin.
Before the meeting, he drank a cup of coffee and ________(than, then) brushed his teeth.
Do you have any ________(loose, lose) change to pay the parking meter?
Father must ________(have, of) left his briefcase at the office.
Before playing ice hockey, I was ________(suppose, supposed) to read the contract, but I only skimmed it and signed my name quickly, which may ________(affect, effect) my understanding of the rules.
Tonight she will ________(set, sit) down and ________(right, write) a cover letter to accompany her resumé and job application.
It must be fall, because the leaves ________(are, our) changing, and ________(it’s, its) getting darker earlier.
Strategies to Avoid Commonly Confused Words
When writing, you need to choose the correct word according to its spelling and meaning in the context. Not only does selecting the correct word improve your vocabulary and your writing, but it also makes a good impression on your readers. It also helps reduce confusion and improve clarity. The following strategies can help you avoid misusing confusing words.
Use a dictionary.Keep a dictionary at your desk while you write. Look up words when you are uncertain of their meanings or spellings. Many dictionaries are also available online, and the Internet’s easy access will not slow you down. Check out your cell phone or smartphone to see if a dictionary app is available.
Keep a list of words you commonly confuse.Be aware of the words that often confuse you. When you notice a pattern of confusing words, keep a list nearby, and consult the list as you write. Check the list again before you submit an assignment to your instructor.
Study the list of commonly confused words.You may not yet know which words confuse you, but before you sit down to write, study the words on the list. Prepare your mind for working with words by reviewing the commonly confused words identified in this chapter.
Commonly confused words appear in many locations, not just at work or at school. Be on the lookout for misused words wherever you find yourself throughout the day. Make a mental note of the error and remember its correction for your own pieces of writing.
Writing at Work
All employers value effective communication. From an application to an interview to the first month on the job, employers pay attention to your vocabulary. You do not need a large vocabulary to succeed, but you do need to be able to express yourself clearly and avoid commonly misused words.
When giving an important presentation on the effect of inflation on profit margins, you must know the difference betweeneffectandaffectand choose the correct word. When writing an email to confirm deliveries, you must know if the shipment will arrive intodays,toodays, ortwodays. Confusion may arise if you choose the wrong word.
Consistently using the proper words will improve your communication and make a positive impression on your boss and colleagues.
Self-Practice EXERCISE 2.2
The following paragraph contains 11 errors. Find each misused word and correct it by adding the proper word.
The original United States Declaration of Independence sets in a case at the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom as part of the National Archives in Washington, DC. Since 1952, over one million visitors each year of passed through the Rotunda too snap a photograph to capture they’re experience. Although signs state, “No Flash Photography,” forgetful tourists leave the flash on, an a bright light flickers for just a millisecond. This millisecond of light may not seem like enough to effect the precious document, but supposed how much light could be generated when all those milliseconds are added up. According to the National Archives administrators, its enough to significantly damage the historic document. So, now, the signs display quit a different message: “No Photography.” Visitors continue to travel to see the Declaration that began are country, but know longer can personal pictures serve as mementos. The administrators’ compromise, they say, is a visit to the gift shop for a preprinted photograph.
Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
In order to write accurately, it is important for writers to be aware of commonly confused words.
Although commonly confused words may look alike or sound alike, their meanings are very different.
Consulting the dictionary is one way to make sure you are using the correct word in your writing. You may also keep a list of commonly confused words nearby when you write, or study the chart in this section.
Choosing the proper words leaves a positive impression on your readers.
Review the latest assignment you completed for school or for work. Does it contain any commonly confused words? Circle each example and use the circled words to begin your own checklist of commonly confused words. Continue to add to your checklist each time you complete an assignment and find a misused word.
- Identify common spelling rules
- Identify commonly misused homonyms
- Identify commonly misspelled words
One essential aspect of good writing is accurate spelling. With computer spell checkers at your disposal, spelling may seem simple, but these programs fail to catch every error. Spell checkers identify some errors, but writers still have to consider the flagged words and suggested replacements. Writers are still responsible for the errors that remain.
For example, if the spell checker highlights a word that is misspelled and gives you a list of alternative words, you may choose a word that you never intended even though it is spelled correctly. This can change the meaning of your sentence. It can also confuse readers, making them lose interest. Computer spell checkers are useful editing tools, but they can never replace human knowledge of spelling rules, homonyms, and commonly misspelled words.
Common Spelling Rules
The best way to master new words is to understand the key spelling rules. Keep in mind, however, that some spelling rules carry exceptions. A spell checker may catch these exceptions, but knowing them yourself will prepare you to spell accurately on the first try. You may want to try memorizing each rule and its exception like you would memorize a rhyme or lyrics to a song.
achieve, niece, alien
When words end in a consonant plusy, drop theyand add anibefore adding another ending.
happy + er = happier
cry + ed = cried
When words end in a vowel plusy, keep theyand add the ending.
delay+ ed = delayed
Memorize the following exceptions to this rule:day,lay,say,pay=daily, laid,said,paid
When adding an ending that begins with a vowel, such as –able, –ence, –ing, or –ity, drop the lastein a word.
write+ ing = writing
pure+ ity = purity
When adding an ending that begins with a consonant, such as –less, –ment, or –ly, keep the lastein a word.hope + less = hopeless
advertise + ment = advertisementFor many words ending in a consonant and ano, add –swhen using the plural form.photo+ s = photossoprano+ s = sopranos
Add –esto words that end ins,ch,sh, and x.
church+ es = churches
fax+ es = faxes
Self-Practice EXERCISE 2.3
Identify and correct the nine misspelled words in the following paragraph.
