Language and style – part 1

Less or FewerLanguage and style are things that writers without degrees in English (uhh, that’d be me) improve upon by ‘listening’ when they read. And I use inverted commas for ‘listening’ because I think reading the latest Mark Billingham novel out loud will cause your nearest and dearest to lob the weightiest Stephen King novel they can lay their hands on at you. By listening, I mean being aware of what is being written, the words chosen, the grammar used – and learning from that.

Now there are plenty of resources out there on the World Wide InterWeb that highlight the differences between its and it’s (if you can replace the word with ‘it is’, then it’s is correct), but I’m going to post here some of the more obscure points about style. Not ‘cause I know it all and want to educate the world. More because I don’t know it all, and they’re all handy reminders for me!

Among and between

For more than two, among is usually better. For example: ‘Their lands were divided among the three victorious nations’. When there are more than two involved, but each is regarded individually, between is preferable. ‘The President argued for a strategic alliance between Africa’s leading nations.’ For two, always use between.

Anticipate or expect

Anticipate does not mean expect. The crowd at a football match may expect the winger to cross the ball into the penalty area; it is the job of the defenders and attackers to anticipate it.


Often unnecessary. ‘Both John and Dave’ means no more than ‘John and Dave’.


Means persistent and not acute or severe.

That’s it for today. More to follow.


About djpaterson

Reader, Writer, Arithmeticer. Not always in that order.
This entry was posted in Grammar, Writers, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Language and style – part 1

  1. Pingback: The meaning(s) of “anticipate” « Motivated Grammar

  2. Rob says:

    Anticipate certainly does mean ‘expect’, as any dictionary will confirm. The OED gives 8 meanings for it. And using it to mean ‘expect’ has been standard at all levels since the 1800s. The supposed distinction between ‘between’ and ‘among’ is also false.

  3. Rob says:

    And in many places outside the US “12 items or less” is perfectly good grammar. Tell people from these places otherwise and they’ll laugh at you. An author in the 1700s, or thereabouts, expressed a preference for “fewer” in some contexts. That’s fine; that’s his prerogative, but he never even claimed it was a rule. Generations of American school teachers have latched on to this and forced people to follow suit.

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