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A Matter of One Little Letter

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Ever heard of a homophone? No, it’s not that antique thing your grandparents played music on. Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently (and hence have different meanings). Writers know how even one letter can radically change the meaning of a word, and as a result might change the entire meaning of a sentence or story. We deal with homophones all the time, for many of our English words sound alike. And perhaps because of the identical way they sound, writers can trip up and use the wrong word. Then again, some writers just might not realize they are spelling their desired word wrong.

I often see there, they’re, and their mixed up. That’s fairly common. I shouldn’t need to explain what each means. One pair of words I also see confused are led and lead. Since the word lead can, in one application, be pronounced the same as led, many writers write lines like this:

  • He lead the dog home.
  • I lead a group on the field trip yesterday.

Another two words often confused are born and borne. Born has to do with birth, and borne means carried, or can be used to mean impressed. For example:

  • I was born yesterday.
  • I was borne by a tornado and deposited in a tree.
  • It was borne upon them to vote quickly.
  • He is a born optimist.

Then we have apprise and appraise. Simply put,  apprise means to inform and appraise means to assess the value of.

Here are just a few more to ponder:

  • Aid [meaning help] and aide [someone who assists or helps]
  • Lightening [making something lighter] and lightning [that streak in the sky]
  • Lose [as in lost] and loose [the opposite of tight]
Although these have a two-letter difference, taut and taught are worth noting since I also see them frequently confused. If something is tied tight, it is taut.
I hope I’ve taught you well.

 

Everyday Confusion . . . Every Day

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Let’s take a look at some words that can either be one word or broken in two. Since the meanings are usually quite different, it’s important to take a closer look at these everyday words. Like everyday.

This word, for example, is an adjective. If you noticed, I used it in an earlier sentence, and you may recall learning in school (way back when) that adjectives “describe a noun.” So you would use everyday when describing everyday things. It’s an everyday occurrence. These are everyday habits. Now, the word every is also an adjective, so how do you know when you need to break that word apart and use two words: every day?

The key is the word day. Day is a noun, so when you are talking about days and describing them (unless you are calling one “an everyday day”), you want to use two words. For example:

  • Every day I walk the same street to work.
  • I’m going every day to the market to get fresh fruit.
  • I am counting every day until you arrive.

So now, think about the words anyone and any one. The same basic principle applies. Use anyone (pronoun) when you mean any person. Any is an adjective (unless you are using it as an adverb, as in “this doesn’t help any”). So you would write:

  • I could eat any one of those cookies.
  • Any one of my friends might show up first.
  • I think any one of those ten ideas would work.

But you would write:

  • Is anyone home?
  • Can anyone tell me where to go?
  • I don’t think anyone cares.

I don’t know if anyone cares about any one of my examples, but I’m going to keep coming up with everyday examples every day!

Being Forward about Forewords

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It really shouldn’t be too hard to keep these words straight, but I see them misspelled all the time. Many writers put a “forward” in their book. And at the end, they have an “afterward.” Yes, they might be acting a bit forward when they introduce their story, and maybe afterward, they have something to say. But afterward is an adverb (it modifies a verb), and forward can be either an adverb or an adjective–and even a verb. Okay, there is a noun form of forward, as you football players might be wont to point out. But the key to this mystery is tied up in four little letters, which form the word word.

What does fore mean (and I don’t mean what you yell out when you hit the golf ball)? It basically means “before.” So if you are going to put a bunch of words before the body of your book, those will be forewords. Hence, the correct term foreword. Do I really need to go through this explanation for afterword? I think not.

Well, then, is there a difference between foreword/afterword and prologue/epilogue? Good question (and you can spell those last two words without the “ue” as a variation–same with dialog). Usually a foreword is written by someone other than the author of the book. Or it might be better to say that if someone else writes an introduction or commentary at the front of a book, it would not be called a prologue. A foreword is usually prefatory comments. A prologue, in contrast,  is often assumed to be material related and connected to the rest of the book, not something ancillary. Same goes for the afterword and epilogue.

A note about epilogues in novels: I see many final chapters called epilogues, which are really just the last chapters of a novel wrapping up the story. An epilogue basically summarizes and reflects on the story as a whole. It isn’t the “ending” of the novel’s plot. A true epilogue will feel different from the rest of the novel, and may be presented as if years later, with a character reflecting back on the whole story or telling how things turned out for all the players. The kind of thing we see often in plays, where a character sums everything up (think The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends. Amen.

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