May 1st, 2013
Driving back up I-65 from beautiful Gulf Shores on Monday, I spotted a billboard that read simply, "85 Years of Bringing Capital to the Capitol." We passed by so quickly I didn't see whose ad it was, but it makes a great usage point. CAPITAL is money poured into an investment. CAPITOL is the building where a legislature meets–NOT the city that is the seat of government. (A spell checker will not catch it if you confuse these two.)
Here is an easy way to remember the difference and never confuse these two words again:
CAPITOL (with an O) has only one meaning: the building (state or national) where a legislature meets.
Everything else is CAPITAL (with an A):
- money poured into an investment
- an upper case letter (A or B as opposed to a or b)
- calling for the death penalty (capital crime, capital punishment)
- a town or city that is the official location of government for a state or a nation
- excellent or first-rate, usually British (a capital fellow, a capital good time)
If you simply remember that CAPITOL has only one meaning, you will never confuse these two again!
NOTE: The next post will offer an easy tip for choosing PRINCIPLE or PRINCIPAL correctly.
April 19th, 2013
If you visit this blog regularly, you know that subject/verb agreement and pronoun/antecedent agreement are among my pet peeves. I have recent examples of each to share with you today. First, this sentence from an article by Barnett Wright for al.com:
The relationship between Sewell and some commissioners have been strained.
Whoops #1: The word RELATIONSHIP is singular. It is the subject of the sentence. COMMISSIONERS, which is plural, is the object of the preposition BETWEEN and has nothing to do with the subject/verb connection. The verb should be HAS. The sentence should read this way:
The relationship between Sewell and some commissioners has been strained.
Second, this sentence from an article by Kent Faulk for al.com about abortion clinic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph:
Besides the fact that Rudolph had agreed in his plea deal, federal officials also have said that it is illegal for a criminal to profit from their actions.
Whoops #2: Rudolph is A CRIMINAL (singular), so unless he has an accomplice helping him write his autobiography (which he does not), the pronoun THEIR (plural) is incorrect. It should be HIS (singular). The sentence should read this way:
Besides the fact that Rudolph had agreed in his plea deal, federal officials also have said that it is illegal for a criminal to profit from his actions.
NOTE: For those who are uncomfortable using HIS to refer to CRIMINAL (because it suggests the exclusion of female criminals), simply change that part of the sentence to the plural and write it this way:
Besides the fact that Rudolph had agreed in his plea deal, federal officials also have said that it is illegal for criminals to profit from their actions.
April 10th, 2013
When I taught a recent certification workshop on good writing, one participant commented that her biggest writing issue is choosing verb tenses to match the time frames she is describing. The following quotation from a Birmingham News article about an upcoming ALDOT expansion project is a perfect example:
It won't always be smooth sailing, …but it shouldn't be like the Interstate 20/59 mess in Bessemer in 2012. When a refurbishing project began taking out entire directions of Interstate 20 Monday and for the next several months, existing Interstates 59 and 459 should be able to shoulder the burden of diverted traffic.
I have highlighted all of the words and phrases in this quote that give hints about the time frames involved. In the first sentence, WON'T is a contraction of WILL NOT, which is future tense. The word SHOULD is a conditional verb that refers to something expected to happen (but hasn't yet) in a certain way.
Now look at the second sentence. WHEN used with BEGAN is past tense, yet MONDAY and FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS refer to the future. (This article was written before next Monday, when the project will begin.) SHOULD BE ABLE TO SHOULDER also refers to the expected situation in the future.
Here is my suggested revision to correct the verb usage and make the time frame clearer and consistent with the facts:
It won't always be smooth sailing, …but it shouldn't be like the Interstate 20/59 mess in Bessemer in 2012. When a refurbishing project begins taking out entire directions of Interstate 20 next Monday, existing Interstates 59 and 459 should be able to shoulder the burden of diverted traffic.
