Compose or Comprise?

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This one even makes me think.

Collections either comprise a list of their parts or are composed of their parts.

Compose comes from the Old French word composer, which meant “to arrange or put together.” Think of a conductor bringing together all the instruments to compose a symphony.

Comprise comes from a French word that means “include.” In English, it can mean “to include, contain, or consist of.”

An easy way to remember which of these words is correct, think of a deck of cards.

A full deck of cards is usually composed of 52 cards, not including the Jokers.

A full deck usually composes 52 cards.

Typically, the correct form you’re looking for is composed of.

Matriculate Does Not Mean Graduate

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June is for graduates. If you did graduate from somewhere, I hope that you learned that you graduated from high school or university and didn’t matriculate from either of those places.

Matriculate actually means to enroll in or be admitted to a group such as a university or a program.

Matriculate is most commonly used as a verb followed by a preposition like at, into, or to.

Incorrect: Erica matriculated from Newberry High School.

Correct: Erica hopes to matriculate to Michigan State University someday.

There are times, though, when matriculate is used as a noun. When it is, it’s referring to someone who was admitted to a program, but according to my handy Oxford American English Dictionary, such use is primarily limited to Indian English.

Correct: A Michigan State matriculate scheduled an interview for Monday.

Foreword or Forward?

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This should be easy, especially for authors, but you would just not believe how many authors I work with who get this one wrong.

Books have a foreword. Things or people move forward (to the front), are forward (bold or brash), or are forward-thinking (progressive).

Foreword is actually a combination of the word fore, as in before or in front of, and the suffix -ward, meaning in the direction of. So, foreword literally means “before the word.” Hence, the foreword of a book a section or introduction before the main words of a book.

Forward is a direction. (And, by the way, it is always forward, never forwards. You have only one frontal direction just as you have only one backward direction.)

An easy way to remember which word to use, just remember that books have words and foreword ends in word.

Try And or Try To?

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Oh, this is a pet peeve of mine, though it kind of shouldn’t be.

Try and has been used in speech and informal writing for hundreds of years. Usage guides of old recommended against using it, and radio announcers (like myself) rail against it. Modern experts, however, say try and is merely informal, not incorrect. (See me grousing here.)

Actually, try and is slightly more common in print across the pond than here in the States, but try to is still the more common form in both regions.


Riffle or Rifle?

Both riffle and rifle mean nearly the same thing. Both mean to go through something but there is a subtle difference.

To riffle (rhymes with sniffle) through something means you’re hastily flipping through something or shuffling cards by interlacing them. There’s actually something called a riffle shuffle. I’ve read where riffle is thought to be a combination of ripple and ruffle. Don’t know if that’s true but it makes sense.

Correct: I riffled through my book and found the cash I’d hidden last week.

To rifle through something means you’re searching frantically or ransacking usually with the intent to steal. Rifle actually comes from the Old French word for “steal” or “plunder.”

Correct: Someone rifled through my drawers looking for my hidden jewelry.