Sherman J. Alexie Jr. was born in October 1966. He is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian and an American writer, poet, and filmmaker. Alexie was born with hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. This condition led doctors to predict that he would likly suffer long-term brain damage and possibly mental retardation. Although Alexie survived with no mental disabilitys, he did suffer other serious side effects from his condition that plagud him throughout his childhood. Amazingly, Alexie learned to read by the age of three, and by age five he had read novels such as John Steinbeck’sThe Grapes of Wrath. Raised on an Indian reservation, Alexie often felt aleinated from his peers due to his avid love for reading and also from the long-term effects of his illness, which often kept him from socializeing with his peers on the reservation. The reading skills he displaid at such a young age foreshadowed what he would later become. Today Alexie is a prolific and successful writer with several story anthologeis to his credit, noteablyThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenandThe Toughest Indian in the World. Most of his fiction is about contemporary Native Americans who are influenced by pop culture and powwows and everything in between. His work is sometimes funny but always thoughtful and full of richness and depth. Alexie also writes poetry, novels, and screenplays. His latest collection of storys is called War Dances, which came out in 2009.
Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Use these eight tips to improve your spelling skills:
Read the words in your assignment carefully, and avoid skimming over the page.Focusing on your written assignment word by word will help you pay close attention to each word’s spelling. Skimming quickly, you may overlook misspelled words.
Use mnemonic devices to remember the correct spelling of words.Mnemonic devices, or memory techniques and learning aids, include inventive sayings or practices that help you remember. For example, the saying “It is important to be a beautiful person inside and out” may help you remember thatbeautifulbegins with “be a.” The practice of pronouncing the wordWednesdayWed-nes-day may help you remember how to spell the word correctly.
Use a dictionary.Many professional writers rely on the dictionary—either in print or online. If you find it difficult to use a regular dictionary, ask your instructor to help you find a “poor speller’s dictionary.”
Use your computer’s spell checker.The spell checker will not solve all your spelling problems, but it is a useful tool. See the introduction to this section for cautions about spell checkers.
Keep a list of frequently misspelled words.You will often misspell the same words again and again, but do not let this discourage you. All writers struggle with the spellings of certain words; they become aware of their spelling weaknesses and work to improve. Be aware of which words you commonly misspell, and you can add them to a list to learn to spell them correctly.
Look over corrected papers for misspelled words.Add these words to your list and practise writing each word four to five times. Writing teachers will especially notice which words you frequently misspell, and it will help you excel in your classes if they see your spelling improve.
Test yourself with flash cards.Sometimes the old-fashioned methods are best, and for spelling, this tried-and-true technique has worked for many students. You can work with a peer or alone.
Review the common spelling rules explained in this chapter. Take the necessary time to master the material; you may return to the rules in this chapter again and again, as needed.
Remember to focus on spelling during the editing and revising step of the writing process. Start with the big ideas such as organizing your piece of writing and developing effective paragraphs, and then work your way down toward the smaller—but equally important—details like spelling and punctuation.
Homonymsare words that sound like one another but have different meanings.
Commonly Misused Homonyms
Lead (noun).A type of metal used in pipes and batteries.
Theleadpipes in my homes are old and need to be replaced.
Led (verb).The past tense of the verblead.
After the garden, sheledthe patrons through the museum.
Lessen (verb).To reduce in number, size, or degree.
My dentist gave me medicine tolessenthe pain of my aching tooth.
Lesson (noun).A reading or exercise to be studied by a student.
Today’slessonwas about mortgage interest rates.
Passed (verb).To go away or move.
Hepassedthe slower cars on the road using the left lane.
Past (noun).Having existed or taken place in a period before the present.
The argument happened in thepast, so there is no use in dwelling on it.
Patience (noun).The capacity of being patient (waiting for a period of time or enduring pains and trials calmly).
The novice teacher’spatiencewith the unruly class was astounding.
Patients (plural noun).Individuals under medical care.
Thepatientswere tired of eating the hospital food, and they could not wait for a home-cooked meal.
Peace (noun).A state of tranquility or quiet.
For once, there waspeacebetween the argumentative brothers.
Piece (noun).A part of a whole.
I would like a largepieceof cake, thank you.
Principle (noun).A fundamental concept that is accepted as true.
Theprincipleof human equality is an important foundation for all nations.
Principal (noun).The original amount of debt on which interest is calculated.
The payment plan allows me to pay back only theprincipalamount, not any compounded interest.
Principal (noun).A person who is the main authority of a school.
Theprincipalheld a conference for both parents and teachers.
Sees, Seas, Seize
Sees (verb).To perceive with the eye.
Heseesa whale through his binoculars.
Seas (plural noun).The plural of sea, a great body of salt water.
The tidal fluctuation of the oceans andseasare influenced by the moon.
Seize (verb).To possess or take by force.
The king plans toseizeall the peasants’ land.
Threw (verb).The past tense ofthrow.
Shethrewthe football with perfect form.
Through (preposition).A word that indicates movement.
She walkedthroughthe door and out of his life.
