Usage glossary

a lot

A "lot" can be (1) a piece of land; (b) a chance, as in "drawing lots" or "casting lots"; (c) a movie studio; or (d) a group of items to be sold at a sale. Whenever possible, avoid use of "lot" as a measure of a quantity of people or things. Prefer the word "many." Editors frequently err by spelling the two-word phrase as one word "alot."

a while/awhile

Use a while only when it is preceded by a preposition.

He plans to stay around for a while.

Use awhile in all other instances.

He plans to stay awhile.

"above" or "preceding" vs.
"below" or "following"

Prefer the word "preceding" when referring to information that appears earlier in the text; prefer the word "following" when referring to information that appears later in the text. Unnatural page breaks and columns arrangements can often cause the statements "above" or "below" to be illogical.


Accept (a verb) means "to receive something with favor" or "to approve."

I hope John will accept the position of Heartspring chairman.

Except (usually a preposition) means "excluding" or "rejecting."

We covered everything in the coaching session except breathing techniques.


Advice (a noun) means "information given as an aid."

Our director's advice is usually helpful.

Advise (a verb) means "to give information or aid."

Our director will advise you on the voice part to sing.


Affect (a verb) means "to influence."

The dense cigarette smoke in the room can seriously affect your vocal cords.

Effect (usually a noun) means "the end result" or "the outcome."

Ten more men on stage had a noticeable effect on our Singing score.

all right

All right, meaning "all is right," always should be spelled out as two separate words. Editors frequently misspell it as one word "alright."

Even with our tenor section stricken with flue, we'll be all right by show time.

already/all ready

Already (an adverb) means "previously."

The chorus had already committed to the performance, so we couldn't schedule our open house for that evening.

All ready means "all is/are ready."

Exactly at 7:30 p.m., the chorus members were all ready to perform.

altogether/all together

Altogether means "wholly" or entirely.

We did not altogether approve of the decision to sit out the contest.

All together means "a group acting as a unit."

The leads managed to sing the pick-up notes all together.


Amount refers to "a quantity thought of as a single unit." Generally, the quantity is uncountable.

The amount of time we devote to our hobby is immeasurable.

Number refers to "a quantity thought of as a collection of single units." Generally, it is possible to count the quantity.

The number of tickets sold was less than we had expected.


An event cannot be described as "annual" until it has been held in at least two successive years. Do not use the term first annual. Instead, note that a group plans to hold the event annually.


Biannual refers to an event that occurs twice within a year.

Our chorus is gearing up for our biannual appearance at contest.

Biennial refers to an event that occurs every other year.

The Pekin Chapter hosts a biennial Caribbean cruise.


Prefer champion/champions in all instances.


A chord is a musical term describing the simultaneous production of two or more tones to produce a harmonious result.

We never succeeded at singing the tune-up chord correctly.

A cord is a length of string, leather, wire, or muscle tissue.

Compare a bass's vocal cords with the bass strings on a piano.


Use a hyphen when forming nouns, adjectives, and verbs that indicate occupation or status.


Use no hyphen in other combinations.


compared to/compared with

Use compared to when the intent is to assert that two or more things are similar.

He compared his plan for revising the Society's judging system to the Sweet Adelines' current judging system.

Use compared with when juxtaposing two or more items to show either similarities or differences.

Our score was 875, compared with 785 from last year.


Complement means "that which completes."

These new shirts will complement our uniforms.

Compliment means "to flatter or to praise."

Let me compliment your quartet on its sound.


Complimentary means "given free as a courtesy."

We gave complimentary tickets to news media and district officers.


Continual means "steady repetition over and over again."

The issue of raising Society dues has been a continual headache for the Board of Directors.

Continuous means "uninterrupted, steady, unbroken."

All we saw in front of us was a continuous sea of faces in the audience.

could have/may have/might have
must have/should have/would have

Use these verb forms rather than the incorrectly written forms based on slurred speech patterns (could of, might of, should ... )

Many of the conventioneers in the lobby should have been quieter during the contest sessions.

different from/different than

The preposition from is preferred to the conjunction than.

Barbershopping in Britain is no different from barbershopping in America.


Use ensure to mean "guarantee."

We hired a Presentation coach to ensure that we wouldn't overlook any part of our performance.

Use insure only in reference to financial arrangements involving insurance.

Our chapter decided to insure our property.


Use entitled to refer to "the right to do or have something."

Our victory entitled us to advance to the next round of competition.

Use titled to refer to titles and labels.

Our next song is titled "Huggin' and Chalkin'."


