With grammar, practice makes perfect

There’s a poster in my office that says, “Grammar is not a secret code.” It is a code, sort of, but it’s certainly not a secret. Grammar is for everyone, and everyone deserves to feel confident using it. Plenty of resources exist to help people improve their grammar and language skills if they are so…

Stuff editors like: Word games

Editors tend to love words, word puzzles and word games. I asked editing friends, colleagues and strangers on Twitter what they liked to play, and I got a broad range of answers. The games everyone knows came up, of course, but some lesser-known ones got mentioned and I learned about a few new ones to…

“Oh my”: Could we stop using this cliche?

“The Wizard of Oz” movie came out more than 75 years ago. It’s a classic of American cinema, but it’s also been around long enough for wordplay based on lines from the movie to have become tiresome and worn-out. Specifically, I’m talking about “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” “A and B and C,…

‘Bleaching’ the vibrancy out of words

English has a whole category of words called “contronyms” — words that have opposing definitions, such as “cleave” meaning both join and cut apart,”sanction” meaning both allow and prohibit, and, to the consternation of many of us, “literally” meaning both actually and figuratively. (See more contronyms at Mental Floss and Daily Writing Tips.) But English…

3 reasons to use the singular “they”

One: We need it. Two: We use it. Three: We understand it. Explanation: We need a gender-nonspecific third-person singular pronoun to ensure inclusive writing that isn’t awkward. Generic “he” just doesn’t cut it anymore; extended use of “he/she” and “his/her” in writing is clunky; random switching between “he” and “she” is distracting at best, confusing…

Punctuation: It’s not just for emoticons

Today is National Punctuation Day, on which we celebrate the useful tools around the edges of our keyboards. Some — such as , and . —  we use all the time so they are closest at hand and do not even require using “shift.” Some, such as ; , have enjoyed a renaissance through emoticons….

5 things every writer should remember

On the heels of 5 things every editor should remember, here are a few things for writers to keep in mind. These tips are intended for writers of news and professional communication, so if you are writing creatively, feel free to ignore Nos. 2-5. 1. People will judge your content on the quality of your…

5 things every editor should remember

  Not an exhaustive list, of course, but some good things to remember: 1. No one will ever complain if something is too clear. 2. It’s not about you. Just because you don’t like the way something’s written doesn’t mean it’s wrong. As I’ve said before, have a good reason for any change you make….

Having started this post, an idea struck me

The headline of this post is an example of a misplaced modifier (more specifically, this one is a dangling participle). Misplaced modifiers pop up every day, and even though it’s often clear what the writer meant, they cause a little stumble — and occasionally major confusion — for the reader. Why it’s wrong: When you…

Let’s try not to be disagreeable

This is not a post about immigration — grammarians have no power over politics. It is a post about some of the more complicated aspects of subject-verb agreement, and it’s something I hope everyone can agree on. The basics: Subjects and verbs must agree, that is, singular subjects get singular verbs, and plural subjects get…