Technology Innovations

Posts Tagged ‘Writing

Writing after a long time always makes me feel jittery and a bit clueless about “how to begin”. Nevertheless, I am back here and hopefully will again start contributing relevant stuff very soon. From April I had been away from the blog as many things happened and I couldn’t write even when I wanted to. But most changes that occurred were for good.

I am now working for the Technology Review magazine – a print, monthly magazine on innovation and emerging technology. The magazine is published by MIT Press in the US. I am working for its Indian edition.

One of the few good aspects of working for TR have been that I am getting to write more and know more about the latest happenings and innovations at Indian R&D labs. It’s exciting, really.

Last few months went by in covering some good technology innovations such as Soleckshaw – a solar electric rickshaw created by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi.

Cloud computing is the latest buzzword in the IT industry and therefore, it was obvious to write about how Indian companies are gearing up to compete in the new realm.

In July, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link – India’s first bridge to have been constructed in open sea conditions – was opened for public and became a national pride. I got some real good feedback on the article. The online version lacks the impressive photographs of the work that has gone into making the masterpiece. Must get a copy of the August issue to see and feel the magnitude of the mega structure.

But while these innovations are mostly about big companies doing big work in big cities, it was a heartening experience to write about Prakti, a small NGO working towards improving lives of women in rural India.

Prakti is based in a small town near Pondicherry. It is run by a small group of engineers and scientists – some foreign, some Indian – who have chosen to quit plum jobs and luxury living to utilize their knowledge into improving lives of people at the “bottom of the pyramid”. And this they do by living near their target users and get ready feedback to improve on the product. Prakti has recently created a range of fuel-efficient stoves which could help prevent rural women’s exposure to indoor pollution.

Writing about such innovations brings a nice feeling as one realizes how much is happening in small corners of India which we never get to know otherwise. Last few months have been full of this for me and I wish for more. But I shall again begin to write about English language soon. Brb!

Many of us get troubled when we have to use English as a means of communication ¾ in conversation and in writing. Quite often the confusion (more in writing than in speech) is how and when to use or not use the article ‘the’.

A travel website, for example, has displayed a highlighted note for its readers: Log your road travel experiences here. Be sure to include the interesting pictures as well. This is an example of how articles are wrongly used, even on websites that are otherwise well designed and look sleek.

Similarly, “Which is right answer?” “She is the French lady” “The guard failed to catch thief” ¾ these are a few examples of wrong placement/omission of the article ‘the’ which are often used – intentionally or unintentionally.

Arijit, a friend of mine who works as a technical editor in a multinational IT company, feels the problem occurs either because “people don’t know the difference between articles a, an, and the” or because “they are non-native speakers of English”.

Recounting his experience, he says: “People usually use the article ‘the’ with proper nouns, such as names of applications. For example, ‘use the Enterprise Manager’ (it should be ‘use Enterprise Manager’). Or they use it without introducing the thing they refer to. ‘The following scan methods can be used for IOTs that contain the large objects.’ In this sentence, we don’t need ‘the’ as it is a generic reference to large objects and not specific to any large objects that we already mentioned. Disgustingly, ‘He is playing the tennis’ is normal Indian usage.”

His views are shared by Deb, a friend who is a sub-editor for a national magazine. She says, “Many times I come across sentences such as ‘Apart from academic refinement initiatives, school has been organizing several cultural and sports activities.’ The omissions take place even when it is necessary to retain the article. And I think that’s because people haven’t been taught properly at the primary level and therefore they don’t know the correct use of articles.”

Do you also find the use of ‘the’ bewildering? Here are some tips to learn when to use the article.


