There’s a certain irony that where
is often used in the wrong places.
Some examples, extracted from recent pieces I’ve edited:
• wrote a cover letter … where, instead of talking about
• an interesting video montage where writers
• an incident where the ship
• a transitional period where they
• in an age where communication was sluggish
These last two are especially heinous, because they refer to time, not place, so when
should be the obvious word choice. That fix is easier—and, clearly, less clunky—than the insertion of in which
, as the first three would warrant.
“But, but, but … that’s not ‘writing like you talk.’” Precisely.
Writing in a conversational tone doesn’t—or shouldn’t—mean sloppily slapping words together
. It means ditching jargon and six-syllable words in favor of accessible language to keep your message clear and your reader engaged.
Yes, you might forgo in which
in casual chats or even a professional oral conversation. The moment is fleeting, and the where
will float away on the wind and soon be, well, nowhere.
Writing is different; it’s permanent. Rather, it’s relatively
permanent; you can edit it—but if you’re going to correct it for posterity, why not just get it right in the first place?
[RELATED: Learn the "Four Cs" that are crucial to your internal writing at our one-day workshop in Chicago.]
It’s a common pitfall in today’s writing, especially online pieces. So, before you hit “send” or “publish,” do a search on where
to make sure it’s not misused.
Elsewhere on the usage front:
This is quite straightforward, and there’s an easy mnemonic for remembering which to use.
You convince Philomena that plan D is the best course of action. (Focus on the idea.)
You persuade Philomena to start implementing plan D before the boss’s nephew Algernon gets his fingers into it and screws it up. (Focus on the action.)
The i in convince
stands for idea; the a in persuade
stands for action.
Compared to, compared with
connotes similarity; compared with
is used to express contrast.
I would compare your painting style to that of Titian.
Compared with Titian, you’re a hog butcher.
I’m quietly confident that you see the difference.
William Shakespeare, in Sonnet No. 18
, plays upon the phrase, beginning:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
He’s asking, in essence, “Shall I liken
thee to a summer’s day?” Then he sets about explaining why that seemingly flattering comparison would do a disservice to his lady love.
There is a third option: against
. This is handy when one expresses a head-to-head comparison that, for example, shows relative ranking. This passage (from our story about the waning public regard for journalists) illustrates this usage:
Compare that against the most-disliked group, attorneys, whose “contribute a lot” rating dropped from 23 percent to 18 percent. Reporters seem to be catching up.
There is a lot going on, with percentages falling, but the relative decline is greater (or less, depending on which group you highlight). So, compare against
offers more neutral phrasing and conveys to the reader that there are both contrasts and similarities.
Expect to, expect that, anticipate
This is nuanced and probably idiosyncratic on my part, but it’s my essay, so I’ll offer my thoughts anyway.
To my mind, one can expect
only a sentient being to do
a given thing.
I expect you to tidy up your room, Marvin, before Aunt Wisteria arrives.
I expect Marvin’s room to be tidy when Aunt Wisteria arrives.
The room is not responsible for its tidiness. To suggest so puts undue pressure on the room, and that’s unfair.
Clarence, I expect that Marvin’s room will still be an utter pigsty when Aunt Wisteria arrives. If so, we’ll just shut the door and tell her that Marvin moved out and left no forwarding address.
a person or trained animal to do
something or behave in a given way, but expect that
a situation or set of circumstances will arise or exist.
The savvy among us will anticipate
such things, and take action:
Having anticipated Marvin’s failure to tidy up his room, I called in a hazmat team. Rob Reinalda is executive editor at Ragan Communications. Follow him on Twitter @word_czar.