The abbreviation etc. is often used when a writer is not sure of what else to include in a list of items. The classic Elements of Style by Strunk and White says that etc. is "least open to objection when it represents the last (unstated) terms of a list already given almost in full, or immaterial words at the end of a quotation." However, at the end of a list introduced by "such as" or "for example," the use of etc. is inappropriate because the introductory words already indicate an incomplete list. Because of imprecision, writers should avoid using etc.


These two terms are generally thought to be interchangeable; however, the word farther more appropriately refers to physical distance while the word further more appropriately refers to time, quantity, or degree.

He has to travel farther to chapter meetings than I do.
The music VP discussed further the changes in copyright law.


Fewer is an adjective used to modify nouns that can be counted and that are temporarily grouped yet retain their individuality.

Since contest, fewer of our members are showing up for rehearsal.

Less is an adjective used to modify nouns always taken as wholes (money, work, time) that cannot be individually counted or to describe values and degrees.

Because of our upcoming show, we spend less time quartetting and more time polishing our show songs.
Our new director has less stringent rules for chorus rehearsal than our previous director.


Good (an adjective) should be used only to modify nouns.

We had a good time at the convention.

Well (usually an adverb) is most often used to modify a verb, telling "how" something is done. It is also used to indicate the condition of one's health.

The reason they sang so well is that they have good breath control.
John, you don't look very well. What did you have to eat?


This once-useful adverb meaning "with hope" has been distorted and is now widely used to mean "I hope" or "it is hoped." Use the word sparingly and in adverbial situations.

The little boy stared hopefully at the clown passing out toys.
I hope (rather than hopefully) we'll be able to put 75 men on stage for contest.


Imply means "to hint at something"; a speaker implies.

He implied that we did not sing very well.

Infer means "to reach a conclusion"; a listener infers.

I inferred from the audience's response that we sang very well.


While usage is still evolving, the general preference is that the word should always be capitalized.


Its is a possessive pronoun. No apostrophe is needed.

The only good thing about that song is its tag.

It's is the contraction for "it is." An apostrophe is needed.

Some say it's not possible for a quartet to win a gold medal at an international contest its first time in competition.


Usually, like functions as either a verb or a preposition.

I like songs like "Lida Rose."

As is a conjunction usually used to signal a subordinate clause; this means the word group following the word as should be a complete sentence unit.

Shape your mouth as I do.


Loose is an adjective meaning "not tight."

These pants are far too loose.

Lose is a verb meaning "to misplace or not win."

Now, don't lose your temper if we lose this contest.

master of ceremonies

This phrase should be written out in full on first usage and in lower case unless it precedes the name of the person. For subsequent usage, use the non-abbreviated MC with capitals.

At our afternoon matinee, Master of Ceremonies Freddy King had the audience laughing uncontrollably. I have never seen a better barbershop MC.

The phonetic spelling of the abbreviation "emcee" is permitted in those instances when a suffix is needed.

Freddy King MC'd our last show and will be MC-ing our 50th Anniversary Show next year.

maybe/may be

Maybe, an adjective phrase meaning "perhaps" or "possibly," is different from the verb phrase may be.

Maybe we're afraid that we may be beaten in this contest.


Prefer the word microphone. The word mike is the informal usage often used in oral situations.


The word midwinter, in reference to the annual Society convention and Board of Directors meeting in January, is not capitalized unless the word is used as a part of a specific convention title. Neither is the word hyphenated.

I have never attended a midwinter convention, but I'm currently making plans to attend the Honolulu Midwinter Convention.


Check a dictionary for proper usage of hyphens since there is no consistent rule. Some examples of correct usage are as follows:

off-key offset
off-Broadway      offhand
send-off stop-off

off of

The "of" is unnecessary.

The music fell off the stand.


A recently coined adjective, the word ongoing should be avoided. Prefer "continuing."

We've have a continuing problem with lost music.


The following information is taken from the AP Stylebook:

Parentheses are jarring to the reader. ... The temptation to use parentheses is a clue that a sentence is becoming contorted. Try to write it another way. If a sentence must contain incidental material, then commas or two dashes are frequently more effective. Use these alternatives whenever possible.


Passed, the past tense of "to pass," means "moved by or completed satisfactorily."

The shuttle bus driver passed the hotel drop-off point without stopping to unload passengers.

Past, a noun, means "in former times."

At the Pioneers convention, dyed-in-the-wool woodshedders reminisce about the great impromptu quartets of the past.

pitch pipe

The word is always spelled as two words.

I panicked because I had forgotten my pitch pipe.


A podium is an elevated platform.

The chorus sang in informal groups on the podium.

A lectern is a stand used to hold notes or books.

The master of ceremonies stood at the lectern.


To precede means "to go ahead of."

The director preceded the chorus as they entered the warm-up room.
The preceding paragraph discussed the differences between podium and lectern.

To proceed means "to begin and carry on an action, process, or movement."

