5 Cases of Colliding Article Functions

The title of a composition is self-contained; an article (a, an, or the) appearing as the first word of the title cannot serve that role as well as function as an article preceding the title. Discussions and revisions follow each example of this principle below. 1. The Apprentice guru has seen four of his casinos … Read more

3 Sentences with Parenthetical-Phrase Punctuation Problems

In each of the sentences below, faulty punctuation confuses the syntactical organization. Discussions and revisions follow each problematic sentence. 1. Documentation, such as white papers, that support model choices, data analysis and other similar assertions, will be necessary to support the elections made. This sentence includes one parenthetical phrase (“such as white papers”), but it’s … Read more

A Short List of Synonyms for “Shorten”

Shorten is a serviceable word for describing how to reduce the extent or length of something, but some synonyms are available to use in its place. Abbreviate stems ultimately from the Latin verb abbreviare, the root of which is from brevis, meaning “short”—the same word from which brevity (“briefness”) and brief are derived. Abridge, which … Read more

3 Cases of Misplaced Modifiers

Modifying phrases are welcome additions to sentences that provide additional information, but when they are inserted awkwardly, they hinder meaning rather than enhance it. In the following sentences, the modifiers appear at the wrong point in the sentence; see discussions and revisions that clarify the intent of the informative phrases. 1. Smith told the man … Read more

Faze vs. Phase

The verb faze, “to disturb,” is often misspelled as phase. Here are some recent examples of the error, with corrections: INCORRECT: She did not appear phased by recent reports that skinny jeans had cut off one woman’s circulation. —New York Times. CORRECT : She did not appear fazed by recent reports that skinny jeans had … Read more

Critique vs. Criticism

Although dictionaries list critique and criticism as synonyms, the words are not exact equivalents. Perhaps because it’s two letters shorter, headline writers often use critique when criticism would be the more appropriate choice. Take the following example: News Anchor Fiercely and Succinctly Claps [sic] Back at a Viewer’s Critique of Her Appearance Here is the … Read more

What Word, or Which Word, Should You Use?

In conversational language and informal writing, the pronouns what and which are often used interchangeably as determiners—words used in asking about or referring to people, places, or things. However, the careful writer will distinguish between the general determiner what and the specific determiner which. Note the subtle difference in the following pairs of examples: 1. … Read more

The Descent of “Hag”

The headline of this post uses descent in two senses: This post discusses the etymological origin of hag, but it also points out how the connotation of the term has plummeted in status. The contemporary connotation of hag is “old woman,” with additional senses of a careless, ugly, or evil appearance; the offensive term “fag … Read more

5 Sentences Demonstrating Whether to Capitalize and Punctuate Quotations

When the syntax of a sentence containing a quotation is not straightforward, it can be difficult to determine whether the first word should be capitalized and which punctuation marks, if any, should attend the quotation. The following sentences illustrate some of the pitfalls, and discussions and revisions point to their solutions. 1. After years of … Read more

When to Do That Stringing-Words-Together Thing with Hyphens

When are hyphens required to string together a sequence of words, and when are the hyphens extraneous? The following sentences, each with a discussion and a revision, illustrate the syntactical situations in which they are necessary and when they are superfluous. 1. Who was the behind the scenes negotiator who facilitated the deal? The negotiator … Read more

A Basis for More Concise Wording

One clear sign of a sentence that is a candidate for conciseness is the noun basis, especially when it appears in the phrase “on a/an [blank] basis.” Whenever you are tempted to write such a phrase, or you find as you review a piece of your writing that you have already done so, seek an … Read more

Fit and Fitted

A Lenscrafter television advertisement showing a man being fitted for glasses caught my attention with its unidiomatic use of the verb fit. At the beginning of the ad, the man is in a traditional examining room, looking anxiously through multiple lenses. At the end of the ad, he is seated comfortably in front of a … Read more