Where, Wear, Ware
Where (adverb).The place in which something happens.
Whereis the restaurant?
Wear (verb).To carry or have on the body.
I willwearmy hiking shoes when go on a climb tomorrow morning.
Ware (noun).Articles of merchandise or manufacture (usually, wares).
When I return from shopping, I will show you mywares.
Which (pronoun).Replaces one out of a group.
Whichapartment is yours?
Witch (noun).A person who practises sorcery or who has supernatural powers.
She thinks she is awitch, but she does not seem to have any powers.
Self-Practice EXERCISE 2.4
Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct homonym.
Do you agree with the underlying ________(principle, principal) that ensures copyrights are protected in the digital age?
I like to ________(where, wear, ware) unique clothing from thrift stores that do not have company logos on them.
Marjorie felt like she was being ________(led, lead) on a wild goose chase, and she did not like it one bit.
Serina described ________(witch, which) house was hers, but now that I am here, they all look the same.
Seeing his friend without a lunch, Miguel gave her a ________(peace, piece) of his apple.
Do you think that it is healthy for mother to talk about the ________(passed, past) all the time?
Eating healthier foods will ________(lessen, lesson) the risk of heart disease.
Daniela ________(sees, seas, seize) possibilities in the bleakest situations, and that it is why she is successful.
Everyone goes ________(through, threw) hardships in life regardless of who they are.
Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Commonly Misspelled Words
Table 2.1: Commonly Misspelled Words provides a list of commonly misspelled words. You probably use these words every day in either speaking or writing. Each word has a segment in bold type that indicates the problem area of the word that is often spelled incorrectly. Refer to this list as needed before, during, and after you write.
Use these two techniques to help you master these troublesome words:
Copy each word a few times and underline the problem area.
Copy the words onto flash cards and have a friend test you.
Table 2.1Commonly Misspelled Words
Self-Practice EXERCISE 2.5
Identify and correct the 10 commonly misspelled words in the following passage.
Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City. It is located on the eastern shore of Long Island directly accross the East River from the island of Manhattan. Its beginings stretch back to the 16th century when it was founded by the Dutch who originally called it “Breuckelen.” Immedietely after the Dutch settled Brooklyn, it came under British rule. However, neither the Dutch nor the British were Brooklyn’s first inhabitants. When European settlers first arrived, Brooklyn was largely inhabited by the Lenapi, a collective name for several organized bands of Native American people who settled a large area of land that extended from upstate New York through the entire state of New Jersey. They are sometimes referred to as the Delaware Indians. Over time, the Lenapi succumbed to European diseases or conflicts between European settlers or other Native American enemies. Finalley, they were pushed out of Brooklyn completely by the British.
In 1776, Brooklyn was the site of the first importent battle of the American Revolution known as the Battle of Brooklyn. The colonists lost this battle, which was led by George Washington, but over the next two years they would win the war, kicking the British out of the colonies once and for all.
By the end of the 19th century, Brooklyn grew to be a city in its own right. The completion of the Brooklyn Bridge was an ocasion for celebration; transportation and commerce between Brooklyn and Manhattan now became much easier. Eventually, in 1898, Brooklyn lost its seperate identity as an independent city and became one of five boroughs of New York City. However, in some people’s opinien, the intagration into New York City should have never happened; they though Brooklyn should have remained an independant city.
Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Writing at Work
In today’s job market, writing emails has become a means by which many people find employment. Emails to prospective employers require thoughtful word choice, accurate spelling, and perfect punctuation. Employers’ inboxes are inundated with countless emails daily. If even the subject line of an email contains a spelling error, it will likely be overlooked and someone else’s email will take priority.
The best thing to do after you proofread an email to an employer and run the spell checker is to have an additional set of eyes go over it with you; one of your teachers may be able to read the email and give you suggestions for improvement. Most colleges and universities have writing centres, which may also be able to assist you.
Accurate, error-free spelling enhances your credibility with the reader.
Mastering the rules of spelling may help you become a better speller.
Knowing the commonly misused homonyms may prevent spelling errors.
Studying the list of commonly misspelled words in this chapter, or studying a list of your own, is one way to improve your spelling skills.
What is your definition of a successful person? Is it based on a person’s profession or character? Perhaps success means a combination of both. In one paragraph, describe in detail what you think makes a person successful. When you are finished, proofread your work for spelling errors. Exchange papers with a partner and read each other’s work. See if you catch any spelling errors that your partner missed.
- Identify the reasons why using a dictionary and thesaurus is important when writing
- Identify how to use proper connotations
- Identify how to avoid using slang, clichés, and overly general words in your writing
Effective writing involves making conscious word choices. When you prepare to sit down to write your first draft, you likely have already completed some freewriting exercises, chosen your topic, developed your thesis statement, written an outline, and even selected your sources. When it is time to write your first draft, start to consider which words to use to best convey your ideas to the reader.
Some writers are picky about word choice as they start drafting. They may practise some specific strategies, such as using a dictionary and thesaurus, using words and phrases with proper connotations, and avoiding slang, clichés, and overly general words.
Once you understand these tricks of the trade, you can move ahead confidently in writing your assignment. Remember, the skill and accuracy of your word choice is a major factor in developing your writing style. Precise selection of your words will help you be more clearly understood—in both writing and speaking.
