Precision (word) Strikes

One thing that's incredibly valuable to a super-spy is precision. Without it, I might get into situations even I couldn't get out of.

As a writer, it's equally as important to use your words as a scalpel instead of a morning star. You know that book you absolutely adore? The author hand-selected each of those words, just for you. You've got to do the same thing, and that means you can't make basic mistakes. English is complicated. I get it. It drove me crazy when I learned it the first time. But it's got rules, and if I have to follow them, so do you.

So today, I'm going to tell you about some basic mistakes you can avoid making and how to sharpen weapons – I mean, words – to be a better writer.

  1. Disinterested v Uninterested

“What's the difference?” you ask. “Why is this important?” Well, it's like choosing a taser over a snub-nose. Both have their uses, but they aren't the same thing. Disinterested means “impartial.” A good judge is disinterested, as is a good assassin. Uninterested means “doesn't care.” Your brother (if he is like mine) is uninterested in which eyeliners just came out. Clint is uninterested in who carries the best catsuits.

  1. Affect v Effect

I never realized this was a problem for people until I joined Facebook. Here's the trick: affect is almost always a verb while effect is almost always a noun. You affect results, or the results take effect. Affect is the influence, effect is the outcome.

(There are some exceptions to the verb/noun rule. Effect is sometimes used as a transitive verb meaning “to bring about” and affect is sometimes used as a noun, i.e. “flat affect”.)

  1. Good v Well

Good is an adjective, well is an adverb. Good may be used with descriptive linking verbs like look, feel, sound, taste, or to be. It can also describe the subject. Well is used to describe most verbs and sometimes adjectives. In addition, you should always use well to describe physical health (“he's not feeling well”) and good to describe physical health.

  1. Done v. Finished

You've probably heard the age-old adage “turkeys are done, people are finished.” Wrong! Turkeys can be finished, and people can be done. In this case, you have to be careful about connotation versus denotation – both words mean the same thing (denotation) but there are cases where either alternate meanings of the word or simple cultural cues make one more appropriate. Choose wisely!

  1. Were v Was

Okay, I may just be including the subjunctive because its misuse drives me up a wall. Most people know the basic singular/plural rule – “I was” v “We were” – but more and more they seem to be neglecting the other side of these two beautiful words.
The past subjunctive exists only for the verb be. The indicative form uses the word was (in some cases) – “I was,” “he was,” “it was.” This is used to talk about something in the past that you were doing or are going to do. For example, “I was planning on going to Beth's party.” The subjunctive form uses the word were (in all cases). It's used in the “if/then” sentence. For example, “If I were planning on going to Beth's party, my mother would kill me!”
If = were. Otherwise, use the singular/plural rule!

-- Black Widow

P.S. Gold star if you manage to comment with a sentence using all five of these rules correctly. I might even encourage Fury to take you off the watchlist.

1 comment:


    I only really learned about the subjunctive in the last school year when I studied Spanish (those Spaniards use it waaaay more than we do) but it's become one of my biggest grammatical pet peeves ever since. Good vs. Well and Affect vs. Effect are also on that list.

    If I were a superhero, I would be Hitleretta the Grammar Nazi, and my powers would have the effect removing the disinterested and/or uninterested attitudes towards grammar from the members of society which try and finish off well-formed sentences on a daily basis.

    ... That uses four of the rules. Didn't use the Finished vs. Done one, but I was close.