Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gruesome Grammar Tuesday (Gruesday)

Welcome to Gruesome Grammar Tuesday—or as I like to call it Gruesday
As a writer and an editor, grammar plays a huge (and sometimes hated) role in my life. You never know just how important it is until you find yourself stuck in the middle of a sentence, wondering if what you’ve already written makes sense at all. Well NEVER FEAR Gruesday is here! Every week I’m going to do a new post reviewing a different grammar rule, to help myself and you as well.
For my first Gruesday post I am going to discuss a question that an author asked me the other day. I never considered it before now and it ended up being a really great inquiry.

The difference between content and contents.

If I hadn’t been asked this question, there’s a good chance that I might have never considered it. What is the difference between the two? (Besides the obvious one, lol)

In my search to answer this question I went to Dictionary.com to see the difference in definitions of the two words. When looking up content the first thing (even before any definition) was this:

1 [kon-tent] Show IPA
Usually, contents

I almost thought this was reason enough to stop looking. The words seem interchangeable and after more searching, I found that indeed, in some cases they are, BUT not always.
As my search online continued I found this great explanation of the two.

Contents usually refers to specific, individual things contained in a whole.

Whereas content usually refers to a more general concept. All of the things within something are seen as one whole thing.

Example: Books often have a "table of contents". This is a listing of all the specific, individual chapters contained in the book.

Your grammar book probably has a table of contents which lists the specific chapters/units and the specific grammar points covered in each.

But you might say the content of your grammar book is grammar (a more general concept).

This explanation makes it sound simple, right? Contents refers specific things and content is a more vague description. And this is correct in every situation, right? Wrong.
This is grammar so there is never a simple or one sided conclusion to anything. (Never forget that!)
The usage of the word depends on a lot of things. For example—contents is the plural form of content so if you were to say something like:
 The content(s) is(are) sewing materials.
Which would it be? Well, if we refer to our rule farther up it should be content because it is not talking about the specific articles within the container, right? Wrong again. Because more than one item is being referred to (plural) and all items are countable within the container which means that would use the plural form of the noun and the correct sentence would be:
The contents are sewing materials.

Confused yet? Haha, I’m not trying to be confusing. At the end of the day it is up to the writer’s discretion to look at the sentence, evaluate what you know and go with what sounds best. That’s just how grammar works. With using it comes great choices and decisions to be made. Unfortunately being a writer means you will make wrong decisions all the time, even when you know your rules, haha.
I hope this explanation was useful. 
May your future writing be full of grammatically correct content!

Happy Gruesday! 


No comments :

Post a Comment