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Tag: Professional writing servics

How to alternate the alternative: Grammar

As with much of the English language the correct use of this pair of words has slipped into misuse, and in some very unfortunate circumstances, accepted as the norm, or worse correct.

 

It seem the pair create somewhat of a conundrum given the discussion of usage around one or the other … which brings me to the precise point. Alternative means one or the other, that is: Butter is not available for this recipe so let’s use margarine, as the alternative.

However, Mary who is on a cholesterol controlled diet chose to alternate butter with the alternative olive oil as the fat source in her daily consumption.

Easily said and done, right? Well not so, the discussion suggests.

A source says: “Alternate can be a verb, noun, or adjective, while alternative can be a noun or adjective. In both American and British English, the adjective alternate means ‘every other’ (there will be a dance on alternate Saturdays) and the adjective alternative means ‘available as another choice’ (an alternative route: alternative medicine; alternative energy sources).

In American usage, however, alternate can also be used to mean ‘available as another choice’ an alternate plan called for construction to begin immediately rather than waiting for spring. Likewise, a book club may offer an ‘alternate selection’ as an alternative to the main selection.

Some traditionalists maintain, from an etymological standpoint, that you can have only two alternatives (from the Latin alter ‘other (of two); the other’) and that uses of more than two alternatives are erroneous. Such uses are, however, normal in modern standard English.”

Here they are nouns:

The producers … are planning to tap the cast member Matthew James Thomas to serve as an alternate for the leading man. [NY Times]

There is no medium-term alternative to the dollar for the international monetary system. [Reuters]

Portman portrays Nina Sayres, prima ballerina, with a deer-in-the-headlights look, while Mila Kunis is her alternate, seductive and potentially lethal Lily. [Waffle Reviews]

The Motorola Droid 2 Global is a solid Android smartphone for globe-trotting executives looking for a BlackBerry alternative. [CNET]

And here they are adjectives:

For those of you who use this route, signs will be up to direct you to alternate routes. [News 12]

No alternative energy source currently in development is near ready for prime time. [Slate]

  • Shklovsky says:

‘alternate’ routes should be ‘alternative’ since the plural noun implies more than one choice. The use of ‘alternate’ and ‘alternative’ is different in the UK and much of the English speaking world, from the US.

‘Alternate’ is used when things move from one option to another in sequence, from the verb ‘to alternate’. When there is a choice,’ alternative’ is preferred. ‘Alternate’ as a noun (the stand-in actor example) would be ‘alternative’ since it would be an adjectival noun – implying the word ‘choice’- and could be someone else entirely.

The American use of these words is rapidly entering the UK and, since grammatical ‘correctness’ is only determined by use, we will no doubt convert to the American forms in time, but to speak or write of an ‘alternate’ choice still sounds wrong to UK ears! Much simpler to have ‘alternate’ only when changing in sequence and ‘alternative’ for all choices, whether two or more.

  • Grammarist says:

We came across this view of “alternate” (that its use in the sense “serving in place of another” is questionable to some) in our original research for this post and considered mentioning it. But we always try to discuss words as they are now used rather than as they are traditionally used, and we find the adjectival use of “alternate” as a synonym of “substitute” or “replacement” to be very common throughout the English-speaking world, at least in news writing.

Purists, please show your support … others, your feedback is welcome.

 

Know the difference between fewer and less: Language skills

Knowing the difference between fewer and less

 

English is a complex language and there is often confusion between words that seemingly have the same meaning but are particular in their usage. Such is the case with the words fewer and less.

It’s tempting to be lazy about these words.

You might be happy to say, ‘There are less clouds in the sky today’, and most people would know exactly what you meant. But to be technical about it, the correct statement is, ‘There are fewer clouds in the sky today.’

If I say, I have lost less weight this month than last month, the statement is correct. But if I want to talk about the number of kilograms I have dropped, I would say, ‘I have lost fewer kilograms this month than last month.

So what’s the difference? A body or mass of materials is spoken of as less. There is less water in the swimming pool than there was before the rainy season.

But it is correct to say, I have drunk seven cups of water, two cups fewer than yesterday.

Fewer is used in instances where items can be counted as singular units, i.e. in the discussion, clouds, cups, kilograms. Less is used where quantities cannot be broken down into units.

Less is used with abstract nouns such as sunshine, rain, thunder etc.

Here’s an exercise for practice. Fill in fewer or less.

  1. Jane’s wardrobe has _______ clothing in summer than in winter.

  2. Peter has ___________ dogs than his best friend.

  3. Mary wears ___________ perfume on week days.

  4. There is _____________ heat in the mild curry.

    A lovely cup of tea
    A lovely cup of tea
  5. Tea is _____________ expenses than coffee.

  6. There are ___________ dollars left after a shopping spree.

  7. How can there be______ money in my account after I paid a deposit?

  8. There are much___________ pieces of paper in that draft document.

 

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Is said dead? How to use attributions correctly and creatively

In my work as a sub-editor, the only word allowed for an attribution is ‘said’. No, ‘revealed’, no ‘pointed out’, no ‘suggested’, no ‘argued’ – just plain ‘said’.

But for fiction writers the use of the word ‘said’ can become tedious if used over and over again. Eager writers will look for ways to substitute said with other, possibly more descriptive words.
There is a superb list of alternatives to choose from and budding novelists should not be discouraged.
For those who want to get stuck in right away, or write away, here’s a glimpse of just a few quick possibilities.

  • -Answered (a favourite)

    -Blasted

    -Cited

    -Exalted

    -Fumed

    -Garbled

    -Hissed

    -Intoned

    -Lambasted

    -Moaned

That’s just 10 ways to substitute said and should keep you busy as you fit the respective words to your characters. But getting back to said… You have to be careful that you substitute with purpose. The last thing you want is for your writing to sound forced and artificial.
There’s many a time where a simple said, will do the job just fine.

And at the cost of repeating myself, at the newspaper, said is the only attribution in the text. Here it’s all about simplicity.

And that’s all I have to say, for now.

 

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