Q: I would like to know of a book or Web site that shows complete sentences in which a specified word is used. I have a good vocabulary and know how to use a thesaurus, but I’m fearful when it comes to promoting a word from my cognitive vocabulary to my active vocabulary; i.e., actually using a word I know in a sentence I write. (For example, I stepped out on a limb to use the word “cognitive.”)
A: First, never use a word in your writing that you wouldn’t use in casual conversation, and you’ll never go wrong.
Next, if you never stretch your own vocabulary, you won’t grow, so after the first caution, I’ll add my favorite source: American Heritage Dictionary. It often, but not always, uses words in a sentence.
A third warning: When you look something up in a thesaurus, be cautious, because each word has its own connotation, and choosing a word from a list does not ensure that the exact meaning you intend will be relayed to the reader. One of my clients for whom English was not a native language, for example, wanted to impart excitement, so after referring to a thesaurus, he wrote, “Oh, no!” he ejaculated. Yes, the sentence and word use are both technically correct, but Americans more often use ejaculate to mean something other than exclaim, so the word choice was less than ideal. It did give this editor a chuckle, however.
Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com.