45 Synonyms for “Old” and “Old-Fashioned”

Our culture’s attitude toward age is reflected in the often-pejorative meanings of words synonymous with old and old-fashioned, though some are neutral or even reverent. Here are forty-five words that refer to people, places, and things that are, or are considered, old or old-fashioned. (Unrelated senses are also listed.) 1. Aged: advanced in age, typical … Read more

How to Pitch an Essay

Do you have something in writing you’d like to share with the world? Not a complete book manuscript, perhaps, but musings of a concise nature? Perhaps you like to explain things, or share your opinion, or tell a story or write humorous pieces. There’s plenty of advice online about pitching, or seeking an invitation, to … Read more

Answers to Questions About Tense #2

Here are several readers’ queries about various aspects of tense, and my responses. 1. Which sentence is correct, “The teacher said to Peter, ‘I am proud to have a wonderful student like you,’” or “The teacher said to Peter, ‘I am proud to have had a wonderful student like you’”? The first sentence, written in … Read more

10 Functions of the Comma

A comma is a versatile punctuation mark, serving ten basic functions. Here’s an enumeration, with examples. 1. Separate the elements in a series: “Groucho, Harpo, and Chico developed the philosophy called Marxism.” Many periodicals and websites, and most colloquially written books, omit the serial, or final, comma, but it is all but mandatory in formal … Read more

What Is a Determiner?

Among lists of parts of speech, you may see an unfamiliar word among nouns, verbs, conjunctions, and the other usual suspects. What’s a determiner? A determiner is a word that modifies a noun or a noun phrase. That’s also the definition of adjective, but although both parts of speech modify nouns, determiners are distinct from … Read more

What’s the Best Way to Refer to a Romantic Partner?

One of the oddities of the English language is that though many words have multiple synonyms, and we have words for many things we rarely refer to, one of the most ubiquitous concepts in American society has no name: There’s no ideal term for an unmarried party in a romantic relationship. This glaring omission is … Read more

Capitonyms Are Separate Cases

Some words, in a class called capitonyms, have distinct meanings or senses when they are capitalized as opposed to generic senses. Writers should take care to render these words as appropriate to the context. Among capitonyms are several words denoting astronomical bodies. For example, one writes that Earth is orbited by the Moon and in … Read more

How to Style Titles of Print and Online Publications

The rules for formatting titles of compositions and their constituent parts may seem complicated, but they follow a fairly straightforward set of guidelines, outlined below. Capitalization Titles of compositions are generally formatted in headline, or title style. In this system, the first letters of the following words are capitalized: The first and last word of … Read more

More Answers to Questions About Commas #2

Here are three recent questions from readers about the use of commas, along with my responses. 1. Can you tell me why there should be a comma in this sentence: “Such programs will also reduce operations costs and indemnity payments, and improve communications between employer and employee.” It seems like there shouldn’t be, because these … Read more

Are Tense Shifts Advisable?

Should all verbs in a sentence be consistent in tense? Tense shift is often essential, but it’s sometimes unnecessarily discouraged. See, for example, this sentence: “I thought I’d seen the last of him, but here he comes again.” The shift in tense is natural; to revise the beginning to “I thought I’ve seen . . … Read more

Use a Dash for Number Ranges

Which symbol should be used with numbers: a hyphen (-), or an en dash (–)? The question may seem trivial — a dash is a dash, right? — but using the correct symbol aids comprehension, just as commas and semicolons signal distinct grammatical structures, and no one will argue that those two punctuation marks can … Read more

10 Tips About How to Write a Caption

If you contribute to production of a print or online publication that includes photographs or illustrations, you’re likely, at some point, to write captions. Here’s some advice about how to write good ones. 1. Caption copy must match the tone of the running text (the general written content, as opposed to display type such as … Read more