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Problematic Editorial Issues


Webster’s 10th edition is wrong. The whole is composed of the parts, or the whole comprises the parts. Comprise is to include or contain. Substitute the word include, and if it works, so will comprise. Use composed of, not comprised of.

  • The wedding party was composed of 13 bridesmaids and 13 groomsmen.
  • The wedding party comprised 13 bridesmaids and 13 groomsmen.


Do not use the word stomach to denote the abdominal area. Stomach is that organ inside your body. It’s very difficult to scratch your stomach. You would scratch your abdomen, or in more informal writing, your belly. We don’t have stomach muscles and we don’t lie on our stomachs. We lie on our bellies (or abdomens, or facedown), and we have abdominal muscles, or, in more informal writing, ab muscles or abs. Furthermore, abdominal is an adjective, so only use the word to describe a noun: abdominal muscles, abdominal area, but not abdominals.

Be stingy with apostrohpes

Don’t use apostrophes to denote plural, and don’t use them with numbers:

  • Five thank-yous
  • Madonna wannabes
  • Dos and don’ts
  • 1 v 1s
  • The 3s line up in the middle of the gym floor


Entitled means to furnish with a right. Titled is the better choice to express the title of a work.

Watch for overuse of the word individuals

Individual/individuals and person/people mean the same thing. You’ll see the word individuals most often in academic text. In academic text, try to vary the usage with person and people. In trade text, avoid using the word individual unless you’re distinguishing a single person or people from a group.

Every day/everyday

Everyday is an adjective meaning ordinary. Every day means each day. We’re seeing the word everyday more and more in advertising copy, but most often it’s used incorrectly. Here are correct uses:

  • She wore her everyday clothes to the interview at the law firm; consequently, she did not get the job.
  • Every day I run a marathon.

A while/awhile

Never use awhile after a preposition. You can say stay awhile but not stay for awhile.


Something that makes you sick (a rocking ship or the Spice Girls) is nauseous. You are nauseated if you feel as if you’ll vomit. A person who feels sick is no more nauseous than a person who has been poisoned is poisonous.

All right/alright

Think of alright the same way you should think of alot. It’s still two words, and double the l.


Principle is always a noun; it can’t be used as an adjective. Principal is an adjective meaning "main" or "primary" unless it’s used to mean the head of a school or a chief person in a function:

  • She’s the principal dancer for the Joffrey Ballet.
  • The principal reason for her retirement...
  • You should stand up for your principles and values.

Center on/revolve around

Center means to focus or zero in. Therefore, use on with center. If you must use around, use revolve with it. Do not use center around.


Fazed means "affected." Pneumonic device: Remember the f in affected; that will help you to remember the f spelling instead of the ph spelling.

Feel bad/feel badly

If you feel badly, that means you grope clumsily or incorrectly at something. You feel bad about something. Feel is a linking verb, so a form of to be can substituted for feel and the meaning doesn’t change much.

That which/what

That which is another one of those big fancy constructions that is expressed just as clearly with what. That which is also more British in nature. Try to avoid it.

Try to/try and

Try and is common in casual speech, but don’t use it in writing. Literally it means one is going to try to do something and then go ahead and do something. Use try to.


Fewer applies to units, less to quantity. Fewer modifies a plural noun (fewer persons, things, ideas), less a singular noun (less joy, anger, money).


Between usually applies to a one-on-one situation and usually connotes a more specific relation than among does.


Except in British English, farther means "more distant," usually in a measurable sense, as in Is Chicago or St. Louis farther from Indianapolis? In an abstract sense, further would be used:

  • Nothing could be further from the truth.
  • He went further and further into debt.


Continual means "constantly recurrent" and continuous means "uninterrupted." Note the following examples:

  • Chris Farley continually checked in to drug rehabilitation clinics throughout the early ’90s. (It was a habitual occurrence, but he wasn’t in rehab for five years at a time.)
  • The gymnast’s tumbling pass was a continuous succession of flips and twists. (Her tumbling pass had no interruption.)

Compare to/compare with

To compare something with something else is to point out their similarities, differences, or both. To compare something to Something else is simply to assert that they’re alike. Think of compare to the same way you think of liken to.

  • How do I compare thee to a summer’s day?
  • Let’s compare the Russian skaters’ program with the Canadian skaters’ program.


Impact/affect (new as of 2/03)

Unless you’re describing a tennis ball smashing into a racket, do NOT use "impact" as a verb! Use "affect," "has an effect on," or "has an impact on."

While/although (new as of 2/3)

Do not use "while" to mean "although." Authors often use the "while" construction, but it can mislead the reader to think that it’s a statement of time.

As/because (new as of 2/03)

Do not use "as" to mean "because." Again, it’s a temporal word that can be misleading.

"I wonder" and "Guess what" are not questions (new as of 2/03)

These phrases are imperatives (commands), so they should not be followed by question marks.

Avoid long noun phrases as adjectives (new as of 8/05)

This is becoming common in newspaper headlines, and I’ve noticed that authors of our books are following suit. Long noun phrases functioning as adjectives are clumsy, ambiguous, misleading, and not very grammatical. Examples are "resource management challenges" (better as "challenges in resource management") "natural resource protection" (should be "protection of natural resources" because the former makes the phrase sound as if the protection is natural, which isn’t accurate), and "skeletal muscle carbohydrate metabolism" (should be "carbohydrate metabolism in skeletal muscle").


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