August 2nd, 2014
A letter to the editor in The Birmingham News last week included an odd, unintended perspective on war. The writer wanted to compare the current Israel/Palestine conflict to issues in the Korean War and made this statement:
In one of the most brilliant military strategies in the annuls of war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed behind enemy lines at Inchon and could have destroyed the North Korean Army and perhaps the Chinese Army.
Whoops! Much as I'd love to see war ANNULLED as a strategy for solving problems, the word this writer wanted is ANNALS (a chronological record of events). ANNUL is a verb (to make or declare invalid).
Personally, I rather like this incorrect usage. I pray regularly for the ANNULMENT of war and would rejoice in seeing the ANNALS of war be nothing but history, never to be repeated. What an idiotic, wasteful, and destructive way to resolve conflict!
June 9th, 2014
Parallel structure helps the reader move smoothly through a sentence because the reader does not have to keep "changing horses" or "switching gears" as far as the pattern is concerned. Once a writer sets a pattern for a series of items, he should stick to that pattern throughout the series. Consider this sentence from an excellent article about bullying that appeared recently in The Birmingham News:
Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale; rising Ramsay High School senior Brianna Gilbert; Christopher McCauley, the executive director of the David Mathews Center for Civic Life; and Birmingham Board of Education member Lyord Watson also said there needs to be better communication….\
The first, second, and fourth items in this series are in the same pattern: title, then name. For some reason, the writer jumps to a different pattern for the third item, giving the name first and then the title. Not only does this jar the pattern, it creates the necessity for semicolons between items because the title (coming after the name) must be set off by commas.
It is simpler to write and to read this way:
Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale, rising Ramsay High School senior Brianna Gilbert, David Mathews Center for Civic Life executive director Christopher McCauley, and Birmingham Board of Education member Lyord Watson also said there needs to be better communication….
May 22nd, 2014
I recently finished a wonderful historical novel, The Lavender Garden, by Lucinda Riley. Set during WWII, the story involves an aristocratic French family and their efforts to thwart Nazi aggression. Alternating scenes between a French chateau and an English country estate, the author introduces intriguing characters, several intertwined love stories, a winery, hidden rooms, the underground, and, of course, a lavender garden.
Although I loved the story and it kept me turning page and page to see what would happen next, I was jarred several times by grammatical errors that should have been caught either by the author or by an editor at Simon & Schuster. Here are three of them:
Whoops #1: A Dangling Participle Issue:
Plucked from different walks of life due to their particular suitability for the job in hand, she chatted to Francis Mont-Clare and Hugo Sorocki, both, like herself, half-French, James, and of course Henry the fighter pilot, the heartthrob of the group.
The main subject of this sentence is SHE (16 words into the sentence). Everything before SHE is an introductory participial phrase that should modify or describe SHE. However, the phrase describes all of the new underground recruits, so it is out of place and confusing. Here is a suggested rewrite that I think is clearer:
The members of the group had been plucked from different walks of life due to their particular suitability for the job at hand. She chatted with all of them–Francis Mont-Clare and Hugo Sorock, both, like herself, half-French; James; and, of course, Henry the fighter pilot, the heartthrob of the group.
Whoops #2: Who or Whom?
A few seconds later, a tall, dark-haired man whom, with his fine, chiseled bone structure, could be taken for nothing but French, emerged from the room in full dinner dress.
To make the correct choice here, the author needs to determine the subjects of both clauses in this sentence. The first subject is MAN. A tall…MAN EMERGED FROM THE ROOM…. The second subject should be WHO…WHO COULD BE TAKEN FOR NOTHING BUT FRENCH. The choice could only be WHOM if the word was supposed to be an object in the sentence. It should read this way:
A few seconds later, a tall, dark-haired man who, with his fine, chiseled bone structure, could be taken for nothing but French, emerged from the room in full dinner dress.
If I were editing this, I might suggest it would be more effective broken into two sentences this way:
A few seconds later, a tall, dark-haired man emerged from the room in full dinner dress. With his fine, chiseled bone structure, he could be taken for nothing but French.
Whoops #3: Subject/Verb Agreement
Alex's mention of his brother's mood swings were all she could find to comfort her.
MENTION (singular), not MOOD SWINGS (plural) is the subject of this sentence. Therefore, the verb should be WAS (singular) instead of WERE (plural). It should read this way:
Alex's mention of his brother's mood swings was all she could find to comfort her.
As editor, I think I would suggest reversing this sentence for smooth wording:
All she could find to comfort her was Alex's mention of his brother's mood swings.
