November 5, 2009
Language Tips: Afterward or afterwards & Discrete or discreet
Tip 1: Afterward or afterwards
I am going to buy a cup of coffee and afterwards, I am going to read your manuscript.
The traffic was heavy, so we barely moved forward.
The directions are backwards; you can’t get there like that.
The sun rose upward and dazzled in the morning sky.
Towards the end of the movie, we realized what was going to happen.
So what’s the story with these words, anyway? Can you use an ‘s’ at the end or not?
The first thing you might notice about these words is that they are all words associated with directionality-either in terms of time or space (e.g., backward, upward, forward, seaward, afterward). Furthermore, most of these words can function as either adverbs or adjectives; the exception is afterward which only works as an adverb.
These words can be spelled with an ‘s’ or without. When ending with ‘wards,’ the words can only be used as adverbs. The adjective form always ends with ‘ward.’
So which to use?
Both forms are correct; however, the form ending without a ‘s’ is viewed as more formal, and that is the form that we should use in our formal writing. You can’t go wrong if you end the words with ‘ward.’
Incidentally, please be careful not to confuse ‘afterward’ with ‘afterword.’ An ‘afterword’ is an epilogue to a work of writing. Similarly, a ‘foreword’ is a prologue and should not be confused with ‘forward.’
Tip 2: Discreet or discrete
I recently ran across this:
For the analysis, we divided the respondents into three discreet groups.
While it hurts to see this, unfortunately, this error is relatively common in our writing. The word the author wanted is ‘discrete.’
‘Discreet’ means prudent or judicious in one’s conduct.
He kept what he knew to himself, thinking that it was to his advantage to be discreet.
‘Discrete’ means separate or distinct.
When writing a scientific manuscript, you need to include five discrete sections: introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions.
Both words have evolved from the same Latin word, discretus, meaning separated.
While generally ‘discreet’ is the more common word, in science and research, ‘discrete’ is more commonly seen.
If you have difficulty remembering which is which, think about the fact that the ‘e’s in discrete are separate by the ‘t.’ They are separate and distinct, in fact, two discrete letters.