Tag Archives: editing

The correct use of bring and brought

I have noted before that songwriters sometimes choose words they like the sound of, even if their usage is not grammatically correct. (Fans usually forgive them!) Neil Diamond’s 1972 song “Play Me” is another example in this category:

“Song she sang to me,
Song she brang to me”

(You can see from the next two lines why the songwriter wanted to maintain the rhyme here:)

“Words that rang in me
Rhyme that sprang from me”

Why is brang objectionable? The past tense of the verb to bring (“I’ll bring the wine when I come for dinner next week.”) is brought:

Thinking of him brought a smile to my face.

She brought me the perfect gift.

Perhaps the confusion arises, in part, because ring, rang, and rung are the correct forms of the verb to ring.

“Ring the bell and I’ll come out.”

I rang the bell, but no one answered.

I regretted it immediately. I had rung that bell one time too many.

People don’t always use proper English when they converse, and written dialogue mirrors the way people talk. Poets and songwriters can be forgiven for fudging a bit when attempting to find the right word that rhymes or fits the cadence of their work. Writers are free to express themselves in whatever ways they choose; incorrect usage, when effective, won’t prevent a song (or poem or novel) from becoming popular. Consider:

“Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers)

“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” (The Police, lyrics by Sting) (“Everything she do just turns me on”)

Of course, some forced rhymes come off sounding ridiculous (to my ear):

“When you cheated girl, my heart bleeded* girl” (“What Goes Around… Comes Around,” Justin Timberlake)

(I don’t think I’d have appreciated the song as a tween, either.)

Tip: Brang and brung are not standard English words; do not use them in formal writing or as a substitute for bring. If you use them at all (e.g., if they reflect the dialect of the region your character is from), use them for the past and past participle forms of to bring.

“He brang it to my house.” (“He brought it to my house.”)

“I weren’t brung up that way.” (I wasn’t brought up that way.”)

“I brung ya yer lunch.” (“I brought you your lunch.”)

“I’da brung ye some bread if I’d know’d ye wuz out.” (“I would have brought you some bread if I’d known you were out.”)

*And in case you’re wondering, the past tense of bleed is bled: She bled all over the table.

Are you content or contented?

Content is one of those words that can be pronounced in two different ways, depending on the meaning.

Content (pron. CON-tent), meaning “the things that are held, included, or provided” (as in “The wine’s alcohol content is listed on the label”), is often used in the plural:

The table of contents is part of the book’s front matter.

The contents of this blog are suitable for minors.

Content (pron. kən-TENT), meaning “satisfied,” can be used as a noun (“After I leave, you can sleep to your heart’s content!”), an adjective (“I’m content here.”), or a verb (“The show was sold out, so we had to content ourselves with a trip to the planetarium.”).

Contented is an adjective (meaning “satisfied,” as above, or “feeling or expressing satisfaction”):

“They don’t have chocolate ice cream. You will have to be contented with vanilla.”

Contentment is the state of being contented.

So when would you use content, and when would you use contented?

The words are synonymous, but according to Bryan A. Garner,* content is more common as a predicate adjective (“I am content just sitting here.”) and the adjective contented commonly precedes a noun (“The contented puppy fell asleep.”).

Adverb forms are contently and contentedly:

He lived contentedly among the natives.

The sheep were contently grazing in the pasture.


* Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2009).


discrete or discreet?

Discrete and discreet are both adjectives. The pronunciation is the same, and the spelling is similar, so they are easily confused.

Discrete means distinct and separate, whereas discreet means “intentionally unobtrusive” and inconspicuous or careful and circumspect (in speech or behavior).

Synonyms include subdued and understated for the first meaning of discreet and prudent for the second.



Discrete segments of the population have been identified as part of the study’s methodology.

The chronon has been proposed as a discrete and indivisible unit of time.


The discreet lighting and cozy furnishings helped me relax as I braced myself for a difficult conversation.

The discreet packaging gives no indication of the contents.

These different meanings are also reflected in the adverbs discretely and discreetly.

Time can be measured discretely or continuously.

John asked Chris a series of personal questions, knowing that a camera was discreetly recording their interaction.

They’d been meeting discreetly for over a year before I learned about their relationship.



shined or shone?

The verb* to shine can mean:

♦ to emit or reflect light (The sun is shining.)

♦ to be eminent, conspicuous, or distinguished (When she’s onstage, she really shines.)

♦ to be evident or clear (The truth will shine through.)

In the above examples, shine is used as an intransitive verb (v.i.); the verb does not have a direct object. Shine can also be a transitive verb (v.t.), meaning:

♦ to light or direct a light (“Shine that light over here, would ya?”)

♦ to make bright by polishing (“Please iron my shirts and shine my shoes.”)

In these instances, “something” (the object) is being shined (light; shoes).

Or should that be shone?

Shined and shone are sometimes used interchangeably (i.e., neither is incorrect), especially when used as an intransitive verb (and especially in the U.S.):

The light shone in the distance.

The light shined in the distance.

Most commonly, shone is preferred as the past tense (and past participle) of the intransitive verb shine when referring to something that is luminous.

The moon shone brightly.

Multitalented, Mark shone in many different capacities.

The flashlight shone when Sue turned it on.

Shined is used when polishing or shining an object (transitive verb).

He has shined a light on corruption within the agency.

