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Tricky Words (page 2)

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Updated on Oct 9, 2013

literally vs. figuratively

“Literally” means “In a literal, or actual, sense” — often used for emphasis.

  • She literally owned five hundred pairs of shoes.
  • I ate so much that night I was afraid I was going to pop – literally!

“Figuratively” means “metaphorically”

  • When I said I was going to kill you if you dropped my camera in the lake, I meant it figuratively, not literally.

which vs. that

Both “which” and “that” are commonly used to introduce clauses.

“Which” is usually immediately preceded by a comma, and functions as the subject of its clause, which generally provides additional information (see what I did there?).

Example 1

Raiders of the Lost Ark, which grossed nearly $400 million worldwide, features Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.

In the above example, the clause “which grossed nearly $400 million worldwide” contains clarifying information that could be removed without changing the core meaning of the sentence, which is “Raiders of the Lost Ark features Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.”

TIP: Use “which” when the clause you are introducing is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

TIP: “Which” clauses are often set off by commas; “that” clauses are not.

Example 2

A “that” clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

“That” clauses are usually not preceded by a comma.

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is a song that leaves a lasting impression.

Without the clause “that leaves a lasting impression,” this sentence would lose its meaning.

Example 3 – a comparison

Version 1: Transformers 2 is a movie that I love.

Version 2: Transformers 2 is a movie, which I love.

Both of these sentences are grammatically correct, but they carry different meanings. The first sentence tells you that I love the movie, but the second one implies that what I love is the fact that the movie exists at all.

who vs. whom

“Who” is a subject pronoun, like I, we, he, she and they.

  • Who is speaking?
  • Who is going to the concert?
  • Who gave me this awful cold?

“Whom” is an object pronoun, like me, us, him, her, and them.

  • To whom am I speaking?
  • With whom are you going to the concert?
  • Whom should I thank for this awful cold?

David Travis is the founder and CEO of Prospect Prep, a New York City-based tutoring agency dedicated to helping students earn better grades, higher scores, and acceptance letters from the colleges of their dreams.

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