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Principal and principle

Principal and principle sound the same, yet they have different meanings.


As an adjective, principal means the most important.
What’s the principal theme of the book?
Principal is also a noun, meaning leading person.
He is now principal of the school.

Oven in an industry with cement as its principal product
The principal product is cement

Principal can also refer to a sum of money on which interest is paid.
During the first years most of your payments go towards interest rather than principal.


A principle is a rule or guideline.
The principle of subsidiarity and the principle of proportionality govern the exercise of the EU’s competences.
Einstein formulated the principle of general covariance.
I’ve always seen him as a man of principle.
”Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well I have others.” (Groucho Marx)

Than or then?

Than and then are often confused.


The weather is much nicer today than yesterday

Than is used mainly to introduce the second part of a comparison.
The weather is much nicer today than yesterday.
I’d rather go for a walk than sit in the garden.
Isn’t she taller than her brother?

But what about She is taller than he and She is taller than him?

Nowadays many linguists agree that than is both a conjunction and a preposition. As a conjunction it introduces a new clause, often only implied – She is taller than he [is], and as a preposition it is followed by the object form – She is taller than him.

However, we cannot always ignore the difference between the conjunction and the preposition. She likes my cousin better than I (with than as a conjunction) does not convey the same meaning as She likes my cousin better than me (with than as a preposition). The first sentence means She likes my cousin better than I like my cousin, whereas the second one means She likes my cousin better than she likes me.

As your copyeditor I would recommend that you use than as a conjunction (with the subject form) in formal writing such as a doctoral thesis or a paper for a scientific journal.

Than is also used with some adverbial expressions such as hardly, no sooner, scarcely.

No sooner had we settled down on the beach than a heavy rain started to fall. (Notice that the verb comes before the subject of the verb.)


Then refers to a point in time, either in the past or in the future.

He studied in Paris then.
By then, they had married and were expecting their first child.
We worked out at the gym and then we took a long swim.
First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin (Song by Leonard Cohen)
The door closes automatically at 10 p.m., so you must be back before then.
The then President Obama gave a passionate speech.

Supplement and complement – and compliment

Supplement and complement are used as nouns and verbs. The adjectives are supplementary and complementary.


Supplement as a verb means add to, increase.
She supplemented her salary by freelancing as a journalist.
The lecturer gave her students a handout to supplement the textbook.

It is also used as a noun.
After a few years the author felt that he had to write a supplement to his book.
Have you read the Sunday supplement? (Here supplement means an additional section of a newspaper.)
Many athletes use herbal supplements.


Complement means complete, harmonise with, bring to perfection.
That tie really complements your suit.
Red wine and cheese complement each other.
Watching them together on the track through the forest I saw how well they complemented each other.

The lemon taste complemented the drink

In mathematics, angles are complementary if they add up to 90 degrees and supplementary if they equal 180 degrees.


Compliment as a verb means to praise, to express appreciation or admiration.
He complimented her on her new dress.

It is also used as a noun.
Every time someone calls me a nerd, I take it as a compliment.
The dinner was excellent. Give my compliments to the chef!

It’s or its?

Writers are sometimes not sure about when to write it’s or its.

An apostrophe means that a letter has been left out (sometimes more than one letter).
It’s is the abbreviated form of it is (or sometimes it has).

It’s hard to believe that he is 14 years old (It is hard to believe…).
The book is very thick, but it’s really interesting (it is really interesting).
It’s been a long day (It has been a long day).
It’s got to be true (It has got to be true).

Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it.

Stockholm is known for its many islands.
The cat was licking its paw.

The cat was licking its paw

The simple rule is this: If you can say it is or it has, then the form with an apostrophe, it’s, is correct.

It’s frightening when the bear opens its massive jaws

The abbreviated form it’s should not be used in formal language – there you should write it is.

What is true about it’s and its also applies to you’re and your, they’re and their or who’s and whose.

Structure your text

As a non-native writer of English you are naturally influenced by your own language and culture. When you write in English for an academic or scientific journal, you should bear in mind the Anglo-American style. It is especially important how you structure your text.

The text should have a clear structure with a linear presentation of the main idea and sub-ideas. Scientific journal articles are usually structured according to what is abbreviated as IMRAD, referring to Introduction, Material and Methods, Results and Discussion. To facilitate understanding, each paragraph deals with one issue, and a set of paragraphs form a logical unit.

Sentences, too, must be clearly structured. The subject comes before the verb, and adverbs and adverb phrases begin or end a sentence.

Writers from other cultures may be used to a different way of expanding on an idea; they may deviate from the topic, giving further examples and explanations, often in complicated sentences.

In some languages, adverb phrases can be inserted in the middle of a sentence, often breaking up verb forms or a verb and its object. This is not done in English, where the adverb phrase instead is put at the beginning or the end of the sentence.

Don’t write:
The company has in Sweden 600 employees.
Write instead:
In Sweden the company has 600 employees.
The company has 600 employees in Sweden.

Don’t write:
The technology is by some manufacturers expected to be dominant on the market within five years.
Write instead:
Some manufacturers expect the technology to be dominant on the market within five years.
This example also shows that it is better to change passive voice to active.

Some other Latin abbreviations in English

There are many abbreviations of Latin words in English, but most of the words behind those abbreviations are not used in English in their full form.

The following are some Latin abbreviations used in English:

a.m.ante meridiembefore noon
cf.confer(bring together) compare
c.p.caeteris paribusother things being equal
e.g.exempli gratiafor example
et alia, et aliae, et aliiand others caeteraand so on
f., ff.folium, foliapage(s)
i.a.inter aliaamong other things
ibid.ibidemin the same place estthat is
lb.librapound (weight)
nem.con.nemine contradicenteno one dissenting
op.cit.opera citatothe work cited
p.a.per annumper year meridiemafter noon
p.p.per procurationemthrough the agency of
q.v.quod videtwhich see
rein rein the matter of
sicsic erat scriptumthus it was written
vs. (in legal text v.)versusagainst
viz.videlicetnamely, that is to say

You can use sic to indicate a mistake in a cited text to show that the mistake was in the original text and is not yours. It is usually put inside square brackets: [sic]

The following are capitalised:

ADanno Dominiin the year of the Lord
C.V.curriculum vitaecourse of life
M.O.modus operandimethod of operating
N.B.nota benenote well scriptumafter what has been written

Even if Latin words often are italicised in English text, you should write their abbreviations in normal font.

Read more about e.g. and i.e. and about et al.

No, no, these are not Latin abbreviations!

What is the correct way of writing et al.?

The Latin abbreviation et al. is short for et alia (et aliae, et alii), meaning and others (alia is masculine plural, aliae is feminine plural and alii neuter plural).

When referring to literature, the abbreviation is used to replace author or editor names when there are more than two (in some cases more than three) authors or editors:

Simon et al. (2000) showed the importance of R&D for production.
This has been pointed out in previous research (e.g., Eriksson et al., 2016; Palm et al., 2016; Platts et al., 1996).

Make sure you put the full stop in the right place! The word et is not abbreviated but alia is, so the full stop must be after al.

When you write et al., the verb must of course have its plural form:
Simon et al. (2000) have pointed out that …

In the possessive form, et al. is followed by an apostrophe and an s:
Simon et al.’s (2000) contribution to research …

Latin words are sometimes italicised in English text, but abbreviations should not be in italics, unless the publisher requires it.

You will find some common 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…

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!

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.

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