Agriculture Communication


Write the Right Word

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Write the Right Word: Why Waste Words?

In today’s fast-paced life, people don’t want to take time to read a lot of text. So why waste their time and your effort on unnecessary words by overstating the obvious?

Most readers know May is a month, red is a color, North Dakota is a state, Williston is a city and 2019 is a year, so you don’t need to modify them with phrases such as “the month of” May, “the color” red or a red “color,” “the state of” North Dakota, “the city of” Williston or “the year” 2019.

Keep it simple:

  • North Dakota generally has its last frost in May.
  • His face turned red.
  • The population in North Dakota is growing.
  • Williston has a new forester.
  • The next conference will be in 2019.


, information specialist, 701-231-5391

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Write the Right Word: Plurals of Numbers

Forming plural numbers is a lot easier than forming plural words. You simply add an “s” to numbers.

The other key rule to remember is that you do not need to add an apostrophe before the “s.”

Here are some examples:

  • Years: The insect wasn’t common in North Dakota until the late 1980s.
  • Temperatures: Temperatures are expected to drop to the low 30s tonight.
  • Sizes: All the shoe store had left were two pairs of size 7s.
  • Designations: Delta Airlines is phasing out its 747s.

If you are making plurals of numbers that are spelled out, then the rules for making plurals of words apply. For example, sixes (add an “es” to words ending in ch, s, sh, ss, x and z).

701-231-5391, Information Specialist

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Write the Right Word: Plurals

Are you confused whether to add an “s” or an “es” to make a word plural?

Here are some tips:

  • Most words – Add “s.” For example: boys, ships, villages
  • Words ending in ch, s, sh, ss, x and z – Add “es.” For example: churches, lenses, glasses, boxes
  • Words ending in is – Change “is” to “es.” For example: oasis/oases, thesis/theses
  • Words ending in y – Change “y” to “i” and add “es.” For example: army/armies, city/cities
  • Words ending in o – Most require “es.” For example: buffaloes, potatoes, echoes, heroes One exception: pianos
  • Words ending in f – In general, change “f” to “v” and add “es.” For example: hoof/hooves, leaf/leaves, self/selves. An exception: roof/roofs
  • Proper names ending in es, s or z – Add “es.” For example: Charleses, Joneses, Gonzalezes
  • Proper names ending in y – Generally, add “s.” For example: Duffys. Exceptions: Allegheny Mountains/Alleghenies, Rocky Mountains/Rockies
  • Figures – Add “s” and do not use an apostrophe after the figure. For example: 747s, size 7s, temperatures in the low 20s
  • Single letters – Add “’s.” For example: mind your p’s and q’s, the three R’s
  • Multiple letters – Add “s” but not an apostrophe after the letters. For example: ABCs, IOUs

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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Write the Right Word: e.g. and i.e.

Abbreviations and acronyms are commonplace in text messages, and they’re becoming more common in other writing as well.

Two of those abbreviations are e.g. and i.e.

E.g. means “for example.” I.e. is the abbreviation for the Latin term id est, or “that is to say.” The best way to remember that e.g. relates to “example” is that both start with an “e.”

Note that e.g. and i.e. require periods after each letter. They also must be followed by a comma in a sentence. “The producer raised several crops; e.g., corn, wheat, barley, canola, oats and dry edible beans.”

But I’d recommend you not use either of these abbreviations. Not everyone knows what they mean, and many people think they can be used interchangeably. Spell out “for example” instead: “The producer raised several crops; for example, corn, wheat, barley, canola, oats and dry edible beans.” Better yet, drop the “for example” and just use a colon (:) after crops.

You also don’t need to use “that is to say.” If you have to explain what you just said in another way, you shouldn’t be saying it the original way.

I.e. often is used in parenthesis: “Apply XYZ pesticides on a calm day (i.e., winds blowing less than 5 mph).” But you don’t need the i.e. because the phrase in parentheses is clear without it.

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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Write the Right Word: Affect or Effect

“Affect” and “effect” seem to give some writers a lot of problems. First of all, those two words do not mean the same thing and can’t be used interchangeably.

