Your professional help to improve your written English

Month: February 2019 (page 1 of 2)

Use e.g. and i.e. correctly!

These two are abbreviations of Latin words.

e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means for example.
Use e.g. when you want to list one or more examples of something you have mentioned.

Our products are sold in several European countries, e.g. France, Germany, Italy and Greece.

Since you want to give examples, don’t write a complete list.

i.e. stands for id est, which is Latin for that is or in other words.
Use i.e. to clarify or explain something.

I am a linguist, i.e. I study languages.

In writing, e.g. and i.e. are lowercase. There should be a full stop after each letter, and the abbreviations should be preceded by a comma. In American English there should also be a comma after the abbreviation; British English usually does not have this comma. Instead of a comma before the abbreviation you can have a dash.

Latin words are often italicized in English texts, but when abbreviated they should be written in normal font.

The two abbreviations can, of course, be written out in full: for example and that is or that is to say. You should avoid beginning a sentence with an abbreviation.

To sum up, e.g. opens up some possibilities, i.e. narrows them down.

You will find more Latin abbreviations in English here.

Continuous or continual?

Continual and continuous (and the adverbs continually and continuously) come from the verb continue but there is a difference between them.


Continuous means that something is going on without interruption, non-stop.
The continuous humming from the fridge made me crazy. (A continual humming would be worrying: Why does it stop, start again, stop, then start again …?)


Continual implies that something often happens with intervals, comes and goes.
Being a typical teenager she had continual quarrels with her parents about homecoming rules. (Both she and her parents should be happy that the quarrels were not continuous.)

As with many other word pairs you may find that some writers don’t make a distinction between these two words. As a good English writer you know the difference, of course.

It rained continuously for three hours…

Later or latter?

The two words later and latter look similar but there is an important difference that you should know.


Later modifies a verb, which is why we language nerds call it an adverb. It refers to something happening after a certain time.
Let’s go to the cinema and then we can go to the pub later.
Their best known product was introduced much later.

Later is also an adjective; it modifies a noun:
I prefer his later work, especially the large paintings.
Can we discuss this at a later date?

There are a few collocations with later:
Sooner or later they will succeed.
See you later!
Later on in the film, they get married.


Latter usually refers to the second of two persons or things. We can talk about the former and the latter.
I have listened a lot to I’m Your Man and Tower of Song and I must say I prefer the latter.
Would you like red or white wine? – The latter, please.

Latter can also refer to something being nearer the end.
The company went global in the latter part of the 1990s.
The full name of the Mormon Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

See you later!

Mind your p’s and q’s – Accent and apostrophe

Writers sometimes do not distinguish between an accent and an apostrophe.


Acute accent

An accent is a diacritic, a sign added to a letter. When you type a diacritic on the keyboard, the cursor does not move on and so the diacritic is added above (or in other cases below, by the side of or even inside) the letter. Examples of other diacritics are the circumflex ( ^ ), the umlaut ( ¨ ) and the tilde ( ~ ).

(Some Swedish words with diacritics have come into the English language, such as ångström, glögg, smörgåsbord and surströmming.)

English has two two accents, the acute accent ( ´ ) and the grave accent ( ` ).

The acute accent in English is used in loanwords such as apéritif, café, cliché, décor, fiancé and fiancée. In some very rare cases an acute accent is added to a loanword that lacks the accent to show that the last vowel of the word is pronounced: The Italian word latte (milk) is sometimes written latté (or lattè) in English.

The grave accent is rare in English and – like the acute accent – mainly used in foreign words: vis-à-vis, à la carte, ampère, manège, première.

Generally, English writers do not use diacritics even in loanwords – in fact, English keyboards do not have any accent marks. The Swedish words mentioned above are usually written as angstrom, smorgasbord, etc. There are, however, a few words in which the accent marks a difference between an English word and a loanword:

exposé (film or newspaper article revealing shocking facts about somebody) – expose (show, reveal, give experience)

résumé (short text giving the main points) – resume (start doing something again)

rosé (pink wine) – rose (a flower; pink colour)


The apostrophe is a punctuation mark. In English it has several uses:

It marks omission of one or more letters:
Don’t be late (Do not)! I’d prefer a smaller one (I would).

It marks the possessive case:
Have you seen my brother’s car?
There is no apostrophe in his, hers, its, ours, yours and theirs.

In the plural there is no s after the apostrophe:
Have you seen my brothers’ cars?

It marks plurals of single letters
Mind your p’s and q’s (Mind your manners; be careful about what you say or do).

