Some Common Errors of Diction, or Diction Matters

George P. Landow

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1. Don't use humans when you mean people or human beings. Humans sounds like the dialogue of a bad 1956 sci-fi movie.

2. Don't use barbarisms such as s/he or his/her if you find offensive the convention of using the masculine pronoun for both male and female. Instead, try the following: (a) use plurals ("readers . . . they"); (b) use the feminine pronoun instead of the masculine, employing "she" all the time that one conventionally encounters "he;" and (c) use "he or she" and so forth.

3. Don't use through, which implies movement through space, when you mean by means of.

4. Don't use while, which means "at the same time," when you mean whereas or although. (This phrasing has become increasingly acceptable, but it still can weaken your style. Avoid.)

5. Don't start sentences with Also. Do use In addition, Moreover, Furthermore.

Stylistic Matters

1. Avoid introducing quotations with non-informative phrases (e.g., "Pope states," "She says") and try to lead readers into the quoted material by letting them know what to expect. In the following passage the author has a fine introduction but doesn't realize it:

Finally, Austen ends the passage with a distinct notion of sarcasm. She states: "To this speech, Bingley made no answer."

Fixing the errors in idiom and cutting the unnecessary words make this introduction much stronger.

Finally, Austen ends the passage ON a distinctLY SARCASTIC NOTE: "To this speech, Bingley made no answer."

2. A quick way to add strength and clarity: take the noun or phrase following due to and because of, and make that noun or phrase the subject the sentence. Thus: Instead of "Due to the war, his business failed," try (1) "The war made his business fail" or (2) "The war destroyed his business."

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Related Resources

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Last modified 4 December 2006