Choose the correct words to be effective

Whether our writing is business or personal, technical or creative, we want it to be effective. To be cogent in our delivery, it is wise to avoid certain diction.

One such negative is sometimes called illiteracies. This group of words or phrases is characteristic of uneducated speech and may also be called vulgarisms or barbarisms. They normally are not acceptable in standard usage. They are not necessarily coarse and may add color, but they should not be used without purpose. Some examples are: acrost, anywheres, couldn’t of, drownded, brung, drug (as past tense of drag), irregardless, nohow, and this here.

One class of improprieties almost explains itself in that it contains words defined as one part of speech and used as another. The dictionary may give more than one part of speech as standard, but if it does not, one should use it only as defined. For instance, try not to use an adjective as an adverb: "He dances good," "It’s awful long." And if you are into Facebook, you use friend as a verb and like as a noun. That is our changing world!

Some verb forms are incorrect: "He has came," "I could have went," "He done it," "Set by me."

Nouns should not be used as verbs: "Grassing the lawn," "Authored the book," "Supper at noon."

People sometimes use homonyms that indicate a lack of knowledge: "The real (should be reel) on his fishing rod," "First aide (should be aid) supplies," "Try to immolate (should be emulate) him," "The imminent (should be eminent) specialist."

It is best to avoid affectations, such as: “After liquidating her indebtedness, she was still in possession of sufficient resources to establish a small commercial enterprise.” It would be more effective to say, “After paying her debts, she had enough money to set up a small business.”

One particular type of affectation is the euphemism. Sometimes this softened or inoffensive term may be appropriate, but we need to be careful not to sound artificial. Choose wisely between: "prevaricate" and "lie;" "expectorate" and "spit;" "obsequies" and "funeral."

This has been just a small taste of that which can improve our writing or speaking. I hope some of these fit your palate, and I will try to add more choices to your palette.

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at

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