How to Write Like You Know What You’re Doing, Volume II

A few weeks back, I wrote a post on little tricks you can use to make sure you’re using the right word or phrase, without having to be a grammar guru. I’ve returned with three more tips for you!

Gray/grey

Are you ready for this cool trick? If you’re in England, it’s grey. In America, it’s gray. Pretty simple. Mostly. (Lots of places that aren’t England use what they call British English, like Canada and Australia. However, if you’re in the U.S., or writing for an American audience, it’s gray with an a.)

Complimentary/complementary

I’ll admit that this one trips me up, even with 22 years of copy editing behind me. Complimentary, with an i, means either someone is praising you or something is free. It can mean either thing. “She was quite complimentary of your performance.” “The complimentary tickets will be at the ticket stand.”

Complementary, with an e, describes something that enhances or completes something else. “Those turquoise napkins really complement the yellow dishes.” (We can talk later about if we like yellow and turquoise together.)

Here’s my trick: I like to get compliments, and I like free things. Complimentary = i.

Here’s the other trick: You complete me. That enhances things. Complementary = e.

Capital/capitol

The word capital can mean a bunch of things. There are capital letters. There are 50 state capitals. There’s a capital offense. You can even have a capital time!

Capitol only means the building where government functions happen. That’s it. When we’re talking about the building in Washington, D.C., it’s Capitol with a (wait for it) capital c.

An easy way to remember this: Capitol is for only the building.

Capital is for all the other times you use the word.

People also think of the round dome of a capitol building being like an o. 

Hope these help! Talk to you in a few weeks when I’ll have more tips! If you have a particular word or phrase that trips you up, write to me at karen.sommerfeld@paceco.com, and if I have a trick for it I’ll include it in an upcoming post.

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