The easiest way to use ‘the’ is to remember to use it

  • When you know that the listener/reader knows or can guess what particular person/thing you are talking about. For example, The burger you ate was mine or Did you watch the match?
  • When you have already introduced the person/thing you are talking about. For example, Maya teaches two batches. One in the morning and the other in the evening.
  • When you are referring to specific rivers, oceans and seas and when the word river is omitted. For example: River Nile, the Brahmaputra, River Tapti, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific.
  • Before particular nouns which we know are only one of a kind. For example: the rain, the sun, the Earth, the Taj Mahal, the world, etc.
  • Before class nouns which show one thing as a representative of the class to which it belongs. For example, the fields, the sparrow, the last days of the spring.
  • When you are mentioning a particular person or thing which is the best or most famous. For example, Karim’s is the place to go for fresh kababs. I saw the Taj Mahal when I went to Agra this summer.
  • In place of possessive personal pronouns such as his, her, etc. For example, The eyes twinkled as the baby smiled.
  • When you want to emphasize a word almost equal to its descriptive adjective. For example, Here is the tower that shall remind coming generations of our sacrifice.


  • When you talk about things in general. For example, “The trees fell in the storm” mean only those trees fell to which you are referring to, whereas “trees fell in the storm” will mean many trees fell in the storm.
  • When you refer to a sport. For example, My daughter knows swimming not the swimming; Skating is expensive not the skating; cricket is his favourite sport not the cricket.
  • When you use uncountable nouns. For example, I will have coffee not the coffee; She needs information on global warming not the information.
  • Before names of countries and companies except where they indicate multiple areas or union, such as state(s), kingdom, republic, or union. For example, Infosys, Wipro, the India Today Group, Italy, Mexico, India, the UK, the US, and the Netherlands.

Hope these points help. If you have more examples to state or suggestions to use ‘the’ correctly, please share them by writing comments.


Learn English

Lousy Writer


It is strange how fast things change. Technology is ever evolving and so is language ¾ the change has become constant. In my school days we used to be taught that English language evolved over many years but now there were certain standard forms of words, letter writing, and phrases used in “formal” conversations and writings and denoted the usage of “good quality” language.

Now that school of thought is history. Everything has changed from what I learnt in school and the way I edit/write today. The language style, spellings, punctuation uses, and many such things have changed from the way I understood them in my childhood and used to be grilled in by the teachers. And I am not in my 30s yet!

As an editor, therefore, it has become imperative for me to keep updated with the changes in English language. I have been reading a lot past few weeks about editing lessons and what some of the forums have to say on editing guidelines. I found some good links which I thought it best to share here.

In one of my regular visits to, website for journalists and editors, I happen to click on News University. And that opened a plethora of lessons on editing, writing and what not. A must see.

I registered and took a course on “Cleaning Your Copy”. The course teaches everything an editor needs to be skilled with: Grammar, Style, Punctuation, and Spellings. Each section is a pack of lessons. It also teaches you things like proper sentence construction, active/passive voice, modifiers, pronouns, etc. Moreover, the website offers tips on reporting, writing, management, and everything you can imagine related with journalism and media.

Obviously books are a big help when it comes to editing. Style manuals such as Chicago Manual of Style are followed by most (non-technical) publishing houses in India. But to test yourself or for a fast access to grammar lessons you can visit I found this website’s grammar archives very useful. You can get some very good language tips here.

Wanted to provide a video on books editing, but there’s nobody there giving tips on that one.

Here’s one from me: It is always good to keep grooming your language skills and the best way is to keep practicing (conversing) with people who speak the language better and more fluently than you do. And sign up with some good language forums. Hope this helps. I may suggest some such forums next time.

While I go back to reading some more grammar newsletters, enjoy life!


Useful Links

Mayfield Handboolk

Good Grammar, Good Style Archive at

Putting an apostrophe, the standalone single quote punctuation (’), in the right place is a difficult and puzzling task when we write in English.

To many of us it is, I would say, as confusing as the comma.

But there are ways to master the art of placing the apostrophe correctly. Understanding and learning some basic rules of the confusing punctuation can help us reduce our errors faster. (Please note that the following information is based on my understanding and some extra reading, therefore, it is not a complete study on correct use of apostrophe.)


