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The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Category: Effective Writing

The Subjunctive Mood

Posted on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, at 7:00 am

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?” Let us answer that by asking you a question: Are you old enough to remember the ad jingle that began, “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener …”? …

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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 7:00 am

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 7:00 am

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 7:00 am

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. Example: Her hair was like silk. Metaphor A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate …

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Split Infinitives: To Split or Not To Split

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, at 7:00 am

Not everyone knows what an infinitive is, but everyone uses them. What Is a Split Infinitive? Infinitives are formed when a verb is preceded by the word to, as in to run or to ask. Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech might be the most famous use of infinitives in English literature. One …

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Writing with Nimble Variation

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Writing is much like anything else involving enjoyment: too much of one thing can eventually spoil the fun. Just as they might tire from eating the same cereal every morning, readers can soon grow weary from an over-repetition of compositional forms. Consider the following sentence:      Winthrop grew up in poverty. He could not …

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Writing with Meaningful Restraint

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

The art of writing concerns style and form as much as it does clarity and grammatical accuracy. Technically proper sentences can be operative but uninspiring if not also touched by feeling and flow. Consider the following pair:      He fully opened the window and looked at the sunset. It had been a long day. He was …

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Writing with Rhythm and Sound

Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Good writing involves more than good grammar. A sentence can be correctly written but dull. In addition to technical precision, composition that connects with readers has a sense of rhythm and sound. Think of how much children enjoy rhymes and word play such as Red Rover, Red Rover, let Raymond come over and The itsy …

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Don’t Put It in Writing

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

Today we’ll discuss a word and a phrase, either of which would sound fine in a casual exchange but could attract unwanted attention if used in formal writing. Ahold  Although few people would notice anything amiss in a sentence like I wish I could get ahold of a good grammar book, many editors would change …

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