When a Pronoun is the “Subject” of an Infinitive…

I’ve written several posts about the error of beginning a sentence with an object form of the pronoun. For example: Me and my brother want to get matching tattoos. Her and her husband want to buy a digital camera. The neighbors and us decided… In each of these examples, the pronoun is being used as … Read more

25 Words and Their Prepositional Pals

You probably know a preposition — a word that shows a relationship between two words or phrases by demonstrating place, time, or another quality — when you see it, but that’s grammar. What about usage? Which prepositions go with a given verb or adjective, and when? Some choices are no-brainers, but others can present a … Read more

15 Figures of Speech to Color Your Characters

Figures of speech can create vivid images in readers’ minds when they read about characters in your works of fiction. By “figures of speech,” however, I don’t mean simply the contemporary techniques of metaphor or hyperbole. I refer, instead, to the classical figures of etymology, orthography, syntax, and rhetoric, which often have applications in both … Read more

5 Sentences Saved by Em Dashes

Sentential adverbs (words such as indeed or namely and phrases like “that is” and “of course”), and their close cousins the conjunctive adverbs, or adverbial conjunctions (however, “on the other hand,” and the like), indicate an interruption of thought, and should themselves appear as interruptions. Because they are parenthetical remarks (the framing sentence would be … Read more

Are Anti-Semitic Arabs Self-Haters?

A site visitor wrote to ask me why I didn’t call attention to the problematic term anti-Semitic, which I had used in a sample sentence to illustrate an unrelated error. Why problematic? The root of the root word is Semite, which refers to one of the three biblical divisions of people, each consisting of descendants … Read more

Seasonal and Unseasonable

With all the storms, flooding, and unusually low temperatures in the news, I’ve been noticing a proliferation of the word “unseasonal.” Unseasonal rain may continue Southerners lamenting the loss of summer need to brace for more unsettled and unseasonal weather in the coming days Unseasonal weather and flower production – will there be a shortage? … Read more

10 Tips to Balance Parallel Sentence Structure

In crafting sentences that compare one thing to another or represent one thought in contrast to another, writers often omit key words or phrases because they misunderstand how one phrase is balanced against another. In constructing sentences with parallel structure, think of the two parallel elements as figures on a seesaw, and the connecting word … Read more

50+ Words That Describe Animals (Including Humans)

As much as many humans have tried to deny, or have conveniently ignored, that Homo sapiens is just another species of fauna, writers readily use animals or their (sometimes supposed) characteristics to describe people. Words like catty, dogged, foxy, and slothful all attest to the vivid imagery that easily arises when we compare people to … Read more

When Words Collide

This use of the verb collide in a newspaper article struck me as odd: One driver was able to stop short of hitting the child but her bike collided into another car. The verb collide is from Latin collidere, “to strike or clash together.” Its most common use is as an intransitive verb. Used without … Read more

10 Pairs of Similar-Looking Near Antonyms

Many pairs of words, often but not always etymologically related, can be easily confused for each other though they mean almost the opposite. Distinguish carefully between these odd couples: Contemptible: deserving of contempt, or despicable (“Their effort to suddenly kiss up to her once she inherited money was contemptible.”) Contemptuous: demonstrating contempt (“His contemptuous dismissal … Read more

How to Indicate Unspoken and Indirect Discourse

What type of markers or emphasis should a writer give to signal that a character’s thoughts are unspoken? Though some people disagree, the consensus is that they should be enclosed in quotation marks as if they were said aloud: 1. “She surveyed the shambles of her room and thought, ‘Where do I start?’” This mode … Read more