Mainly, the apostrophe has two uses in English: to indicate possession/ownership and to show omission of words or numbers (also called contraction).

Apostrophe Showing Possession

Vivek’s bike
Maya’s father
Chandra’s pen
Its (see the explanation for it’s)
The examples show that the punctuation is placed with the possessor and not the object.

Apostrophe Showing Contraction

1990s     = ’90s
Can’t     = Cannot
Hadn’t   = Had not
Hasn’t   = Has not
I’m        = I am
It’ll        = It will (similarly, we’ll = we will)
It’s        = It is (Note: It’s is a short form for ‘it is’ whereas Its indicates possession. For example, It’s great that she finally got a job. The machine works on its own at the push of a button. Therefore, in case of it’s and its, we must identify the function of the apostrophe to place it accordingly)
I’ve       = I have
Let’s     = Let us
Mustn’t = Must not (similarly, shouldn’t = should not, couldn’t = could not)
She’s    = She is/has (similarly, he’s = he is/has)
Should’ve = Should have (similarly, could’ve = could have)
There’s = There is
We’re   = We are/were (similarly, they’re = they are/were)
Who’s   = Who is (Note: Who’s is a contraction of Who is whereas Whose is a possession. For example, Who’s in the other room? Whose desk is this?)
The examples show the contraction of words.


  1. A noun is a word that refers to a person, place or thing. A singular noun refers to one person, place or thing, for example: boy, desk, book, etc. To show possession to a singular noun, we mostly add apostrophe and s (’s) (as shown in examples above). Plural nouns (which refer to more than one person, place or thing) that do not end in (s) also follow the same rule. For example: The children’s park, the men’s room, the women’s club.
  2. Common nouns refer to general objects, a non-specific person, place or thing, for example: cars, winter, dog, chance, tables, etc. Both singular and plural common nouns that end in (s) can form the possessive by using only an apostrophe after the s. For example, tables’ legs, cars’ parking. The common nouns that do not end with s will use ’s, e.g., dog’s food, girl’s dress.
  3. Proper nouns (names of people, cities, countries, for example: Sagarika, India, Bangalore) can form the possessive either by using the ’s or simply adding the apostrophe () if the name ends in s. Now it is acceptable to use either form (James’s or James’). For example: Mr James’s car, The Bakers’ cookies.
  4. When you need to show two people owning/sharing the same thing, the apostrophe and s (’s) should be placed after the second person only. For example: Rohit and Veena’s trekking to the forest was exciting. Neha and Shalini’s friend has returned from the US.
  5. If two people do not share/own the same thing, the apostrophe and s (’s) should be used for both. For example: Neha’s mother and Shalini’s aunt are good friends.
  6. Indefinite pronouns are words which replace nouns without specifying which noun they replace, for example: both, few, most, none, some, everybody, nothing, etc. They form the possessive by using the apostrophe and s (’s). For example: everybody’s concern, a day’s work, a moment’s notice.
  7. Many name or terms are either possessive or descriptive. In such cases, we should use an apostrophe and s (’s) if the name is a singular/plural possessive noun or an *irregular plural noun. For example: Levi’s jeans, Westside Women’s Store, Blossoms’ kids wear. [*Most nouns are made plural by adding an s to the singular form. If the noun ends with an s, ch, sh, or x, an es is added to make the noun plural. Plural nouns that are not made plural in this way are irregular plural nouns. For example: men, women, city, etc.]

To further enhance your knowledge about the use of apostrophe, you can read more on the websites under My Pick.

My Pick


Online Writing Lab

For a minute, just try and recollect when you heard proper, formal, nice English sentences in your conversation? I doubt it was recent. There is nothing like “proper” English these days. We hardly think about our usage of words or pick them consciously. Gone are the days when people used to pay attention to using strictly formal or proper English and grammar for writing letters and in official communication. Nowadays sms English is in and slang fill the mailbox.


