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

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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