6 Problems with Punctuation

Six categories of punctuation errors include missing, extraneous, misplaced, excessive, incorrect, and inconsistent punctuation. Each of the following sentences illustrate one of those errors in that order, accompanied by discussion and revision. 1. One man jumped on a police car, leaving its front and rear windows smashed and the top dented in and other protesters … Read more

5 Ways to Combine Sentences

Writers and editors should be alert to opportunities to improve the flow of content by combining consecutive truncated sentences that refer to a single topic. Here are five approaches to folding one one sentence into a preceding related statement. 1. A gray Cadillac hearse pulled into the ranch Saturday afternoon and left about 5 p.m. … Read more

Oppose and Opposed To

A reader questions the use of the preposition against to follow the verb oppose in this example from an entertainment site: [Madonna] wanted to be the only female voice of the band, and opposed against the introduction of another female vocalist. The reader asks, “Isn’t opposed enough?” Yes. In this sentence, the meaning of opposed … Read more

Sinewy and Sinuous

In the context of anatomy, a sinew is “a strong fibrous cord serving to connect a muscle with a bone or other part.” Figuratively, usually in the plural, sinew connotes strength, as in this much-repeated quotation from Cicero: “The sinews of war are infinite money.” The adjective for sinew is sinewy. When I hear or read … Read more

50 Idioms with Single, Double, and Triple

The following is a list of idioms about multiplicative numbers (single, double, and triple) and their meanings. 1–2. at a single blow/stroke: with one movement 3–4. at/on the double: quickly 5. body double: someone who stands in for another, especially in a performance 6. double: two servings of an alcoholic beverage, a two-base hit in … Read more

Scare Quotes and Sneer Words

When a writer wishes to call attention to a dubious or specious claim or to a person of questionable honesty, two forms of shorthand are available: scare quotes and sneer words. Scare quotes are quotation marks framing a word or phrase to call attention to it and point out that the writer does not accept … Read more

5 Examples of Confused Sentences

When writers neglect to take sufficient care in forming sentences, confusion and error can easily result. The following five sentences illustrate various ways in which the wrong word order or choice of phrasing can obfuscate meaning; discussion and a revision follows each example. 1. Various supervisors have developed their own risk assessment methodologies independently, which … Read more

25 Pairs of Compound Nouns and Verb Phrases Ending in “Out”

Numerous idioms ending with the word out exist, but only a select group serve (in open form) both as verb phrases and (in hyphenated or closed form) as compound nouns; “tune out,” for example, describes the act of ignoring sensory stimuli, but one does not refer to a tune-out as an instance of such behavior, … Read more

3 Cases of Superfluous Hyphenation

The oft-misunderstood hyphen is often left out of a phrase because of confusion about (or ignorance of) its purpose; occasionally, perplexity about the hyphen’s function is the cause of extraneous use, as shown in the examples below. 1. The mother-of-two said she had never seen anything like it before. The simple descriptive phrase that provides … Read more

Is Your Style Trim and Fit?

The term “lean writing style” is not new to literary criticism. Dashiell Hammett is the American writer most cited as the master of it. However, the recent spate of how-to articles urging writers of all genres to hone a “lean writing style” may have more to do with the world of computing than with literature. … Read more

Simultaneous and Simultaneously

The following sentence on a professional writing site caught my attention: Simultaneous people (e.g. the editor and writer) can work on the same document at the same time, ensuring changes aren’t lost in old, misplaced drafts. I have seen nonprofessional writers use the phrase “simultaneous people” in the context of computer use, as in this … Read more

Could, Should, and Would

Is it a coincidence that the etymologically unrelated but closely associated words could, should, and would look and sound nearly the same? Mostly yes, with a little bit of no. Could derives from the Old English word cuðe, the past tense of cunnan, meaning “to be able”; the present-tense form is can. The terminal spelling … Read more