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…

Don’t sweat it: “Who” and “That”

One peeve I’ve seen pop up a couple of times recently is the prohibition on using “that” when referring to people, as in “The scientists that worked on the project toiled in anonymity” instead of “The scientists who worked on the project toiled in anonymity.” Some people think — and are quick to point out…

Usage: Doing it right

Recently — and this is not the first time this has happened — I wrote something along the lines of “do it right” and  someone “corrected” the word “right” to the word “correctly.” Apparently some people somewhere are laboring under the idea that “right” in the sense of “correct” can only be an an adjective….

Comings and goings, bringings and takings

Speaking of bring / brought / brought, people often get confused about when to use “bring” and when to use “take.” Some people use the two words interchangeably, but they aren’t interchangeable, or they aren’t if you are trying to communicate clearly. “Bring” vs. “take” is easier to understand if it’s compared with “come” and…

Who gets to decide how language is used?

Recently during a discussion about standard English, usage manuals and stylebooks, I was asked, “Who gets to decide?” My answer was, “We all do.” As users of the language, we are the ones who ultimately determine the direction of our language: the fate of words old and new, changes in meanings, and addition or subtraction…

Like physicians, editors should do no harm

When students first learn to edit, they’re looking for mistakes everywhere. And they find a lot. But one of the things I try to teach from the first day is that not everything has something wrong with it, so they need to know when to leave copy the heck alone. A principle that guides physicians…

Gradations of graduation

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Nov. 28, 2011. We had a question about graduation and the correct way to express it: Should you use “from” or is it correct to leave that out? The correct usage is “graduate from” a school: “Mayim Bialik graduated from UCLA with a Ph.D. in neuroscience.” The usage “was…

Corrections with a smile

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on July 26, 2011. I ran across an interesting post over the weekend that asks: “Why do people hate on those of us who know grammar? Why is it insulting to have your language skills corrected?” The author, Claiborne L., a professional writer and editor, makes some excellent points in…

Nutty non-rules of grammar

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on April 18, 2011. Recently I got a voice mail message from a reader saying that the verb “rise” could be used only with animate subjects, and thus our headline “Speed limit may rise to 75 mph” was incorrect, and it should have said “Speed limit may be raised to…

Our favorite books: Garner’s

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on June 11, 2009. People have asked where we find answers to all the grammar and usage conundrums we run across. Every Eagle editor has a row of books spanning his or her desk, and they aren’t just for decoration. We use them to explore questions we have and arrive…