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.

Examples

discrete

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.

discreet

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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

loan and borrow

A loan (noun) is a sum of money that will be repaid, or permission to use something for a period of time.

“I have applied for a loan. I want to go back to school.”

The phrase “on loan” is an idiomatic expression.

The exhibit is on loan from the museum.

The verb loan is accepted in American English as a substitute for lend:

Can you loan me some money until my next paycheck?

Do not substitute loan for figurative uses of lend, such as:

Can I lend a hand?

Lend me your ears.

lend

The verb lend can be used in several ways:

We are not in a position to lend you money at this time.

The complexity of the subject does not lend itself to summary description.

Recent evidence lends credence to the theory.

Note: The past tense (and past participle) of lend is lent.

“Charles lent me his car while mine was in the shop.”

“I wish to thank my editor, who has lent considerable support and expertise to this project from the outset.”

loan or borrow?

When you wish to borrow something, you seek a loan, and you become the borrower:

Can I borrow your copy?

I borrowed the money for the operation.

When you allow someone to borrow something from you, (i.e., you lend it), you are the lender:

“I lent you money last month.”

Borrowed and loaned are not interchangeable!

Correct:

I borrowed money from the bank.

The bank loaned me money to buy a car.

Incorrect:

My sister borrowed me her coat. X

(My sister lent me her coat. Or: My sister loaned me her coat. )

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

eminent, immanent, imminent

Eminent, immanent, and imminent are all adjectives. (The noun forms are eminence, immanence, and imminence).

With a meaning similar to “inherent,” immanence is often part of philosophical discussions about whether divinity permeates (dwells within) or transcends (is separate from) a Supreme Being’s creations. Eminence is used in some religions (e.g., Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox) when addressing certain members of the clergy.

Something (or someone) eminent stands out (one meaning is to jut out or project); thus, an eminent person stands out from the crowd in some respect. A preeminent (sometimes hyphenated, pre-eminent) person is outstanding and superior to all others.

If something is imminent, it is about to happen (immediately!).

[Immanant is a mathematical term.]

Examples:

eminent

(adjective): The eminent scholar approached the podium.

A team of eminent researchers gathered to discuss the latest findings.

[Note that eminent domain (noun) is a legal doctrine that permits a government to take private property for public use.]

eminence

(noun): He rose to eminence during the Renaissance. (Prominence would also work here)

“Good morning, Your Eminence.”

imminent

(adjective): I was in imminent danger of being discovered and had to act quickly.

Her death is imminent.

immanent

(adjective): Do you believe that God is transcendent to creation or immanent throughout it?

The immanent beauty of nature could not be duplicated.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

evoke and invoke

Writers (and speakers) choose words to evoke a desired response, whether we seek to arouse sympathy or inspire action. The definition of evoke, according to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, is to “call forth or up” (conjure); to “cite especially with approval or for support” (invoke); to “bring to mind or recollection” and to “re-create imaginatively.”

The sight of the ring evoked memories of happier times.

Music evokes strong emotions in some listeners.

Invoke can have a similar meaning (“to make someone feel a particular emotion or see a particular image in their minds”) but is more commonly used when calling upon a rule (such as the Fifth Amendment) or deity for help or support:

The defendant plans to invoke her constitutional privilege to avoid self-incrimination.

The priestess invoked the spirits of the ancestors.

The writer has developed a ritual to invoke his muse.

Invocation refers to the act of asking for help or support, or to the prayer itself:

The meeting opened with an invocation.

The atheist’s invocations influenced the judges.

Invocative and evocative are adjectives. When something is evocative, it evokes (or is likely to evoke) an emotional response:

The photographer is known for his evocative images.

Invocative pertains to invocation. (Invocation is often used in the practice of magical rituals):

As her invocative powers declined, so too did the number of clients seeking her services.

Provoking someone also arouses a response (usually anger or another strong emotion), sometimes intentionally.

He was provoked into action by the taunts and jeers of the group.

Something that is provocative is stimulating or exciting (sexually or otherwise):

Her essay contained some thought-provoking ideas, but her provocative attire caused a stir.

Provocation is an act that incites or stimulates:

Without provocation, the man attacked a pedestrian.

Remember, your words are powerful; they can evoke, invoke, or provoke!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.

affect

(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.)

effect:

(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.

Related:

affected

(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.)

effective

(adjective): The new policy is effective immediately.

His methods are effective.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

immigrate/emigrate

“Immigration” is a hot topic in the news these days. A country’s immigration policy determines who may lawfully enter the country to live and work.

