“Least,” “Less,” “More,” and “Most”

The adjectives least, less, more, and most present difficulties for writers when the words are paired with other adjectives: Should hyphens be employed? And what about when little, much, and similar terms are involved? Generally, do not hyphenate such constructions. The following examples are all correct: “She bought the least expensive shampoo.” “I’ve never heard … Read more

“All Are Not” Should Usually Be “Not All”

Sentences that refer to exceptions to a rule are frequently flawed by faulty construction. Here are five such statements and their fixes. 1. “Just as all habits aren’t bad, all infinite loops aren’t, either.” Revision: “Just as not all habits are bad, not all infinite loops are, either.” 2. “But all of its coffee is … Read more

3 More Sentences with Dangling Modifiers

When writers attach a phrase to the beginning of a sentence to provide additional information, they must take care that the subject of the sentence actually refers to the action or the thing described in that introductory text. Here are some sentences that illustrate the necessity of this vigilance. 1. “Originally scheduled for retirement (and … Read more

50 Idioms About Legs, Feet, and Toes

Here is a list of expressions that refer to one’s legs or feet or their parts, and the meaning of each idiom. 1. One’s Achilles’ heel is one’s weakness. 2. To be bound hand and foot is to be literally or figuratively tied up. 3. To bring one to heel is to subdue someone. 4. … Read more

Should You Angle for Anglo-Saxon, or Enlighten with Latin?

Arguments for and against favoring Latinate words over Germanic ones, or vice versa (or, if you prefer a non-Latinate phrase, the other way around), have been heard over the years. What’s best? How about the status quo? The vocabulary of Modern English is the result of a unique admixture of words (and phrases) from a … Read more

Practical vs. Practicable

What’s the difference between practical and practicable? There’s a practical distinction, and I hope you will find my explanation practicable. The words both stem ultimately from the Greek term praktikos, meaning “practical.” However, while practical refers to something that is effective, useful, or easy to use, practicable means “something that is or could be done.” … Read more

Combining Sentences

One cure for flabby prose is greater attention to more lean, muscular writing by, whenever possible, creating a subordinate clause for one sentence by combining another sentence with it. Here are five examples of this approach. 1. “Robert Gordon Sproul was a member of the University of California’s class of 1912. He was appointed to … Read more

Answers to Questions About Personal Pronouns

Here are three queries from readers about proper use of personal pronouns, followed by my responses. 1. Why does the following sentence use my instead of me?: “My mother hates to spend money, that’s one thing; so if she can make a joke out of my not wanting to, then I’m in the clear because … Read more

How to Refer to Former and Future States

A variety of prefixes and words that express former and future states of being are available to writers. Here’s a discussion of the possibilities. In reference to people who are no longer in a particular position or profession, the most common wording, for example, is “former stockbroker John Smith” or “ex-stockbroker John Smith.” Other, more … Read more

50 Synonyms for “Leader”

Here’s a list of words that can take the place of leader. 1. Administrator: a person with short-term or long-term responsibility — in the latter sense, usually a generic term; also, one given responsibility over an estate 2. Archon: one who presides (informal), or a chief magistrate in Athens in classical times 3. Autocrat: one … Read more

Answers to Questions About Referring to Death

Here are three questions about how to treat references to people who have died, and my responses. 1. For how long after someone’s death is it necessary and/or appropriate to use “the late” to describe them? I know we don’t say “the late Ludwig van Beethoven,” but what about a board chairman who died twelve … Read more

How to Promote Literacy and Skilled Communication

You may or may not agree that English-language usage is deteriorating, but it is clear that many young people are unable to express themselves well in writing according to contemporary standards. How can we develop a population of competent writers? First, we must avoid exaggerated notions of an entire generation of illiterates. It is true … Read more