Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

There are many words that seem to have basically the same meaning, but they may not necessarily be used interchangeably. Even though the dictionary definition could be very similar, the connotation of one word can be quite different from another.

This is partly why semantics can be so important and this even applies to how you choose to title the sections of your work. You may have picked up many books, both fiction and non-fiction, that are broken up into various chapters. Outside of these chapters, there may be additional sections that could be before or after the main text. These sections need to be labelled, but what word should you use?

The Section in the Beginning

Perhaps you are writing a book and you need a section to “set the stage” for the rest of the content. This section can go by many names.

  • Prologue: This is a term that is more commonly used in a work of fiction or drama, establishing the setting and providing some needed background details. If the book is a part of a series, the prologue could recount the events that led up to the beginning of the current story. Prologue comes from the Greek meaning before (pro) and word/speech (logos).
  • Preface: Written by the book’s author, a preface will usually discuss the scope of the book or how the idea for the book came to be. It is more common to see a preface in a work of non-fiction. The term preface comes from the Latin, meaning “spoken before” (prae + fatia).
  • Foreword: Unlike a preface, a foreword is generally written by someone other than the primary author. It usually relates this third-party back to the author in some fashion, discussing the general topic covered by the work. If a book has both a foreword and a preface, the foreword usually comes first.
  • Introduction: This is a more general term, but it is also a section that is usually written by the primary author. Its purpose is to state the goal of the work and why the reader may be interested in what it has to offer.

The Section at the End

Just as there are different terms to describe introductory sections in a work, there are just as many that are used to indicate sections toward the end of a work. A non-fiction guide to social media likely uses a different term than a fictional epic tale involving hobbits and wizards.

  • Epilogue: Just as the prologue helps to establish the setting of a story, an epilogue can appear at the end to bring closure to a work. In the case of a play, the epilogue may be spoken by a character, commenting on the events that just transpired. This epilogue can also be given from the perspective of the narrator. Epilogue comes from the Greek meaning at the conclusion (epi) and word/speech (logos).
  • Afterword: Just like the foreword, an afterword can be used to discuss how the concept of the book and how it came to be. It may be written by someone other than the principal author, in which case it may provide commentary or provide context.
  • Conclusion: Like introduction, conclusion is a more general term. Depending on its usage, a conclusion can simply summarize or recap the main points discussed in the primary work. Most conclusions don’t introduce any new information or offer any novel analysis.
  • Addendum: While all of the above sections are usually written and published at the same time as the primary work, an addendum is a section that is typically added after the fact. It may still make the first edition, but the purpose of an addendum is to provide supplementary information or updated information. In this way, it’s not unlike an appendix.

Word choice is important. While some rules in the English language are easier to understand, there are many more than are based more on feel and sound than anything else.