copyeditor.se

Your professional help to improve your written English

As your copyeditor, I can help you improve your English writing skills.


BELOW THIS TEXT YOU WILL FIND MY BLOG, THE LATEST POST FIRST. YOU CAN ALSO CHOOSE FROM THE LIST ON THE RIGHT OR TYPE A WORD IN THE SEARCH BOX AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE.

This website is meant to be a resource especially for non-native writers in English to help them improve their writing skills.

Your English may be good, but perhaps you have not asked yourself which English you use, you have never reflected on the difference between compare to and compare with or realised that you wrote amount where you should have written number.

Perhaps you are a doctoral student planning your thesis. Or you are a professor writing a book or a research paper for an international journal. Maybe you have written a manual and feel that the language is not exactly what you would like it to be. Or you just want to have your CV or a cover letter checked for errors.

What I can do for you

In this blog you will get useful tips on writing in English. Through my long experience as a copyeditor I have learnt the typical errors that writers make and what linguistic problems they often meet and I can help you improve your English writing skills.

I will also tell you about resources that will enhance your writing. Whether books, apps or websites, they will help you write much better.

So, if you want to read my blog, scroll down and you will see my blog entries starting with my latest text. You can also choose a topic from the list in the sidebar on the right or search for a specific word.

And when you feel that your text needs copyediting, send it to me

On my other pages here you can learn about how I work and read comments from some of my many satisfied clients. And if you decide to let me copyedit your text, you should read my advice for writers.

The CEO of a Swedish multinational firm was once asked what language the company used. The answer was, “Bad English”.

Most users of English are non-native speakers and, not surprisingly, the language used is often, as the Swedish manager put it, bad English.

What’s the problem?

Communicating in a second language often involves ambiguity and misunderstanding and can eventually lead to serious problems. An example can be found in the sentence you just read: The English word eventually means in the end, finally, sooner or later, while the Swedish word eventuellt means possibly, potentially.

Not connected…

Can you connect with your readers? Bad English may prevent you from being published. And if you manage to be published in spite of language deficiencies, your readers will doubt your professionality. Poor language will make them lose interest in what you are trying to say; they may even mistrust your message or simply not understand it. 

The difference between good and bad English is crucial. My role as copyeditor is to make sure that bad English is transformed into good English. I do so in close collaboration with you, the writer. Together we will make you a better English writer. We are on the same page!

You are welcome to visit this site again and again. Or, better still, why not sign up for my newsletter? Then you will know when there is something new to read on this page, something that will make you a better English writer.

My posts will, I hope, be your stepping stones to better writing.

The image shows stepping stones in a street in Pompeii, Italy to illustrate how to improve writing skills
Stepping stones in Pompeii, Italy

Note: When there is an asterisk (*) in front of a word or a phrase in my posts here, it means that the word or phrase is wrong or not accepted language. You can find examples here, here and here.

Isn’t a restroom a restroom?

When I worked at the university, one day a visiting professor came by my room and asked, ’Is there a restroom somewhere here?’ I knew there was a small room where staff could lie down if taken ill or just to relax, so I told him that there was a restroom at the end of the corridor.

I was surprised when he looked into my office after only a couple of minutes and said, ’Thank you!’ ’Didn’t you find the restroom?’, I asked. ’Oh, yes’, he said and disappeared.

’That was a short rest’, I reflected, and it wasn’t until later that I realised what a restroom is in American English.

There are many euphemisms for the word toilet in English, which I mention in my book It’s not the farts that kill–it’s the smell!, available at Amazon. Among them are bathroom, gents’, ladies’, washroom, lavatory, john, privy, powder room, etc.

A sign pointing towards a toilet. The image illustrates various euphemisms such as restroom, lavatory, bathroom, etc.
With many euphemisms

Phrases are also used as euphemisms for going to the toilet. A guest in a British home might be told, ’I’ll show you where you can wash your hands’ and may think that the host thinks that he is dirty.

A British friend of mine told me that she had said, ’I think I need to powder my nose’ when visiting a family in Sweden (another way of implying that you are heading for the smallest room in the house), and her hostess had taken a close look at her and then said, ’No, you don’t. It’s perfectly fine.’

To return to the restroom, there is a story about an American who was picking up his Swedish friend at an airport. When they got into the car, the American said, ’Perhaps you need to got to the restroom?’, and without hesitating, the Swede answered, ’No, I can do that in the car.’