An immigrant is a person who has moved from another country.* (Note that the term does not denote legal status; an immigrant may have entered the country legally or illegally.)

Immigrate is the verb form, describing the action of immigrating.

My grandparents immigrated to the United States before I was born.

Migrate is a related word.

The Pilgrims migrated to North America to establish a new colony.

Migration, however, pertains more to geography than to politics and borders. (A person might migrate to a different region in search of work, for example.)

The miners migrated west in their search for gold.

Migration often refers to seasonal travel or movement.

The annual whale migration has begun.

Not all birds migrate.

A migrant is one who migrates, whether human or animal. Migrant is often used when referring to workers who are not living in a permanent residence during their employment.

Migrant farm workers are also known as migratory agricultural workers.

An emigrant is a person who has left his or her country of residence to settle elsewhere.

His parents emigrated from Germany to avoid persecution.

In short, you are an immigrant to your new country; you are an emigrant from your old country.

Many young men emigrated from the United States to Canada to avoid the draft.

My parents immigrated to the United States after they were married.

I plan to emigrate next year.

I immigrated last year.

 

*Immigrant can refer a person who relocates to a new country or to a plant or animal “that becomes estalished in an area where it was previously unknown.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

elicit and illicit

The words elicit and illicit sound similar, but they mean very different things!

Illicit means forbidden or unlawful; elicit is similar to evoke and means “to draw out.”

elicit

(verb): The announcement elicited cheers from the crowd.

Jack made a funny face, hoping to elicit a smile from Jennifer.

illicit

(adjective): The illicit photographs were removed soon after they were posted on the site.

Her illicit activities led to her downfall.

Licit is a word that means “permissible”; hence, with the addition of the prefix il- the meaning changes to not permissible, as with words such as illegal and illogical.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

premier or premiere?

If you are describing something (i.e., a noun) that is “first in position, rank, or importance,” then the adjective premier is the word you want.

The area’s premier golf club offers members many amenities.

If you are discussing a “first performance or exhibition” (e.g., of a play or motion picture) then the noun premiere is the correct choice.

The show’s Broadway premiere was last night.

In recent decades, the use of premiere as a verb has gained acceptance when used within the context of the entertainment industry.

The star’s new program will premiere this fall.

(Note that the New York Times has not adopted this usage. See The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, 5th ed.)

The noun premier refers to a government official in some countries.

In Australia, the federal government is led by a prime minister; the head of each state’s government is known as the premier.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, premier also means “first in time” (i.e., earliest). Hmm, that’s beginning to sound a bit like a “first showing,” and, indeed, the dictionary says that premiere is an alteration of premier. Further, the “chief actress of a theatrical cast” is a premiere. Doesn’t that seem very similar to “first in position, rank, or importance,” the definition of premier, without the -e? We have to look at the origins of both words to understand the confusion.

Premier was the earlier (French) word (meaning “first”), derived (in the15th century) from the Latin primarius (“of the first rank, chief, principal, excellent”).

The feminine form of premier, première (in French), also meaning “first,” appeared in the 19th century.

English, of course, has developed its own rules—which change over time.

So what are we to make of all that?

Don’t use premiere to refer to a government official.

Don’t use premier as a verb. (Although, when writing in the past tense, the result will be the same):

The show premiered on Broadway last night.

Using premiere (as a noun) to refer to a first showing is clearly correct, as is using premier to refer to something (or someone) that is “first and foremost.”

Just as the verb premiere has become widely used by the entertainment industry, premiere is sometimes used as an adjective by marketers who are advertising something. (“We are a premiere medical spa in Anytown, USA”). That usage may gain acceptance in time. (A recent article in Fortune magazine noted: “Bordeaux, of course, is one of the premiere wine regions in France,” but I frequently find spelling errors in publications.) For the present, premier is the correct spelling of the adjective.

 
 
 
 
 
 

rain/rein/reign

In spoken English, the words rain, rein, and reign all sound alike. Each can be used as a noun or as a verb.

Rain, of course, falls from the sky, just as other objects can rain down. Horses can be reined in or given free rein, as can emotions and people. Rulers reign, and their reign may be characterized by a particular quality or feature; that quality can also be said to reign. (The Reign of Terror occurred during the French Revolution.)

rain

(noun): “The forecast calls for rain this evening.”

The rains came early that year.

(verb) “Don’t rain on my parade!”

Debris from the explosion rained upon the unsuspecting crowd.

rein

(noun): “Grab hold of the reins!”

With free rein to experiment, the team developed innovative designs.

(verb): “Rein in your goons, please.”

