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January 28, 2007



Less and fewer.

Stan Hansen

My respect for words just went up 100 percentage points. :)

Chris Goldrick

A semi-related question: Why is it "an" historic event?


I'm with you on the affect/effect... going to make a post it note now!

Danny Cohn

What is proper to flesh out a idea or flush it?

Kim Guenther

Hung vs. hanged. As my 7th grade history teacher abrasively reminded us, "pictures get hung, people get hanged."


My memory trick for affect/effect -- "effect" is a rEsult, while "affect" is an Act.

My pet peeve -- using "presently" to mean "currently." It really means SOON.

Kay Mathew

which and that

Dan Santow

Pault, Danny, Kay, (Danny Kay!) and Lee (whose comment somehow materialized under a different posting), here are the differences between the words you asked about:

Imagine “by the way” following every “which.” "The 2008 campaign season, which [by the way] started too early, will be over Nov. 4, 2008." The “which” phrase adds a useful, but not necessary, piece of information. So, if “by the way” makes sense, use “which.” Also, if the phrase needs a comma, you probably want to use “which.” Here’ s a poetic reminder from Patricia T. O’Conner, former New York Times Book Review editor: “Commas, which cut out the fat, go with which, never with that!”

To compliment is to praise or admire; to complement is to round out or bring to completion. “She complimented her son on his athletic prowess and hoped it would complement his application to Dartmouth.”

If you can actually count it, use “fewer,” as in “there are fewer eggs today than yesterday.” But if something is uncountable, like time, boredom, or love, use “less,” as in “it took less time to get home,” “I was less bored than usual,” and “I love you less than ever!”

I have an English Springer Spaniel (named Bailey), a gundog whose traditional job is to flush out game from hiding – in other words, to chase from its hiding place. To flesh out (or add details to) what I mean, a well-trained Springer (in other words, not Bailey) would know to move in a zigzag pattern in front of the hunter seeking game birds.

Mike Keliher

I'm sure you'll find plenty of people bickering about this, but "an historic" is incorrect - it should be "a historic."

"An" is used when the following H word starts with vowel sound, like "hour" - "an hour." The word "historic" doesn't start with a vowel sound.

More info/support: http://tinyurl.com/2dpwv9

Dan Santow

Mike, you and a few others commented on my use of the word “an” before the word “historic,” suggesting the word “a” should precede it because the word starts with an H sound. I think this is one of those times where the rules are a bit loosy goosy, because there’s another way to look at it, and it’s based on where in a word its stress falls – use “an” before an H-word that starts with an unstressed syllable. So we’d write “an hisTORic moment,” but “a HIStory book.” To my ear, “an historic moment” just sounds right. But then again, I thought I sounded pretty good playing Friedrich in my eighth grade production of “The Sound of Music,” and nobody else did. So there’s evidence my ear can’t be trusted.


Point #2 - I remember this rule due to the movie "Finding Forrester." One of my favorites.


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The Muscleman


How about proscribed vs. prescribed? I saw a Haggadah once that talked about God's prescribed activities for the Israelites, like worshipping idols. No wonder they got into trouble ...

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Why "Word Wise"?

  • When I started to e-mail out a weekly writing tip to my Chicago colleagues at Edelman in 2002, little did I know how quickly how many people outside my office would start to request it. But word spread, as word is wont to do, and in 2006 the e-mail evolved into this blog. The tips, which are about grammar, usage and style, have a dual purpose – to remind my colleagues in PR of the power of the written word and, more generally, to support and perpetuate clear, concise, creative, honest, lively, stylish, compelling writing everywhere. In 2009 I started to add commentary about and links to stories and other blog posts related to the media, marketing, writing and, sometimes, just interesting stuff. For some reason, I also started Twittering (at SantowDan).