Fill out or fill in?

Do you fill out a form or do you fill in a form?

These two phrasal verbs are interchangeable, but fill out seems to be more common in American English and fill in in British English.

If there is a difference, some speakers maintain that you fill out a form or document and fill in the blanks. In other words, when you complete a form, you fill it out, and when you add information to empty fields, you fill it in.

Fill in is also used to mean to give somebody missing information.
My boss filled me in about the latest development.

Fill out also refers to gaining weight.
You’ve filled out since we last met.

There, their and they’re

There, their and they’re are often confused.

THERE

There is an adverb. It refers to a special place and means in (or at or to) that place.

I have read a lot about Stockholm and I have always wanted to go there.
You can put you bag over there.
We go there every summer.

There is also used in a more abstract sense:

Hello there!
There you go (=Now it starts again).
There, there, it won’t hurt much longer now (said to comfort).

There can also be used as a formal subject, usually to say that something exists.

There is a nice pub just round the corner.
There is a new edition of her guidebook.
There seems to be a slight mistake here.

A poster for a restaurant with the word dessert spelled as desert. The image is intended to illustrate the sentence There seems to be a slight mistake here.
There seems to be a slight mistake here.

While there has many functions, their and they’re have only one meaning each.

THEIR

Their means belonging to them.

Have you seen their new house?
Their daughter is fifteen.

THEY’RE

They’re is a contracted form of they are.

They’re waiting for us at their hotel.

See also my post about it’s and its.

What are false friends?

False friends are words in two languages that look and/or sound alike but whose meanings are completely or partially different. The two words may have—and often do have—the same origin (If they do not have the same origin, they are called false cognates).

It is clear that false friends may give rise to amusing and sometimes embarrassing mistakes, but they can also cause potentially disastrous misunderstandings with serious consequences.

Here are some examples of English false friends in other languages
(The first letter in German nouns is upper-case):

English–French

carcoach, bus, van
cavecellar, basement, nightclub
figureface
journalnewspaper, magazine
lecturereading, reading matter
locationrenting, hiring; lease, reservation
radioX-ray
routeroad
sensiblesensitive
smokingdinner-jacket, tuxedo
English–German
alsoso, thus
blankshiny, bright
chefleader, boss
chipspotato crisps
fatalawkward, embarrassing
giftpoison, venom
hallsound, echo
kindchild
lackvarnish, lacquer
listcunning, trick
modefashion
plumpawkward; crude; obvious
smokingdinner-jacket, tuxedo
stillquiet, silent
tastekey (on a keyboard)
English–Italian
braceembers, charcoal
cuteskin
duetwo
famehunger, starvation
faredo, make
mediaaverage
replicarepetition; reply
smokingdinner-jacket, tuxedo
stilestylus
turbinewhirlwind, swirl
English–Spanish
actualcurrent, topical, fashionable
cabaretnightclub
editorpublisher
eventualpossible; temporary
particularprivate, personal
sensiblesensitive; responsive; emotional
villasmall town, municipality
virtualpotential, possible
English–Swedish
artspecies
barnchild
bragood, well
fartspeed
fasteraunt
friskhealthy; fresh
frompious
glassice cream
kisspee
semestervacation
slutend
smokingdinner-jacket, tuxedo

You can read about my book on English–Swedish false friends and other treacherous words here.

Critic or critique—what’s the difference?

It may be difficult to understand the difference between critic and critique.

A critic in English refers to a person. It is someone who criticizes something, in other words, expresses criticism.

A critic is also someone who gives an opinion about books, films, music, etc., usually professionally in a paper or magazine or on radio or television. A critic writes a review.

A small boy is reading a book while walking on a pavement. The image is meant to illustrate the concept of a critic.
Future critic?

A critique is a detailed analysis and assessment, usually of a literary, philosophical, or political theory.

The problem for Swedish speakers of English is that both criticism and critique correspond to the same word in Swedish, kritik, and that critic can be mistakenly taken to mean kritik.

Technique and technology

The words technique and technology are related to each other, but it is important to understand the difference between them.

TECHNIQUE

Technique refers to how you carry out a particular task, an efficient way of achieving something or the skill needed to do so. In order to swim fast, for example, you need a good technique. The corresponding adjective is technical.

Technique

TECHNOLOGY

Technology is applied science, the use of scientific knowledge and methods to accomplish a task. Technology is used to improve products and services. The corresponding adjective is technological.

