Monthly Archives: May 2011

Which pairs of words need clarifying?

I’m going to do a series of short posts, possibly daily, clarifying tricky pairs of words.

For example:

affect – effect
practise – practice
fewer – less
compliment – complement

I need loads of them – please comment with your favourite / least favourite / personally troublesome words and I’ll cover as many as I can and build up a nice resource for my readers!


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Can, may and might

A request has come in from a reader to write about distinguishing between “can”, “may” and “might” – so here goes. Again, my sources of reference have been the Oxford English Dictionary, New Hart’s Rules and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors.

Can vs. May
Can implies the ability to do something. “Can she play the piano?” – is she able to, at any point in time, play the piano? Is she capable of it? Has she learnt to play it?
May implies permission to do something or the possibility of doing something. The latter is probably the easy one – “She may play the piano if she feels up to it” introduces the possibility of her doing so. “May she play the piano? ” is asking for permission to do so.
An amusing way to remember this – “May I play this piano?” – “Of course you may. But CAN you play the piano?” – “No, I never learnt to do so!”
You do also find this one in discussions with parents and teachers. “Can I leave the table?” – “You are certainly ABLE to leave the table, but whether you have permission is a different matter!”

May vs. Might
I admit here that I had to do some research on this one. Traditionally, may is used in the present/future tense, and might in the past tense. So: “I may have some coffee after dinner if I’m still thirsty” vs. “He might have known his attacker.”

All clear? Oh, and while we’re on cans and mays … “cannot” is preferably used as one word, rather than “can not”. The only exception is in constructions like “He can not only do this, but also the other.”


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And these are only the mistakes I noticed …

Over on my book review blog, I talk about a book which was so riddled with errors (including missing commas, typos, missing semi colons, a lack of fact-checking and plain odd sentences) that it completely put me off the text and I felt compelled to mark them all up and then write them all down …


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What have I been up to in April?

Time to update you all on what I’ve been up to in the last month or so!

April has been a time for my lovely regular customers. My physiotherapy clinic from Cirencester, my translator from Finland, my Taiwanese Master’s student, the journalist whose interviews I transcribe and my American PR agency have all sent me various projects this month, including sorting out a set of blog posts and setting up categories and tags for them, copyediting end-of-year reports for various businesses, writing press releases, transcribing an interview with a doyen of folk music, etc.

I’ve also done some individual projects for some students, and some urgent copytyping work for a friend who’s a Virtual Assistant who had too much on her plate one weekend. I do like to be helpful (actually, Bernadette’s organising a get-together for Virtual Assistants on May 18 in Birmingham – let me know if you’d like an invitation).

I’ve also been busy with my Iris Murdoch and Book Groups project – my first two regular groups (as opposed to the pilot group) have just read the book, with several more to come in May and groups signing up all the time (do get in touch if you’re interested in taking part).

Looking forward, I’ve gone more part-time at the Library job from the beginning of May, so I’ll have four days a week that I can devote to Libro projects if I need to. I’m looking forward to having a better work-work-life balance from now on! And I’ll also have room to take on some more clients, regular and one-off.

I’ve got some PhDs on the go, I should be doing some more writing and copyediting for one of my web developer clients, and the student dissertations are likely to start building up. If you know someone whose dissertation is due in May – October and they need it checked over, please do ask them to get in touch with me to book in as soon as possible. And of course, work for my regulars will hopefully continue to pop into the inbox!


Posted by on May 4, 2011 in Business, Jobs, Organisation, What Do I Do?


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