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Both and Only Are Four-Letter Words

Not those kind of four-letter words. But in the same way you might ask yourself whether those four-letter words are necessary in your prose, you will want to check your use of these words: both and only.

Wait, you’re thinking, isn’t both the kind of word you need to make your writing clear? It can be. But there are also times it can create just enough confusion to make a reader stumble. And that’s something you want to avoid.

Consider this sentence:

  • The administration notified both teachers and parents of the pending budget dilemma.

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Are You Irritated or Aggravated?

Does it irritate you when people use aggravate when they mean annoy? Or are you just confused about the correct use of these two words?

Aggravate comes from Latin, and if you look carefully you’ll see its root—grave. The original meaning was to make heavy or increase the burden. Over the years the meaning and usage morphed into meaning “to make worse or more serious,” or “to intensify.”

  • The spicy chili aggravated Malcolm’s colitis.

But aggravate can also mean annoy or exasperate—synonyms for irritate. In fact, that meaning came into use about the same time as the previous meaning. Continue Reading…

Don’t Abuse the Dot-Dot-Dots

Writers often succumb to dot abuse. Well, I’ve heard some people call ellipses “dots.” I’m not talking about the candy here. These are very useful bits of punctuation that every writer will need to use sometime. But these three little dots get tossed around too much and are used where they shouldn’t.

The ellipsis consists of three evenly spaced dots (periods) with spaces between the ellipsis and surrounding letters or other marks. The only time you don’t leave a space between an ellipsis “dot” and a surrounding mark is when it falls next to a quotation mark:

  • “. . . I . . . I can’t breathe . . .”

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