My very best wishes for peace and patience to all those who travel this route "over the next several months." My very best wishes as well to ALDOT (one of my favorite workshop groups) for a successful completion of this important project.
It won't always be smooth sailing, …but it shouldn't be like the Interstate 20/59 mess in Bessemer in 2012. When a refurbishing project began taking out entire directions of Interstate 20 Monday and for the next several months, existing Interstates 59 and 459 should be able to shoulder the burden of diverted traffic. It won't always be smooth sailing, …but it shouldn't be like the Interstate 20/59 mess in Bessemer in 2012. When a refurbishing project began taking out entire directions of Interstate 20 Monday and for the next several months, existing Interstates 59 and 459 should be able to shoulder the burden of diverted traffic.
March 27th, 2013
An article in the March 2013 issue of Shelby Living contains the following sentence:
A photographer, painter and sculpture, Jackson's current passion involves creating leather masks.
This sentence has two problems. First, as you can see, the person in this photograph is definitely not a SCULPTURE. On the contrary, Sarah Jackson is a talented SCULPTOR who began creating SCULPTED leather masks about a year ago.
Second, the subject of this sentence, as it is written, is PASSION. The sentence is poorly constructed because the phrase "a photographer, painter and sculptor" is meant to describe or modify Jackson, not her passion.
A much better way to word this sentence would be the following:
Jackson is a photographer, painter and sculptor whose current passion is creating leather masks.
If you'd like to see more of Sarah Jackson's artwork, please visit www.Sarahjoyart.com.
If you'd like a more regular dose of Grammar Glitch, please check out the Daily Glitch and the Weekend Whoops every week on Facebook. Just search for "Grammar Glitch Central" and click "Like" for regular updates.
March 18th, 2013
Bob the Bookworm was in the doctor's office the other day, and he was seeing red. When he had finished his "paperwork" and took the I-Pad back to the desk, the receptionist said, "Are you done?"
Bob the Bookworm growled and replied, "I might be finished, but I am not done." For Bob, DONE conjures up the image of something that is fully cooked. In a restaurant, if a waiter asks Bob if he is "done" with his dinner, Bob cringes and responds that, yes, he is FINISHED.
One of Bob's relatives remembers an old joke from their house. If someone said, "I'm done," a family member would say, "Well, then write to your mother in Ireland." (Her name was Dunne.)
The American Heritage Dictionary agrees that the word DONE, when used to mean FINISHED or COMPLETELY ACCOMPLISHED, is informal usage (bordering on slang?). It also points out that the use of DONE instead of FINISHED or COMPLETE can be misleading. Consider these sentences:
The analysis of that new compound will not be DONE until next year.
The final segment of that interstate will not be DONE until May.
Does the writer mean that the analysis will be conducted next year or finished next year? Do they plan to start working on the final segment of the interstate in May or finish their work by May? The meaning is not clear in either sentence. Keep in mind that DONE is the past participle of DO, which refers only to the action, not to its completion.
March 11th, 2013
It is always fascinating to discover who reads this blog and finds it useful. Last week I heard from a police officer with a question about the grammar of a statement printed on a "Beheler Admonishment" card officers keep on hand to give to suspects.
I admit that I had to look up Beheler Admonishment–a statement used when a suspect is invited to the police station for a voluntary interview. It assures that the person is not under arrest and is free to leave at any time.
This is the wording the police officer questioned:
You are the suspect of a police investigation….
The officer believed the correct wording should be "in a police investigation," and he reported that there had been some heated discussion at the station about what was correct. "A person can be the suspect OF a crime," he said, "but not the suspect OF an investigation."
I agreed and suggested they reprint the cards because , although a person can certainly be the SUBJECT of an investigation, that person cannot be the SUSPECT of the investigation. To me, the SUSPECT of an investigation would be someone who is skeptical about the investigation.
Perhaps a fine distinction, but it could be an important one in these days of legal hair-splitting.
