Category: Effective Writing

Me Either vs. Me Neither: Which Is Better?

Posted on Monday, January 18, 2021, at 9:00 am

You have probably come across the phrases me either and me neither in both writing and conversation. Have you ever wondered which is correct? Let’s look at the grammar behind these expressions. Note that unlike pairs such as either vs. neither, these two phrases don’t have precise meanings. Although widely used, they are idiomatic as …

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What Is Hyperbole?

Posted on Wednesday, January 13, 2021, at 12:00 am

We had at least a thousand interruptions today. Theo ran the race with winged feet. This crème brûlée is to die for. We all at some point exaggerate to emphasize our thoughts or feelings. When doing so, we are often using what is known as hyperbole. Originating from the Greek huperbolḗ (hupér "above, beyond" and …

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Are Euphemisms Useful?

Posted on Tuesday, December 1, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Governments, businesses, and private people alike often look to soften an idea they think may hurt, offend, or dishearten another. For that reason, they develop and use alternate phrasing intended to sugarcoat certain connotations. For example, a company reducing staff is not "firing people"; it is "downsizing." People aren't "poor"; they are "economically disadvantaged." We …

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Restoring the Meanings of Misused Words

Posted on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Words give us an array of ways to express what we're thinking or feeling with boldness or nuance. The more we use them in the proper context according to their definitions, the more settled they become in our eloquence. Within American English, some words continue to operate as people wearing another's attire. One can ponder …

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Dangling Phrases and Clauses

Posted on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, at 11:00 pm

With all of the shouting and controversy surrounding the election, we thought it might be a good time for a lighter—but still instructive—grammar topic this week. Today, we are repeating a classic from GrammarBook.com's founder, Jane Straus, from March 2008. When phrases or clauses are misplaced in a sentence, such that they don't agree with …

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We the People, or…?

Posted on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, at 11:00 pm

For much of the last two months, we have been analyzing why the subject pronouns I, he, she, we, they and the object pronouns me, him, her, us, them are chronically misused and confused. In this final installment, we'll deal with flawed sentences like Politicians should respect we the people and It's a happy outcome …

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Expressing Possession of Gerunds

Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, at 11:00 pm

A gerund is the present participle (-ing) form of a verb functioning as a noun in a sentence. Example: He responded by laughing. (The gerund "laughing" is the noun object of the preposition "by.") A gerund phrase is a gerund plus another element such as an adverb, an adjective, or a noun. Example: Saving money …

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Two More Reasons Pronouns Plague Us

Posted on Tuesday, October 6, 2020, at 11:00 pm

For several weeks now, we’ve been counting the ways that pronouns give us nightmares. Today we’ll look at two more culprits: infinitives and verbs that end in -ing (known technically as participles and gerunds). To form an infinitive, precede a verb with the word to. The infinitive of look is to look. Constructions like to …

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Yet More Pronoun Pitfalls

Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2020, at 11:00 pm

This is another in a loose series detailing the difficulty of mastering pronouns. Even simple sentences can include snares that distract us from distinguishing between subjects and objects. Four weeks ago, we showed that pronouns linked by any form of the verb to be wrongly become objects in everyday English, which prefers It's me or …

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I Subject, Your Honor

Posted on Tuesday, August 25, 2020, at 11:00 pm

In past discussions of who-whom and whoever-whomever, we passed along a handy memory aid: who (and whoever) = they; whom (and whomever) = them.* That's fine as far as it goes, but it goes nowhere unless we can tell a subject (they) from an object (them). One reason that distinguishing between subjects and objects is …

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The Subjunctive Mood

Posted on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, at 11:00 pm

An e-newsletter fan came across this sentence: If I were very lucky, I would get the chance to go. She asked, "Shouldn't I be followed by was, not were, since I is singular?" This type of question is common within English grammar, particularly because it walks the line between the conditional tense and the subjunctive mood. The difference lies in that the subjunctive …

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Idiom: The DNA of Cliché

Posted on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, at 11:00 pm

We recently revisited the subject of the cliché, which dictionary.com defines as "a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse." All clichés begin as idioms, which are "expressions whose meanings are not predictable from the usual …

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Clichés Are Too Easy

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Clichés are to good writing as McDonald’s is to fine dining. You don’t need to shun them altogether; occasionally they have their place. But overall, like fast food, the job they do isn’t worth the toll they take. But what’s really so wrong with avoid like the plague? You know exactly what it means when …

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Sweating the Small Stuff

Posted on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, at 11:00 pm

At a football game a few years ago, the University of Notre Dame sold soda in cups that said, "Figthing Irish." Did no one at this distinguished school have the time or pride to proofread a two-word slogan? Here are a few other items we've seen and now wish we hadn't … Back to Basics  …

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Similes and Metaphors

Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Simile A form of expression using like or as, in which one thing is compared to another which it only resembles in one or a small number of ways. Examples: Her hair was like silk. She sings like an angel. He runs like a gazelle. This meat is as dry as a bone. Metaphor A …

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