Tricky Rules

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Only, Use of

When using the word just as an adverb meaning “no more than,” place it directly in front of the word it modifies. Similarly, place the word only directly in front of the word it modifies. Vague: Just give me three more days. Correct: Give me just three more days. Vague: I only have three dollars.

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Says/Said

The word says is strictly present tense. It should not be used to take the place of the word said which is past tense. Incorrect: Before that, he says to me, “Keep still.” (Past tense needed; use said) Correct: Before that, he said to me, “Keep still.”

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Loath/Loathe

Loath is an adjective meaning “unwilling.” It ends with a hard th and rhymes with growth or both. Loathe is a verb meaning “to hate intensely.” It ends with a soft th like the sound in smooth or breathe. Examples: He was loath to admit that he was included in the deal. (He was unwilling)

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Ought with Have or Had

The expressions have ought, has ought, and had ought are nonstandard. To correct it, simply remove the have, has, or had. Incorrect: You had ought to have been there. Correct: You ought to have been there.

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Seen/Saw

Seen is a past participle. It must be used with an auxiliary verb such as has, have, had, am, is, are, was, were, be or their contractions. Often saw works better. No auxiliary verb is used with saw. Incorrect: We seen all three of them. Correct: We saw all three of them. Correct: We have

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