Words: an introduction to using the proper word

know your shit


First off I want to make it known that I am not a professional editor or any kind of English or grammar teacher. That being said, I’ll move into the core of this post.

Recently, I was reading a short story online and came across the use of the word ‘taught’. To me that word means that someone was taught something like tying their shoes or some other skill that they might need in the world. However, in this case, the word was used to describe how someone tightened a rope as in they made the rope taught. Some of you may be thinking that this isn’t an issue but it is. Taught means to be instructed or having received some kind of education. The correct word to use when referring to a rope, string, cable, winch, etc., would be taut. The rope was taut not taught. You can’t teach an inanimate object anything.

While this may seem like I’m whining like a $2.00 whore who got stiffed $1.50, that is not the case. Correct word usage is very important in any written work. If an author writes something like ‘they went to their house’ you, as the reader now know that the house in question is obviously owned by someone in that group, the ‘they’ part of the sentence. But, if the same author states ‘they went to that house over there’ that statement shows no ownership of anyone in the ‘they’ group as its just a house over there not their house.

What I am speaking of is essentially what is taught not taut in basic elementary English classes. This is not some advanced college level English.

One other item that seems to be making a comeback, and this one affects seasoned writers as well as beginners is the correct usage of the word break and brake. To me, this appears to be more of an editorial issue and not so much of the author themselves. Whatever word processing program you’re using, some are more particular then others; it may not catch this problem. What I speak of is the correct usage of the two above named words.

If the sentence read ‘Clyde hit the breaks to stop the truck.’ Some of us will know right away what the problem is. Others will sit and scratch their head in wonderment because they don’t understand what is wrong with the sentence.

Ask yourself this, how could Clyde hit the breaks? What are the breaks? How did he hit them? The problem is that breaks are something you take not something you hit. As in a lunch break, a break from writing, a break from eating, etc. Brakes, those wondrous things that slow and stop a vehicle, are what Clyde most likely hit. Do we see the difference now? Words that sound the same, are spelled differently, and mean something different. There, they’re and their, all mean something different yet are sometimes tossed into a sentence and used incorrectly. Breaks and brakes, sound the same, spelled differently and definitely mean something different.

What this means is that when using a word processing program, some will not catch these errors. That means that you may need to adjust the settings to prevent this issue from happening. Errors happen all the time, that’s why it’s always best to proofread your work or let someone else proofread it to catch the errors. Don’t be like one author in particular, who I won’t name, that insists that her work is “perfect” when she types it and therefore needs no editorial review.

Yeah, a real winner right there. All I can say is thankfully, I don’t have an interest in young, paranormal romance books as that author writes in that genre.




2 thoughts on “Words: an introduction to using the proper word

  1. Well stated! The proper word can make all the difference in a reader’s perception of the story and their opinion of the author. I also appreciate that you pointed out the flaws in modern word processing programs and the horror of auto-correct. The other day I was reading a novel by an author I like and admire for her editorial ability. Yet, at one point the protagonist is assaulted by a rapid dog. Obviously, the correct word here is rabid. I have to wonder if auto-correct inserted rapid in its place, or if the author has a speech impediment?
    It never hurts to have someone read your work prior to publication. Poor grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure could be a deciding factor between a five star review and lesser rating.

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