Using a Dictionary and Thesaurus
Even professional writers need help with the meanings, spellings, pronunciations, and uses of particular words. In fact, they rely on dictionaries to help them write better. No one knows every word in the English language and their multiple uses and meanings, so all writers, from novices to professionals, can benefit from the use of dictionaries.
Most dictionaries provide the following information:
- Spelling:How the word and its different forms are spelled
- Pronunciation:How to say the word
- Part of speech:The function of the word
- Definition:The meaning of the word
- Synonyms:Words that have similar meanings
- Etymology:The history of the word
Look at the following sample dictionary entry and see which of the preceding information you can identify:
myth, mith,n.[Gr.mythos, a word, a fable, a legend.] A fable or legend embodying the convictions of a people as to their gods or other divine beings, their own beginnings and early history and the heroes connected with it, or the origin of the world; any invented story; something or someone having no existence in fact.—myth • ic,myth • i • cal
Like a dictionary, a thesaurus is another indispensable writing tool. A thesaurus gives you a list of synonyms—words that have the same (or close to the same) meaning as another word. It also lists antonyms—words with the opposite meaning of the word. A thesaurus will help you when you are looking for the perfect word with just the right meaning to convey your ideas. It will also help you learn more words and use the ones you already know more correctly. Look at the following thesaurus entry:
precociousadj,She’s such a precocious little girl!: uncommonly smart, mature, advanced, smart, bright, brilliant, gifted, quick, clever, apt.
Ant.slow, backward, stupid.
Using Proper Connotations
Adenotationis the dictionary definition of a word. Aconnotation, on the other hand, is the emotional or cultural meaning attached to a word. The connotation of a word can be positive, negative, or neutral. Keep in mind the connotative meaning when choosing a word. Look at the examples below:
Denotation:Exceptionally thin and slight or meagre in body or size.
Word used in a sentence:Although he was a premature baby and a scrawnychild, Martin has developed into a strong man.
Connotation:(Negative) In this sentence the wordscrawnymay have a negative connotation in the readers’ minds. They might find it to mean a weakness or a personal flaw; however, the word fits into the sentence appropriately.
Denotation:Lacking sufficient flesh, very thin.
Word used in a sentence: Skinnyjeans have become very fashionable in the past couple of years.
Connotation:(Positive) Based on cultural and personal impressions of what it means to be skinny, the reader may have positive connotations of the wordskinny.
Denotation:Lacking or deficient in flesh; containing little or no fat.
Word used in a sentence:My brother has aleanfigure, whereas I have a more muscular build.
Connotation:(Neutral) In this sentence,leanhas a neutral connotation. It does not call to mind an overly skinny person like the wordscrawny, nor does imply the positive cultural impressions of the wordskinny. It is merely a neutral descriptive word.
Notice that all the words have a very similar denotation; however, the connotations of each word differ.
In each of the following list items, you will find words with similar denotations. Identify the words’ connotations as positive, negative, or neutral by writing the word in the appropriate box. Use the table below.
curious, nosy, interested
lazy, relaxed, slow
courageous, foolhardy, assured
new, newfangled, modern
mansion, shack, residence
spinster, unmarried woman, career woman
giggle, laugh, cackle
boring, routine, prosaic
noted, notorious, famous
assertive, confident, pushy
Slangdescribes informal words that are considered nonstandard English. Slang often changes with passing fads and may be used by or familiar to only a specific group of people. Most people use slang when they speak and in personal correspondence, such as emails, text messages, and instant messages.
Slang is appropriate between friends in an informal context but should be avoided in formal academic writing.
Writing at Work
Frequent exposure to media and popular culture has desensitized many of us to slang. In certain situations, using slang at work may not be problematic, but keep in mind that words can have a powerful effect. Slang in professional emails or during meetings may convey the wrong message or even mistakenly offend someone.
Self-Practice EXERCISE 2.7
Edit the following paragraph by replacing the slang words and phrases with more formal language. Rewrite the paragraph on your own sheet of paper.
I felt like such an airhead when I got up to give my speech. As I walked toward the podium, I banged my knee on a chair. Man, I felt like such a klutz. On top of that, I kept saying “like” and “um,” and I could not stop fidgeting. I was so stressed out about being up there. I feel like I’ve been practising this speech 24/7, and I still bombed. It was 10 minutes of me going off about how we sometimes have to do things we don’t enjoy doing. Wow, did I ever prove my point. My speech was so bad I’m surprised that people didn’t boo. My teacher said not to sweat it, though. Everyone gets nervous his or her first time speaking in public, and she said, with time, I would become a whiz at this speech giving stuff. I wonder if I have the guts to do it again.
Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Clichésare descriptive expressions that have lost their effectiveness because they are overused. Writing that uses clichés often suffers from a lack of originality and insight. Avoiding clichés in formal writing will help you write in original and fresh ways.
Clichéd:Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes myblood boil.
Plain:Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes me really angry.
Original:Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes me want to go to the gym and punch the bag for a few hours.
Think about all the cliché phrases that you hear in popular music or in everyday conversation. What would happen if these clichés were transformed into something unique?
Self-Practice EXERCISE 2.8
On your own sheet of paper, revise the following sentences by replacing the clichés with fresh, original descriptions.
She is writing a memoir in which she will air her family’s dirty laundry.
Fran had an axe to grind with Benny, and she planned to confront him that night at the party.
