Word Choice: When to Use “Like” vs “Such As”

by Barbara McNichol

When it comes to word choices and deciding what to use in your writing, check out these phrases from a book I’m editing:

. . . the answers that so-called geniuses like/such as Newton seem to embody.

. . . centuries of innovations like/such as the airplane and the space shuttle have resulted.

Here’s why such as is preferred instead of like in these phrases: The word “like” implies comparison while “such as” implies inclusion. Thus, being like something doesn’t include the thing itself. If the sentence was “they’re like a fish trying to swim upstream,” then it’s a clear comparison.

Let’s examine this more closely. In the first phrase, the author does include Newton as a so-called genius, so “such as” is the better choice. Similarly, in the second phrase, the airplane and space shuttle are examples of innovations, so they’re meant to be included.

Do you see how your intended meaning within the context of your writing helps you choose which word to use?

Your challenge: When you’re about to write “like,” ask this question: Would I include this point in a list or exclude it? That’s your clue on selecting “like” (exclude) or “such as” (include).

Need help determining which word to choose? Ask a question with your example in this blog.

The Adventures of Pinocchio * Word Tripper

Italian writer Carlo Collodi wrote the children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1883. Pinocchio was a wooden puppet who wanted to become a real boy. Despite the efforts of his trusty conscience, The Talking Cricket, he kept lying and wasn’t conscious of his actions.

Much like The Talking Cricket, let this week’s Word Tripper be your guide to the difference between conscious and conscience.


Image Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinocchio#/media/File:Pinocchio.jpg & http://www.florencewithguide.com/blog/happy-birthday-pinocchio/

Conscience, conscious – “Conscience,” a noun, is part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions being morally right or wrong. “Conscious,” an adjective, describes being awake and able to understand what’s happening around you (a fact or feeling).

“I was highly conscious of my inability to pocket the wad of twenty-dollar bills I’d found. I knew my conscience wouldn’t allow me to keep this money.” – Bobbie Bookhout

Breaking Down * Word Tripper

Things break down. Muscles atrophy from lack of use, cars won’t start from lack of maintenance, and houses get messy due to lack of cleaning. Sometimes life just doesn’t go the way you plan and the entropy of everyday living can take its toll on a person’s body and mind.

Here’s help in making sure your lexicon doesn’t break down. This week’s Word Tripper highlights the differences between atrophy and entropy.

atrophy-entropy2Image Sources: http://www.hughston.com/hha/a_14_2_3.htm & http://socratic.org/questions/can-you-give-an-example-of-a-system-with-high-entropy-and-one-with-low-entropy

Atrophy, entropy – “Atrophy,” a noun and a verb, refers to a gradual loss or wasting away physically or psychologically. It can also refer to poor development. “Entropy,” a noun, is the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system. In a technical sense, it’s the gradual breakdown of energy and matter. In casual usage, entropy refers to the disintegration or disorganization of any situation.

“The teenager’s muscles started to atrophy from lying in bed too long. His room, scattered with clothes, shoes, and books, showed a degree of entropy from being neglected.”

Write with Intention Every Time

by Barbara McNichol

Much of the spoken language slides into our writing, but at times the words we say aren’t the exact fit for what we mean. Check your intention every time!

Consider these sentences from a manuscript about education:

  • How many principals do what they feel will win approval?
  • The public feels certain people shouldn’t be teaching.

Given the context, is “feel” the correct word to express the author’s meaning? No, because the essence of the intended meaning doesn’t come from an emotional “feeling” source. Rather, it comes from a profound conviction based on experience—a place of belief.

Replace “feeling” with the word “believe,” which involves caring about something. It implies a deeper kind of thinking—a mental activity that doesn’t necessarily have a sense of conviction. Because of this distinction, the better word choices would be:

  • How many principals do what they believe will win approval?
  • The public believes certain people shouldn’t be teaching.

writing with intentYour challenge: Question yourself when you select a commonly spoken word. Does it express the exact meaning based on its context? From now on, designate “feel” a red-flag word. Then replace it with “think” or “believe” or “hope” or another verb and reread your sentence. Is “feel” the most precise word to convey your intended meaning? If not, pause and find exactly the right one.

Unsure which of these verbs—feel, think, believe—to use in your own writing? For feedback on your sentence(s), request it here.

Tricks of the Trade * Word Tripper

Every practice has its tricks of the trade. In this week’s Word Tripper, the trick to knowing the difference between the homonym “breach” and “breech” is this: ”Breach,” meaning to open by force or break an agreement, is spelled with an “ea” like the word “break” itself.

