Do you say “more farther”?

rogersgeorge on August 17th, 2009

This one might be a losing battle, but your writing will be smoother if you get the distinction between “further” and “farther” right.

Further—to a greater extent in any sense but distance. If your sentence doesn’t make sense with “far” in it, use further. “They caused further delay by walking slowly.” This is more delay, not far delay, so “further” is correct.

(You also see “further” used as a verb, but that’s another topic.)

Farther—the comparative form of “far.” If your sentence could work with the word “far,” use farther, not further.”Their slow walking put then farther behind.” They are far behind, so “farther” is correct.

Sometimes the sense of “far” is metaphorical, and that’s when people start to use “further.” If “far” works, even metaphorically, using “farther” still makes a smoother sentence.  Here’s an example of this: ” They keep getting farther into debt.” In this sentence, both “far into debt” and “more into debt” make sense. Since “far” works, prefer that one.

Here’s a test—fill in the blank: “Your writing will take you ______________ if you follow my advice.”

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How simple is too simple?

rogersgeorge on August 13th, 2009

Lots of folks like to use big words. That’s okay, but you have to use them right, or those in the know will snicker at you ro roll their eyes. And those not in the know will be led astray.

Today’s sin is choosing the wrong, longer word:

Simple—not complicated. Easy to describe or do. You know what simple means.

Simplistic—oversimplified, hence incorrect. Not enough detail to be useful. “‘Nuke ’em till they glow’ is a simplistic solution to the Middle East problem.”

So don’t use “simplistic” when you mean “simple.” Short words are okay—they’re simpler.

First or Foremost?

rogersgeorge on August 10th, 2009

Okay, perhaps this distinction is falling into disuse (the people who like to be pretentious are winning), but if you make this distinction in your writing, your writing will be tighter, less pretentious, and easier to read.

Prior—ahead in order of importance. Think of the phrase, “takes priority,” which still conveys this meaning. ” I’d agree with you, but that would contradict the court’s prior ruling.”

Previous—ahead in order of time. (This word’s teammate is “before.”) “Your previous statement led me to believe you were kidding.”

If you use “previous” or “before” to refer to something that happened beforehand, instead of “prior,”  no one will notice that you used the simpler word, but your writing (and speaking) will flow more smoothly and it’ll have a bit more punch.

The big guy with the ruler

rogersgeorge on June 25th, 2009

Principal—the main thing. Often used of the owners of a company, or the chief administrator of a school, but it can apply to inanimate things, too. The principal reason we took a break was that we were tired.

Principle—a rule. Note that “rule” and “principle” both end in “-le.” He tells the truth as a matter of principle.