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.
Writers sometimes do not distinguish between an accent and an apostrophe.
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: PCs, DVDs, MBAs, URLs, FAQs, UFOs, JPEGs. 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!
A dictionary of synonyms suggests alternative words:
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:
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:
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!
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.
en.oxforddictionaries.com/thesaurus collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-thesaurus merriam-webster.com/thesaurus 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.
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.
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 in my post about big, large 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:
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
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:
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.
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.
The word compare is used with to or with. Both are correct, but there is a small difference in meaning. We use comparewith 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!”
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