Mr. Muller was at his wit’s end with the rowdy class of seventh graders.
The bottom line is that Greg was fired because he missed too many days of work.
Sometimes it is hard to make ends meet with just one paycheque.
My brain is fried from pulling an all-nighter.
Maria left the dishes in the sink all week to give Jeff a taste of his own medicine.
While they were at the carnival, Janice exclaimed, “Time sure does fly when you are having fun!”
Jeremy became tongue-tied after the interviewer asked him where he saw himself in five years.
Avoiding Overly General Words
Specific words and images make your writing more interesting to read. Whenever possible, avoid overly general words in your writing; instead, try to replace general language with particular nouns, verbs, and modifiers that convey details and that bring yours words to life. Add words that provide colour, texture, sound, and even smell to your writing.
General:My new puppy is cute.
General:My teacher told us that plagiarism is bad.
Specific:My teacher, Ms. Atwater, created a presentation detailing exactly how plagiarism is illegal and unethical.
Self-practice EXERCISE 2.9
Revise the following sentences by replacing the overly general words with more precise and attractive language. Write the new sentences on your own sheet of paper.
Reilly got into her car and drove off.
I would like to travel to outer space because it would be amazing.
Jane came home after a bad day at the office.
I thought Milo’s essay was fascinating.
The dog walked up the street.
The coal miners were tired after a long day.
The tropical fish are pretty.
I sweat a lot after running.
The goalie blocked the shot.
I enjoyed my Mexican meal.
- Using a dictionary and thesaurus as you write will improve your writing by improving your word choice.
- Connotations of words may be positive, neutral, or negative.
- Slang, clichés, and overly general words should be avoided in academic writing.
Review a piece of writing that you have completed for school. Circle any sentences with slang, clichés, or overly general words and rewrite them using stronger language.
2.4Angle of Vision
- Identify how different wording can change angles of vision and impact on readers
- Apply techniques to demonstrate different angles of vision and create objective writing
On occasion, you will be asked to write an emotionally expressive or sensory piece—something like your journal entries. However, during your academic studies, your instructors will ask you to write essays that are fact based and academic in tone. This means you will only be able to show your opinions by the choice of ideas you discuss and how you present your evidence. Your instructors will expect you to compose emotion-free papers, which means you have to choose your words carefully. When you write pieces full of emotion without facts, the reader is less likely to trust your argument. Imagine that you feel very strongly on an issue but do not use facts to support your argument. What if the reader disagrees with you? Since you have not provided factual supporting evidence, the reader will not be convinced of your point of view.
In this section, we will explore the impact of emotional writing and the impact on the reader; we will also explore word choices and their possible connotations. To begin, look at the two passages in Self-Practice Exercise 2.10 showing different angles of vision or points of view.
Self-practice EXERCISE 2.10
This exercise will show you how simple changes in word choice and a writer using a lot of personal opinion will impact the reader. Look at the two passages below then answer the questions.
What a glorious day! The beautiful sun is shining down on those basking, hoping to absorb its wonderful rays. The surf is playfully nudging the young children who are frolicking in the waves. A group of smiling young people laugh joyously as they plan an exciting game of volleyball. As I watch their rousing game, I enjoy the feel of the warm sand playing between my toes. I love summer at the beach!
It is way too hot! The sun is beating down on all those foolish enough to think it is healthy to get a suntan. They will be sorry when they burn. I keep seeing unsupervised children getting knocked down by the strong waves, and their negligent parents are nowhere to be seen. Nearby, some rowdy teenagers keep laughing obnoxiously every time one in their group misses the volleyball; they are really terrible volleyball players. I would like to move from where I am sitting, but the sand is scorching hot and will burn my feet. I wish I had stayed home!
What are the differences in the physical setting that these passages are describing? Are they in different locations or happening at different times of day? Are there different people involved?
What evidence beyond sensory perceptions and personal opinion do the writers provide?
Which one are you more likely to agree with? Why? Is this because it matches your personal opinion of the beach or because it is combined with supporting facts?
It is clear that the two authors like or appreciate conditions and experiences differently. In Passage 1, the writer likes warm weather and does not mind noise, but in Passage 2, the writer would probably prefer to be at home in air conditioning. Ultimately, the passage that you connect with more is probably based on how you personally feel about going to the beach. Because the passages are based solely on opinion, there is nothing in them to convince the reader that other perspectives or angles of vision are valid. This is why you need to use facts to back up your ideas when writing (and of course include citations, which are discussed in Chapter 9: Citations and Referencing). However, before we look at objective, fact-based writing, your first assignment will give you an opportunity to practise choosing your words to show differing perspectives; it will also help you to see how changing words can completely change the effect of the writing.
Assignment 1: angles of vision (2.5%)
Choose a place where you can sit and observe for 15 to-20 minutes. Then write a focused description of the scene that will enable the reader to see what you see. You will actually have to write two descriptions of the same scene. One will be of the scene from a positive or favourable perspective; the other needs to convey a negative or unfavourable impression.
Both descriptions must contain only factual details and must describe exactly the same scene from the same location at the same time. This means that you cannot just change the facts like making the weather cloudy instead of sunny; your descriptive words need to do the work for you. Length: combined total of 300 to 400 words.