If writing is part of your trade, use this trick to differentiate between these two words both in meaning and spelling. Happy Word Tripping!


Image Source: https://divingphysiology.wordpress.com/tricks-of-the-trade/

Breach, breech – As a noun, “breach” is a failure to do what’s required or promised; a break in friendly relations between people or groups; a hole or opening in something created by force. As a verb, it means to fail to do what’s required or promised; to force an opening or break an agreement. “Breech,” a noun, refers to the hind end of something. For example, a breech birth occurs when an infant’s bottom comes out first during delivery. “Breech” is also the part of a firearm (e.g., a rifle or cannon) found at the rear end of its barrel.

“It’s clearly a breech birth when the doctor sees the newborn’s bottom breach the birth canal.” – Dr. Ron Minson

Envelope vs. Envelop – Word Tripper

by Barbara McNichol

The U.S. Postal Service processes 6,050 mail pieces every second, employs more than 8 million people, and is part of a $1.3 trillion mailing industry that envelops most of the known world.

This WT pair, envelop and envelope, differ by just one letter but are different parts of speech and have distinct meanings.


Overloaded mail truck used by a mail contract carrier in Cody, Wyoming
Image Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/567946202984427537/

Envelop, envelope – “Envelop,” a transitive verb, means to completely cover, enclose, or surround someone or something. “Envelope,” a noun, is a flat container that covers a letter or other object, often for mailing or delivery. It also refers to a set of performance or conventionally accepted limits.

“Let me envelop you in the warm, fuzzy envelope of my love.” – Gary Michael

“She pushed the envelope of her endurance by running an extra mile.”

Enveloped by the stacks of papers he had to grade, he felt overwhelmed.”

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Please suggest your own Word Trippers here.

What Writing Blunders Have Cost You – Big Time?

by Barbara McNichol

Writing Blunders

Writing Blunders

It only takes a moment to make a blunder in writing that sets in  motion near-disastrous results. Sure, writing “best retards” instead of “best regards” can be embarrassing but some writing blunders can truly hurt.

What catastrophic examples can you cite about communications gone awry? What consequences followed?

Please share your stories here. The person who submits the Biggest Blunder example earns a printed copy of my Word Trippers book. See www.WordTrippers.com



Nifty New Tool: Headline Analyzer

Whenever I hear about a fun writing tool, I have to try it out. Most recently I learned about a nifty headline analyzer from SpeakerNet News (a highly recommended weekly resource for professional speakers and trainers www.speakernetnews.com).

For a recent Word Tripper of the Week, I played with various subject lines. After starting with the too-familiar Random Acts of Kindness, the analyzer scored these various ideas and helped me choose one (noted in bold). Which one of these would you have selected? A better idea yet?

1) The Kinder Side of Life (score of 65)

2) No Act of Kindness Is Too Small (score of 60)

3) The Gift of Kindness (score of 62)

4) Cool To Be Kind (score of 66)

5) Speak the Language of Kindness (score of 53)

Feel free to experiment with your own headings at http://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer

Share your experience here.

Random Acts of Kindness – Word Tripper

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is a non-profit organization that inspires a culture of kindness in schools, homes, and communities. It encourages acts of kindness by providing resources to people who are both benevolent and beneficent.

This week’s Word Tripper clarifies the difference between these similar words.

beneficient-benevolentImage Source: http://wordinfo.info/unit/293/page:2 & http://mightymag.org/category/daily-devotional/page/18/


Should It Be One Word or Two? Request My One-Two List

by Barbara McNichol

As I was finalizing a manuscript I edited for a nonfiction author, I hired a proofreader to give it a final check. (I knew I’d read it too many times myself.) What she found humbled me. I thought I had a good handle on which phrases are customarily two words versus one (backyard—not back yard—comes to mind) but several surprised me.

My proofreader corrected these (verified on dictionary.com). Look familiar?•    rooflines (not roof lines)
•    safe-deposit box (not safe deposit box)
•    old-timers (not old timers)
•    carsick (not car sick)
•    safekeeping (not safe keeping)
•    autopilot (not auto pilot)
•    pocketknife (not pocket-knife)

So I’ve put together a cheat sheet I call my One-Two List to answer the question: Should it be one word or two? Instead of guessing, it’s easy to refer to this list I’ve compiled.

Request PDF with “One-Two List” in subject line.

What one word or two questions do you have? Ask them here.