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The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Category: Singular vs. Plural

Rules Do Change

Posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, at 11:00 pm

Spacing after periods, colons, question marks, and exclamation marks Originally, typewriters had monospaced fonts (skinny letters and fat letters took up the same amount of space), so two spaces after ending punctuation marks such as the period were used to make the text more legible. However, most computer fonts present no difficulty with proportion or …

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Tackling More Tricky Word Choices: Another Look at Number Is and Number Are

Posted on Wednesday, March 7, 2018, at 8:30 am

Recently we’ve been reviewing word choices with nuances worthy of noting. Understanding subtleties of meaning and usage makes the instruments in our toolboxes even sharper for precise and eloquent writing. Today we’ll look at another English-usage item that can sometimes be tricky even for experienced communicators. When using the word number as a collective noun for countable …

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Sentence Subjects: Looking Past Nouns and Strict Verb Agreement

Posted on Wednesday, November 15, 2017, at 12:58 am

Sentence subjects are typically obvious in English grammar. Many are nouns, and they take corresponding plural or singular verbs. How then do we identify and explain the parts of speech in the following sentences? 1. Buying houses and flipping them has been netting him a small fortune. 2. To be alone is to find true …

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Collecting the Truth About Collective Nouns

Posted on Wednesday, October 18, 2017, at 10:00 am

American English offers us words as tools for efficient and clear communication. One such tool is the collective noun, a noun that is singular in form but singular or plural in meaning depending on the context. A collective noun represents a group of people, animals, or things. Examples include: band flock bunch crowd herd fleet …

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Using Apostrophes with Names Ending in s, ch, or z

Posted on Thursday, September 7, 2017, at 8:02 pm

Some topics in American English grammar may require repeat visits and discussions, mainly because they can remain elusive even after practice, review, and application. One of those topics is how to form the plural and possessive forms of names ending in s, ch, or z. Most of us are likely comfortable with creating the plural …

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When to Add es to a Verb

Posted on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at 3:08 pm

Our review of English verbs has included discussion of when to add s to a verb. You might also wonder when to add es to the end of a verb. As we point out in that other discussion, only verbs paired with a third-person singular noun or pronoun (he, she, boat, courage) as a subject add …

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In Print Is Forever

Posted on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, at 11:15 am

Oh, the things we see in print these days … From Time magazine: “General David Petraeus asked a famous question: ‘Tell me how this ends?’ ” Did you catch it? Here’s a clue: tell me how that’s a question. If Petraeus had asked a question, it would have been something like, “Tell me, how does this …

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You Can’t Coin What’s Already Coined

Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, at 12:24 pm

Sometimes you hear statements like this: They threw him under the bus, to coin a phrase or To coin a phrase, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Those who say such things do not understand coin a phrase. You cannot coin a phrase that other people have already used. When you use phrases …

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Small Dishes (2016)

Posted on Tuesday, July 5, 2016, at 1:07 pm

• Here is the type of sentence that makes grammar sticklers crazy: one of the students forgot to bring their lunch. You probably know this old tune: laissez-faire scholars and editors say the sentence is just fine, whereas nitpickers demand a rewrite because one is singular and their is plural. Things took a turn in …

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Singular They Part II

Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2015, at 4:12 pm

Despite curmudgeons’ howls, the singular they has become respectable. Many editors at the recent American Copy Editors Society conference declared themselves open to the once-frowned-upon use of they with a singular antecedent. English is an often imperfect language that makes the best of its shortcomings. We say “none are,” despite the prominent one in none, …

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