Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Capital Way to Make Sense

Let's address another group of confusing terms. There are three sets of words I'd like to cover today: do versus make, imply versus infer, and capital versus capitol. While you likely know the meanings of these words, at times you need to stop and consider what you've written to insure that you've employed the right word for the job. These reminders will help.

“Do” and “make” comprise two sides of one coin. Doing is just that—performing an action. Making means creating or building something. That something does not have to be tangible. You can make a telephone call or a date, after all. You do homework, do lunch, and do the hustle. You don't do pottery or money, you make them. You do good to make a difference.

Imply and infer make a coin of a different color. When you imply something, you state it indirectly and leave your audience to infer it. You can create the noun “implication” from imply. In case you missed it, the writer or speaker implies things that the audience infers from the unstated or partially explained hints.

Capital and capitol present a more complicated case. The words have more than one meaning and each has one that comes mighty close to the other. “They built the capitol building in Lincoln, the capital city of Nebraska.”

It turns out, however, that only buildings use the “-ol” ending. Things like money (the capital needed to start a business), upper case letters, and the synonym for very good (Capital idea, old sport!) all require the “-al” ending. Don't let these two tricksters confuse you. Unless you're writing about a government building, stick with capital.