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Can You Distinguish What’s Distinct?

So many words in the English language sound similar, so we often think they mean the same thing. Such is the case with the words distinct and distinctive. Seems as if they should be interchangeable, right?

Distinct means “well defined, discernibly separate:

  • She has distinct speech—you can’t miss her.

Distinctive means “serving to distinguish, set off by appearance:

  • His distinctive pink bowtie made him stand out in the crowd.

Distinct speech is well pronounced, but distinctive speech has characteristics that may help you guess where a person is from.

Sometimes writers confuse distinctive with distinguished, such as in “he spoke to a distinctive group of authors.” Distinguished means “notable” or “famous.”

  • The man with his distinctive accent and distinct manner of speaking appeared quite distinguished.

There’s a distinct possibility you might forget this lesson, but I hope it was distinctive enough for you to take it to heart.

Denizens and Their Labels

What do you call someone who hails from Delaware or Detroit? Are there really official terms for these things?

Although you may never come across this quandary (or care), it is interesting to note that “authorities” come up with these terms, and sometimes disagree.

If you come from Columbus, Ohio, you would be called a Columbusite (really!), but if you are from Columbus, Mississippi, you would be labeled a Columbian. Apparently those from the local communities know what’s proper and what’s not. I would have never guessed that right on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Continue Reading…

A Couple of Things You Should Know

Traditionally, the word couple has been used as a noun meaning “two things.” As a noun, it requires the use of the preposition of to link it to another noun:

  • I only have a couple of dollars.
  • It will take a couple of hours to get this done.

Sometimes writers forget that little preposition, and use couple as an adjective, such as in “I tried a couple times to reach her.”

Bryan Garner, in his American usage book, says, “Using couple as an adjective directly before the noun is unidiomatic and awkward.” Even though many people leave out of, it’s not something a writer should do unless it’s deliberate and in character in fiction. Continue Reading…

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