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allusion, delusion or illusion?

There is a difference in meaning.

An ALLUSION is an indirect reference.

A DELUSION is a false belief (often

associated with a mental disorder).

An ILLUSION is a deceptive appearance.

all ways or always?

There is a difference in meaning.

These three routes are ALL (= each of

them) WAYS into town.

She ALWAYS (= at all times) tells the


a lot

Write as two words, not as one. Bear in

mind that this construction is slang and

not to be used in a formal context.

altar or alter?

There is a difference in meaning.

The bride and groom stood solemnly

before the ALTAR.

Do you wish to ALTER (= change) the


alternate or alternative?

We visit our grandparents on

ALTERNATE Saturdays. (= every other


I ALTERNATE between hope and despair.

(= have each mood in turn)

An ALTERNATIVE plan would be to go

by boat. (= another possibility)

The ALTERNATIVES are simple: work or

go hungry. (= two choices)


Strictly speaking, the choice can be

between only two alternatives (one choice

or the other).

However, the word is frequently used

more loosely and this precise definition is

becoming lost.

Alzheimer’s disease

(not Alze-)



(not -mm-)



Always try to anticipate any possible

confusion on the part of your reader.

Check that you have made your meaning

absolutely clear.

(i) Bear in mind that pronouns can be

very vague. Consider this sentence:

My brother told his friend that HE

had won first prize in the local

photographic exhibition.

Who is ‘he’, my brother or his friend?

Rewrite more clearly:

(a) My brother congratulated his friend

on winning first prize in the local

photographic exhibition.

(b) My brother, delighted to have won

first prize in the local photographic

exhibition, told his friend.

The other possibility is rather clumsy

but is otherwise clear:

(c) My brother told his friend that he

(his friend) had won first prize.

(d) My brother told his friend that he

(my brother) had won first prize.

(ii) Position the adverb ONLY with great

care. It will refer to the word nearest

to it, usually the word following. This

may not be the meaning you

intended. See how crucial to the

meaning the position of ‘only’ can be:

ONLY Sean eats fish on Fridays.

(= No one else but Sean eats fish on


Sean ONLY eats fish on Fridays.

(= Sean does nothing else to the fish

on Fridays but eat it. He doesn’t buy

it, cook it, look at it, smell it . . . .)

Sean eats ONLY fish on Fridays.

(= Sean eats nothing but fish on


Sean eats fish ONLY on Fridays.

Sean eats fish on Fridays ONLY.

(= Sean eats fish on this one day in

the week and never on any other.)

(iii) Take care with the positioning of


This room needs cleaning BADLY.

Does it? Or does it not need cleaning

well? Rewrite like this:

This room BADLY needs cleaning.

(iv) Beware of causing initial bewilderment

by not introducing a comma to

indicate a pause.

The shabby little riverside cafe ´ was

empty and full of wasps and flies.

Empty and full?

The shabby little riverside cafe ´ was

empty, and full of wasps and flies.

See COMMAS (ix).

(v) Avoid the danger of writing nonsense!

DRIVING slowly along the road, THE

CASTLE dominated the landscape.

The castle is driving?


As we drove slowly along the road,

we saw how the castle dominated the


COOKED slowly, the FAMILY will

enjoy the cheaper cuts of meat.


If the cheaper cuts of meat are

cooked slowly, the family will enjoy



(vi) Make sure the descriptive details

describe the right noun!

For sale: 1995 Peugeot 205 – one

owner with power-assisted steering.


For sale: 1995 Peugeot 205 with

power-assisted steering – one owner.


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