Phrasal Verbs

A phrasal verb is one that’s followed by an adverb or a preposition, and together they behave as a semantic unit. (The adverb or preposition following the verb is called a particle.) A phrasal verb functions the same way as a simple verb, but its meaning is idiomatic: The numbers don’t add up. That’s an … Read more

Royal Order of Adverbs

Recently, I wrote about the Royal Order of Adjectives. Not surprisingly, there’s also a Royal Order of Adverbs. When you write a sentence that has more than one adverb, there is a loose order in which you should arrange them: Manner Place Frequency Time Purpose In a sentence with five (yikes!) such adverbs, it would … Read more

Subordinate Clauses and Commas

Writers like to sprinkle their work with subordinate clauses because they add variety to sentence structure. A reading diet too heavy with simple sentences or even compound sentences becomes wearisome quickly. Subordinate clauses—also known as dependent clauses—used skillfully can add complexity and artfulness to writing. A subordinate clause can either precede or follow its main … Read more

Imply vs. Infer

If you have trouble choosing between imply and infer, you’re not alone. Many writers switch them even though they have distinct meanings. To imply is to suggest or express indirectly. To infer is to draw a conclusion. However, you’ll frequently see something like this: The news story inferred that the defendant was guilty. Even though … Read more

Bring and Take

Writers tend to get confused about when to use bring and take. Many think that the two words can be used interchangeably, but they do have two distinctly different uses. Which one you use depends entirely on your perspective for the action. Bring indicates action coming toward the speaker; take means action taken away from … Read more

How to Seek Reprint Permission

In response to a recent article about quoting copyrighted works, a reader asked about how to secure reprint permission. Whenever you quote a significant enough portion of someone else’s work that it doesn’t fall under the umbrella of fair use, you must seek permission to use it. This used to be a lengthy process involving … Read more

Appositives and Possessives

Are you planning to go to a writers conference? Or is it a writers’ conference? Is the Saturday market in the town square a farmers market or a farmers’ market? This is a construction that often perplexes writers. The first instance in each example is an appositive: a noun phrase consisting of a plural noun … Read more

Divine Passive Voice

Most writers know the difference between active and passive voice. In active voice, there’s a clearly identified agent performing an action: Tiger Woods made a hole in one. The subject of this sentence, Tiger Woods, is the agent who is performing the action: making a hole in one. In passive voice, the subject isn’t performing … Read more

Quoting Copyrighted Work

One of the most common questions writers have is, how much of someone else’s work can you quote without securing reprint permission? Can you quote a stanza from a poem? A paragraph from a magazine article? A page from a novel? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as clear as we might wish. It lies somewhere within … Read more


You’ve heard of indefinite pronouns—pronouns that don’t refer to a specific thing, place, or person. Examples include everybody, anything, someone, another, something, and a few others. Did you know, however, that there’s another kind of indefinite pronoun called an expletive? The English language has two such expletives: it and there. Consider the following sentences: It … Read more

The Royal Order of Adjectives

Have you ever wondered why we instinctively say “the shiny new red car” and not “the red new shiny car”? The reason is that there is a royal order for adjectives, and most native English speakers learn to use it as we’re forming our first complete sentences. Adjectives fall into categories, and those categories comprise … Read more

How to Use Dashes

Writers have three different dashes at their disposal: the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash. Most of us are familiar with hyphens and their uses. They’re used to form compound modifiers (such as in “a well-attended event”). We also use them to break a word that falls at the end of a line. … Read more