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Word Confusion: We vs. Us

Dear Copy Bitch: I struggle with we vs. us. Consider this example: Your properly formatted text is due at 5:30 p.m. on Monday. However, us slow readers would like to receive it BEFORE then.

Is “us” correct? If not, do you have any ideas about how to get the rule into this squirrelhead?

—Squirrel Lover, Boston

Answer: Yes, Squirrel Lover, there is a simple way to test it (so you’ll need to remember the test).

Remove any nouns (and adjectives) that get in the way of the “we/us” and the verb. So in this case, remove “slow readers” and test it:

1. Us would like to receive it BEFORE then.
2. We would like to receive it BEFORE then.

After you perform this test, the answer is obvious. The second one is correct.

Hope this helps.

Word Confusion: Nevertheless vs Nonetheless

Dear Copy Bitch: Any thoughts on the use of nevertheless vs. nonetheless?

–Jay S., from an email

Answer: Your email made me pause, Jay (which doesn’t happen too often, let me tell you). I’ve always thought of these two words as being interchangeable. But I decided to research my assumptions because, believe it or not, The Copy Bitch has been wrong before (most notably when it comes to the men I choose to date, but I digress).

I started with Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference (fifth edition). She has a great “word choice” section, but those two words don’t show up. So, I cozied up with Google. The selections I read in my Google search showed that most people tend to agree with my thinking. This is an interesting forum post that goes a little deeper into meaning and usage. I’d use these words sparingly, however, since they have (in my mind) a very formal tone (I prefer conversational tones unless there’s a really good reason to go all formal). I welcome others’ thoughts on this one.

Word Confusion: Lose vs. Loose

Dear Copy Bitch: Your “Word Confusion” tips are great. Because of your help, I stopped myself from making a Then/Than mistake today. Got any more?

—John M, Princeton, Mass.

Answer: Have I got more? That’s like asking George Clooney if he’s got sexy. Another common mistake: lose vs. loose. There’s an easy way to remember the difference between these two words: you “lose” the extra “o” when you mean “fail to keep or maintain” (i.e., “to lose”).

Or think of it like this: the double Os mean you need extra room. You gotta keep it loose.

Example:

I guarantee my pants won’t be loose after Thanksgiving, which means I’ll need to lose the extra sweet-potato-pie poundage.

Word Confusion: Using “Then” & “Than” Correctly

Q: Dear Copy Bitch: I always misuse “then” and “than.” Do you have any tips for using these correctly?

A: I learned a great tip a couple of years ago from a writing magazine (I don’t remember which one, which is why I’m not naming names). Think of it like this: than has to do with comparisons. Then has to do with time. There’s an “a” in comparisons as there is in than. There’s an “e” in time as there is in then.

Examples:

  • I think George Clooney is hotter than Brad Pitt. (comparing George to Brad)
  • First, I’m going to eat ice cream, and then I’ll work out. (giving the timing of my eating and exercising)