#10 Uninterested or disinterested?

I can see how interchangeably ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ are used, but the words are very different.

If you are not interested in (or are bored by) something, you’re uninterested. If you do not have a personal stake in something (or are neutral or impartial), you’re disinterested.

John was yawning because he was uninterested in the lecture.
Never think your ex-wife will be disinterested in what you do. 🙂



Why treat cannot as corruption?

In one of the language seminars I attended recently, some grammar nerds (including me) started to talk about cannot, can not and can’t. The discussion ended soon after one confidently declared how can’t is the contraction for can not, and cannot is simply a corruption.  Well, for me this was only the start of a big discussion, and also a good topic for my next blog, I thought.

First thing first, every word has a meaning, a reason for its existence. So, why treat cannot as corruption? Cannot and can not are two different words (or forms) and have different meanings. Cannot means that there is no possibility of something happening. For example, I cannot reach home on time today (meaning under no circumstances can I reach home on time today, I’m sure). Thus, when we use cannot, there is no possibility of ‘can’. However, can not means that something can happen if you want it to happen. Look at this example, Because Chris doesn’t enjoy drinks, he can choose not to attend the party.  So, this sentence means that Chris can not attend the party, but he can also attend it (if he wants). He’s making a choice to not attend it. I hope I make sense here.

Look at this now.
I can not write this post (but I am writing because I want to). I cannot know who will read this post and how others will feel after reading this post (because this is beyond my control). I think I’ve done a decent job with this example and made the difference clearer. 🙂

What is the rule of thumb then?
You use two words when you think there is a possibility (and you can get rid of the second word – not – if you want to). You use one word when you know there is no possibility no matter how hard you try or desire.

Other way of looking at this theory is that you use two words when you want to emphasise the ‘not’ part. For example, I want a holiday now, but I probably can not do it this year.

So, cannot and can not are not interchangeable. And can not is not a new word. You can find references to can not in Shakespeare’s works like the famous Hamlet.

So, read your sentence next time and ensure you use the correct form!

Don’t utilize utilize, instead use use

Some words do smart jobs, and ‘utilize’ is one such word. Why I call it smart? Search the Internet for cover letter and resume samples, and you will find large percentage of people using ‘utilize’ to sound super intelligent to their interviewer. However, if you are a grammar nerd like me, you will notice this ploy. Moreover, if the usage is incorrect, all the impression is gone!

Smart words need smart use, but only when you know the difference between the word and its considered-simple substitute. In this case, the smart word is ‘utilize’ and its considered-simple substitute is ‘use’. 

I am sure ‘use’ being such a common term, we all know how and where it is best used. The problem occurs when we use ‘utilize’. The two words may appear very close in meaning, but are definitely not inter-changeable. 

Oxford English Dictionary (http://oxforddictionaries.com/) states the difference between these two words as follows:
‘Use’ means to take, hold or deploy (something) as a means of accomplishing or achieving something; while ‘utilize’ means to make practical and effective use of something.

So, technically you will find the two words are different. While the definition for ‘use’ is completely direct, ‘utilize’ means to bring something to use for a different purpose other than its intended purpose. Thus, when you want to make an alternative use of something, ‘utilize’ is the correct word. Using it merely as a replacement for ‘use’ to add aesthetic value to your text is incorrect.

Here are some examples:

  • Paul can ‘use’ the conference room today from 3 PM to 4 PM.
  • Paul can ‘utilize’ the conference room for his holiday party today.
  • Simon ‘uses’ the dining table for meals, but ‘utilizes’ it more as his work space.

In the third sentence, ‘use’ is appropriate in the first part because eating is the primary purpose of the dining table. However, ‘utilize’ is the appropriate word to use in the second part because that is not the primary purpose of the dining table. This is perhaps one of the simplest examples to learn the difference between ‘use’ and ‘utilize’.

So, choosing what to use of the two words should not be difficult now. Identify how the subject is mostly employed, and if you are referring to the same purpose, use ‘use’; otherwise, use ‘utilize’. Be smart and use ‘utilize’ smartly. If the receiving end is smart too, your effort will be appreciated and your writing will genuinely be loftier.

Need little more help? Look for all citations of use without single quotes in this blog, and it should be clear why I haven’t used ‘utilize’ in any of these citations. Simple! If you’re still confused, you’re safe to use ‘use’ at all times and avoid any misuse!

And now who can crack the title of this blog for me?

‘That’ or ‘Which’ is worth knowing!

‘That’ and ‘Which’ are one of the easiest words in grammar, yet I meet so many people who are unclear when to use ‘that’ and ‘which’.

Here are two versions of one sentence, one with ‘that’ and the other with ‘which’.

Which of the two sentences, do you think, is correct?

  • The book, which recently made headlines because of its content, has sold 100 000 copies.
  • The book that recently made headlines because of its content has sold 100 000 copies.

I’ll first give you the answer to the question above, rather than making you wait till the end of the article. The sentence with ‘that’ is correct. Also note the parenthetical commas in the first sentence.

Now the rule of thumb!

That or WhichUse ‘that’ to introduce a restrictive clause and ‘which’ to introduce a non-restrictive (parenthetical) clause. Have restricted and non-restricted created more confusion now? Well, it did when I learnt it the first time. But this is one widely used terminology to differentiate ‘that’ from ‘which’.

Here’s an easy explanation. Use ‘which’ when your purpose is just to add extra information to the sentence. That is, the meaning of the sentence is clear even without adding the extra information. Use ‘that’ when the meaning of the sentence is unclear without the clause. That is, if the clause is removed, the meaning of the sentence will change.

In the example above, the first sentence without the clause reads, ”The book has sold 100 000 copies”. This is unclear. Which book? What was the feature because of which it sold so much? Thus, you definitely need the clause to complete the meaning of the sentence. Hence, the second sentence is correct: The book that recently made headlines because of its content has sold 100 000 copies.

Let’s try with one more example now.

  • Lecture room 5, which is newly built, is in building 51.
  • Lecture room 5 that is newly built is in building 51.

Now in this case, the sentence with ‘which’ is correct. The ”newly built” clause is adding extra information to the sentence and if removed, does not alter the meaning of the sentence—Lecture room 5 is in building 51.

Another difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’ is that ‘which’ is always supported by parenthetical commas.

Now that you know the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’, you would ask, ”Is this difference worth bothering”?

While most people would use ‘which’ and ‘that’ interchangeably and it does not result in undue confusion, it is worth knowing the difference to make your writing as clear as possible (especially in technical and business writing).

Just a reminder towards the end; do not use ‘that’ or ‘which’ to refer to people. Use ‘who’ instead.

  • Incorrect: The boy that played football is injured.
  • Correct: The boy who played football is injured.