What’s the Difference (Words)? Authors’ BillBoard

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What’s the difference between can and may? Does it matter? Words make a difference. As an author, I have to be careful with what words I choose. A mother teaches her children (or tries to) to say “May I have a cookie?” which is asking permission, rather than “Can I have a cookie?” meaning, “Am I capable of having a cookie?” Today people use the word “can” to ask permission, so I use it that way when I’m writing dialogue, but not in the rest of the story.

When the difference is between can and will, it is a question of being able to (can) as opposed to wanting to do it or not (will). A scripture says, “If any will not work, neither let him eat.” Notice the use of the word “will.” This refers to someone who is able to work, who could find a job, but won’t. He’s lazy. It is not referring to a person who cannot work because he is unable.

I think everyone has their set of words that gives them problems when they write. Mine is lie and lay. I always have to stop and look them up whenever I want to use them in a sentence. Simply put, lie means to recline, and must never have an object. Lay means to put or place something down, so has an object (the thing you put down). The problem arises when you need to use the past tense of lie, which is lay, so it feels like you are using the wrong word.

When I write my Trahern series, which involves a family moving west after the Civil War, I sometimes bring in a tiny bit of dialect. I use more when my characters are just out of the mountains, and less if they’ve been out for a while. A sprinkling of such words is all that is needed to give the impression.

The Handsomest Man in the Country is the first of the Trahern series and is free, so give it a try.

Link to Handsomest Man

The problem I notice most often in other people’s writing is it’s and its. It’s (with the apostrophe) means it is, whereas its means something belonging to it. It is the first day of the shop’s grand opening, would be written: It’s the first day of its opening. The error occurs because we usually show possession by an apostrophe. I have to go through my books, checking all the “its” to make certain I didn’t slip up. It’s so very easy to do.

What words give you fits?

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Nancy Radke
Nancy Radke grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch in SE Washinton State. She attended a one-room country school through the eighth grade. She learned to ride bareback at age 3 (Really! It was a common practice.) and when she got off or fell off, she would pull her horse's nose to the ground, get on behind its ears, and the horse would lift its head so she could scoot down onto its back. She spent most of her childhood exploring the Blue Mountain trails that bordered the ranchlands. She and a friend once took a trail that turned out to be a two day trip. They always rode with matches and pocket knives, so made camp and returned the next day. These long rides worried her parents, but provided plenty of time to make up stories. Her first novel was set in the Blues, and is entitled APPALOOSA BLUES. TURNAGAIN LOVE was the first one published. It rated a four star review from Affaire de Coeur. Scribes World said "Turnagain Love has some fascinating twists and turns, unexpected complications, and charming scenes." It is light and humorous.  View website
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Nancy Radke

About Nancy Radke

Nancy Radke grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch in SE Washinton State. She attended a one-room country school through the eighth grade. She learned to ride bareback at age 3 (Really! It was a common practice.) and when she got off or fell off, she would pull her horse's nose to the ground, get on behind its ears, and the horse would lift its head so she could scoot down onto its back. She spent most of her childhood exploring the Blue Mountain trails that bordered the ranchlands. She and a friend once took a trail that turned out to be a two day trip. They always rode with matches and pocket knives, so made camp and returned the next day. These long rides worried her parents, but provided plenty of time to make up stories. Her first novel was set in the Blues, and is entitled APPALOOSA BLUES. TURNAGAIN LOVE was the first one published. It rated a four star review from Affaire de Coeur. Scribes World said "Turnagain Love has some fascinating twists and turns, unexpected complications, and charming scenes." It is light and humorous.  View website

3 thoughts on “What’s the Difference (Words)? Authors’ BillBoard

  1. Hi, Nancy, thanks for posting the word games, I call it, and I doubly appreciate the timeliness, cuz I had the wrong word for lay in my current WIP. Just went back and fixed it, altho my editor may have already called me out on it, haven’t heard back yet.

    Have a wonderful day and I mean that alot…giggle!

    Sue

  2. Words do indeed matter. I would laughingly say the children’s game was called MOTHER, MAY I not MOTHER, CAN I, but I don’t know if anyone plays that children’s game now.

    Misuse of words drives me crazy, but I guess it’s to be expected since grammar really isn’t taught in public schools in today’s world.

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