Please don't let these Grammar Glitches keep you from reading this excellent novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
April 14th, 2014
Kim Komando's April 11, 2014, Special to USA Today offers good advice on 4 places not to swipe your debit card. However, Komando could benefit from some good advice about two common Grammar Glitches. One is subject/verb agreement, as seen in this sentence:
It's not widely appreciated that consumer responsibility for debit-card charges are different than they are for credit cards.
Whoops! The subject in the second clause of this sentence is RESPONSIBILITY (singular). Therefore, the verb should be IS not ARE. The verb is not affected by the prepositional phrase FOR DEBIT-CARD CHARGES. Often, as is the case here, it is necessary to make other adjustments when you correct a verb agreement problem. THEY ARE must now be changed to IT IS. The sentence should read this way:
It's not widely appreciated that consumer responsibility for debit-card charges is different than it is for credit cards.
If you would like to see the Komando's other Grammar Glitch and its solution, please check out today's entry on Facebook's Grammar Glitch Central page.
March 25th, 2014
Today's Grammar Glitches appear in recent issues of The Birmingham News. Both involve poor choices of subject and verb agreement with regard to what is singular and what is plural. Here is the first example:
Thus far, the state's efforts to boost its trained workforce has focused primarily on dual enrollment between public high schools and the the community college system.
Whoops! #1: The subject of this sentence is EFFORTS (plural with an S). TO BOOST ITS TRAINED WORKFORCE is a prepositional phrase that should not affect the relationship between the subject EFFORTS and the verb, which should be HAVE (plural) FOCUSED. The sentence should read this way:
Thus far, the state's efforts to boost its trained workforce have focused primarily on dual enrollment between public high schools and the the community college system.
Here is the second example:
Attention and honor was pointed in the right direction.
Whoops #2: This sentence has a compound subject. One subject connected to another subject by AND creates a plural subject. Therefore, the verb should be WERE instead of WAS. Here is the correct sentence:
Attention and honor were pointed in the right direction.
My thanks to www.reputation.com for their February 17 publication of an interview that highlights the significance of Grammar Glitch Central as a useful tool for business writers. If you'd like to know more about the motivation behind Grammar Glitch Central and see some of my favorite Glitch examples, please visit http://www.reputation.com/reputationwatch/blog/expert-interview-ruth-cook-how-write-more-clearly.
February 21st, 2014
INTO and IN TO can be confusing. If you are a grammar-savvy reader, it might be enough to explain that INTO is a preposition (as in "into attending her high school reunion"). INTO takes an object (in this case, ATTENDING). IN by itself is an adverb that describes the verb coming before it, and TO is a separate preposition (as in "…he put a call in to a friend…."). IN describes the verb PUT. FRIEND is the object of the preposition TO.
Consider this sentence from an al.com column about tonight's (February 21, 2014) speaker (author Ann Patchett) at the Hoover library Southern Voices conference:
When a recent divorcee gets talked in to attending her high school reunion, she works to overcome her phobia of highway driving to experience the adventure of a lifetime.
Then consider this sentence that appeared recently in an al.com article about a change in police vests:
Hagler recalled seeing Chicago police officers wearing load-bearing vests when he was there for an International Association of Chiefs of Police convention, and he put a call into a friend on the Chicago force.
If you want to be correct but don't care so much about the actual grammar rules, think of this in terms of visual image. You don't want to PUT A CALL INTO your friend. Ouch! (That might require some sort of surgery or mystic spell.) You also don't want to TALK THAT DIVORCEE IN (the way the control tower might talk a plane in during bad weather). The images you want are "put IN a call" and "talked INTO attending."
These sentences should read this way:
When a recent divorcee gets talked into attending her high school reunion, she works to overcome her phobia of highway driving to experience the adventure of a lifetime.
Hagler recalled seeing Chicago police officers wearing load-bearing vests when he was there for an International Association of Chiefs of Police convention, and he put in a call to a friend on the Chicago force."
COMMENT: I'd like to take this opportunity to commend the Hoover Public Library in Hoover, Alabama, for its wonderful Southern Voices conference. Year after year, their great staff bring outstanding well-known authors and new rising stars in a unique format that is loved by readers and authors alike. This year is no exception, beginning this evening with a talk by novelist and non-fiction author Ann Patchett.
February 14th, 2014
The following is a guest post submitted by Jeff Peters, a graduate student at Fresno State University who works part-time for several educational services, including SolidEssay.com, where he provides http://www.solidessay.com/our-services/help-with-essay-writing Jeff offers seven excellent suggestions for anyone wanting to master the grammar and vocabulary of a language:
Grammar is essential in understanding and utilizing a language. In order to gain proficiency, you should focus intensely on grammar and vocabulary. According to English tutors at http://www.solidessay.com, even though grammar may not be as important in informal communication, it is necessary in written and formal communication. It is good knowledge of grammar that qualifies you to write or speak up in a manner others can understand.