Rein your horse as needed.

reign

(noun): During his reign, peace prevailed.

“The reign of tyranny must end!”

(verb): Chaos reigns supreme.

She reigned at a time of great change.

When you understand the differences, you will not only know how to use each word correctly, you might also devise humorous or satirical titles, headlines, or phrases.

The Reign of Error

The queen rains on plans for a palace party.

Is the rain still free?

 
 
 
 
 
 

rap or wrap?

“That’s a wrap!” is what a director says when filming is complete.

You can wrap a gift or wrap yourself in silk; your beloved might have you wrapped around his or her finger. But you don’t get a bad wrap (unless it’s at a sandwich shop)!

gets a bad wrap

Incorrect usage as seen on a website

In addition to referring to a style of music, rap is slang for an accusation of criminal activity:

“I’m not will to take the rap for something I didn’t do.”

(A rap sheet refers to a criminal record.)

A bad rap can refer to any kind of negative charge or reputation.

gets a bad rap

A “bad rap” or “bum rap” is a slang expression used in the US

Rap can also mean a sharp blow:

The judge rapped her gavel to quell the unrest in the courtroom.

“Rap on the door later and we can go for a walk.”

In conclusion:

Doug gets a bad rap for being too wrapped up in his work, but he’s very good at what he does.

 
 
 
 
 
 

sulfur or sulphur?

As an editor, I read about many subjects.

In this editorial, an editor of the journal Nature Chemistry explains the choice to use sulfur, not sulphur, in that publication.

In brief, the naming of chemical elements is determined by an international organization (much as an international group of astronomers decided that Pluto should no longer be classified as a “planet”), so the differences in spelling that are frequently found in the U.S. and the U.K. (e.g., color/colour) are irrelevant.

As the article notes, the chemical element phosphorus (a noun) is often confused with phosphorous, which is the adjective used to refer to something “relating to or containing phosphorus.” (To further confuse things, there is also a “phosphorous acid”!)

I frequently advise people to look up the spelling (and meaning) of words they don’t use often if they have any doubts about correctness. But in this instance, so many reputable publications use “phosphorous” instead of “phosphorus” that a quick search would not reveal the error.

Correct:

phosphorus

sulfur

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

wrack or rack?

These two words have confused enough people over the centuries that they have become somewhat interchangeable.

When referring to a frame that holds and stores things (such as a magazine rack), always use rack. When you are wracked with pain, or you are racking your brain, either use is acceptable. Racking is probably more common, though preferences may vary for North American and British spelling.

As a noun, wrack can mean seaweed and other debris that accumulates on beaches; as a verb, wrack has a similar meaning to wreck.

Commonly used phrase: wrack and ruin

The neighborhood has gone to wrack and ruin since I left.

wrack

We searched the beach wrack for interesting seashells.

Bladder wrack (also bladderwrack) is a good source of iodine.

A careless driver, he wracked his new car within a week of purchasing it.

rack

“I’ll pick up a rack of lamb for the party,” Henrietta told her husband.

“Please place these brochures in the rack on the wall.”

“Rack ’em up!” Jared said as he grabbed a pool cue.

“I’ll rack my brain until I remember that woman’s name!”

The rack was an early instrument of torture used to extract information and confessions.

racking

Driving in a blizzard is a nerve-racking experience.

 
 
 
 
 
 

fictional or fictitious?

Both fictional and fictitious refer to something that is imagined or invented. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, fictitious “implies fabrication and suggests artificiality or contrivance more than deliberate falsification or deception”; an example given is ‘fictitious characters.’ (However, another example given for the same entry is: “She gave a fictitious address on the application.” That seems like ‘deliberate falsification’ to me!) (Fictional, according to Merriam-Webster, is “not real and existing only in the imagination.”)

Either adjective can be used in reference to a work of fiction, and neither necessarily connotes an intention to deceive or defraud. (In contrast, deception is intended when using words such as counterfeit, impostor, and sham.)

A fictitious name is an assumed name you adopt for your business that is different from your personal name. A fictional character is an imaginary person represented in a work of fiction. Fictitious is the broader of the two words. Use fictional when discussing a work of fiction (novel, play, film, story); fictitious can refer to such works, and it can also refer to other fabricated and invented identities.

fictional

The author created a fictional universe as the setting for her novels.

The fictional characters in this classic film are both memorable and endearing.

fictitious

A corporation is a fictitious entity created by law.

The agent uses a fictitious name for undercover activities.

 
 
 
 
 
 

passed and past

These two words are confusing because they sound the same and sometimes the meaning is similar.

Passed is almost always a verb.