Even when some of us do stick to speaking good English, we tend to get superfluous and use too many words in place of one. And that has a place in dictionary:


Tautology: a statement in which you say the same thing twice in different words, when this is unnecessary, for example ‘They spoke in turn, one after the other.’ 

Pleonasm: (technical) the use of more words than are necessary to express a meaning. For example, ‘see with your eyes’ is a pleonasm because the same meaning can be expressed using ‘see’.


We are so used to pleonasm that we don’t even realize using or listening to it. We often use extra vocabulary either to emphasize our point or to show good communication skills, whereas it reflects the opposite. 

Following are some common groups of words which can be replaced by a single word in our speech as well as writings.


A large proportion of


Absolutely essential 


Added bonus


Advance warning 


At this moment


Attach together


By virtue of the fact that


Close proximity


Close scrutiny


Collaborate together


Combine together


Consensus of opinion


Exact replica


Exactly the same

the same

Free gift


Future plans


In conjunction with


In order to


In the absence of


In the event that


In the field of biology

in biology

Minute detail


Most unique


New innovation


Oblong in shape


Patently obvious


Personal opinion


Placed under arrest


Prior experience


Prior to


Razed to the ground


Red in colour


Revert back


Shorter in length


Subsequent to


Successful achievement


Sum total


Surrounded on all sides


Temporary reprieve


Tiny speck 


Unexpected surprise


Very urgent


Was of the opinion that


With the exception of



If you wish, you can add your examples in comment.

English is a funny language, undoubtedly. It is difficult too for some of us who are not native English speakers and have adopted it as our second language. Over the years, while working with different professionals I have observed that many of us still find English language confusing, especially when we have to deal with homophones (words that are spelled differently but are pronounced alike) and/or homographs (words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently).

Referring to such troublesome words, Don Phillipson, a Canadian member of an online language forum, said: “This is what North American newspapermen call ‘eluders,’ listed and discussed in The Canadian Press Style Book.

My discussion with some English language experts brought up a few common words that confuse many people in their day to day use of English language – in writing and speech, at work and in their private conversations.

“I think everyone has some spellings that are bugbears for them. For instance, I know how to spell ‘friend’, but whenever I write it something in my brain says, ‘that rhymes with ‘fiend’; it can’t be right,’ and if I am in a hurry I’ll sometimes change it to ‘freind’, which then looks very wrong to me,” said Dave Hatunen, member of the online group.

Another member, John Kane cited self example: “I consistently have to rewrite ‘wierd’ to ‘weird’, and it still looks wrong. Same with ‘guarantee’ ¾  I always try ‘gaurantee’ first. I have also had trouble all my life with -ent/-ant words, usually picking the wrong spelling first.”

One of my friends, a successful HR executive and businesswoman, said she finds “principal” and “principle” highly confusing. “I find ‘practice’ and ‘practise’ more problematic because I use them almost every day and it’s tough to figure out which one to use the one with ‘c’ or ‘s’,” she said.

“One of the most commonly misspelled words as spelled by otherwise good spellers is, in my experience, ‘aperture’. It often gets spelled and pronounced ‘aperature’,” said Bob Cunningham of the language forum.

Another group member said, “Wednesday. I still get it wrong (Wedensday), it’s a habit I have thus far found impossible to break. I’ve never pronounced it like ‘Wed Ness Day,’ or thought about it like that, or even known I was wrong until well into adulthood. I don’t recall ever been corrected (except by MS Word!).”

My confusing words would be: intention, millennium, and hassle.

My friend Saras, executive administrator at a magazine office, often gets confused in “advice”, “advise”, “whether”, and “weather”.

“If you ask me, I’ll say the entire English language is confusing. I have a long list of words that confuse me when I have to write emails, invitations, letters, newsletters, brochures and press releases on a daily basis. For example, I always write ‘table’ as ‘tabel’ first. Then ‘their,’ ‘there,’ ‘principal,’ and ‘principle’ put me into trouble all the time. I wish I didn’t have to write in English at all,” says Tabu, events manager of a media group in Bangalore.

