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It’s or its?

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

IT’S
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
Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it.

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

A grey cat licking its front 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.

The head of a bear with its teeth showing
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.

Affect or effect?

Affect and effect are two words that easily get mixed up

AFFECT

Affect is mainly used as a verb. It means have an impact on, have an effect on.
The bad weather affected our plans for the evening.
The old man was visibly affected by the girl’s kind words.
How will the strike affect your job?

A family is walking in a gutter covering themselves against a heavy rain
The bad weather affected our plans for the evening

EFFECT

Effect is a noun. It denotes the result of an action or an impression.
The effect of his words was immediate.
I liked the sound effects in the film.
The law is still in effect.

To sum up, most often affect is a verb and effect is a noun.

That said, you may – on rare occasions – find affect used as a noun. Then it means something that acts on something else, usually in psychological jargon.

And effect can be used as a verb meaning to produce, bring about something new, often in phrases like ”to effect a change”

Read about effective and efficient here.

Effective or efficient?

Have you ever thought about the difference between effective and efficient?

EFFECTIVE

Use effective when you want to say that something gives the result that was intended. Effective tells us whether something has been done, not how it was done. The focus is on the result.

Those pills are really effective – my headache disappeared in less than twenty minutes.
The manager’s speech was short but remarkably effective.

Being effective can also mean officially start.

The new regulation is effective from 1 October.

EFFICIENT

Use efficient to say that somebody or something works well without wasting time, money or energy. Efficient tells us how something was achieved. The focus is on the process, on minimising cost or waste.

We are installing a much more efficient cooling system.
She is a very efficient salesperson.

To sum up, effective is goal-oriented and focuses on the ability to produce a wanted result; efficient focuses on how little was wasted to produce the result. Or, to quote Peter Drucker, being effective means doing the right things, being efficient means doing things right.

An efficient company will do things at a lower cost (with higher profit), but it must also meet the customers’ requirements by being effective.

The corresponding nouns are effectiveness and efficiency.

If you have seven minutes to spare, here is a video explaining the difference between effective and efficient. And here you can read about affect and effect.

A man is lying on his back on a sun chair
Efficient use of a sun chair

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.

Dictionaries

You are an expert in your field, but there will be times when you need to look up a word to make sure your English is correct.

The first resource that comes to mind if you are a non-native English writer is a bilingual dictionary. You use a German–English, an Italian–English, a Swedish–English, etc. dictionary. There are general wordbooks, but you may need a specialised dictionary. For Swedish writers the standard work is Ingvar E. Gullberg: Svensk–engelsk fackordbok för näringsliv, förvaltning, undervisning och forskning [A Swedish–English dictionary of technical terms used in business, industry, administration, education and research] (Norstedts, 2000). With over 200 000 headwords it is the largest specialised dictionary in Sweden. It is also available as internet subscription from ne.ord.se at SEK 29/month.

There are, of course, also dictionaries dealing with vocabulary in specific fields of interest such as architecture, economics, medicine, slang, technology, etc.

Monolingual dictionaries, in our case completely in English, give you helpful explanations of words. They are usually intended for non-native users of English and therefore the explanations are simple and easy to understand. Use them to check that a word you have chosen really has the meaning you intended. Here is an example from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

Examples of such dictionaries are:

Cambridge International Dictionary of English
Collins English Dictionary
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
Oxford Dictionary of English

You can get printed dictionaries in your bookstore or at, e.g., Amazon, Bokus or Adlibris.

Printed dictionaries are expensive and are not regularly updated. You can find many useful resources on the internet. The dictionaries mentioned above are available online. The following are some other internet sites for your word search:

wordreference.com
thefreedictionary.com
linguee.com
bab.la
translate.google.com
images.google.com
mymemory.translated.net
proz.com
ne.ord.se

What if you cannot find a translation of the word you want to use? Ask an expert! Once when I had to translate a word that I could not find in any dictionary, I called the Swedish Coast Guard and asked how they said the word in English. Of course they could help me.

Read about different types of dictionaries here.

Amount and number

Some people dressed in orange are wading out into a lake
A number of students were subjected to various freshman pranks by the lake

You need to understand the difference between amount and number.

There are things we can count and things we cannot count. With countable nouns we use number of and with uncountable nouns amount of. We can talk about the amount of time we work or about the number of hours we work.

A large number of cars had stopped behind the lorry.
We were impressed by the number of spectators.
She only drank a small amount of water.
I hadn’t expected that amount of work.

We can also use plural forms:
He drank vast amounts of beer.
Here you will find statistics related to numbers of taxpayers and registered traders.

