15 Foreign Words and Phrases People Spell Incorrectly

Here are some problematic frequently misspelled words and phrases of foreign extraction: 1. A capella: The Italian phrase, literally “in chapel style” but meaning “without instrumental accompaniment,” is two words. 2. Apropos: The French phrase for “to the purpose,” and meaning “with regard to” or “opportune” or timely,” is treated as two words in the … Read more

5 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Writing Right Now

Here are five quantitative quick tips about improving your writing functionally, before you even get into improving the quality of your prose: 1. Always Use Serial Commas The policy of preceding every item in a list but the last one with a comma is commonsensical (read a previous article about the serial comma). Confusion is … Read more

40 French Expressions “En Tout”

English has borrowed heavily from French, including a number of expressions beginning with en (meaning “as” or “in”). Some of these, such as “en masse,” are ubiquitous; others, like “en ami,” are obscure. Many more listed (and defined) here, italicized in the sample sentences, are not even listed in English dictionaries and are therefore considered … Read more

40 Synonyms for Praise

Last week, I offered a list of synonyms for the word criticize. To avert criticism (admonishment, censure, chastising, and so on), I offer here a roster of synonyms for its antonym, praise, in that word’s verb form as well as when it’s used as a noun. 1. Acclaim: To applaud or praise; also a noun … Read more

10 Modes of Modifiers

A modifier is a sentence element — a word or a phrase — that provides details. Three types of modifiers exist: those that qualify by answering the question of how or under what conditions something occurs, those that set conditions or explain circumstances by answering the question of who, what, when, where, and why, and … Read more

20 Types and Forms of Humor

Humor comes in many flavors, any of which may appeal to one person but not to another, and which may be enjoyed in alternation or in combination. Here are names and descriptions of the varieties of comic expression: 1. Anecdotal: Named after the word anecdote (which stems from the Greek term meaning “unpublished”); refers to … Read more

What to Do When Words Appear Twice in a Row

Using a word twice in a row isn’t always a no-no, but there’s always a more elegant way to revise a sentence in which you might initially be inclined to repeat a word immediately. When words collide, try these approaches: 1. “What you do do is your own business.” Even if this sentence is intended … Read more

50 Handy Expressions About Hands

Do you know all these expressions about hands? Most of them are cliches, but using just about any cliche is forgivable if you do so in a fresh way, or to add a note of humor. 1. “All hands on deck,” from the traditional nautical command for every sailor to report for duty, refers to … Read more

7 Patterns of Sentence Structure

Sentence structure can be categorized into seven patterns: one simple, three compound, two complex, and one compound-complex. Here are examples of each pattern with accompanying formulas, all to help you think of how to craft sentences in a greater variety of syntax: 1. Simple sentence (independent clause): “I went for a walk.” (An independent clause … Read more

Principles of Plain English

Perspicuous written communication is fundamental in every aspect of human interaction — or should I say, “Clear writing is important whenever people interact”? If I support the triumph of plain English over byzantine jargon and sesquipedalianism, I should. But rather than explain what plain English is, I’ll state what it isn’t: It isn’t all about … Read more

These Are “-Some” Adjectives

The suffix -some has one of three functions. The most common function, the adjectival one, helps us enrich our vocabulary, and in some cases (especially when -some is attached to a heretofore unacquainted noun to create a nonce word) provides a whimsical or otherwise humorous tone. The adjectival use of -some (stemming ultimately from the … Read more

A Short Quiz About Emphasis

In each of the following sentences, there is a deviation from one of the conventions about how to convey emphasis in writing. Identify the error, and then check below for corrected versions followed by explanations. 1. “So-called ‘notification laws’ require businesses to notify customers when certain unencrypted customer data is improperly accessed.” 2. “Thus the … Read more