Sound Smarter: Quick & Dirty Tricks to Improve Your Writing

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Everybody writes. But writing is not for everybody.

In fact, grammar and the written word are both lost arts (in my opinion). But here’s the thing: 76% of employers want candidates with strong writing skills. Not the news you wanted to hear if writing isn’t your thing.

No worries though, after reading this short article and applying (aka practicing) the concepts each time you put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, you’ll be sounding smarter and writing better in no time.

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Let’s get started:

Word Mishaps – deciding witch word two use

  1. Your vs. You’re – Unfortunately, this one is still wreaking havoc (especially on social media). YOUR is second person possessive, meaning you’re using it to describe ownership. YOU’RE is the contraction of “you are.” Example: Your presence on this blog means that you’re interested in learning about how to write better.
  2. To, Too, and Two – To is a preposition which begins a prepositional phrase or an infinitive (nerd talk, yuck). Too means “excessively” or “also.” And two is a number. Example: Learning how to count to two is much too hard for an infant.
  3. Fewer vs. Less – Use “fewer” when talking about things that can be counted and “less” with things that can’t be counted. Example: “There were fewer brownies left than I had hoped for.” “Kaili drank less Titos than Sara.”
  4. Who vs. Whom – If the hypothetical answer to the question is “he/she,” then use “who.” If the answer is “him/her,” use “whom.” Example: “Who would like to go on vacation?” “I don’t know with whom I will take the trip.”
  5. Farther vs. Further – Farther refers to a physical distance whereas further refers to something metaphorical. Example:I can walk a lot farther now that I don’t have crutches.” “If you complain any further I’m going to kick you out of the car.” GOOD NEWS: in most cases, these can be used interchangeably.
  6. Gray vs. Grey – Here’s the deal, neither of these options are “wrong” per se. But if you’re in America, “gray” is more correct, and if you’re using British English, “grey” makes more sense.
  7. Rack vs. Wrack – You “rack your brain,” you don’t “wrack your brain.” Wrack is in reference to the word wreck – like a shipwreck. Rack is in reference to stretching something (a body) on a torture device (ow!) Therefore, when you’re thinking really hard about something, you’re torturing your brain or “racking your brain.”
  8. Me vs. Myself – This is a tough one with an easy solution. Look at the sentence in question and remove all other subjects besides yourself – which word makes sense? Example: “Please contact Jenna, Rachel, or me with questions.” You’d say, “Please contact me with questions,” not “Please contact myself with questions.”
  9. Insure vs. Ensure – Though these words sound the exact same, they differ in meaning. If you’re looking for a word to describe an insurance policy, “insure” is the one. If you want to make sure something happens, “ensure” is what you want to do. Example: “Please ensure you’re at the meeting.” “He wants to insure his house.”
  10. Disperse vs. Disburse – At this point you’re probably shaking your head wondering why the English language includes so many words that sound the exact same but mean two totally different things. Me too, but here’s another. Disperse means to scatter, separate, or sprinkle around. Disburse means only to give out money.
  11. Flak vs. Flack – If someone is criticizing you or ‘giving you shit,’ they’re “giving you flak.” If they’re deploying PR strategies to drum up attention, that’s “flack.”
  12. Accept vs. Except – This one is easy: they’re total opposites. Accept = receive. Except = exclude.
  13. Hearty vs. Hardy – I’ll be honest – this rule makes me think about chicken and dumpling soup, a warm bowl of momma’s chili, or a thick beef stew. Those are all “hardy” meals because they’re warm and nourishing. But when I think about the type of shove I’d like to give creepy men in the bar, it’s a “hearty” one.
  14. Compliment vs. Complement – When you want to say something nice to someone, you give them a “compliment.” When you want to convey that you go well together, you tell them they “complement” you.
  15. Who’s vs. Whose – If you can sub in “who is” or “who has,” then stick with who’s. For everything else, “whose” is the way to go.

Not Words – words you’re probably using that aren’t actually words

  1. Anyways – Use “anyway.”
  2. Towards – Use “toward.”
  3. Preventative – Use “preventive.”
  4. Irregardless – Use “regardless.”
  5. Conversate – Use “converse.”

Word Rules – small tidbits you should know & words/phrases you might be using wrong

  1. “I could care less,” conveys that you care more than you could. What you probably mean is “I couldn’t care less.”
  2. Vice versa – Not vice-a versa.
  3. Travesty – Unfortunately people have confused this word (which means a mockery or parody) with the word tragedy. For instance, people will refer to 9/11 as a “travesty” when in fact they mean it was a “tragedy.”
  4. Ultimate – This means the last item on a list – NOT the “best” or “only.” So if your girlfriend says you’re the “ultimate boyfriend,” that doesn’t mean you’re the best boyfriend, it means your her last boyfriend… so unless you’ve got a ring handy, I’d run.
  5. Peruse – I’m guilty of this one… To peruse means to examine closely, not skim over. WHY. DID. I. NEVER. KNOW. THIS????
  6. You do something “by accident” not “on accident.”
  7. “Could of”– What you really mean is “could have.”
  8. “One in the same” – If you’re meaning to convey that two things are essentially the same thing, you’d want to go with “one and the same.”
  9. i.e. = “In other words” not “for example.”

Delete these – press “control + f” and delete as many of these words from your writing as you can (make sure it still makes sense obviously).

  • That
  • Literally
  • Just
  • Completely
  • End
  • Really
  • Then
  • Start
  • Basically
  • Very
  • Totally
  • Begin
  • “One of”
  • Some
  • Thing

Semi Colons – there’s honestly nothing worse, but let’s learn anyway.

When to use one:

  1. When joining two independent clauses that are closely related. (An independent clause is a group of words that could stand on their own if they needed to.) Example: Some people like to run; others would rather practice yoga.
  2. When joining two independent clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases. Example: However they choose to workout, people are allowed to make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their exercise methods.
  3. Between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas. Example: I really like beef, with mushroom sauce; pasta, with Alfredo sauce; and salad, with Italian dressing.
  4. Between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if the clauses are already punctuated with commas or if the clauses are lengthy. Example: Some people write with a word processor, tablet, or a even a phone; but others, for different reasons, choose to write with a pen or pencil.

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If you learn these basics rules/tips, you’ll be writing like a pro and working your way up the corporate ladder in no time. If that’s your thing. And if not, you’ll just sound a lot smarter to all of your Facebook friends.

That’s probably enough learning for the day, huh? Agreed. If you want to learn more, here are a few of my favorite resources:

Grammar Book

Grammar Girl 

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