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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 before vowels and vowel sounds (an owl, an honor). But these days, items like that
headline are rampant. Here’s a reporter writing of “a unusual twist in Senate process.” Here’s another, mentioning “an very
unfortunately named document.” We’ve even heard the president of the United States say “a international effort.”
We can no longer dismiss such things as a slip of the tongue or a typo.
• Another rule we learned in grade school was,
“Neither … nor, either … or, but never neither … or.” We thought everybody knew that one. But neither … or is gaining momentum among people
who ought to know better, like the columnist who wrote: “In short, the technology, sports and political worlds seem to be saying that markets should
neither be free or fair.”
Let’s change “or” to “nor,” and while we’re at it, put “be” before “neither” to make the
“… saying that markets should be neither free nor fair.”
• A magazine reported that a twelve-year-old girl sold 18,107 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, calling it “an all-time record.” Delete
“all-time.” All records are all-time records. Writers should also avoid new record—when a record is set, new
• An article about a successful author offered this snarky advice: “Don’t publish anything ’til you’re fifty.” The
writer of this profile should have written “till you’re fifty.” You won’t find a reference book anywhere that
recommends ’til. In Words on Words, John B. Bremner declares brusquely, “Either till or until, but not ’til.” Some defend ’til as a contraction of until. However, till predates until by several
• Check out this sentence about an aggressive company: “The Comcast-run colossus may be able to dictate terms to individual cable channels and
Hollywood studios who supply TV shows and movies.” Make it “that supply TV shows and movies.” Use who only when
referring to humans. Businesses may be run by humans, but grammatically they are things. Avoid usages like a company who. Use that or which instead.
At least as far as grammar is concerned, there is no debate: corporations are not people.
Because of the e-newsletter's large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com's “Grammar Blog.”
The following are sentences recently heard over the airwaves. See if you can spot the errors.
1. “It was committed by two identical twin sisters.”
2. “What lengths did you go through in order to get this done?”
3. “This is bad news for we Americans.”
4. “There are also good places out there too.”
5. “It was different from the bill that they had wrote.”
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We want to alert all our newsletter readers and visitors to our website that we will soon begin updating the English Rules section of GrammarBook.com to reflect the contents of the eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. These revisions will take place over the next couple of months.
We researched the leading reference books on American English grammar and punctuation including The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, Fowler's Modern English Usage, Bernstein's The Careful Writer, and many others. As before, we will provide rules, guidance, and examples based on areas of general agreement among these authorities. Where the authorities differ, we will emphasize guidance and provide options to follow based on your purpose in writing, with this general advice: be consistent.
Following are more selections from a perverse set of rules that are guilty of the very mistakes they seek to prevent. English teachers, students, scientists, and writers have been circulating these self-contradictory rules for more than a century.
Rules for Writing Good: Writing Tips
1. A writer must not shift your point of view.
2. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
3. The passive voice should be avoided.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. “It was committed by identical twin sisters.” (two twins is redundant)
2. “What lengths did you go to in order to get this done?”
3. “This is bad news for us Americans.”
4. “There are also good places out there.” (“also … too” is redundant)
5. “It was different from the bill that they had written.”
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.