Sue shined the flashlight on the intruder.

I shined my shoes until they shone.

Usage outside of the United States may differ.

*Shine can also be a noun. (“Would you like a shine, mister?”)

anytime or any time?

Languages evolve. New words and expressions gain acceptance; hyphens get added and then dropped as two words merge into one. (Search online for “step-daughter” and you will find two words (step daughter), a hyphenated version (step-daughter), and one word (stepdaughter).)

Which version you choose depends, in part, upon where you live, what you are writing, and where your writing will be published. If you are writing a blog post and you live in the United States, your readers probably won’t think twice about stepdaughter or step-daughter, and they’ll understand “step daughter” (though I’d advise against that choice). If you are submitting your work, follow the preferences of your editor or publisher on style matters, especially if the work will be published in different markets (e.g., North America or United Kingdom).

Two-word compounds tend to get hyphenated before they get merged, so if the unhyphenated version has made its way into a reputable dictionary (e.g., stepdaughter), then that is likely the most up-to-date choice, with step-daughter an acceptable variant. (Wellbeing, as one word, has not yet become standard in North America; the preferred form is well-being. Back seat, when used as an adjective, may be either hyphenated or merged: “Don’t be a backseat driver.”)

One word or two, back seat and backseat have the same meaning. Hyphenated or not, step-daughter and stepdaughter refer to the same person. In other instances, however, the meaning changes when two words are merged into one. Consider some time and sometime:

“I need some time to figure out what I want to write about.” (Here, “some” could easily be omitted; it could also be replaced with “more”: “I need more time.”)

“I’ll get around to finishing that novel sometime.” (Here, “someday” could be substituted for “sometime.”)

Similarly, “any” time can refer to a quantity or amount of time:

“I haven’t had any time this week to work on my project.”

“I haven’t had anytime this week to work on my project.” X

Anytime, an adverb, is a variation of any time and is often used in casual conversation and correspondence:

“This rain isn’t going to let up anytime soon.”

“Call me anytime, day or night.”

If I were writing an advertising slogan that included anywhere, then anytime might be the better stylistic choice:

Our experts are ready to help you—anytime, anywhere.

Anytime can also be used to mean “whenever”:

“Anytime I see an error, I point it out.” (“Whenever I see an error, I point it out.”)

(I consider this use of anytime informal, too. More accurately, I am saying: “Every time I see an error, I point it out.”)

“Anytime” is sometimes given as a response to “Thank you”:

“Thanks for the lift.”

“Anytime. Glad I could help.”

The two-word form is preferable in formal communications:

“I can see you any time next week, but this week my schedule is full.”

Always use the two-word form following the preposition at.

“If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable, please notify one of the assistants.”

“You can close your account at any time if you are not satisfied with the service.”

Take time to think about your intended meaning and ensure that your words reflect your intentions.

A few examples of the past tense of regular and irregular verbs

In English, the simple past tense of regular verbs usually ends in –ed. Sometimes, –ed is added to the present tense form:

You play the piano very well.

I played basketball in high school.

(Or, if the verb ends in e, then only a –d is required to form the past tense: I like to dance./She danced until dawn.)

Other times, a change in spelling is required:

“Please control yourself!”

“Laura controlled the business until her death.”

“Can you identify the assailant?”

“John identified the problem.”

The rules are different for irregular verbs; in some cases, a –d or a –t is added to the simple present (root or base) form:

“If I can hear it, it’s too loud.”

“I heard the news on the radio.”

“I mean what I say.”

“I meant to send this last week.”

“Just deal the cards!”

“Let me tell you how I dealt with that problem.”

This “t-form” sometimes requires a change in spelling, such as dropping a vowel: feel (felt), creep (crept), keep (kept).

For some verbs, the past tense can be formed with either –t or –ed:

“Don’t leap for joy until the official announcement is made.”

He leaped at the opportunity.

She leapt across the stage.

Burn Jim’s papers, as he requested.”

Sue burned the pan.

“My hand got burnt in the fire.”*

Similarly, the past tense of dream can be formed with –ed or with –t:

“I never dreamed he would take my advice!”

Larry dreamt about the war for years.

“I dreamed about you last night.”

Brian dreamt up a scheme that just might work.

The preferred form of a word sometimes changes over time and varies by region. As a writer, you may prefer the –t form in some contexts and the –ed form in others. Be consistent in your usage throughout the same piece!


* In the U.S., burnt is more commonly used as an adjective:

The priest chanted over the burnt offering.

“I don’t like burnt toast.”


affect and effect

Both affect and effect can be used as nouns or as verbs, though affect is most commonly used as a verb (to act upon or influence). The effect is the result produced.


(verb): Will the drought affect the price of food?

The disorder affected his ability to perform his job.

The loss affected her deeply.

(noun): Blunted affect is often a sign of depression.

(Note that the pronunciation differs when affect refers to an emotional or psychological state.)


(noun): The effect of the drug was immediate.

Many drugs have side effects.

The special effects were spectacular!

The law will go into effect next year.

A tornado watch is in effect until midnight.

(verb): Therapy is designed to effect change.



(adjective): Apply the ointment to the affected area.

Her kindness is sincere, not affected.

(This last use is similar to affectation (noun): Her affectations fooled no one.)


(adjective): The new policy is effective immediately.

His methods are effective.