Punctuation Quiz #16: Phrasal Adjectives

A phrasal adjective is a set of two or more words that, as a unit, modifies a noun. Phrasal adjectives are often hyphenated to signal the combination of two words to describe the noun that follows, but occasionally a phrase is familiar enough that it does not warrant a hyphen, or it is treated as a closed compound. Choose the version of each sentence that treats the adjective or phrasal adjective correctly.

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3 Ways to Avoid Confusing Your Readers

Word choice, insertion or omission of punctuation, and syntax (arrangement of words and phrases) all affect comprehension. In each of the following sentences, one of these components of sentence construction is the source of ambiguity or confusion. Discussion of each example follows, along with a revision.

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“Non-Hyphenation” Is a Nonstarter

A friend of mine recently posted online a humorous observation to the effect that it’s ironic that non-hyphenation is hyphenated. In true word-nerd fashion, I figuratively cleared my throat and pushed my taped-together black horn-rimmed glasses up my nose before offering the deflating response that nonhyphenation does not in fact have a hyphen. (What are friends for?)

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3 Cases of Superfluous Wording

Certain types of words that may be of no use nevertheless often stealthily make their way into sentences like gate crashers. In conversation, to mix metaphors, they serve as pothole fillers, meaningless placeholders that allow speakers to gather their thoughts and navigate an extemporaneous statement without stumbling before the finish line, but in writing they are expendable. The discussion after each sentence below describes why one or more words in the example do not contribute to the construction of the statement; revisions demonstrate how the sentences stand just as well without the omitted words.

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Providence and Provision

Providence and provision, and their forebear provide, all ultimately pertain to the notion of foresight. This post discusses these words and others with the same origin.

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Mankind vs. Humankind

The issue of gender-neutral language reemerged recently in the form of a publicized incident involving a college student who was (mildly) penalized for the use of the term mankind in a paper she wrote for a class.

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Punctuation Quiz #15: Parenthetical Words and Phrases

In each of the following sentences, commas are missing or are misplaced, misrepresenting exactly which word or phrase is parenthetical to the sentence. Revise the sentences as necessary to clarify the parenthesis.

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How to Resolve Awkward Identifying Descriptions

Writers often fail to note that a phrase they have constructed to describe a person, place, or thing—one that involves two parallel components, or one component subordinate to another, in sequence—can result in unwieldy strings of nouns functioning as adjectives leading up to a key noun. In each of the following sentences, following a discussion of the problem, such a train of stacked adjectives is uncoupled and rearranged for improved readability in one or more revisions.

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75 Terms Pertaining to Color

This post lists numerous nouns and adjectives that describe or pertain to qualities of color, plus brief definitions.

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Punctuating Complex Sentences

Writers often overpunctuate long, involved sentences by fortifying them with the “supercomma” variety of semicolons in place of commas. Sometimes, a better solution is to break the sentence into shorter, more easily digestible servings, but often, the sentence is navigable when mere commas set off the statement’s elements—and sometimes the syntax requires commas and prohibits semicolons.

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Quests and Questions

Many words with the letters que or qui stem from the Latin verb quaerere, which means “ask” or “seek,” and therefore pertain to questions and quests. This post lists and discusses such words.

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Parallel Structure with Prepositions

Writers often mistakenly withhold repetition of prepositions with corresponding sentence elements in the erroneous belief that those elements can share a single preposition. In each of the following sentences, a repeated preposition is missing, and a discussion after each example explains the problem and a revision resolves it.

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