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The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Category: Who vs. Which vs. That

To Restrict or Not to Restrict: That Is the Question

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Who, that, or which; restrictive or nonrestrictive: Most of us have at some point had to grapple with interpretation, pronoun choice, and punctuation for a statement containing essential or nonessential information. For example, what would be succinct within the following statements? Jayla always orders the surf and turf that the master chef prepares for her. …

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Digging Out Extra Details, Clauses, and Words

Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Writers often walk the fine line of how much information to include in a sentence. What qualifies as too much? We want to include only the details and words that will leave a central point or image clear without slowing the way. Consider the following sentences: On the night of December 25-26, 1776, General George …

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Declining or Just Changing?

Posted on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at 11:00 pm

If you think you know your English, Ammon Shea’s Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation might make you question your most cherished notions. The book has a lot to offer grammar sticklers with open minds, but it will challenge—and enrage—most traditionalists. People who care about language tend to deplore the slovenly habits of their …

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Commonly Confused Words That Bring Bumps to Writing

Posted on Wednesday, October 4, 2017, at 9:07 am

The English language—its words, its structure, its stylistic possibilities—is rich, descriptive, and versatile. It can communicate with precision and convey vivid, persuasive thoughts and ideas. At times, it can also confuse. Those not familiar with the nuanced or multiple meanings of many English words and the finer points of grammar can sometimes trip where they’re …

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Media Watch: Pronouns, Prepositions, Danglers and More

Posted on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at 7:46 am

Here is another set of recent flubs and fumbles from usually dependable journalists. • “Yet my relationship with the game was simple and uncomplicated.” How did this one get by the editors? One of those two adjectives has to go. • “He is accused of fleeing to London in March while owing more than $1 …

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Ain’t That a Shame

Posted on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, at 2:14 pm

We are gratified that our readers are uncompromising about the English language. Over the course of fifty articles annually, we get our share of lectures, challenges, and rebukes. We welcome all your comments, but before you write, keep in mind the final edict in last week’s Stickler’s Ten Commandments: Be sure you are correct before …

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That and Which: Rule or Guideline?

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2015, at 2:36 pm

A sentence in our recent article on spelling ruffled a few readers. See if you can spot what caused the commotion: “The other errant site offered a quiz which claimed that ‘inflammation of the membrane of the brain’ is spelled ‘meningitas.’ ” Did you catch it? Our correspondents insisted “which” was wrong and should be …

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Rules and Preferences

Posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2014, at 1:09 pm

There were fervent protests from readers reacting to “Old Superstitions Die Hard.” The article established that the relative pronoun that refers to people as well as to things and has done so for centuries. Never was an essay more aptly named. “I don’t care what all of your quoted sources say,” wrote a fiery businesswoman. …

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Old Superstitions Die Hard

Posted on Tuesday, September 9, 2014, at 4:15 pm

People that try hard usually succeed. Is that sentence grammatical? Some nitpickers say the relative pronoun that should never refer to humans. Here is an interesting piece of mail that arrived recently: Please review your “rule” about the use of “who” and “that” when referring to persons. The use of “that” when referring to people …

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Media Watch: Pronouns, Effective Writing

Posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, at 1:59 pm

Let’s zero in once more on cringe-inducers culled from recent dailies and periodicals … • Newspaper headline: “New look for a old test.” One of the principles of English you would think we all learned in third grade is that the article a goes before consonants (a pen, a hat), and the article an goes …

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