You can start with either the positive or negative paragraph, but remember, you do not want to just substitute antonyms, or opposite words, when writing from the opposite angle. You want to step back from the scene, so to speak, and visualize how aspects of what you are experiencing or witnessing would appear to someone who did not feel the same way you do.
You need to submit this assignment to your instructor for marking. (2.5%)
Assignment 1 shows you that changing your wording even slightly can completely change the impact or effect. This exercise also showed you an example of subjective writing—something that is writer centred often based on the writer’s sensory perceptions or emotions.
We have also talked about how the reader’s angle of vision may differ from the writer’s, and since there are no facts to give the reader a solid and believable perspective, the reader could be unconvinced. Now, we will look at an objective, or quantifiable, factual/scientific, example of the same type of passage.
Self-practice EXERCISE 2.11
This exercise will show you how simple changes in word choice and a writer using a lot of personal opinion will impact the reader. Look at the two passages below then answer the questions.
On the morning of Saturday, June 10, I decided to visit the beach. The sky was clear with no clouds visible in the sky. I arrived at the beach at about 12:30, and it was already quite warm. I had to drive with the windows open, and it read 25C on the car’s temperature display. Just before getting out of the car, I remembered to grab my 30 SPF sunscreen because I got burned so badly last year, and I do not want to experience that blistering again this year. In front of me, there were five children who were about six years old playing in the foot-high waves; it looked like their parents were sitting watching them carefully from about four metres away probably just in case the waves got too high and they needed to dash to their children quickly. I chose a spot 10 metres to the right away from a group of young people, maybe 16 years old, playing volleyball, close enough to watch them having fun but far away enough to not get hit by any stray balls. These teenagers must have been playing just for fun because it seemed like someone missed every second ball, and the entire group started laughing when they did. Thankfully I wore my sandals, so I could feel the warmth of the sand between my toes but protect my feet in case the sand got too hot.
How is this passage different from the subjective examples in Self-Practice Exercise 2.10?
What evidence beyond sensory perceptions and personal opinion does the writer provide?
Is the passage more positive or negative? Does it discuss both good and bad things? What is different about how the different perspectives are presented?
In the passage above, the writer has presented both positive and negative situations, but the language she used is neutral and without judgment. The writer has linked bad past experiences and put a positive spin on them or was able to see possible negatives but also present solutions. She also provided enough detail (measurements, temperatures, distances, etc.) to present a more complete description, so the reader could visualize where everyone was situated in the scene, how hot it was, how high the waves were. Essentially, the writer presented a complete, unemotional, and objective perspective that is supported by quantifiable evidence.
2.5Reading Comprehension Techniques
- Recognize patterns and identify key words to differentiate between main and supporting ideas
- Apply pattern identification words to reinforce understanding of main ideas
- Make inferences from implied information
In the last chapter, we looked at ways to approach reading to help you understand, process, analyze, synthesize, and, ultimately, remember information better. In this chapter, we will take this a step further by developing your skills in how to understand the material you read by helping you to distinguish the main ideas in a passage from the more specific supporting details. One way to do this is to recognize patterns, which will help you organize your thinking in systematic ways that parallel the presentation in the source. Key terms for such patterns are:
- Main/controlling ideas (located in topic sentences)
- Key details (located within paragraphs)
- Patterns (form the structure of the paragraph or section)
- Inferences (are not usually written and must be concluded by the reader)
Many people read to remember everything and do not distinguish between key concepts, key supporting details, positions relative to these concepts, and inferences that can be drawn. Creating a road map with these highlights helps you both to understand and to remember what you read. This section includes a few exercises to practise identifying the main and supporting ideas in passages representing the different patterns.
Reading for Main Ideas and Details
Creating or identifying main ideas is like creating a skeleton that holds all the rest of the information together—creating a body. Key facts are like muscles. The point of view and its implications are like the blood that gives life to the body. Some main ideas are directly stated; others are implied, and you must infer a statement yourself. When you read, you can identify the main idea of a paragraph, section, chapter, or book by asking yourself the following questions:
- What is the topic or subject matter? What/who is this about?
- What am I supposed to understand about this? (This is the idea about the topic.)
- Are there any sentences that help clarify what I am supposed to understand about the topic? (Often the first or last sentence will state the main idea.)
- How do I know for sure? All the important information in the paragraph is covered by the main idea sentence. Does it help me to understand what is being said about the topic?
Self-practice EXERCISE 2.12
Read the three passages below and identify the main idea in each. With the first two examples, the controlling idea is directly stated. Identify the main idea in both (expressed in the topic sentence).
In the third passage, the main idea in the third passage is implied: choose the statement from the list given that best represents the entire paragraph and then explain why the other three statements do not work.
Passage 1: Identify the main idea in this paragraph.
When we think about it, is there really something that we can call “the public”? The population of communities is really made up of a set of publics. The needs and interests of a population are uniform on only the broadest matters, such as health and the security of the person and his or her property. Beyond those very broad areas of policy, needs and interests differ, sometimes very markedly, and sometimes in ways that cause conflict between competing interests. It is highly unlikely that diverse needs or interests of all groups or individuals can all be satisfied at the same time. Thus, industrial firms that produce hazardous wastes may need sites to dispose of such undesirable by-products. Such firms can be thought of as one “public.” and it is apparent that their need will conflict with the interests of another public—the people who live near the proposed disposal site.
