Monday: Tidbit

Grammar Tidbit

Does your writing tend to be more formal than conversational? Even if it’s on the casual end of the style spectrum, don’t you aim to keep everything grammatically sound enough to clearly convey your messages?

Sometimes we write the way we speak, whether that’s intentional or just the product of writing on a roll. When this happens, we can say something we don’t quite realize is confusing. Take the word “only,” for example:

I only have 100 updates because I just restored this computer.

That’s a bunch of updates! This line is almost nonsensical; it helps that there is no comma, which points us in the right direction, but in effect, the speaker is coming across as nonchalant about the number of updates. What do you mean only a hundred updates? That isn’t the message he means to convey at all!  What he means is this:

I have 100 updates only because I just restored this computer.

Now we’re understanding! See how the placement of “only” made us misconstrue the line? While this can be fine in dialogue (it is, after all, the way people speak), narrative has to be cleaner. Make sure you position “only” right where it needs to be to modify the correct idea. Otherwise, readers could make many bizarre interpretations of a very simple thought!

Have a grammar peeve you’d like others to finally learn? Send your tidbit, name, and web-space to!

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