March 7th, 2013
From time to time, one of my readers (who goes by the nickname "Bob the Bookworm") spots and shares useful Grammar Glitches. This week he focused on the funnies and sent me two glitches from "Blondie."
Here is the first one:
After noticing that his neighbor is selling a house bought just six months earlier, Dagwood says to Blondie, "Just once, I'd like to be the first one to get new information about the economy on this block!"
Whoops! Dagwood doesn't want information about the economy on HIS block. He wants to be the first on his block to get information about the economy in general. It should read this way:
"Just once I'd like to be the first one on this block to get new information about the economy!"
Here is the second one:
Dagwood is sitting at the lunch counter and tells his favorite cook about a newspaper article he is reading. "Scientists say they'll be able to replicate a synthetic meat in the laboratory."
Whoops! REPLICATE means to copy or make a duplicate of. SYNTHETIC refers to an artificial version of something natural, like meat. The scientists are not going to copy the synthetic meat. They are going to create a synthetic version of real meat. The sentence should read this way:
"Scientists say they'll be able to CREATE a synthetic meat in the laboratory."
Thanks, Bob! Keep up the good work!
February 26th, 2013
In my last post, I promised to continue discussing the frequency of errors in newspaper articles. Last week I tried to read an article in The Birmingham News about a woman who had been recruiting homeless people to cash counterfeit checks for her. By the time I reached the end of the article, I had highlighed seven errors, which I will share with you here, along with their corrections.
Whoops #1: As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the woman was driving a car that had a typewriter for a sidecar.
Law enforcement recovered $22,000 in counterfeit checks from the car she was driving along with a typewriter, he said.
The problem here is poor word order. The phrase about the typewriter belongs next to the counterfeit checks because both things were recovered. The sentence should read this way:
Law enforcement recovered a typewriter and $22,000 in counterfeit checks from the car she was driving, he said.
Whoops #2: The problem with this sentence is subject/verb agreement.
According to a preliminary estimate, a little over $110,000 in counterfeit checks were seized by law enforcement from Tate's home and car the day she was arrested, Bailey testified.
A LITTLE OVER $110,000 is a lump sum of money and should be considered singular. It should not be used with the plural verb WERE. The verb should be WAS.
NOTE: An even more efficient way to improve this sentence and avoid the WAS/WERE decision is to make it active rather than passive:
According to a preliminary estimate, law enforcement seized a little over $110,000 in counterfeit checks from Tate's home and car the day she was arrested, Bailey testified.
Whoops #3: This glitch has to do with verb tense.
…her role was to show others involved where the banks are and where the homeless people congregated, he said.
The writer should decide whether he is speaking in the present tense or the past tense. If he says HER ROLE WAS, then he should not say WHERE THE BANKS ARE (present tense) and then flip back to the past tense with THE HOMELESS PEOPLE CONGREGATED. If they congregated in the past, why would you need them where the banks are now? The sentence should read this way to be parallel in structure and verb tense:
…her role was to show others involved where the banks were and where the homeless people congregated, he said.
Whoops #4 and #5: Strings of phrases can confuse meaning. The writer should also remember that AN rather than A is the correct article (noun determiner) in front of a word that begins with a vowel.N N writer should also remember that An g. The also
Investigators had been looking into Tate and others after a incident in the fall of 2011 after authorities were alerted to a incident in Trussville where someone tried to cash a counterfeit check.
The two AFTER(s) confuse the time frame. The two uses of INCIDENT make it sound as if there are two separate incidents. WHERE should refer to location, not function. Here is what I consider a better version of this sentence:
Investigators had been looking into Tate and others after authorities were alerted to an incident in Trussville in the fall of 2011 during which someone tried to cash a counterfeit check.
Whoops #6: A comma should not needlessly separate one clause from another. If a subordinate clause comes after an independent clause, it should not be set off with a comma.
The woman from Atlanta tried to hide about $15,000 in counterfeit checks under the vehicle, when police approached.