Passage 2: Identify the main idea in this paragraph.
Marketing research is a major component or subsystem within a marketing information system. It is used in a very wide variety of marketing situations. Typically, in a marketing research study the problem to be solved is first identified. Then a researcher decides whether to use secondary or primary sources of information. To gather primary data, the researcher may use the survey, observation, or experimental method. Normally, primary data are gathered by sampling. Then the data are analyzed, and a written report is prepared.
Passage 3: Identify the implied main point in this paragraph.
According to psychiatrist Richard Moscotti, the ability to work well is one key to a balanced life. He feels both underworking and overworking are to be avoided. A second key is the ability to love, which requires a certain amount of openness. The ability to be loved is the third key to a balanced life. This is difficult for those who feel unworthy of love. The last key is the ability to play, which involves knowing how to relax.
- The first key to a balanced life, according to Moscotti, is the ability to work well.
- According to Moscotti, some people having trouble receiving love.
- The final key to a balanced life, according to Moscotti, is the ability to play.
- According to Moscotti, there are four keys to a balanced life.
State why the other three answers are not the unstated main idea.
Here are the answers:
Passage 1 main idea: The population of communities is really made up of a set of publics.
Passage 2 main Idea: Marketing research is a major component or subsystem within a marketing information system.
Passage 3 main idea (implied): According to psychiatrist Richard Moscotti, the ability to work well is one key to a balanced life (main elements: psychiatrist, R.M., four keys, balanced life).
D is the answer: The unstated main idea is that, according to Moscotti, there are four keys to a balanced life.
A: Too detailed to be the main idea; it expresses just one key
B: A detail of the third key
C: Too detailed to be the main idea; it is only one of four keys
Examples taken from: Langan, J. & Kay, G. (1989). Ten Steps to Building College Reading Skills. Marlton, NJ: Townsend Press.
How did you do? Were you able to identify which were the more general statements from the supporting details? Most of the time, the topic sentence (= the controlling/main idea) is at or near the beginning of the paragraph, but sometimes it is not. Always remember that when identifying the topic sentence, all of the other ideas in that paragraph need to be an example or detail relating to that main point. If one of the ideas does not fit, either you have chosen a statement or idea that is too specific (or the writer did not create a strong topic sentence in the paragraph). When we look at creating paragraphs and topic sentences in the next chapter, you will learn what creates a strong topic sentence, and this will help you with identifying them in the future.
Reading for Patterns
Depending on the writer’s purpose and the information being shared, there are four general groupings by which information is organized:
- Definitions, details, and illustrations
- Time sequences, process descriptions, experiment/instructions, and simple listing
- Comparison and contrast
- Cause and effect
Reading for Key Details
Some details are more important than others in explaining, supporting, or developing the main idea. Others are further illustrations of details.
Table 2.2: Key Words for Identifying Idea Patterns shows key words you can use to help you identify patterns with ideas in relation to the four groupings listed above. Whichever words from whichever group are used, they will help the reader follow the logical organization of the material.
Definitions, details, and Illustrations
Usually when you see these, a definition or concept preceded it.
Time sequence, process description, experiment/instructions, simple listing
Some of these can be used to both show sequence in time and ideas.
|Time order||Additive listing|
first, second, third, etc.
then, since, next, before, after, as soon as, now, until, later, while, during, when, finally
Compare and contrast
Cause and effect
Table 2.2: Key Words for Identifying Idea Patterns categorizes key words that can help you identify main and supporting ideas when you are reading. You will also need to apply these throughout the rest of the chapters when developing sentences, paragraphs, and essays. In Chapter 12: Final Revisions and Peer Review, we will look at the punctuation that you need to use with these words.
The next exercises will give you opportunities to practise identifying the main and key ideas in paragraphs.
Self-practice EXERCISE 2.13
Survey, read, and identify the main points and key details in this paragraph.
Eidetic imagery is the technical term for what most people know as photographic memory. People with eidetic imagery can recall every detail of a memory as clearly as if they were looking at a photograph. People often wish they had this ability, but it can lead to trouble. For example, a law student with eidetic imagery was accused of cheating on an examination because his test paper contained exactly the words in his textbook. To prove his innocence, he studied an unfamiliar passage for five minutes and then wrote down more than 400 words from it without making a mistake.
Here are the answers:
Main term: eidetic imagery
Definition: photographic memory
Details: can recall every detail of a memory as clearly as if they were looking at a paragraph
Example: a law student with eidetic imagery was accused of cheating on an examination because his test paper contained exactly the words in his textbook.
Example taken from: Langan, J. & Kay, G. (1989). Ten Steps to Building College Reading Skills. Marlton, NJ: Townsend Press.
Self-practice EXERCISE 2.14
Highlight the several effects caused by the condition described.
Suffering from debilitating guilt causes many self-defeating behaviours in adulthood. We see adults submitting to the outrageous demands of partners or employers. We see individuals who appear to be constantly angry and then, almost immediately, guilty. We see adults who have felt lifelong depression. The rage felt when shamed in childhood and when suffering from debilitating shame in adulthood is turned against the self because of the dependency on the other for survival. When we are rejected in adulthood by a mate or lover, the feelings we experience are anger at being rejected. Furthermore, if we suffer from debilitating shame, we have not been able to gain autonomy. We continue to feel dependent upon attachment figures. It is from them, from their feelings, attitudes and opinions of us, that we feel worthwhile. To be angry at someone depended upon for survival causes us enormous guilt. Anger is redirected on the vulnerable self. We become trapped in a circular bind of shame, anger, anxiety, guilt, and depression.
