How to Test for Coordinate and Noncoordinate Adjectives

One of the ways adjectives can be categorized is to determine whether they are coordinate or noncoordinate adjectives. This distinction is important, because it dictates whether two or more consecutive adjectives are separated by punctuation. For many writers, however, deciding which category an adjective belongs to can be a challenge. Fortunately, two simple tests are … Read more

The Diversity of Over- and Under- Compounds

Becoming familiar (or more familiar) with words beginning with over– and under– must include taking into account that these compounds can be both literal and figurative (or only figurative but rarely only literal) and can serve as various parts of speech. This post discusses some examples. Overboard has a literal meaning, referring to someone or … Read more

Sentences with Interrogative Elements Are Not Questions

Writers sometimes erroneously assume that when a statement includes a phrase beginning with who, what, when, where, why, or how (or what or which), it should be treated as an interrogative, or question. However, whether the sentence should be punctuated with a question mark depends on how a verb is juxtaposed with the interrogative word … Read more

128 Words with Senses That Started Out as Underworld Slang

The slang senses of many words we use in conversation and in informal writing originated in jargon employed by criminals, often coined to disguise the activities they were describing when they spoke among one another. This post lists and defines a number of those words. action: bet, or betting, or criminal activity aggro: aggressive behavior … Read more

3 Cases of Improving Writing Through Combination

In each of the following pairs of clauses, an ineffectual presentation of information is strengthened by altering sentence structure through combination. Discussion and revision follow each example. 1. Only about 7,500 fans attended the game, and about two-thirds of them had not paid for their tickets. What is intended to be a modestly dramatic admission … Read more

3 Errors Involving Correlative Conjunctions

A correlative conjunction is a word that correlates with, or is complementary to, another such construction, establishing a connection or a comparison in a sentence. Each of the sentences below erroneously employs a pair of correlative conjunctions in a faulty syntactical structure, and the discussion that follows each describes the problem, while a revision demonstrates … Read more

The “Equal” Family of Words

This post discusses a family of words that pertain to balance, impartiality, or uniformity. The root equi-, which forms without the i when it precedes a vowel, ultimately derives from the Latin adjective aequus, meaning “even” (which is not related to equus, meaning “horse” and the source of equestrian). Equal refers to a state of … Read more

Style Quiz #14: Not Only . . . But Also

Each of the following sentences incorrectly establishes a relationship between two things with a setup of “not only” followed by a faultily constructed counterpoint; revise the sentences as necessary to achieve parallel construction. 1. Not only did he take us on a journey through Picasso’s life and painting styles, but also situated the painting in … Read more

Temporary and Permanent Phrasal Adjectives

Use of phrasal adjectives, combinations of two or more words that as a grammatical unit provide additional details to nouns, is complicated by standards of usage pertaining to hyphens. This post discusses various types of phrasal adjectives (some of which have, since they were coined, been fused to form single words). Just as there are … Read more

Nominalization and Conversion

Every field of endeavor has its vocabulary, and the business world, for better or worse, has contributed significantly to the English language with jargon—an insider language that often obfuscates when it should clarify and complicates when it should simplify. This post discusses two categories of such word adaptation. Nominalization is morphological change though suffixation—the creation … Read more