The Correct Word – Which or That

One of the most common errors in the English language is the one made in the use of which and that when introducing clauses that modify nouns. Even the best of writers often stop to think – should I use a which here, or a that?

The rule is this:

  • Use that before a restrictive clause, with no comma before it.
  • Use which before a non-restrictive clause, with a comma preceding it.

To better understand this, understanding restrictive and non-restrictive clauses is essential.

A restrictive clause is a clause without which the meaning of a sentence would change. For example:

I liked the purse that was in the display window.

The clause here is ‘that was in the display window’. If we remove this clause, the meaning of the sentence will change. Why? Because then we wouldn’t know which purse the writer is talking about. The clause here is restricting, or limiting, the scope of the purse – meaning that the writer doesn’t mean just any purse, but that one particular purse in the window.

A non-restrictive clause is a clause without which the meaning of a sentence will not change. In other words, the clause is only giving additional information. For example (taking the same sentence):

I liked the purse, which was in the display window.

Now the clause is ‘which was in the display window’. Here we know which purse the writer is talking about, and the clause is just giving us additional information – as if to say, “by the way, the purse was in the display window”.  So, if we are to remove the clause, we will still know which purse the writer is referring to. .

Now you see why there is so much confusion between the use of which and that? The difference between the two is very slight, and unless care is taken, or rather the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses is clearly understood, mistakes will be made. So, do be very careful if you want your writing to be perfect.

James Thurber once said, “What most people don’t realize is that one which leads to another.”  What do you think?

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How to Improve Your Self-Editing Skills

editMost writers go through the process of revising their work before submission. This practice of reviewing your own work with an impersonal eye and objectively assessing it is known as self-editing. Not an easy endeavor, considering the fact that you have put in a lot of hard work and wakeful hours into that writing. To find your own mistakes and to see if you have really written what you had meant to write isn’t an easy job. So, how can you simplify this process?

Fortunately, there are a few ways of improving your self-editing skills.

1. Give some time between the writing and the editing. Don’t start editing your work the same day that you have finished writing it. Put it aside for a few days before going back to it. If you start revising the same day, you won’t be able to find any mistakes because everything that you have written is still fresh in your mind. You’ll then only be reading what you have written and not what you had meant to write. The more time you let it sit, the more errors you’re likely to find.

2. Print out your work and do the editing on hard copy. This helps in two ways: One, you’ll be reading it in a different format and in a different place than you have written it. This gives a new perspective to the writing. Two, errors tend to get skipped over on the screen, but not on a hard copy.

3. Read your work aloud. When you read out loud, you hear the words and the sentences; and hearing them is what helps you find the errors.

4. Resist the urge to make corrections during your first read. Just make notes in the margin and continue reading. Do the editing during the second read. This is because your first instincts are generally correct, and if you make changes the first time, you might later find your first words to be correct. It is, therefore, best to leave the actual changing for later in order to avoid wear and tear as well as waste of time.

5. Always edit in two steps. First, look at your choice of words – Have you used appropriate words? Are your words descriptive enough? Could you have used stronger verbs? Think along these lines and make these changes first if there is need to. Once this is done, go back and proofread for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Editing in steps is always better because if you do it all together, your mind is working on many different things at the same time, thus missing out on certain errors.

We are all different and we have our own ways of working. Is your style of self-editing different? How do you do it?

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Facebook, Not Book

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(Courtesy Inkygirl.com)

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Writer Quotes – Great Writing Tips

Some great writing tips from some great writers:

*  Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.  ~ C. S. Lewis

*  Detail makes the difference between boring and terrific writing. It’s the difference between a pencil sketch and a lush oil painting. As a writer, words are your paint. Use all the colors. ~  Rhys Alexander

*  In writing a series of stories about the same characters, plan the whole series in advance in some detail, to avoid contradictions and inconsistencies. ~  L. Sprague de Camp

*  Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon. ~  E.L. Doctorow

*  If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.  ~  Natalie Goldberg

*  One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.  ~  Stephen King

*  If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.  ~  William Campbell Gault

*  It’s better to write about things you feel than about things you know about.  ~ L. P. Hartley

*  To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.  ~  Herman Melville

*  There are no rules in writing. There are useful principles. Throw them away when they’re not useful. But always know what you’re throwing away.  ~  Will Shetterly

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Chimamanda Adichie on the Danger of a Single Story

Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie,  talks about how our lives and cultures are composed of many overlapping stories; and how we can find our own unique voice from among them.  A brilliant and very inspirational talk –

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Chimamanda Adichie“, posted with vodpod

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Writing Prompts of the Week – 5

Create stories, articles, or poems from the following prompts:

1.  A reporter comes to you and starts asking odd questions. How would you react?

2.  Write about the most difficult decision you have had to make.

3.  Take a dictionary. Open at a random page and take any 3 words from the odd numbered page. Write a story revolving around these words.

4.  Why would you never write your life story?

5.  Write about the first thing that comes to your mind on seeing this picture.

image 4

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Words Ending With –ance and –ence

While writing the previous post, ‘The Importance of Perseverance’, I was reminded of the question my students often ask me – When do words end with –ance and when do they end with – ence. For example, the words importance and perseverance both end with –ance, but the words essence and affluence end with –ence, even though they are all pronounced identically. Why?  What is the rule for knowing when to end with –ance and when with –ence?

Unfortunately (if the word can be used here), there is no rule for this. In fact English grammar in general has no set rules. The reason for this is that the English language is derived from at least six different languages. Then with time and the advancement of science and technology, new words were formed and added to the English language, while other words weredictionary modified. With such diverse roots and changes, English grammar could never have any rules as such.

Now coming back to –ance and –ence, words ending with these suffixes are among the most misspelled words in the English language. The best way to know the correct ending is to learn the spellings, and when in doubt, check the dictionary. Other than this, based only on observation, these points can be kept in mind –

* Add –ance when

Root ends with a hard c or g: significance, elegance

Root ends with –ear: appear – > appearance

Root ends with –ure: endure – > endurance

Root ends with –ate: dominate – > dominance

Root ends with –er and first syllable stress: hinder – > hindrance

Root ends with y: defy – > defiance

Root begins with a: assist – > assistance

* Add –ence when

Root ends with a soft c or g: innocence, intelligence

Root ends with –ist: insist – > insistence

Root ends with – ere: interfere – > interference

Root ends with –er and last syllable stress: prefer – > preference

Root contains esce: inflorescence

Root contains id: confidence

Root contains qu: consequence

These “rules” are, however, not 100% reliable. All of them have exceptions. An example of an exception is perseverance. Although the root (persevere) ends with ere, -ance and not –ence is added. It is, therefore, best to consult a dictionary when in doubt.

How do you manage to spell these words correctly?

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