With amount we say how much of something is present.
With number we talk about how many there are.

Notice how the verb form changes:

The number of students has increased every year since 2015.
The verb is in the singular because the main subject here is number. The word students could be replaced by another word such as cars, newspapers, attacks, etc.

A number of students have published a campus journal.
The verb is in the plural because the main subject is students. A number of can be replaced by, for example, some.

To sum up:
The number of … has the singular form of the verb.
A number of … has the plural form of the verb.

Both amount and number can also be used as verbs:
How much did it amount to?
Number the parts from 1–10 according to how you rate their functionality.

Regardless and irrespective of

To have regard for means to respect, pay attention to. If you are regardless, you do something despite everything; you do it anyway, nevertheless. Regardless also means not taking into account.

We’ll go fishing, regardless of the weather.
Regardless of the time of day, he would promptly come to help me.
Regardless of the threat, they went on.

Another way of expressing that something is not affected by something else is to use irrespective of.

This applies to all students, irrespective of nationality.
We came to the same result, irrespective of what method we used.
Irrespective of whether a text is long or short, it needs copyediting.

The meaning of not being affected by something may lead Swedish writers to use the word independent (Swedish oberoende) in sentences like the ones above. However, independent means separate, unrelated, autonomous or self-sufficient. Use irrespective of instead.

Regarding regards

The phrase *in regards to (with a plural -s) seems to appear frequently. Even if it is common in texts by both native and non-native English writers, it is not correct.

When you want to refer to something, you can write in regard to or with regard to. Both phrases mean concerning. However, you have other alternatives:

regarding
in this regard
as regards
in respect of
with respect to
with reference to
relating to
on the subject of
in connection with
concerning
about
as for
re

The verb regard can also mean look at, have or show respect for, think of with a particular feeling. The corresponding noun is used in phrases like the following:

I have great regard for his work.
Give my regards to your family.
Best regards.

Compare to or compare with?

The word compare is used with to or with. Both are correct, but there is a small difference in meaning. We use compare with to put two or more things beside each other and look for differences and similarities. We must use compare to when we want to suggest that two things are similar:

Some historians compare him to Churchill.

Stockholm has been compared to Venice.

If you refer to both similarities and differences, use with:

Compared with last year’s result, we see a huge difference this year.

Most writers do not know the difference between compare with and compare to, or they don’t care. In American English, to is more common. But you, as a good writer, will of course know the difference.

As a writer I might compare myself with, say, Bruce Chatwin (and realise that I am vastly inferior to him), but I would never dream of comparing myself to Bruce Chatwin (implying that I might be as good a writer as he was).

So the little boy in the image above may compare his belly with his mother’s: ”Look, mummy, your tummy is bigger than mine!” But he may just as well compare his tummy to his mother’s and say, ”Look mummy, I’ve got a tummy too!”

Which English should you use?

American English or British English? Or perhaps Oxford spelling? Does it matter which language you choose? Do your readers care?

Obviously, if you write for an American audience, you should write American English. And if you want to send a paper to a British journal, you should use UK English, which is another name for British English. Always check with the publisher or read the style guide of the journal. However, it is crucial that you are consistent and write your whole text in one and the same language.

When you write a doctoral thesis or a novel, the choice of language is yours. Only, as I said above, be consistent.

If you go for American English, use American spelling and write labor instead of labour, center instead of centre, catalog instead of catalogue, fulfill instead of fulfil, traveling instead of travelling, and so on. Use a z instead of an s in words like recognize and organization. (There are, however, some words that are always written with -ise or -yse – read more about them here.)

American English uses the serial comma, which is the comma that is placed before and or or in a series of words. An example: Horses, cows, and sheep are farm animals. British English does not use this comma.

There are also differences in vocabulary. The American apartment is a flat in Britain, Brits walk on the pavement, while Americans use the sidewalk. And when you are angry in Britain, you are mad in America – to a Brit mad means crazy. When something is quite good it is very good in America but only fairly good in Britain.

There are, of course, also differences in grammar. When a British speaker uses the perfect tense, I have already called him, an American would use the past tense, I already called him. The American a real good movie is in British a really good film.

Oxford spelling is a variant of British English. It prefers -ize in words like organize and recognize instead of the spelling -ise in British English. The spelling with -ize is actually the oldest; organize, for example, appeared in a text in England as early as around 1425. The Oxford spelling is used by publishers like Collins, Longman and Oxford University Press (but not Oxford University!) and some academic journals in Britain. The Oxford spelling uses the serial comma, which therefore is also called the Oxford comma.

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