Everything English

Writing and Grammar Tips (beta)


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Category : Common Mistakes

For the Sake of Consistency

Some “rules” of writing are up for debate. Indeed, certain elements are actually not hard and fast rules; rather, they are open for interpretation and choice. For example, the hotly debated “serial comma” (i.e., the comma following the “and” in a series of items) may cause grammarians considerable consternation, but in the end, the writer can choose whether to include the serial comma or not. Another example is the block or indented formatting for paragraphs. Should each new paragraph be indented, say five spaces? Or should each paragraph appear flush with the left margin and a line space included between the two paragraphs? In essence, that is up to the writer. Either is acceptable.

However, one thing remains unacceptable, i.e., inconsistency. Once you make a choice on a writing style, you should consistently use that style. If you use the serial comma once, you should use it in all appropriate situations. If you use the block format at the beginning of your document, you should use it throughout.

Another area where consistency is sometimes lacking is the choice of adhering to British writing styles and spelling conventions versus American writing styles and spelling conventions. Either is acceptable, but you must choose one and stick with it throughout your document. The use of acronyms is another example. If you choose to use an acronym, you should use in for every reference of that term throughout the document after you define the acronym in question.

Overall, consistency is quite important in the written text. Be sure that you follow the same stylistic and formatting choices that you make at the beginning of the text, including the ways in which you format headings and subheadings. This will ease the flow of your text and minimize confusion for your reader.

American vs. British English

When editing, I often notice clients switching between American and British spellings. Below, a review of some common differences between American English (AmE) and British English (BrE):

Words ending in “or” (AmE) vs. “our” (BrE)

  • Labor, labour
  • Favor, favour
  • Behavior, behaviour

Words ending in “ce” (AmE) vs. “se” (BrE)

  • Offense, offence
  • License, licence
  • Practice (verb), practise

Words ending in “ise” (AmE) vs. “ize” (BrE)

  • Emphasize, emphasise
  • Criticize, criticise
  • Categorize, categorise
  • Realize, realise

Words ending in “er” (AmE) vs. “re” (BrE)

  • Center, centre
  • Liter, litre
  • Theater, theatre

Words ending in “og” (AmE) vs. “ogue” (BrE)

  • Dialog, dialogue
  • Catalog, catalogue
  • Analog, analogue

Single “l” (AmE) vs. double “ll” (BrE)

  • Traveling, travelling
  • Counseling, counselling
  • Parceling, parcelling

Verbs ending in “ed” (AmE) vs. “t” (BrE)

  • Learned, learnt
  • Burned, burnt
  • Dreamed, dreamt

Words ending in “yze” (AmE) vs. “yse” (BrE)

  • Analyze, analyse
  • Catalyze, catalyse
  • Paralyze, paralyse

Make sure you’re consistent!

Hows and Whys of “Whether”

Whether is a conjunction used to introduce two alternatives, one of which may be implied, as in:

  • Whether we go out or dine in, we are sure to have a pleasant evening.
  • Regardless of whether she likes it, she will have to read it.
  • I wonder whether it will rain today.

Sometimes, “whether” is followed by “or not” – but not always (often, “or not” is redundant, as the possibility of “or not” is implied). A few examples of when “or not” is necessary:

  • Whether or not he meets with his professor, he will have to present on Monday.
  • The conference will be held tomorrow, whether or not the room is prepared.

Note that these sentences could be written as:

  • Whether he meets with his professor or not, he will have to present on Monday.
  • The conference will be held tomorrow, whether the room is prepared or not.

In general, and as noted in an excellent New York Times article on the topic of “whether”, “or not” is needed when “whether” is meant to imply “regardless of whether”.