A Matter of Degrees


Each of these sentences expresses comparisons – and each can be improved. What edits would you make?

1. Ruth is one of the most passionate, creative, and wisest committee chairs we have had.

2. Of High Street or Lincoln Road, which would you say is the quickest route to the stadium?

3. Ever since 2006, our monthly sales figures have been climbing exponentially.

4. Smith kept the Cardinals in check through three innings, but in the fourth they literally buried him.

1. We can do better than “most passionate, creative, and wisest.” If “most” modifies the first two adjectives, consistency dictates that it also links to “wisest,” but, of course, “most wisest” is not what we want to say. The solution? We can often fix this problem simply by changing the order: “… wisest and most passionate and creative.”

2. How many routes are we mentioning? Two. When comparing two items, we want the comparative form of the adjective, not the superlative. So the recommended edit is changing “quickest” to “quicker.” (This error commonly crops up when parents refer to a child as their “oldest” or “most musical” when they have just two children. So it should be “older” or “more musical.”)

3. Saying something increased “exponentially” grabs our attention, but that statement is frequently inaccurate to a mathematician. To be truly exponential, the amount of growth has to increase each time (e.g., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16). Another example is the way compound interest grows. Perhaps monthly sales could meet that criterion for a short time, but doing so for 120 straight months is unlikely.

4. We need to watch out for using “literally” when we are being figurative, as in “literally laughed my head off.” Saying the team “buried” the pitcher is colorful enough.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.

This entry was posted in Common Grammar Errors, Commonly Confused Words, Flair & Finesse. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *