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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Expressing Possession Greater Than One

Posted on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Communicating joint ownership can be a grammatical no-man’s land for many of us. Whether we were listening, speaking, or writing, we’ve probably found ourselves with statements similar to these: Chuck and Joe’s vacation resorts are in South America. Chuck’s and his vacation resorts are in South America. Theirs and Marla’s meetings are on Tuesday. Marla …

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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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Hunting for Help with Hyphens

Posted on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Few components of English grammar have puzzled writers and editors more than the hyphen. When do we insert it? When don’t we? Why does it appear here but not there when last time it was there? Hyphen use remains in continual flux. The stylistic tug of war could be seen in 2019 updates to The …

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Shape-shifting Troublemakers

Posted on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, at 11:00 pm

No nouns in our language behave like pronouns. The most common subject pronouns (I, he, she, we, they, who, whoever) all become different words (me, him, her, us, them, whom, whomever) when they are objects. Colloquial English has always thumbed its nose at proper English. A seemingly innocent everyday sentence like It’s me is Exhibit …

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Abbreviation, Acronym, or Initialism: Fixing (not Mixing) Identity

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

American English often applies ways to shorten words and phrases for convenience and economy. This is particularly true in business, government, the military, and perhaps even more so now in texting and social media. For those with an interest in grammar, the question can become whether we are using an abbreviation, an acronym, or an …

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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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A Study of Style: The U.S. Military

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

Our exploration of American English strives to venture even further than the principles that guide writing with precision and eloquence. We are also interested in the language variances beyond what we accept as common for information exchange. For example, we know that United States can be abbreviated, often as either US or U.S. One might …

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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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Some Confusing Words

Posted on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, at 11:00 pm

We have many words in the English language that have subtle differences between them. If you know these differences, you will be confident that you are conveying the meaning you intend. The five sets of confusing words we will cover today are: Adverse vs. Averse Uninterested vs. Disinterested Suppose vs. Supposed Oriented vs. Orientated Democratic Party vs. Democrat Party Adverse vs. Averse Adverse = unfavorable or antagonistic in …

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A Midsummer’s Musing on Miscellany

Posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Our regular readers might note that our study of American English periodically includes smaller but still noteworthy items we collect from research and reader correspondence. It's been several months since our last musings on miscellany, so we thought we'd return for more as we approach midsummer 2020. (To review miscellany from the past two years, …

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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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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 non-restrictive: Most of us have at some point had to grapple with interpretation, pronoun choice, and punctuation for a statement containing essential or non-essential 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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Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons

Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Many of you have been asking for help with punctuating between clauses and phrases within sentences. You want to know when you should use a comma and when you need a semicolon. Here are a few rules with examples that we hope you find helpful. Commas Rule: Use a comma between two independent clauses when …

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