As a verb, “effect” means to cause. For example: “The new department chair will effect many changes in the next few months.”

As a noun, “effect” means result. For instance: “The effect of last weekend’s rain on crop growth was phenomenal.”

“Affect,” as a verb, means to influence. “The team’s loss on Sunday will not affect its standings.”

Avoid using “affect” as a noun. It's used occasionally as a noun in psychology to describe an emotion,

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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Write the Right Word: Among and Between

Are you confused about whether to use “among” or “between”? You aren’t alone.

“Between” generally refers to a relationship involving two people, animals or things. For example: “Let’s keep this news between you and me.” Or: “I have to choose between going to the movie and going to the mall.”

“Among” refers to a relationship involving three or more people, animals or things. For example, “Researchers found no differences in yield among the three wheat varieties they studied.”

Following those same rules, “between” is correct when three or more people, animals or things are considered one group. For instance: “Salary negotiations are underway between the company and its janitorial, secretarial and mailroom staff.” The three types of staff are considered a single unit.

One other note: Avoid using “amongst” for “among” in the writing we do. “Amongst” is considered archaic and overly formal.

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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Write the Right Word: Question Marks Not Always Necessary

Just because you use the word “ask” in a sentence doesn’t mean the sentence should end with a question mark.

For example, you don’t need a question mark at the end of this sentence: Ask your friend who went to the movie with him. You shouldn’t use a question mark because you aren’t asking the question; you are requesting that someone else ask the question.

However, if you include a direct question as part of a sentence, then the question would end with a question mark. For example: I asked her, “Are you going to the movie tonight?” Or this: “Where are you going?” she asked.

Note that the question mark is inside the quotation marks. That’s because the question mark only applies to the question being asked, not the entire sentence.

The question mark goes outside of quotation marks when it applies to the whole sentence. For example: Who wrote “Gone With the Wind”?

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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Write the Right Word: Semiannual or Biennial

Writers often confuse “semiannual” with “biennial.” They’re not the same, though.

I don’t know of an easy trick to remember which is which. “Semiannual” means twice a year. For example, “The producer holds his semiannual sheep sales in May and September.”

“Biennial” means every two years. For instance, “The organization will hold its biennial convention in June.”

Another word for “semiannual” is “biannual.” Unfortunately, its spelling is so close to “biennial” that it could lead to further confusion.

Note that semi and bi aren't hyphenated. They generally shouldn't be unless the letter that follows is the same letter - for example, semi-invalid.

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391  

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Write the Right Word: Then and Than

Maybe using “then” when the word should be “than” is a simple typo, but this mistake has been cropping up a lot lately.

The bottom line is: “Then” and “than” cannot be used interchangeably.

“Then” indicates time or a progression of time. For example: “I’m busy until this afternoon. Then I can go to the movie.” “We went to dinner and then we watched a movie.”

“Then” has several other uses, including these meanings:

  • In addition, moreover, besides – “The airfare costs $325, then you have to pay a $25 luggage fee.”
  • In that case, accordingly – “If the traffic is heavy, then I may not get to work on time.”
  • Being so at the time – “The bill was vetoed by then-Gov. John Smith.”

Use “than” when making comparisons between objects, people, etc. For example: “She is taller than I am.” “Your cat is older than mine.”

Also always use “than” with words such as “rather,” “more” and “less.” For instance: “Plant corn rather than wheat this year.” “I have less money than he has.” “The producer planted more than 10 acres of lentils.”

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391



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Write the Right Word: Titled vs. Entitled

If you’ve read an article about an upcoming workshop, you may have seen a sentence such as this: “The keynote speaker is giving a presentation entitled “Sustainable Agriculture.”

Unfortunately, whoever edited the article wasn’t paying attention. “Entitled” is the wrong word choice. “Entitled” means having a right or claim to something. For example, “He is entitled to three more days of vacation.”

It also can mean to confer a title on a person. “Queen Elizabeth entitled the man as a knight.”

Instead, use “titled” before the name of a book, lecture, speech, poem or event. For example: “The book left on the table was titled ‘Gone With the Wind.’”

Better yet, avoid the extra words and simply say, “The book left on the table was “Gone With the Wind.’”

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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