Passed versus Past. Lots of writers get passed and past confused, but there’s an easy way to remember the correct word choice: Identify whether the word in question is a verb in the past tense. If it is a verb, then you should use passed:
- I passed the sign-up sheet to the person sitting next to me.
- He passed by my house on the way home from work.
If the word is an adverb or an adjective or a preposition or a noun, then it’s past:
- My mom doesn’t like to think about the past. (noun)
- She was past president of The Rotary Club. (adjective)
- The little girl threw the Frisbee past her mother. (adverb)
- My house is located on the second block past the McDonald’s. (preposition)
Seems easy enough, right? How about these examples?
- The young lady _______ an ominous-looking fellow on the street corner.
- The young lady walked _______ an ominous-looking fellow on the street corner.
In the first sentence, the missing word is the verb, so we use passed. In the second, it is an adverb (the verb is walked), so we use past.
Got it? Or, rather, have you passed the test?
Renown versus Renowned. Last week, I received a press release with the subject line: Dr. [So-and-So] — Renown Pediatrician and Author.
I was hoping the error was simply the result of a hasty subject line writer, but unfortunately the mistake was repeated within the email itself, which landed the press release into the trash simply on principle (not principal).
The word renown is a noun. It means fame and cannot be used to modify another noun:
BABY GRAND is destined for worldwide renown. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)
The word renowned is an adjective. It means famous and, as we all know, adjectives can modify nouns:
BABY GRAND is destined to become a world-renowned novel. (I ask again, Wouldn’t that be nice?)
If you find that you just can’t seem to remember this, try using their meanings — fame and famous — as clues: The shorter word is the noun, while the longer word is the adjective.
What words do you often mix up?
This morning, a fellow writer and good friend of this blog, Kathleen M. Rodgers, emailed me the following:
Can you post some helpful tips (simple rules) on the proper usage of “effect” and “affect” in a future writing tip on your blog? I swear, just when I think I get them both figured out, I read an article in a magazine, newspaper or FB post and I’m left even more confused. I think both words are misused a lot, even in well-known publications. Even though I’ve looked them up, I still am sometimes not sure which word to use when, and so I go out of my way to avoid them.
Indeed, “effect” and “affect” are misused all the time, but I learned a simple rule way back that helps me keep the two straight. Basically, when using the word in verb form, it’s “affect” with an “a.” That’s it. That’s all you need to know. So when you’re writing, ask yourself: Is this a noun or a verb? And the answer will give you the correct spelling. Let’s do a quiz: In each of the following sentences, is it “effects” or “affects”?
1. The visual __________ were amazing in that movie!
2. Love __________ everyone in different ways.
Well, in the first sentence, we’re talking noun, right? Modified by “visual,” right? So the answer must be “effects.” In the second example, we’re looking for a verb, so the answer is “affects.” Simple, right? Of course, there’s a tiny glitch in the rule. (The English language is trippy that way.) There are rare uses of the word in which “effect” can be used as a verb, and “affect” can be used as a noun. Grammar Girl explains it a lot better than I can here — and she also offers a cute little cartoon and a few mnemonics if my explanation regarding the general use of “effect” and “affect” doesn’t do the trick for you. :)
Omit unnecessary words. So I was sorting through the gazillion books I have around here and found (hooray!) my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. I cracked it open and read this in the second forward: “Omit needless words” (he was quoting Rule 17 in Elements of Style’s Principles of Composition chapter). Good rule. One of the biggies too. Sounds easy, right? Just go in and chop, chop, chop. But it wasn’t until I was muddling my way through the revisions of Baby Grand that I realized how difficult — and time-consuming — that really is. Now, here I am, several deadline extensions later, reading and re-reading sentences, scrutinizing words, construction, meaning. Am I saying this the best possible way? the most effective and interesting way? And in the end, it’s true: I’m doing lots of deleting — of adverbs for verbs that don’t need them, of adjectives for nouns that are just fine by themselves, of scenes that don’t work.
But I’m also doing lots of adding. Apparently, somewhere along the way, I left out the “necessary” words. So I’m supplementing verbs and nouns that could benefit from a modifier and filling out scenes that weren’t explored enough — a few of my chapters sort of just ended and left me feeling unsatisfied. I’m even adding new minor characters to help illustrate important points about a main character.
Remember, brevity for brevity’s sake isn’t the goal. It’s making every word count. The trick is finding the right ones.
To check out all of my writing tips, click here.