sometimes being direct is the best way

If you don’t like your cousin, you should write:

I don’t like my cousin.

Seriously. You don’t need to replace ‘like’ with fancy words, especially when you’re not sure of the meaning. Just because a sentence is simple, it doesn’t make it bad.

Today I came across this sentence: ‘I didn’t favour my cousin.’ From context, that didn’t really make sense. Someone was asking the narrator to share a room with said cousin, whom the narrator obviously dislikes. 

Continue reading “sometimes being direct is the best way”

‘join’ and ‘attend’

Let’s talk about the word ‘join’. We use it a lot in rojak Malay … and the usage translates wrongly when used in proper English. Semua benda nak join, kan? Join webinar petang ni, join concert malam esok, join jungle trekking hujung minggu depan. When you say that in Malay, you mean something like ‘we’re going to go do this thing together with other people’. It doesn’t quite mean that in English, unfortunately. See sense 3 and 4 in the definitions here.

It’s usually used in something like this:

Aku nak pergi breakfast. Kau nak join?

Continue reading “‘join’ and ‘attend’”

‘metre’ and ‘meter’

If I get a technical paper or report to edit I usually ask which dictionary/spelling system you’re using (actually, I ask everyone this) and whether you’re working in SI units. 

Here’s something almost everyone stumbles over, every now and then—the difference between meter and metre. If you’re local, I tend to assume you’re using British English, since that’s what we use in school. For those of you spelling things the American way, there’s no issue at all since American English only uses meter.

Continue reading “‘metre’ and ‘meter’”

commas and restrictive nouns

Commas are pesky things, aren’t they? You’re either using too many or not enough.

Commas around a word or a phrase make the word or phrase non-restrictive, or in plain terms, not essential. The word or phrase bracketed by the commas conveys additional information. This applies in a number of situations, but today let’s talk about using commas with proper names.

Consider this:

Your teammate, Afiq, hasn’t been in the office for three days.  ❌

Continue reading “commas and restrictive nouns”

‘stressed’ and ‘stressful’

Anyone else feeling stressed out? I’ve been editing an article about stress, and now I’m all jittery and restless, both because of the content and the misuse of the word ‘stressful’. 

Working from home is stressful.  ✅

I feel stressful when I have to work from home.  ❌

Okay, so what is the difference between stressed and stressful? Both are adjectives. However, they don’t mean the same thing. 

Continue reading “‘stressed’ and ‘stressful’”

phrasing questions correctly

I’ve never been strict about using correct grammar in speech, especially when it’s in informal settings like in everyday conversation. It’s a bit of that ‘it’s okay as long as it’s understandable’ attitude that quite a few of us have, since we’re throwing so many languages into the mix and it’s impossible to set any standard of correctness anyway. However, it shouldn’t carry over into formal writing. Even if you’re writing a short story or a novel, it should only make an appearance in dialogue.

This is understandable to almost anyone, especially when said with the right intonation:

Why Susan didn’t go with her family?  ❌

Or the slightly worse offender: 

Why Susan not go with her family?  ❌

Continue reading “phrasing questions correctly”

‘discuss’ and ‘have a discussion about’

Here’s a pretty common mistake I see in Malaysian English:

We are here to discuss about the long-term effects of social isolation. ❌

It doesn’t sound wrong, does it? But here’s the thing: it’s either you ‘discuss’ something or ‘have a discussion about’ something. 

We are here to discuss the long-term effects of social isolation. ✔️
We are here to have a discussion about the long-term effects of social isolation. ✔️

Continue reading “‘discuss’ and ‘have a discussion about’”

‘extend’ and ‘extent’

A report I’m editing keeps using the phrase ‘to a certain extend …’. It is slowly driving me up the wall. You need a noun there. To a certain extent. To a large degree. In some measure.

When you say both parties agree with each other to a certain extent, it means they agree up to some limit. There are still things they don’t agree on. If something is true to a certain extent, then not all of it is true.

Continue reading “‘extend’ and ‘extent’”

checks and balances

The phrase ‘checks and balances’ is always treated as a plural noun. The mistake that I usually see is that it’s used as if both of the elements in the phrase are singular: 

There must always be a check and balance. ❌

I tend to reword the sentence and ask the authors to see if they actually mean something like this:

There must always be a system of checks and balances. ✅

Continue reading “checks and balances”

look up your loanwords

I was editing a passage about a young woman who enjoyed baking, and her interest in making cute cakes came from her grandmother, who baked every weekend for her guests who came for high tea. Thus: ‘She vowed that she would become a patisserie.’

It startled me into laughter. Aspiring to become a French bakery wasn’t a terrible career choice, all in all. 

Continue reading “look up your loanwords”