3 Cases of Erroneous Punctuation

In each of the following examples, confusion about the role of the comma in conjunction with a conjunction results in incorrect inclusion, omission, or placement of punctuation. Discussion following each example explains the error, and a revision illustrates correct employment of punctuation. 1. The business recently acted on the recommendation, and early on in its […]

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Idioms for Fabric and Other Materials

Words for various materials used in clothing have been applied to various descriptive terms and idiomatic expressions, including those described below. Cotton-picking is a euphemism to express anger or frustration. To cotton to something is to take a liking to it or to come to an understanding of it (the phrasing can also be “cotton […]

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Grammar Quiz #17: If Clauses

The type of “if” clause known as “first conditional” is used to express a condition that is possible and even likely to be fulfilled in the future. The most common verb tenses used with this type of conditional statement are simple past in the “if” clause and future tense in the other clause. It does […]

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5 Types of Usage Errors

Words can be misused in a variety of ways, as illustrated in the following examples, each followed by an explanatory discussion and a revision. 1. A massive diffused bomb sat in the middle of the courtyard. One form of erroneous word usage is use of a similar-sounding word, as in the case of effect in […]

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3 Cases of Intrusive Punctuation Before a Quotation

When an introductory or attributive phrase ending in a verb precedes one or more complete sentences enclosed in quotation marks to express something written or said, a comma separates the phrase from the quotation—for example, “The conventional wisdom is, ‘Trust, but verify,’” or “I replied, ‘Go for it.’” But if the quotation is incomplete or […]

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The Prevailing Style for Prefixes: No Hyphens

The hyphen’s role as a connector between prefixes and words has diminished significantly over the last few decades—and would be even more inconsequential if writers paid more careful attention to this long-standing trend. This post demonstrates how words with prefixes should be treated. You can still visit many houses and churches today that existed in […]

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Plans, Plains, and Planes

The three words in the headline for this post, and words derived from them—listed and defined below—stem from a common source. Plan, plain, and plane all derive from the Latin adjective planus, meaning “clear,” “even,” “flat, level,” and “plain.” Plan comes from the French word meaning “map”; the English word, originally a technical term in […]

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Vocabulary Quiz #12: Commonly Confused Words

In each sentence, choose the correct word from the pair of similar terms. (If both words possibly can be correct, choose the more plausible one.) 1. If we rise early enough, we can be ______ down the road by noon. a) farther b) further 2. Is there anyone ______ me, who wants to volunteer for […]

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When Jargon Fails

Jargon has its purposes. In content pertaining to popular culture, when employing slang to engage readers and other consumers of entertaining information, concise and/or colorful slang enlivens the experience. But in writing about business and technology, jargon can encumber rather than enhance comprehension, and writers should take care to use it judiciously. Consider this sentence: […]

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3 Types of Sentence Errors Resulting from Missing Articles

In each of the following sentences, lack of an article (a, and, or the) results in a grammatically flawed sentence. Discussion after each example, followed by a revision, identifies the problem. 1. In 2006, The Simpsons television show paid tribute to the 1974 Oakland A’s in an episode. The first instance of the article the, […]

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A Capitalization Cheat Sheet

Capitalization is a bewilderingly complex issue, with many rules and exceptions. This post outlines the basic, most common guidelines for capitalization, with examples. Academic degrees: Lowercase—“bachelor’s degree”; capitalize entirety of most abbreviations (with a few exceptions, including PhD and DLitt) Academic disciplines: Capitalize only proper names—“Asian studies” (except as part of a full name of […]

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15+ Words with “syn” or a Variation

The Greek prefix syn-, meaning “together,” and two alternative forms combine with many other word elements to form terms pertaining to community or unity. This post lists and briefly defines the most common of these words, along with literal definitions of the root word. 1. idiosyncrasy (“personal” and “blend”): a peculiarity or hypersensitivity 2. synagogue […]

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