Category Archives: Writing

YOU MUST HAVE TO


I received an interesting question from an English teacher in Iran who wanted to know the differences, if any, between “must” and “have to/has to.” This is an interesting question because the expressions are nearly identical. To answer, I had to think not only about their strict definitions but also about how they are used.

The terms “must” and “have to/has to” are modal auxiliaries that communicate (1) an obligation to perform some action or (2) that some state of being or action is highly likely. They are nearly interchangeable.

SLIGHT DIFFERENCES

These expressions have differing connotations when used to communicate an obligation. Unlike “have to/has to,” “must” communicates a sense of moral obligation such that the action is the morally correct action. They also have slightly different connotations when used to express states of being or the likelihood of an action. Unlike “must,” “has to/have to” can describe the absence of any other choices.

Finally, “must” may express an opinion as a moral judgment, as in, “In my opinion, this action I am telling to you perform is the right action. If you do something else than what I am telling you, you are doing something bad.” Thus, similar to “should,” “must” can take an opinion and change it into a moral judgment. This is true because morals are value judgments, which are subjective.

MUST

In some contexts, “must” is similar to “should” in that “must” communicates a sense of moral obligation to perform some action or moral correctness of a choice. In other contexts, “must” communicates that a certain state of being is so likely that any other possibility is inconceivable.

“She must pay her bills on time or she will go to jail.” – moral obligation to perform some action

“She must pay her bills on time because she never gets late payment notices.” –highly probable state of being

“You must protect your children.” –moral obligation, the right choice

“You must be tired by now.” –highly probable state of being

“I must stop at the corner.” –the only correct state of being or action

HAS TO/HAVE TO

In most contexts, “has to/have to” communicates a requirement to perform some action, similar to “must” but without the sense of moral correctness. In other contexts, “has to/have to” communicates that a certain state of being is so likely that any other possibility is inconceivable.

“She has to pay her bills on time.” –obligation to perform some action.

She has to pay her bills on time because she never gets late payment statements.” Highly probable state of being

“You have to protect your children.” An obligation or requirement

“You have to be tired by now.” –highly probable state of being

“I have to stop at the corner.” –the only possible state of being, with no other options

USING THESE WORDS

However, as mentioned, in casual speech these words are often interchanged. A particularly astute person can draw on the connotative differences to argue against a statement that he “must” or “has to” perform some action. A person may use one connotation of the expression, and another person can argue using a differing connotation. This will create conflict. If it doesn’t create conflict, it will, at least, create confusion.

For example, if my wife says, “You have to take out the trash,” I could respond, “I could watch TV instead.” Here, she is using the connotation that expresses an obligation, but I respond as if she meant that no other options are possible. I reply that her statement is wrong because I do have other choices.

On the other hand, if my wife says, “You must take out the trash,” I could respond, “No, I probably won’t.” Again, she is expressing an obligation using words that can communicate an opinion about the morally correct choice. I reply as if she meant that taking out the trash is the most likely, or highly probable, action, which, in my opinion, it isn’t.

In practice, neither response will be well received. My response is pretty much guaranteed to create conflict.

The best communicator will seek to understand what the other person intends to communicate with “have to/has to” and “must,” and then will respond to that intended meaning, regardless of the words used.

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Red Ink Beer Video Writing Instruction 9.13.14


What’s in this episode?

In this episode of Red Ink Beer, David Bowman, owner of Precise Edit and author of 9 writing guides,

  • answers a reader’s question about using commas with “too” at the end of a sentence (posted at the Zen Comma blog),
  • shows how to write the body of a paragraph (strategy from  Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing), and
  • corrects a fast food restaurant’s sign with three words and three errors.

Writing skills are demonstrated with examples and instruction. The transcript is provided below.

For more information about David Bowman’s writing guides, please visit http://hostileediting.com. To contact David Bowman at Precise Edit, please email him at info@preciseedit.com.

Video time: 10:16

Red Ink Beer is supported by Precise Edit and Hostile Editing.

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Red Ink Beer-Video Writing Instruction 9.9.14


What’s in this episode?

In this episode of Red Ink Beer, David Bowman, owner of Precise Edit and author of 9 writing guides,

  • answers a tricky question from the Zen Comma blog about using commas between complicated items in a list
  • discusses an essential writing strategy paragraph structure and how to start paragraphs from Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing, and
  • points out a major writing failure from Twitter.

Writing skills are demonstrated with examples and instruction. For more information about David Bowman’s writing guides, please visit http://hostileediting.com.

Video: 11 minutes. Transcript provided below. Continue reading

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From Bad to Good-Technical and Academic Writing


concise.blogpromo2Academic and technical writing are far different than literary writing, such as novels and poetry. The primary purpose of academic and technical writing is to provide information about a defined topic to a specific audience. Whether you write graduate papers, professional journal articles, dissertations, white papers, manuals, websites, reviews, or similar documents, you are writing academic or technical documents.

Academic and technical writing can be bad writing. They can be complicated, tedious, and confusing. They can be terribly boring. Unfortunately, bad academic and technical writing is common (which makes bad writers nearly indistinguishable from their crowd of peers).

Why do people write badly? Possibly, they think the writing is supposed to be dull and confusing, or perhaps they think it sounds more professional. Maybe they have read a lot of poor writing, so when they review their writing, it sounds “right.”

On the other hand, academic and technical writing can be good writing. They can be clear and straightforward, logical, persuasive, and useful. They can be wonderfully interesting. Unfortunately, good writing is uncommon (which makes good writers stand out from their peers).  Continue reading

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Correct Use of “Rather Than”


Which choice is correct? Please explain your reasons.

“Rather than . . . the truth to them, Peter takes pleasure in deceiving the family and receiving credit.”

a) breaking
b)to break
c)break

Thanks.

Answer

This is a great question, and it is one I don’t often see. On the other hand, it reflects a concept that confuses many people: parallelism.

Correct use of “rather than” 

“Rather than” indicates a parallel structure in which two things are compared. To be grammatically correct, the two things being compared need to be equal, meaning they have the same grammatical structure or form.

Here are two simple examples to demonstrate the parallel structure created by “rather than.”

Example 1: “He enjoys driving rather than walking.” In this example, “driving” is being compared to “walking,” both of which are gerunds.

Example 2: “I would rather drive than walk.” Here, “drive” and “walk” are being compared. With the “rather than” expression divided, it is simple to see how “rather than” indicates a comparison.

Here is a slightly more advanced example that gets closer to your question. “Rather than repair the car, I prefer to buy a new one.” This sample compares “repair” to “to buy.” When using “rather than” to compare something with an infinitive, and when the “rather than” expression is in an introductory descriptive phrase, use the base infinitive without the “to.”

Now that we see how “rather than” creates a parallel structure, let’s look at your question.  Continue reading

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The Most Common Grammar Mistake


The most common grammar mistake involves the ability to count. Fortunately, you only have to be able to count higher than 1.

If I write, “A man buys a house,” you can count the number of men: 1.
If I write, “Men buy houses,” you need to count higher than 1 because this sentence describes more than 1 man.

Now, let’s look at these two samples more carefully.

In the first sentence, “A man buys a house,” the subject is 1 man, described as “a man.” The verb “buys” ends with the letter “s.” When we conjugate verbs in the present tense, we can see that verbs for the third person singular end with the letter “s.”

First person, singular subject: “I buy.”
Second person, singular subject: “You buy.”
Third person, singular subject: “He buys.” (Notice the “s” at the end of the verb. It will be important in a moment.)  Continue reading

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The Boring Passive Voice


“Your writing bores me.” “I am bored by your writing.”

Not only do these two sentences demonstrate the difference between the active and passive voice but also they communicate a central reason for avoiding the passive voice.

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action described by the main verb. Thus, the subject is active. In the passive voice, the action is done to the subject. Thus, the subject is passive. Passive voice is a problem for direct writing and for reader interest.

Direct writing answers the readers’ question “Who did what?” It tells the reader what the subject is and what the subject did. This is, by definition, the active voice. Let’s look at an example, using the first two sentences above.

“Your writing bores me.” The subject is “writing” (or “your writing”). The subject is performing an action: boring me. This sentence is in the active voice. It is also more interesting than the second sentences. Readers will focus on the subject of the sentence, and in this sentence, the subject is doing something.

“I am bored by your writing.” The subject is “I.” This subject is not doing anything. Rather, the action is being done to the subject. This sentence, therefore, is in the passive voice. It is less interesting than the first sentence because the subject, which is the focus of the sentence, isn’t doing anything.

If you write many sentences in the passive voice, the reader may feel the sentiment expressed in the example sentences: boredom.

As we can see from these examples, the passive voice is not direct writing and is less engaging than the active voice. Clear, direct, and interesting writing, by contrast, uses the active voice. Continue reading

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