Writing 4.2 – Writest and Wrongest

Here’s another installment of my series simply designed to tell you that you’re not writing rite.  I mean, that you’re righting is wrong.  Just try to get it write.  Never mind.


Farther v. Further

I don’t know how many times I have to review this, but there never seems to be an end to those who can’t or haven’t yet grasped the difference between these two simple words.  It’s not difficult, provided you remind yourself that taking advice from someone who had an article accepted for the Huffington Post Blog is not nearly as substantial as taking advice from someone with two language/writing degrees and a career in education.  Other than that, well, let’s do this.

Tell me if you notice anything unusual here:

Far, farther, farthest

Fur, further, furthest

Yes, that’s it.  Fur doesn’t belong in this set.  Nobody ever wrote, “That town is fur away.”  I’m sure it’s been said or pronounced that way in a Southern dialect, but it’s not something that should be written.

So what’s the difference between farther and further?

Farther is the comparative form of far.  Oh, sorry.  What does comparative mean?  Two things are being compared.  Just as bigger means one thing has more size than another, farther means one thing has more distance than the other.

I throw far, but she throws farther

That’s comparing.  Bring in a third, and that throw could be farthest – the superlative form of farFar, farther, farthest.

What about further?

I drove far.  Then I took a nap and drove further.

Further is used when one thing travels a distance, then continues – further.  Need a hint?  Look at the U in further.  U – or You drive far, then U – or You drive further.  There is no comparing anything.  You have one thing that moves, stops, then keeps going.

I don’t care what Merriam-Webster.com or Grammarly or any other website says.  Those sites are not always using proper grammar and language.  Sometimes, those sites are summarizing what is acceptable instead of what is correct.  Screw them.


Till v. ‘til573545-cash-register

Have you written anything like this?

I waited till you got home, then I started making dinner.

No.  Please don’t.  Till is not the same as until, except in dialogue.

Till – a tray or container for collecting or holding money, especially in a business setting.

The cashier had no singles in her till and couldn’t break a $20.

So what is ‘til?  It’s the poetic version of until.  In poetry, we can shorten or manipulate words in order to keep with a prescribed meter or rhythm.  Just as The Star Spangled Banner uses o’er instead of over, we adjust until to ‘til for poetry and music.  However, when you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you should write until.

If you are writing dialogue, you can get away with ‘til because there are many people who will say it that way.  That’s not just acceptable but could be preferred to assist in characterization.  Your snooty or educated characters might say until, and might even correct someone who says ‘til just to characterize them as a know-it-all.  Like me.

Like v. As/Such AsLou Gehrig and Babe Ruth Batting Cage

Most of us know that like and as are used to create a simile as opposed to a metaphor.  However, like and as are not interchangeable.  No, seriously.

Like –similar, comparable, bearing resemblance

As – to the same degree, amount, extent

I admire baseball heroes like Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, and Ted Williams.

This does not mean I admire Mickey, Stan, and Ted.  It means I admire players like them.  Someone like them is not them but players who are similar, comparable, or bearing resemblance to them.  Mickey, Stan, and Ted are excluded.

I admire baseball heroes such as Mickey Mantle, Stan Musical, and Ted Williams.

With such as, I am now specifically including Mickey, Stan, and Ted as admirable.

Started v. Do Ite3c933be53c0c76a1828c83c2558700e

It had been a long day, too long.  Heidi stumbled into the house, both arms struggling to hold supermarket plastic bags that seemed overloaded and ready to rip.  She made it to the kitchen, place the bags on the floor, and took a long breath.  Then she started to put the groceries away.

I often read sentences that us started in this way, but why started?  Is she not going to finish?  Will she be interrupted?  Why are you telling us that she started if you’re not going to tell us she stopped?  Does anyone start running but never stop?

Instead of telling us she’s putting groceries away, just let her put them away.  We know she just arrived home, so we know she hasn’t already been putting groceries away.

…and took a long breath.  Then she opened the first bag, pulled out three boxes of pasta, and tucked them neatly into the pantry.  Twenty minutes later, she closed the cabinet doors and said, “I need a beer.”

See, she wasn’t putting anything away, and then she was putting something away.  We’re smart enough to know that means she just started putting the groceries away.  You don’t have to tell us that.  We can “see” it for ourselves.  

Lied v. Said GTY_Woman_Using_Laptop2_TG_140514_16x9_992

Fiction writers think they’re being creative when they have a character lie, followed by a confirming dialogue attribution.  For example:

“I meant to call, but I forgot,” she lied.

Maybe that was cool ten or twenty years ago, but please stop.  This is another example of telling instead of showing.  Part of the challenge of writing is to show us what is happening while dancing along a line that separates telling and showing because it’s the same line that separates a summary versus a story.  Which of the following would you rather read?

“Hey,” Paul said as he entered the living room.  Heidi abruptly closed her laptop.  “What’s up?  More online shopping?”

“Yes!” she blurted, her smile forced and her breathing jump started, “but it’s a surprise, so no peeking.  Birthday coming up, so be a good boy.”  She tucked the laptop beneath her right arm and headed upstairs to the bedroom as Paul silently watched.


“Hey,” Paul said as he entered the living room.  Heidi abruptly closed her laptop.  “What’s up?  More online shopping?”

“Yes,” she lied.

By using lied, you excuse yourself from having to actually, creatively show us Heidi’s body language as she stumbles and stammers when Paul enters the room unexpectedly.

 – 30 –

6 thoughts on “Writing 4.2 – Writest and Wrongest

  1. Actually, sometimes I start putting the groceries away but never finish, and that last bag of apples may stay on the floor until all apples are eventually eaten.

  2. “Fur, further, furthest” This help explains why I never received any signatures on my petition to stop the far import trade. Damn autocorrect.

  3. “I often read sentences that us started in this way, but why started?”
    I think you mean “use” instead of “us”. Typos are fun.

    I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of “started”, anyway. It depends on where in a story you’re using it. The sentence, “Then she started to put the groceries away,” sounds like it would come as the last sentence in a chapter, or at least a section of a chapter, and then a new scene begins somewhere else. Imagine it like a movie. If a character comes home with groceries and puts them away, we’re not going to watch her put all of them away. We’re going to see her put away maybe one item, and then the scene changes. We see her start to put the groceries away. We don’t see her put all of them away. And I think that’s why many writers would say, “Then she started to put the groceries away.” Although personally, I like “began” rather than “started”.
    If this sentence doesn’t occur at the end of a section, but rather in the middle, I’m going to assume that other things are going to be happening while she’s putting away the groceries, otherwise this is going to be a very boring scene. She might be having a conversation with someone, or maybe she’s just thinking to herself. But all of that is going to happen between the time that she begins putting the groceries away and the time that she finishes, so I think it makes sense to announce that she was beginning, tell about what happened during, and then announce that she finished.

    • i think that what you’re suggesting on the use of “started” goes along with what i said was one of the acceptable ways to use it. so i think we’re really in agreement on this. however, what we’re definitely not in agreement on is putting commas and periods outside quotations marks. that’s strictly a british thing, and i suggest you stop doing it. you can disagree if you like, but you’d be wrong.

what say you?

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