How to Spell Exclamations of Laughter

How does one spell the sound of an eruption of laughter? It depends on the species of mirth, and the list below offers suggestions based on such subtleties. Whether one seeks to indicate a character’s laughter in the manuscript of a novel or short story or to indicate actual or conjectural laughter in nonfiction, consider … Read more

3 Examples of Restructuring In-Line Lists

“In-line list” is simply a fancy term for a list of things in a sentence that aren’t treated as a vertical list—that is, a list formatted so that each item is positioned below the previous one (often with a number, letter, bullet, or other symbol to set the items off visually from each other and … Read more

3 Cases of Erroneous Punctuation

In each of the following examples, confusion about the role of the comma in conjunction with a conjunction results in incorrect inclusion, omission, or placement of punctuation. Discussion following each example explains the error, and a revision illustrates correct employment of punctuation. 1. The business recently acted on the recommendation, and early on in its … Read more

Idioms for Fabric and Other Materials

Words for various materials used in clothing have been applied to various descriptive terms and idiomatic expressions, including those described below. Cotton-picking is a euphemism to express anger or frustration. To cotton to something is to take a liking to it or to come to an understanding of it (the phrasing can also be “cotton … Read more

Grammar Quiz #17: If Clauses

The type of “if” clause known as “first conditional” is used to express a condition that is possible and even likely to be fulfilled in the future. The most common verb tenses used with this type of conditional statement are simple past in the “if” clause and future tense in the other clause. It does … Read more

5 Types of Usage Errors

Words can be misused in a variety of ways, as illustrated in the following examples, each followed by an explanatory discussion and a revision. 1. A massive diffused bomb sat in the middle of the courtyard. One form of erroneous word usage is use of a similar-sounding word, as in the case of effect in … Read more

3 Cases of Intrusive Punctuation Before a Quotation

When an introductory or attributive phrase ending in a verb precedes one or more complete sentences enclosed in quotation marks to express something written or said, a comma separates the phrase from the quotation—for example, “The conventional wisdom is, ‘Trust, but verify,’” or “I replied, ‘Go for it.’” But if the quotation is incomplete or … Read more

The Prevailing Style for Prefixes: No Hyphens

The hyphen’s role as a connector between prefixes and words has diminished significantly over the last few decades—and would be even more inconsequential if writers paid more careful attention to this long-standing trend. This post demonstrates how words with prefixes should be treated. You can still visit many houses and churches today that existed in … Read more

Plans, Plains, and Planes

The three words in the headline for this post, and words derived from them—listed and defined below—stem from a common source. Plan, plain, and plane all derive from the Latin adjective planus, meaning “clear,” “even,” “flat, level,” and “plain.” Plan comes from the French word meaning “map”; the English word, originally a technical term in … Read more