When in Doubt, Leave Scare Quotes Out

When quotation marks are employed to suggest the irony or dubious validity of a word or phrase, or the writer’s remove from credit or blame for its use, they are called scare quotes. However, other uses—to introduce a new or unfamiliar term, to signal that a term is not being used in its traditional or … Read more

3 More Examples of Misplaced Modifiers

Words and phrases that provide additional information to clarify relationships between people, places, or things should, for the sake of clarity, be carefully placed to aid readers in understanding a statement. In each of the following sentences, the writer has failed to achieve that goal. Discussions explain the problems, and revisions resolve them. 1. Mistakes … Read more

3 Problematic Parallel Lists

When listing within a sentence, take care in sentence construction to employ conjunctions and punctuation correctly to achieve proper parallel sentence structure, as discussed in the discussion and revision of each of the following flawed sentences. 1. Smith worked as a chess coach, tutor, and led overnight camping trips. This sentence lacks a verb corresponding … Read more

“Class” and Its Derivatives

The Latin noun classis, meaning “category” or “fleet” or referring to a group of citizens called up for military duty, is the source of the word class and others derived from it, which are listed and defined in this post. In educational contexts, class pertains to a group of students (whether those enrolled in a … Read more

Words That Include “Dur”

If a word begins with or includes the element dur, it’s likely to be part of the word family derived from the Latin verb durare, meaning “harden” or “last.” This post defines the members of this family. Durable means “able to last a long time” (the noun forms are durability and, rarely, durableness), and a … Read more

Punctuation Quiz #18: Ellipsis

In the following sentences, choose the version that correctly reflects the stated intent of the ellipsis. 1. To indicate a pause: a) And the award goes to. . .John Smith. b) And the award goes to . . . John Smith. 2. To indicate that one or more words at the end of a quoted … Read more

What “Mean” Means

The verb mean, in the senses of “destine” “direct,” “intend,” and “signify,” is from the Old English phrase mae nan. To say that someone “means business” signifies that he or she is earnestly serious about something; to say that someone “means well” means that the person has good intentions. (One is said to be well-meaning … Read more

Start a Freelance Writing Career in 2017

Every year more and more businesses discover the potential of the Internet, websites and social networks to generate leads, customers and sales. Every website or social media account needs fresh content, however, and that is why the demand for freelance writers keeps growing. If you like to write, this is a big opportunity. Today we … Read more

Use of the Apostrophe in Possessive Constructions

This post outlines the prevailing rules and recommendations for employing apostrophes when using the possessive form of a noun and discusses in which cases an s should follow the apostrophe. Apostrophes are used to indicate singular possession, as in “The dog’s collar is too tight,” and plural possession, as in “Several of our neighbors’ cars … Read more

Words Ending in “-ly” Aren’t Always Adverbs

Ask anyone to name a distinguishing characteristic of an adverb, and the reply might be that such a word ends with -ly. Although that is often true, some adverbs, such as fast, lack the ending. For this reason, they are known as flat adverbs. In addition, many words ending in -ly aren’t adverbs. Many adjectives … Read more

Avert vs. Avoid

What’s the difference between avert and avoid? They share a primary meaning (with a subtle but significant distinction) but despite their structural similarity are etymologically unrelated. This post discusses their senses and origins and those of similar-looking synonyms. Avert derives from the Latin verb vertere, which means “turn.” To avert is literally to turn away; … Read more

5 Derogatory Adjectives Derived from Words for Medical Conditions

The five uncomplimentary adjectives discussed in this post have in common their origin in references to diseases and other conditions affecting humans and/or other species. 1. Lousy Lousy, meaning “contemptible” or “inferior,” or “ill,” derives from the name of the parasitic insect known as the louse (plural lice), several species of which infest humans. Thanks … Read more