Technology

To sum up, technology gives us the tools and technique determines how the tools are used.

Biannual and biennial

What’s the difference between biannual and biennial?

The two words biannual and biennial are easily confused.

Both come from Latin bi-, twice, and annus, year.

Biannual means occurring twice a year, and biennial means occurring every second year – think of the Venice Biennial (in Italian la Biennale di Venezia).

Perhaps you polish your car or clear out your garage twice every year – then that is a biannual activity. If you go to a conference that is held every two years, you attend a biennial conference.

Biennial can also refer to a plant that blooms or bears fruit in its second year and then dies.

Instead of biannual, you can write semiannual; both words refer to something happening twice a year or every half year.

Biweekly and bimonthly don’t have this distinction – there is no vowel as in annus that could show the difference. Biweekly could mean both twice a week and once every second week. A bimonthly magazine could be one that is published twice a month or every two months. As a writer, you need to make it clear what you intend to say.

A view from San Marco in Venice towards the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute with birds flying against a sunset. The image refers to the Biennial of Venice to illustrate the difference between biannual and biennial.
The Venice Biennial is one of the most prestigious cultural festivals in the world

Connect to or connect with?

There is a difference between connect to and connect with.

CONNECT TO

Use connect to when you talk about a physical link between one object and another.

Make sure the printer is connected to your computer.
My Wi-Fi works but I’m not connected to the internet.

CONNECT WITH

Use connect with when you talk about a relationship, a non-physical link.

These are typical symptoms connected with appendicitis.
He immediately connected with his therapist.
She is extremely good at connecting with her audience.

This, of course, also applies to the noun connection.

A man is being heard by the police in connection with a burglary last night.

A speaker in front of his audience of students. The image illustrates the difference between connect to and connect with.
He is extremely good at connecting with his audience

Practice or practise?

Should you write practice or practise?

PRACTICE

In British and American English, practice is a noun with the following meanings:

1. custom, method, tradition, habit
–Practice is the process of doing something as opposed to theory

2. exercise, work-out
–Practice is the repeated exercise to acquire a skill

3. profession, work, career, occupation
–I was looking for a text-book on the practice of medicine

4. business, company, office, firm
–She works in a small legal practice

5. use, operation, application
–The nurse encouraged the practice of safe sex

In American English, practice is also a verb, corresponding to practise in British English.

PRACTISE

In British English, practise is a verb related to the nouns presented above.

Consequently, it can mean repeat, rehearse; do, work out; apply, carry out, perform; specialise in, work at.

As you see, American English has only the spelling practice for both the noun and the verb.

In British English, you can write To practise every day is good practice

A young girl is practising playing the flute in a living-room. The purpose of the image is to illustrate the difference between practice and practise.
To practise every day is good practice

Read more about the endings -ice and -ise here.

In and within

The words in and within often cause confusion. Some writers use the word within in places where it is inappropriate or wrong. I once saw an advert from a university that was inviting applications for the position of Professor within Economics. If you know that within often can be replaced by inside, it is clear that the ad looked slightly ridiculous.

In my job as copyeditor of scientific texts, I see within more often than I would like. Perhaps those who write within may think the word makes a text more scholarly. As you can see from the example above, within may look ludicrous.

IN

In is used about place or time:

He was in the kitchen.
My daughter lives in Italy.
This happened in late September.
See you in a minute. 
I haven’t felt this happy in years. 

WITHIN

Within often means inside a certain area, according to particular limits or rules, or during a certain period of time:

An angry voice was heard from within.
After she had left, I had a warm feeling within me.
Don’t place this medicine within the reach of children!
Delivery is free of charge within a thirty-kilometre limit.
From your hotel, the picturesque gardens are within easy reach.
I am not sure we can do this within budget.
Within minutes of arriving at the railway station, I heard a loud voice calling my name.
They had had three burglaries within six months.

A little girl is stretching to reach an apple hanging from a tree. The image illustrates the use of in and within.
Just within reach

IN AN HOUR OR WITHIN AN HOUR?

I’ll be back in an hour means that I ’ll be back in about one hour, perhaps fifty, sixty, or seventy minutes from now.

I’ll be back within an hour means that I’ll be back at any time before an hour has passed but in one hour at the latest.

I hope this has helped you understand the difference between in and within.

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