On Behalf Of vs. In Behalf Of

The noun behalf (from Middle English, from by and half, meaning “side”) is an unusual word in a couple of respects. For one thing, it is used only in two prepositional phrases, anchoring either “in behalf of” or “on behalf of.” Many other nouns are employed in similar prepositional phrases in which a pair of … Read more

Publicly vs. Publically

Is publically a word? Yes, if by “a word” you mean “a term that is found as an entry in dictionaries.” But is it a word a careful writer is apt to use? That’s another story, which will be told below. First, dictionaries are not arbiters of highly literate writing; they merely document usage. For … Read more

10 Terms About the Coronavirus You Should Know

One by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic is the introduction of a vocabulary pertaining to the disease. Here are ten terms everyone should know to help them and others in their families and communities understand the disease and avoid contracting it. Asymptomatic: This term simply means “presenting no symptoms of disease,” but the connotation is that … Read more

Furlough and Terms for Changes in Employment Status

This post explores definitions and connotations of various terms associated with leaving one’s place of employment. 1. Discharge This term is used mostly in military contexts, generally with a qualifier such as honorary that denotes a bureaucratic category, to refer to the end of enlistment for any of various reasons. (Discharge stems from the Late … Read more

3 More Cases of Confusion Between a Thing and Its Name

One fairly infrequent but prominent error in sentence composition is the careless confusion of a word or a phrase with the person, place, or thing that it represents, which usually occurs when the term is being defined or explained. The sentences below have this problem, or a related one, in common; discussion and a revision … Read more

10 Pairs of Words with Dissolving Distinctions

Erosion of distinctions between senses for words with similar or related meanings is a natural process, but careful writers resist becoming accessories to acceleration of that process. Here are ten word pairs that are used interchangeably, often at the expense of clarity. 1. Accurate/precise: Accuracy is the degree to which an estimated measurement or a … Read more

3 Sentences in Which Semicolons Are Superfluous

Many writers—even professional ones—are wary about employing semicolons, at best because the punctuation mark carries a hint of excessive formality and at worst because users aren’t clear on the concept. However, some writers who do use them are confused, too, and are apt to include semicolons when they aren’t warranted. Unnecessary semicolons litter the following … Read more

5 Cases of Faulty Parenthesis

When a sentence includes a form of parenthesis—a word, phrase, or clause framed by a pair of commas, dashes, or parentheses—writers must take care that the statement surrounding the interjection is structurally valid so that if the optional parenthesis is omitted, the remaining wording is still coherent and thus the parenthesis makes sense grammatically. To … Read more

Common Errors in Vertical Lists

Employing vertical lists, which display related sets of words, phrases, or sentences entered on separate lines and marked with bullets (dots or other symbols), numbers, or letters to clarify the organizational scheme, is a sensible strategy for presenting numerous or complex details that would otherwise clutter a sentence. (An in-line list, a sequence of such … Read more

The Use of “They” for Gender Identity

Merriam-Webster recently announced that it has provided an additional sense in the definition for the pronoun they: “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” What does this mean? First, two more definitions: Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “gender identity” as “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of … Read more

How to Write Concise, Active Sentences

One of the most valuable results of revising one’s writing (or inviting another person to do so) is leaner, more active prose. Review written content with the objectives of reducing the number of words in a sentence and using stronger, more direct syntax. (Accomplishing the latter occasionally increases rather than reduces sentence length, but attack … Read more

5 Types of Case and Punctuation Problems with Quotations

The following sentences demonstrate issues writers confront when they write sentences that incorporate quotations that are not framed with attribution (phrasing that identifies the source of the quotation, such as “he said” or “she writes”). Each example is followed by a discussion of the problem in the sentence and a solution. 1. The consultant’s answer … Read more