Monthly Archives: July 2013

More confusing words!

This week we discuss a few more words that seem to mix people up:  without and absent, because and since, and cannot.

First, when choosing between without and absent, without or “in the absence of” is preferred (unless you are using “absent” in a “not there” sense), e.g.,

  • Without any compelling arguments against doing so, the trial court dismissed the jury.
  • In the absence of any arguments against doing so, the trial court dismissed the jury.
  • The scout was absent from his merit badge class.

Second, when choosing between “because” and “since,” keep in mind that “because” explains why—and “since” expresses time, e.g.,

  • Because he attended four baseball games, Stephen didn’t go to the office.
  • Since joining the firm, she has not lost a trial.

Finally, “cannot” should be used as one word, except when using a “not only” construction, e.g.,

  • General rule:  But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground.
  • Exception:         Evie can not only research, but she can write, too.

Of course, the issue is avoided and the sentence reads more smoothly if “can” and “not only” are switched, e.g.:

  • Not only can Evie research, but she can write too.

That is all for now …

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“Its” and “it’s,” and the use of ordinal numbers when describing days of the month.

This week we discuss two things:  the difference between “its” and “it’s” and the use of ordinal numbers when discussing days of the week.

The first topic involves the correct usage of the word “its.”  This troublesome little word is used far too often as a contraction—it’s—when the writer really means to use the word in its possessive form . . . as I just did.  The reason for the confusion seems to be that “its” is an exception to the usual rule that possessives are formed by adding an apostrophe-s.  So writers instinctively, and incorrectly, add an apostrophe to form the possessive.  (Incidentally, it’s an exception to the rule because it is a pronoun and not a noun, and pronouns have their own special possessive forms that have no apostrophes, e.g., his, her, its.)

Still confused?  Here is the simple rule:  use “it’s” as a contraction of “it is,” and use “its” as the possessive form of “it.”  Easy peasy.

The second topic concerns the proper way to state a specific day of the month.  Consider this example:  “Jones filed the complaint on July 1, 2013.”  Should it be “Jones filed the complaint on July 1st, 2013”?  No.  The unyielding rule is that when a specific date is expressed, you must use a cardinal number (1, 5, 10)—not an ordinal number (1st, 3rd, 5th).  Thus:

     Right:        The Supreme Court issued its decision on June 26, 2013.

     Wrong:      The Supreme Court issued its decision on June 26th, 2013.

However, you can use an ordinal number when generally describing a date, e.g.,

  • He was born on the 9th of April.

That is all for now …

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