In plurals of abbreviations and acronyms there is usually no apostrophe:
If there are full stops in an abbreviation, you can include the apostrophe for clarity: Ph.D.’s.

Most style guides leave out the apostrophe in the plural form of decades:
They made their first record in the 1960s.
You can write an apostrophe before the decade when it is abbreviated:
Those born in the ’90s.

The apostrophe represents thousand:
30’ (= 30 000)

The apostrophe is also used as a quotation mark. British English prefers single quotation marks, while American English has double quotation marks ( ).

To sum up, you can do very well without the accent in English and only need to worry about the apostrophe. Remember to mind your p’s and q’s; skip the accent and put the apostrophe in the right place!

Lose and loose

Many writers find it difficult to distinguish between lose and loose.

Both words are pronounced with a long -o- as in too or snooze. However, the s is voiced (sounds like z) in lose and voiceless (sounds like s) in loose.


Lose is a verb. It can mean fail to win, misplace, get rid of, no longer have, etc.

The form of the infinitive and the present tense is lose:
”Sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing.” (Tony Blair)
I often lose in chess.

In the past tense and the past participle the form is lost:
They lost a lot of money when they sold their house.
I must have lost my keys somewhere on the beach.

The present participle is losing:
I’m losing my patience with this slow computer.

Losing is also a verbal noun:
Losing is not an alternative.

From the verb lose we have the nouns loser and loss.
He’s a bad loser.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your father.


Loose is an adjective. It can mean not tight or compact, not firmly fixed, free from constraint, vague.
He was wearing a loose shirt.
I’ve got a loose tooth.

A loose dog

Loose is used as a noun in the phrase on the loose:
The prisoner escaped and has been on the loose for two months.

Loose can also be a (rarely used) verb meaning set free, release:
He heard a strange sound and loosed the dog.

You can use the verb loosen to express partially release, relax:
It’s hot in here; I’m going to loosen my tie.

Dictionaries of words, synonyms and collocations – a comparison

We will examine how different types of dictionaries treat the same word.

A monolingual dictionary gives explanations in simple English:

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

You can read more about dictionaries here.

A dictionary of synonyms suggests alternative words:

Collins English Thesaurus

More about dictionaries of synonyms can be found here.

A dictionary of collocations shows how a word can be combined with other words and parts of speech:

Oxford Collocations Dictionary

Read more about dictionaries of collocations here.

Finally, a thesaurus is built on concepts and ideas and will give you lots and lots of closely and more remotely related words and expressions:

Roget’s Thesaurus

A thesaurus gives you ample opportunity to vary your text, but you need to understand nuances in meaning. Under Vb. (Verb) we find neutral phrases such as be in charge and have overall responsibility but also expressions from working life such as take the helm (of a ship), take the chair (lead a meeting) and hold the reins (of a horse). We also find more informal phrases such as wear the trousers, which implies someone who is in control and makes decisions. You would not use that expression in a serious text about the CEO of a company!

Read more about thesauri here.

My top three software resources for writers

At the top of my list of useful resources for writers is Scrivener, which is a text editor and a personal information manager. You can use it to write a novel, a film script, a dissertation, a paper or an article, a blog …

On your computer screen Scrivener has three parts (you can hide the sidebars). To the left is the Binder, which is a list of your chapters or sections. To the right is the Inspector, where you can write a synopsis, make document notes, add links to useful websites, etc. You can also track the status of your manuscript in the Inspector.

The central part is where you write your text when you are in one of the chapters or sections of the binder. The central part can also serve as a corkboard with index cards, one for each section of your text. You can move the cards around by dragging and dropping and so rearrange your text. This means that you have a clear overview all the time and you can add or delete ideas as you wish.

You do not have to worry about forgetting to save your text. Whenever you stop writing, Scrivener saves the latest changes after two seconds of inactivity. You can also back up your text to, for example, iCloud or Dropbox.

Scrivener was created by Keith Blount, originally for Mac but there is also a Windows version. You can get the program here. It costs $45; students and academics pay $38.25. Upgrading from an earlier version is $25. One licence is valid for as many computers in your household as you like.

You can download a free trial version that you can use for 30 separate days – if you use it twice a week, it will last for fifteen weeks.

From Literature and Latte you can also get Scapple, a kind of mind-mapping tool for brainstorming. It is really versatile, and I could write a lot about it, but there is an instructive film on the company’s website, where Keith Blount shows how you can work with it. Scapple is for both Mac and Windows. A standard licence is $14.99; students and academics pay $12. For a free trial the same terms apply as those for Scrivener.