The purpose of citing these quotes is to show that it is common to make mistakes in English language and those of us who find it difficult shouldn’t underestimate our capability to improve on it consciously. To make things easier, here are a few examples of some common troublesome words with their meanings:


Chord: (music) two or more notes played together; (mathematics) straight line that joins two points on a curve
Cord: strong thick string or thin rope

Complement: to add to something in a way that improves it
Compliment: a remark that expresses praise or admiration of somebody

Loose: not firmly fixed where it should be; able to become separated from something
Lose: to be unable to find something/somebody; to have something/somebody taken away from you

Read more examples


Bow     : The act of bending your head or the upper part of your body forward in order to say hello or goodbye to somebody or to show respect

: A knot with two loops and two loose ends which is used for decoration on clothes, in hair, etc. or for tying shoes

Content : The amount of a substance that is contained in something else; (computing) the information or other material contained on a website or CD-ROM

              : Happy and satisfied with what you have

Lead    : To go with or in front of a person or an animal to show the way or to make them go in the right direction; guide

: A chemical element Lead is a heavy soft grey metal, used especially in the past for water pipes or to cover roofs

Read more examples


Accommodation not Accomodation
Foreign not Foriegn
Friend not Freind or Fiend
Guarantee not Gaurantee
Hassle not Hassel
Intention not Intension
Professional not Proffesional
Pronunciation not Pronounciation
Received not Recieved
Table not Tabel
Weird not Wierd


Effect: a change that something/somebody causes in something/somebody else; a result
Affect: to produce a change in something/something

Forward: towards a place or position that is in front
Foreword: a short introduction at the beginning of a book

Moral: concerned with principles of right and wrong behaviour
Morale: the amount of confidence and enthusiasm, etc. that a person or a group has at a particular time

Read more examples


Funny Errors

Source: All word meanings have been taken from Oxford Dictionary

It is amazing how wonderfully some people can concentrate on the meaning of words and how clearly they can explain them, too. Recently, I posted a query in a forum of English language experts regarding the “seven days a week” phrase that I came across while editing a book.

I was a bit confused why “seven days a week” cannot be written as “all week” or “all days of the week”. The answers that I received were common sense and enlightening:

“‘Seven days a week’ was perfectly normal construction in American English,” said a member from Florida adding, “this way the phrase eliminates any ambiguity of what a ‘week’ is.” He meant that since in the US there are “week days” and “weekend days,” there is a possibility of ambiguity which the phrase gets rid of if clearly written as “seven days a week”.

Another member said, “seven days a week” implies that other establishments are open on fewer days each week, for example, “six days a week” or “five days a week”.

“The mention of seven days in the expression is important as some people reading the article may come from a culture in which the normal working week is less than seven days, six days for instance. Such a person might assume that ‘all week’ means a working week of six days,” said an elaborate post.

In the UK, the phrase is used as good English and is understood easily with no ambiguity. A member said, “The alternatives are not so good: ‘all week’ may mean seven days, or ‘the working week’, which many assume to be five days. ‘All days of the week’ is equally vague, plus is ungrammatical. Instead, ‘every day of the week’ would be a little better.”

In all these answers there are a few important points:

§ importance of the order of words,
§ importance of the meaning we wish to convey in our writings,
§ check whether our sentences convey the intended meaning,
§ understand different cultures and keep global readership in mind,
§ apply regular grammar and spell checks, and
§ bring clarity of thought for unambiguous writing.

It is important here to realise how loaded each word is, and how carefully an editor/reader must read. Thanks to everyone who cared to reply to my query.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog's new posts by Email.

Join 281 other followers

Visitors Log

  • 10,831 visits till date

Monthly Archives

%d bloggers like this: