Friday, June 1, 2012

A Light in Darkness VII

After last week's formatting session, I decided that this week's candle would not be precisely grammatical either. Rather, I am going to address the misuse of words, in particular two pairs of words.

The first pair is discrete/discreet. 

Hey, gay marriage is another topic altogether!

Both are words. Neither will cause your spell-check to flag it as misspelled. The difficulty is that they do not mean the same thing.

“Discreet”, which is usually the word people want, means “judicious in one's conduct or speech, especially with regard to maintaining privacy; prudent; circumspect”. This is the word you want when you are trying to explain that you can keep a secret. This is the word you want when you are doing something in a quiet, modest manner.

“The vampires lived among us for years, and we never knew it because they were so discreet in their feeding.”

And then sometimes they're not so discreet.

“Discrete” is the word I see more often, but people almost never mean this. “Discrete” means “apart from or detached from others; separate; distinct”. This is rarely the word you want.

“Vampires and dhampires are two discrete groups, but people often confuse them.”

The other word pair is complimentary/complementary, or in their noun forms, compliment/complement.

“Complimentary” is usually the only word I ever see, but it is not always the appropriate one. “Complimentary” means both “conveying a compliment” and “given as a free courtesy”.

“The vampire's complimentary speech about the girl's hair was only the beginning. He followed it with a complimentary ticket to hear his band.” 

If this is immortality, count me out. Douchebags.

“Complementary” means “forming a complement” or “completing”.

“The girl was the vampire's perfect complement. They were complementary.”

Think about the word “complete”. There is no “i” in it. If you want to use a word that describes the relationship between things that complete each other, use “complementary”.

And, as a free tip, “definitely” has no “a”.

“There are definitely too many vampires on this grammar blog.”

Until next week, keep the grammar candles burning. And if you have any requests, send them my way.

(I think I still owe Caitlin an entry on dialogue tags, so I will be getting to it soon!)

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