Some Incorrect Constructions to Avoid

Here are some phrases or sentence constructions I come across often in my editing. Although they’re common, it’s good to pay attention to these expressions and make sure they make sense. We should strive to make sense in our writing, right?

  • “I don’t know whether I should go to the movies.” Whether or what?
  • “He took a different way home.” Different from what?
  • “It’s a quality paper.” What kind of quality? Bad or good?

When using a word that calls for comparing one thing to another, you need to make clear what those two things are. Here’s another common expression: “I could care less.” What in the world does that mean? Nothing, really. The correct expression is “I couldn’t care less.” Which means you care very little about something. That’s an expression that makes a point. But it’s also a cliche, and you want to avoid cliches unless it fits in with a character’s personality and POV. But maybe you couldn’t care less.

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One Comment

  1. First, may I say that I really appreciate your posts. They frequently address issues that really annoy me in my dual roles of Voracious Reader and English Teacher’s Daughter. Today, you are quite correct on all four counts. However, language changes and grows and its food is common usage. My thinking is that the use of “whether” without the “or not” has become sufficiently common that “or not” is implied and understood. Ditto with taking a way home different (from his usual way home). A “quality” anything is commonly understood to be high quality. If it isn’t, that fact is stated, usually with relish. As to your last one, I COULD, in fact, care less. Meaning that I DO care, and I’m glad you brought it up. Once again, however, this phrasing is in common usage, and the meaning is usually very clear when someone says it – when the emphasis is placed not on “could” but on “less.” Living language is such a slippery customer.

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