Miranda drove past me on the highway. (Drove is the verb)

Miranda passed me on the highway. (Passed is the verb)

past

(adjective): Stanley is past president of the organization.

I’ve been preoccupied these past few months.

(preposition): I’ll meet you at half past five.

Walk past the statue in the center of town and you’ll find the theater on your right.

(noun): In the past, a quorum was sufficient; now, all members must be present.

Ask her about her past.

(adverb): Months went past but no letter came.

I was sitting on the porch when Alan walked past.

passed

(verb): The teacher passed out the exam.

He passed out after the party.

She passed by me without saying a word.

The measure passed without objection.

Joe passed a bad check and was arrested.

Passed can be used as a noun referring to those who have “passed away” (“Say a prayer for the passed”) and as an adjective in games and sports (e.g., a passed ball), but passed is most commonly used as the past tense of the verb to pass.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Is “comprised of” ever correct?

You’ve probably seen sentences that include the words comprised of.

comprised of error

As seen online

Perhaps you’ve used this phrasing yourself. Comprised of is considered incorrect usage by some authorities. Why?

To comprise means to include, consist of, or be made up of:

The whole comprises the parts.

Each agency comprises numerous departments.

The university comprises seven colleges.

To compose means to form the substance of or put together:

We will compose a letter and ask you to review it before we send it.

The planet Jupiter is composed of gases.

The committee is composed of representatives from every state.

Comprised of seems like a confused combination of composed of and comprised. (Notice, too, that of follows “consist (of)” and “made up (of)” above. You can see how the confusion may have arisen.)

However, of does not follow include, which is akin to comprise. You wouldn’t say, “The group includes of six men and four women,” and, clearly, you shouldn’t say “comprises of” either.

So what about switching the earlier sentences around and using comprised of as follows:

The whole is comprised of the parts. ?

Each agency is comprised of numerous departments. ?

The university is comprised of seven colleges. ?

Well, you wouldn’t say “included of,” would you?

The meaning of include is broader than the way we use comprise; include may be used to cover all of the subject’s constituent parts or in reference to some of them:

Attendees included the governor and his wife. (The governor and his wife were not the only people there.)

Two new drugs were among those included in the study. (The two new drugs were not the only drugs studied.)

The property that is for sale includes a three-bedroom house, a barn, and four acres of land. (The listing doesn’t mention a pond, and there may or may not be one on the land.)

Comprised is used to describe the whole or entirety:

The district comprises ten towns. (and no others)

When completed, the structure will comprise three interconnected buildings. (three and only three)

The task force will comprise delegates from all five regions. (In other words, representatives from all five regions will be included. The task force is made up of delegates from five regions.)

I belong to the camp that dislikes comprised of. But, languages change and evolve; that which was considered unacceptable yesterday may be fine today or tomorrow.

Objection to the use of comprised of will vary depending upon your field and audience, but if your standard is impeccability, be aware of the disagreement about correctness and adjust accordingly.

My advice is to consider rephrasing when you find yourself wanting to say or write “comprised of.” 


Leigh’s argument consists of assumptions and theories and is devoid of verifiable facts.

 
 
 
 
 
 

mowed or mown?

You’ve just finished mowing the lawn. You come inside and announce to your partner (as you wipe the sweat from your brow), “I mowed the lawn.” Then you see a dog outside, about to do its business—on your property. You open the door and scream,

“Stay away from my freshly mowed grass!”

You scratch your head and wonder if you should have said, “Get off my freshly mown grass.”

In this scenario, either mowed or mown is correct. (You would not, however, say, “I mown the lawn.” Mowed is the past tense of the verb to mow.)

The lyrics of the 1966 hit song “Daydream,” written by John Sebastian (of The Lovin’ Spoonful), include the following:

“I’m blowin’ the day to take a walk in the sun
And fall on my face on somebody’s new mowed lawn”

Although “newly” mowed would be the grammatically correct phrasing, as I discussed in a previous post, stylistic choices often favor deviating from rulebooks. That extra syllable would throw off the meter (metre), and newly “mown” might be harder to sing. Or maybe John Sebastian just liked the sound of “new mowed” (or likes breaking the rules!).

The choices you make as a writer create an effect; whether that effect is deemed artful or clumsy will depend on a variety of factors, including the expectations and preferences of your intended audience. When you know what the rules are, you can consciously choose to break, bend, or ignore them; the danger lies in unwittingly creating errors.

If your editing skills are limited, find a proofreader or editor, or ask a trusted friend who is a careful reader to review important projects before you finalize and submit them.