My third recommendation is Evernote. You create notebooks where you can write notes, add a screenshot of something you saw on the internet, store a photo or a voice recording, share content with others, etc. The basic version of Evernote is free; Evernote Premium costs SEK 65/month.

I want to stress that I am in no way affiliated with the above-mentioned firms and I do not get any money or other benefits for recommending these programs. They are my favourite programs; I couldn’t do without them. You should test them – they are really worth trying. You can find instructions and tips on how to use them on the internet.


A dictionary is a list of words and their definitions. A thesaurus (plural thesauri or thesauruses) does not give definitions of words but lists words grouped together according to their meaning.

The first modern thesaurus, published in 1852 by Peter Mark Roget, is still widely used. The book is organised according to ideas or concepts. You first look up a word in the index in the second half of the book, where you will find one or several synonyms for that word, each with a reference number. Under production, for example, in my copy of Roget’s I find the words product, production and dramaturgy. The first two words refer to section 164 and the third to 594 (having to do with drama and ballet). Here you can see a part of section 164 (the numbers before some of the words refer to further sections in the book):

You will notice the richness of expressions here. There are concrete words such as thing, designer and skyscraper and more abstract ones such as attempt, productivity and idea. When you use a thesaurus like this, you need to understand nuances in meaning.

Roget’s Thesaurus is also available online here.

Online you can also find the following:
and others.

The Longman Language Activator is in a way similar to Roget’s; it is based on concepts. However, it is called a production dictionary instead of a thesaurus – it will help writers produce their ideas. Here is a part of the entry on manager:

Often the word thesaurus is used to denote a dictionary of synonyms or any kind of dictionary.

You can see a comparison between different types of dictionaries here.

Dictionaries of collocations

A collocation is a combination of words that is natural to native speakers. In English the combination fast food is natural; *quick food does not sound right. In the same way, we say a quick meal and not *a fast meal.

There are many possible types of collocations, such as noun + verb, verb + noun, verb + adverb, adjective + noun etc.

Some examples:
A broad overview (adjective + noun)
Carefully examine (adverb + verb)
A wedding reception (noun + noun)
The companies merged (noun + verb)
Fully aware (adverb + adjective)
Whisper softly (verb + adverb)

Many collocations are combined with verbs:
We say make a mistake and do business, not *do a mistake and *make business.

Here are some examples of other collocations with verbs:

Take a look, take notes, take a seat
Keep calm, keep in touch, keep a promise
Get ready, get lost, get the message
Come back, come into view, come to a decision
Go swimming, go abroad, go bankrupt
Catch a bus, catch a cold, catch fire
Run a factory, run wild, run up a debt
Set up an agency, set an example, set the table
Launch a product, launch an offensive, launch into an attack
Pay attention, pay tribute, pay a visit
Break the ice, break into tears, break even
Have lunch, have a rest, have a surprise

Some printed dictionaries of collocations:

Cambridge English Collocations in Use
Longman Collocations Dictionary and Thesaurus
LTP Dictionary of Selected Collocations
Macmillan Collocations Dictionary
Oxford Collocations Dictionary
The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English

You can get these from your bookshop or, e.g., Amazon, Bokus or Adlibris.

Online you can find these:

The following is an entry in Oxford Collocations Dictionary. It shows you what adjectives, verbs and nouns go with the word production and gives examples of phrases.

When you are not sure of which words go well together, check a collocations dictionary. It will help you write more accurate English and it will help you vary your language.

You can find a comparison between different types of dictionaries here.

Dictionaries of synonyms

Courtesy of Missoula Public Library

A synonym is a word with the same or almost the same meaning as another word. Occur is a synonym for happen; generally and usually are synonyms and so are big, large and great. An antonym is the opposite of a synonym.

Synonyms are useful for creating variation in a text. Instead of writing nice several times, you can use pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, delightful, charming, etc.

Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms

You must understand that there are nuances; one synonym may have a slightly different meaning than another and there may also be differences in usage. You can read more about this soon in a blog post I intend to write about large, big and great.

Before you decide to use a certain synonym you must be sure (1) that the word you choose has the meaning you intend and (2) that it is used in a correct way.

Examples of printed dictionaries of synonyms are
Collins English Thesaurus
Longman Synonym Dictionary
Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms

You can get them from your bookshop or, e.g., Amazon, Bokus or Adlibris.

The following resources, among others, can be found online:

In Microsoft Word you can right-click a word and choose Synonyms. You can also search on Google. Write synonym followed by a colon and the word you want to find alternatives to.

You can find a comparison of different types of dictionaries here.

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