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What’s the difference between -ic and -ical?

The endings -ic and -ical may cause confusion. They both have the meaning of related to or characterised by.

The ending -ic is more common. Here are some examples:
academic
anestethic
athletic
chaotic
episodic
linguistic
melodic
neurotic
parodic
patriotic
poetic
rhapsodic
sympathetic
synthetic

The adjective ending -ical is common with nouns ending in -ology.
anthropological
biological
geological
physiological
theological

Nouns ending in -ic take the ending -ical as adjectives:
clinical
musical
sceptical

There are adjectives that have different meanings when they end in -ic and -ical:

CLASSIC is used to denote a standard, the highest quality or having lasting worth:
Over 200 classic motorcycles are on display at the motor show.
She wore a casual but classic outfit.

Interior of a red Fiat 500 with steering wheel,  dashboard and pedals visible
The Fiat Cinquecento is a classic car.

The Classics refers to the literature of ancient Greece or Rome:
I’ve always wanted to read the Classics but I never seem to have time.

CLASSICAL refers to the culture of ancient Greece or Rome or to European music from the 18th and 19th centuries:
In Italy a classical education is considered valuable also in business.
Beethoven was arguably the greatest composer in the transition between classical and romantic music.

Classical can also refer to established principles in, e.g. physics:
Classical mechanics is based on Newton’s general principles.

ECONOMIC refers to economy:
Economic growth had never been stronger.

ECONOMICAL means being efficient or careful about spending money:
Modern cars are much more economical.

ELECTRIC refers to machines or instruments powered by electricity:
Electric cars are becoming very popular in Norway.

ELECTRICAL means related to electricity:
He is an electrical engineer.
The fire was started by some electrical fault.

HISTORIC
To denote something important in history we use historic:
This was a historic moment for our country.
You must visit the town’s historic houses and gardens.

HISTORICAL
Historical means related to or having to do with history or past events:
In my youth I liked to read historical novels.

Adjectives ending in -ic and -ical have the adverbial form -ically (but the word public takes the form publicly).

Do you know the difference between beside and besides?

Many writers find it difficult to distinguish between beside and besides.

BESIDE

Beside is a preposition meaning next to, by the side of.
Can I sit beside you?
I can never teach my dog to walk calmly beside me.

A little boy is walking beside his grandpa on a track through a forest
It felt safe walking beside grandpa

Beside can also mean in comparison with.
I feel stupid beside you.

Beside is used in a couple of sayings:
That’s beside the point. (That is not related to what we are talking about.)
He was completely beside himself with joy. (He had very strong feelings of joy.)

BESIDES

Besides is a preposition meaning in addition to, apart from.
What’s your favourite food besides pizza?
Who was there besides you and your girlfriend?
Besides being a language teacher she is also a talented piano player.

Besides can also be a linking adverb giving additional information.
Sorry I can’t stay longer. It’s a long way home and, besides, I have to get up early tomorrow.

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

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

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

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.

A couple is walking through heavy rain trying to protect themselves with an inflatable air mattress
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

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

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.

A woman in a car is waving goodbye through the side window
See you later!

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

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

ACCENT

A sign with a partly torn poster saying SUCCÉ
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)

APOSTROPHE

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!

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

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

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.

In a blurred image a dog is scampering about
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.

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!”

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