300 Days of Better Writing

September 17, 2014

YOU MUST HAVE TO


I received an interesting question from an English teacher in Iran who wanted to know the differences, if any, between “must” and “have to/has to.” This is an interesting question because the expressions are nearly identical. To answer, I had to think not only about their strict definitions but also about how they are used.

The terms “must” and “have to/has to” are modal auxiliaries that communicate (1) an obligation to perform some action or (2) that some state of being or action is highly likely. They are nearly interchangeable.

SLIGHT DIFFERENCES

These expressions have differing connotations when used to communicate an obligation. Unlike “have to/has to,” “must” communicates a sense of moral obligation such that the action is the morally correct action. They also have slightly different connotations when used to express states of being or the likelihood of an action. Unlike “must,” “has to/have to” can describe the absence of any other choices.

Finally, “must” may express an opinion as a moral judgment, as in, “In my opinion, this action I am telling to you perform is the right action. If you do something else than what I am telling you, you are doing something bad.” Thus, similar to “should,” “must” can take an opinion and change it into a moral judgment. This is true because morals are value judgments, which are subjective.

MUST

In some contexts, “must” is similar to “should” in that “must” communicates a sense of moral obligation to perform some action or moral correctness of a choice. In other contexts, “must” communicates that a certain state of being is so likely that any other possibility is inconceivable.

“She must pay her bills on time or she will go to jail.” – moral obligation to perform some action

“She must pay her bills on time because she never gets late payment notices.” –highly probable state of being

“You must protect your children.” –moral obligation, the right choice

“You must be tired by now.” –highly probable state of being

“I must stop at the corner.” –the only correct state of being or action

HAS TO/HAVE TO

In most contexts, “has to/have to” communicates a requirement to perform some action, similar to “must” but without the sense of moral correctness. In other contexts, “has to/have to” communicates that a certain state of being is so likely that any other possibility is inconceivable.

“She has to pay her bills on time.” –obligation to perform some action.

She has to pay her bills on time because she never gets late payment statements.” Highly probable state of being

“You have to protect your children.” An obligation or requirement

“You have to be tired by now.” –highly probable state of being

“I have to stop at the corner.” –the only possible state of being, with no other options

USING THESE WORDS

However, as mentioned, in casual speech these words are often interchanged. A particularly astute person can draw on the connotative differences to argue against a statement that he “must” or “has to” perform some action. A person may use one connotation of the expression, and another person can argue using a differing connotation. This will create conflict. If it doesn’t create conflict, it will, at least, create confusion.

For example, if my wife says, “You have to take out the trash,” I could respond, “I could watch TV instead.” Here, she is using the connotation that expresses an obligation, but I respond as if she meant that no other options are possible. I reply that her statement is wrong because I do have other choices.

On the other hand, if my wife says, “You must take out the trash,” I could respond, “No, I probably won’t.” Again, she is expressing an obligation using words that can communicate an opinion about the morally correct choice. I reply as if she meant that taking out the trash is the most likely, or highly probable, action, which, in my opinion, it isn’t.

In practice, neither response will be well received. My response is pretty much guaranteed to create conflict.

The best communicator will seek to understand what the other person intends to communicate with “have to/has to” and “must,” and then will respond to that intended meaning, regardless of the words used.

May 30, 2014

Lead the reader to your conclusion.


In classical argumentation, you build a case for some idea. You present facts, theories, and assumptions. Then, you reveal the conclusion. If you have done your job well, the conclusion will be the inevitable result of the discussion.

If you start with the idea, you either confuse your reader (because he or she won’t have the necessary information for understanding) or you will create an antagonistic relationship with the reader (because he or she disagrees with you).

Here’s what this means. If you have a new idea about which you want to convince your reader, or if your idea is controversial, lead your reader to it. Your reader will have the necessary information to understand and believe the idea—before you present it.


Free E-book to Improve Your Writing Skills

Top writing strategies and expert instruction from
each of Precise Edit’s writing guides

  • 1 critical article from
    Precise Edit Training Manual
  • 8 days of instruction from
    300 Days of Better Writing
  • 5 top strategies from
    Bang! Writing with Impact
  • 2 essential word choices from Which Word Do I Use?
  • 1 major comma use from Zen Comma
  • 1 section on main verbs from Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing

Get the free e-book (PDF) OR

Purchase the Kindle version ($0.99).

May 22, 2014

Common knowledge does not need a reference.


Although we recommend providing references for new or controversial information, we do not recommend providing references for common or widely accepted knowledge. We also do not recommend providing a reference for commonly accepted definitions or descriptions.

For example, you do not need to provide a reference for this information: “Clouds are formed from water molecules.” This is common knowledge.

You also would not need a reference for this information: “Books are composed of bound papers, which often contain words or images.”

Basically, if your readers already know, understand, and believe the information, you will not need a reference.


 

This is the strategy for day 128 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

November 12, 2013

Cite your sources to build credibility.


Citing your sources means giving credit to published experts for ideas you are presenting.

This may seem counterintuitive. If you wish to be perceived as an expert in some topic, then the last thing you want to do is let your readers know that your information comes from someone else. Right? Actually, there are two possibilities here.

First, if you are not yet a recognized authority on the topic, your readers won’t consider you credible, which means your information will be received with suspicion. By citing your sources or citing writers who have made the same claims, you are telling your reader, “I’m not the only one saying this. See? These experts agree with me.” This raises your credibility and improves the possibility that your readers will accept what you write.

Second, if you are a recognized authority on the topic, your readers will likely believe what you tell them about that topic. By citing your sources, you are telling your reader, “I keep up-to-date on what is happening and on what other experts are doing, so I’m right when I tell you . . . .” This strengthens your credibility, and the reader will be less likely to dispute what you write.


This is the strategy for day 74 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,411 other followers