Here are the answers:
- childhood shame
- anger turned against self out of guilt
- dependence on others opinions of us for worth
- rejection or outrageous demands from partners or employers
- anger turned against self, resulting in depression
Example taken from: Middleton-Moz, J. (1990). Shame & Guilt: Masters of Disguise. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications Inc., p.62.
Reading for Implications/Inferences: Tracing a Theme to its Conclusion
The methods of recognizing patterns discussed above are concrete and easy to identify. Inferences, on the other hand, are more subtle. When a writer implies something, he or she is giving hints but does not state the point directly. Think about a time, for example, when you had people visiting you at home; it was late, and you wanted them to leave. Did you ask them directly, “Hey, can you leave now”? Probably not, but you may have hinted that you had to wake up early in the morning, or you may have subtly yawned. Hopefully, those people picked up on your cues and inferred it was time to leave: meaning they put the pieces together to arrive at the conclusion you wanted them to leave, yet you did not say it directly.
When a writer does this, the reader may not actually pick up on the hints or maybe even interpret them differently. Sometimes readers make inferences that are based more on their own preferences and experience than on the information provided. This also means that two readers may interpret the same information differently because of differing individual experiences that led them to arrive at their conclusions. For you as a writer, you need to remember that it is your responsibility to give the readers everything they need in order for them to arrive at the conclusions you want them to make. If you are not direct, readers may be left confused or not catch your point.
There are also times that you as a reader will need to read passages requiring you to make inferences. The next exercises will help you to practise reading for inference. Remember, if your answers are different than the ones given, it means you interpreted the information differently and may have missed the author’s point. In these passages, you can also use a process of elimination and ask yourself statement best completes the passage.
Self-practice EXERCISE 2.15
Read each passage and choose the answer that best completes the thought of the passage. Think about why the other answers would not be a correct conclusion to the passage.
Check your answers against the key at the bottom of the exercise. If you missed an answer, look back and try to figure out why. What clues did you focus on? What did you miss?
- To a manufacturer, the wages paid to employees are a large portion of production expenses. The fact that wages also determine the buying power of the consumer is sometimes overlooked. In times of overproduction, the manufacturer tries to lower operating costs by decreasing the number of employees. This reduces expenditures of money in wages, but it also:
- maintains the status quo
- increases population
- raises costs
- reduces consumption
- Totally new cities that will be built in the future may be better planned than the large cities that already exist. Old cities were not properly planned for the great growth in population and industry that they have had, and many are in the process of tearing down and rebuilding large sections. This process is helping to improve some old cities—both large and small ones—but it does not give them the choice of complete city designing that will be available to:
- richer cities
- larger cities
- foreign cities
- new cities
- The director of this company believes that there is a growing awareness by management that business corporations are, and should be, guided by policies that are designed to satisfy human needs as well as material needs, and that there is nothing inconsistent between this and the making of:
- educational opportunities for workers
- good and satisfying profits
- political enemies in some quarters
- better opportunities for workers
- Knowledge and pleasure are inextricably interlocked. It is impossible for us to learn what we do not enjoy, and we cannot enjoy that which does not impart:
- a lesson
- a novelty
- a practical use
- strong emotion
- Oratory is to be best estimated on different principles from those that are applied to other productions. Truth is the object of philosophy and history. The merit of poetry is in its truth even though the truth is understood only through the imagination, which is aroused by poetry. The object of oratory is not truth but persuasion. A speaker who exhausts the whole philosophy of a question, who displays every grace of style, yet produces no effect on an audience, may be a great essayist, a great politician, a great master of composition, but:
- essentially a persuader
- not a poet
- essentially an orator
- not an orator
Here are the answers:
Exercises taken from: Science Research Associates. (1978). Reading for Comprehension Exercises. SRA Achievement Series. Chicago: Science Research Associates.
Check back if you missed any of the answers in this self-exercise. In which instances did you read into the passages your ideas when selecting an answer versus what is stated in the passage?
In the next chapter, we will practise taking these main ideas and supporting ideas and put them into our own words, or paraphrase, to compose summaries which are very useful not only for remembering and studying information before tests but also for looking at sources and incorporating the information in them into your essays—essentially providing backing evidence to make your arguments more convincing.
Journal entry #2
Write a paragraph or two responding to the following.
What did you notice about your writing style? Do you write more subjectively or objectively? Did you find that you struggled with one perspective or angle of vision over the other? What do you think you need to work on in regards to this?
Which, if any, of the spelling and word choice issues do think you will have to focus on throughout the semester and in your writing in general?
Reflect on the goals you set in Chapter 1. Is there anything you would like to add or already feel more confident with doing?
Remember as mentioned in the Assessment Descriptions in your syllabus:
- You will be expected to respond to the questions by reflecting on and discussing your experiences with the week’s material.
- When writing your journals, you should focus on freewriting—writing without (overly) considering formal writing structures—but you want to remember that it will be read by the instructor, who needs to be able to understand your ideas.
- Your instructor will be able to see if you have completed this entry by the end of the week but will not read all of the journals until week 6.