NOTE: This sentence might be more effective if the WHEN clause were placed at the beginning. If it is placed there, the comma would come after APPROACHED:
When police approached, the woman from Atlanta tried to hide about $15,000 in counterfeit checks under the vehicle.
Whoops #7: When using pronouns like THEIR and THEM, it should be clear to the reader who THEY are in the sentence:
Between six and 12 homeless people have identified Tate as having recruited them during their investigation.
As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the homeless people were conducting the investigation. THEM refers to the homeless people Tate recruited, but THEIR is meant to refer to the police investigators. That won't work. The phrase DURING THE INVESTIGATION should probably be left completely out of this sentence because I doubt that Tate was doing the recruiting during the investigation. Here is how the sentence should read:
Between six and 12 homeless people have identified Tate as having recruited them.
Seven errors in one article would suggest that the writer did not proofread what he wrote. It would also suggest that The Birmingham News is no longer making good use of copy editors in the newsroom.
February 16th, 2013
As newspapers evolve in these fast-changing times, it appears to me that they are placing less and less emphasis on careful copyediting. Frequent errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage not only detract from the quality of the journalism, they also distract the reader. Too often lately, I read a sentence and then ask myself, "What was that? What is this reporter trying to say?"
Apparently, I am not alone in my frustration with this. My friend Mark, an excellent copyeditor in New York, sent me an email string recently that contained the following dialogue, which occurred after his friend Stephen came across the following sentence in a New York Times article:
More than 2200 flights for Friday had been cancelled, according to the Web site FlightAware, the majority originiting or departing from the areas affected by the storm.
Stephen sent this email to the Executive Editor of The New York Times:
Doesn't the copy desk edit copy anymore? The number 2,200 requires a comma; the American spelling of "canceled" has only one l; and "originiting" requires no comment.
The Executive Editor replied:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We all make errors, but you're absolutely right–three in one sentence is far too many. We'll get this fixed soon.
Stephen then emailed Mark:
In my opinion, three errors in the entire newspaper is far too many.
Mark responded with this:
Well dun, Steven. (Just kidding.) At least he didn't reply, "Your absolutely write…" On "cancelled," it is acceptable, not an outright error, but not the spelling preferred by Merriam-Webster. You and I as copyeditors would strike that second ell.
Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip.
I wonder what Mark and Stephen would think about a recent article (not an isolated example) in The Birmingham News that contained no fewer than SEVEN errors–in one article! In my next post, I will share those errors and their corrections.
In the meantime, I'd like to hear from any readers who have also noticed an increase in copy errors in local newspapers. Examples are always welcome, along with your comments, at Grammar Glitch Central. Mark asked me to encourage you to write to the editor(s) of your newspaper if you see examples of particularly careless writing or editing. He also said (and I agree) that it's good to write in and compliment the writers and editors when you see especially well-written pieces.
If your paper does not make it easy for readers to give feedback (say, with an email address at the end of an article or on the editorial page), contact the paper and ask them to open up for reader comments.
Like Mark, I would like to say, "Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip."
January 29th, 2013
The "Ask a Landscaper" column in a recent issue of The Birmingham News contains a carelessly worded sentence:
Pruning off these buds are in essence pruning of the flowers before they bloom.
The columnist is answering a reader's question about when to prune azaleas. First, the word PRUNING is a gerund (a verb turned into a noun by adding ING). It is the subject of the sentence and is a single function, so it is considered singular. Therefore, the verb should be IS instead of ARE. Second, the columnist uses the phrase PRUNING OFF in reference to the BUDS, so it makes sense that he meant to use the same phrase PRUNING OFF in reference to the FLOWERS. The sentence should read this way:
Pruning off these buds is in essence pruning off the flowers before they bloom.
I love gardening, and if you do, too, you are probably getting antsy about planting for the coming spring. I hope your azaleas and other plants are gorgeous this year.