When the quartet walked up to receive its award, the lead proceeded to the microphone to accept the honor.


Principal is a noun or adjective meaning "someone or something first in rank, authority, importance, or degree."

Our new bass is a retired school principal. He is the principal reason our chorus has improved its tonal production.

Principle is a noun that means "fundamental truth, law, doctrine, or motivating force."

One of the most important barbershopping principles is in-tune singing.


Quartet is the word for any group of four, including four females. The word quartette may be used to describe a female foursome, but this spelling is the predominant form in Britain for a male foursome. The verbal derivatives of quartet are quartetted and quartetting.

reason is that/reason was that

Whenever possible, avoid use of reason is that phrasing because of its wordiness. However, if a sentence states a reason or reasons for some action, prefer the word that to follow the linking verb. Many people use the subordinating conjunction because, but the relative pronoun that is the grammatical unit to use to follow the linking verb.

Our quartet doesn't do many weekend performances. The reason is that our bass works the weekend shift at the hospital's emergency room.
Our quartet doesn't do many weekend performances because our bass works the weekend shift at the hospital's emergency room.
(prefer this phrasing)


Many writers mistakenly create the word reoccur in situations requiring the use of the word recur.

I get these recurring headaches every time I sing one of Mortimer's arrangements.

the "Star-Spangled Banner"

The United States' national anthem is treated as if it were any other song title. The words national anthem are always lower case.

Our chorus was granted permission to sing the national anthem at a Cubs game, so we used Mac Huff's arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner."


There is used as an adverb to indicate place or as an expletive to reverse the normal subject-verb order.

There are too many people over there behind the fence.

Their is a possessive pronoun.

A few of the conventioneers lost their way to the contest site.

They're is a contraction of they are.

Oh, goody! They're going to sing another song.


Than is primarily used as a conjunction in statements of comparison.

I think our uniforms look a lot sharper than theirs.

Then is primarily used as an adverb of time.

He was much younger then and had little problem singing tenor.


To is used as a preposition or as part of an infinitive verb form.

Most people just love to sit and listen to barbershop harmony.

Too is an intensifier (adverb). It is also used to mean "in addition."

By 11:00 p.m., most men are too tired to sing anymore. I, too, am worn out.

Two is a number.

Prepare two songs for contest.

that/which vs who

When used as relative pronouns, that and which refer to inanimate or non-human nouns or pronouns. Use that to introduce a restrictive or essential clause (a clause not enclosed in commas); use which to introduce a non-restrictive or non-essential clause (a clause enclosed in commas).

This song is the one that Jay arranged.
This song, which Jay arranged, has a haunting tag.

Who is a relative pronoun used to refer to a human being or groups of human beings in both essential and non-essential clauses.

Most men who join this chapter bring excellent singing credentials.
Our director, who has a degree in music education, has been appointed the district's music educator.

try to/try and

Though wordy, try to is the preferred form in all cases. The verb try ordinarily should be followed by a direct object, in this case the infinitive phrase to ... In many cases, the phrase could easily be omitted from the sentence.

I will try to help you learn your music.
I will help you learn your music.


Television is the preferred word, but the abbreviation TV--in capitals and with no periods--is an acceptable form.

used to/supposed to

Used to refers to an action completed in the past. Supposed to expresses a conditional or imperative action. In both cases, the phrases are misspelled as "use to" and "suppose to" based on pronunciation. A speaker has difficult pronouncing clearly the "d-t" sounds; consequently, the "d" becomes silent when spoken. It is equivalent to writing "should of" because that's how it sounds when the contracted form "should have" is spoken.

He used to sing tenor and is supposed to sing lead, but he always wants to sing bass.


Weather is a noun referring to atmospheric conditions.

Regardless of the weather, we'll be singing at the gazebo in the park on Sunday.

Whether is a conjunction meaning "if it is so that" and is used as a form of indirect quotation to introduce an alternative.

It many also mean "either."

Whether we win or lose, this is our last contest. I don't know whether to go or not.


Who is a subject case pronoun and should be used in all instances in which the similar pronoun he would be used. To verify, rephrase the sentence and substitute the pronoun he in place of who.

I couldn't tell who sang baritone in the quartet.
(He sang baritone in the quartet.)

Whom is an object case pronoun and should be used in all instances in which the similar pronoun him would be used. To verify, rephrase the sentence and substitute the pronoun him in place of whom. (Remember, the "m" in him matches the "m" in whom.)

I wonder whom I should ask.
(I should ask him.)


Your is a possessive pronoun meaning "something belongs to you."

Do you think your chorus can learn the song by next week?

You're is a contraction of "you are."

I'm afraid you're going to find discrepancies in judging panels no matter how closely these panels are monitored.


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