Words Do Not Mean the Same Thing Uncategorized / Writing & Grammar

Hello everyone:

I was perusing some assignments this week and discovered some very interesting things: some students believe that there is no difference between some very common words. Let me be more specific.

The word “or” cannot substitute for “our” or “are.” Neither can the word “our” be a successful stand in for “are.” Folks, it doesn’t matter how southern your accent is, that substitution will not work to your advantage on a college-level paper. “Are” doesn’t work for “hour,” either.

You cannot tell me something is “not in vein” when you meant that it is “not in vain.” It’s been done. It doesn’t work so well. Not at all, truth be known. The former means you have put something into your body; the second one is right on the money, if you tried to do something and it didn’t work.

“Alright” isn’t. It should be “all right.” It is always written as two words, when it is done correctly. Do not cite Mr. Ibid in your papers, either. He belongs in footnotes and on reference pages, as the sexless “Ibid.” Do not place him in sentences (Mr. Ibid states that…..) or as part of an in-text citation (Ibid, 2019, p. 123). Neither is correct. Yes, both have made an appearance in papers I have gotten.

Watch out for et al., which I have seen in many incarnations (ets all, et al’s, and eats all, to name a few). A couple of those belong at a pie-eating contest, not in your paper.

“Oftentimes” is a lovely word but it is not two lovely words. Every week, someone writes it as two. Please don’t do that. More recently, scholars have used the word “often” in place of the more archaic “oftentimes.” I find students frequently want to impress me with their vocabulary and use the longer word. I’m okay with “oftentimes,” finding it charming, but I appreciate students who use it correctly.

“Within” and “in” do not mean the same thing. Just ask Siri. The longer of the two words is used to impress. It is always used when the student means “in” but “in” doesn’t sound half as fancy. Don’t impress me; be accurate.

One final note: You have been faithful to read this to the end, so I will reward you with a joke I heard on the radio this morning. The story is told regarding online dating services. The gal said, “When a fellow says he lives in a gated community, beware. He could mean he lives in a prison.”


Dr. Sheri


Sheri Dean Parmelee has a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Regent University. She writes books on practical tips for people who become unexpectedly unmarried and is working on her second novel in a series of contemporary romance/suspense novels. She teaches at three colleges, working with students from freshmen to graduate students. Her hobbies include running 8 miles a day and reading biographies and fiction.

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