Seven basic tips to improve your grammar:
1) The easiest way is to use grammar and vocabulary books. Go to your local bookstore or browse through e-book stores to find a good advanced grammar and vocabulary book. Check the index to make sure it covers sentence construction as well as word application and classification. Work your way through the book and try the exercises at the end of each chapter. Most grammar books will have an answer glossary where you can check your skills and answers once you've completed an exercise.
2) Find a reading comprehension book that will test your understanding of grammatical application as well as content. Again, go through the exercises and then use the answer glossary to check your skills.
3) Read newspapers and magazines to improve your understanding of sentence construction. This activity will keep you updated on modern and practical techniques for creating sentences. It will also increase your vocabulary. As you read, make a point of learning five new words every day.
4) Sign up for a card at your local library. Your card will give you easy and affordable access to plenty of books, and reading books will definitely improve your language skills.
5) Check for grammar and vocabulary classes available online. These classes usually have an interactive session where you can discuss your everyday progress with tutors and fellow students.
6) Although it is true that people often do not use correct grammar in everyday conversation, you can improve your grammar by striving to speak correctly. By trying to speak as well as write correctly, you will develop the habit of identifying your grammatical weaknesses on a regular basis.
7) The more you practice a language, the easier its grammar and vocabulary will become for you. Try to allow an hour or two every day–or at least four days a week–to sit with grammar lessons and exercises.
Improving grammar and vocabulary skills is not difficult IF you devote enough time to it and practice regularly. Having a good grasp of grammar makes it easier to master a language. It also lets you present yourself, both orally and on paper, in a clearer and more appealing way.
A COMMENT FROM GRAMMAR GLITCH: Although these tips are ideal for someone learning a second language, they can also be useful for native speakers who know their language skills are weak. Having spent a number of years teaching business-writing skills in the corporate community, I know the value employers place on good language skills. Many times, the advantage of one job applicant over another–in the resume and in the interview–comes down to good usage and grammar.
I sincerely believe that making a serious effort to follow these seven suggestions for several months will significantly improve your use of language.
January 25th, 2014
A friend who does a lot of editing sent along this example of a classic dangling modifier:
Named for its natural freshwater waterhole, thirsty travelers have been visiting Jacobs Well since the mid-1800s.
Whoops! The subject of this sentence is TRAVELERS. The phrase NAMED FOR ITS NATURAL FRESHWATER WATERHOLE should modify the sentence subject, but it is Jacobs Well (not the thirsty travelers) that has been named for the freshwater waterhole.
The sentence should read this way:
Named for its natural freshwater waterhole, Jacobs Well has welcomed thirsty travelers since the mid-1800s.
My editor friend pointed out that a bad sentence can spread on the Internet like a virus because one source often quotes (or just lifts from) another source. Just Google the original sentence above, and you will see what she means.
In case you are curious about more than just the viral sentence, Jacobs Well is a tourist attraction on the Gold Coast of Australia, not far from Brisbane.
ADDED NOTE: My editor friend's eagle eye also spotted a sentence this week that talked about certain animals being in danger of DISTINCTION. Whoops! That should be IN DANGER OF EXTINCTION!
January 19th, 2014
When beginning a sentence with THERE and following it with a "to be" verb, you must make a choice based on agreement with the subject, which comes AFTER the verb. Do you want IS or ARE? WAS or WERE? Consider this sentence, which certainly fits the season as well as this frequently abused grammar point:
Even though the flu is typically a winter-time illness, there's no definitive answers as to why that's always the case.
ANSWERS (plural) is the subject of this sentence. THERE is just a "place holder" at the beginning. Therefore, the verb should be ARE (plural) to match the plural subject ANSWERS. The sentence should read this way:
Even though the flu is typically a winter-time illness, there are no definitive answers as to why that's always the case.
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December 6th, 2013
When I teach business writing workshops, I like to explain commas as trail markers through the meaning of a sentence.One important trail marker is the comma at the end of an introductory clause or phrase. If it is left out, the reader can get lost trying to find the main subject and the focus of the sentence.
A recent newsletter from the Gulas group makes some good points about email clutter and how to avoid it, but several of the sentences are difficult to read because this important trail marker has been left out. Take a look at these examples:
"Armed with this knowledge you will make better decisions."
"Set correctly your Calendar view will show your appointments,…."
"As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices they are being distracted by email alerts, meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times."
Each of the above sentences is difficult to read because of the missing comma, which would point out the location where the main clause begins. Here is how these sentences should be punctuated–with a comma after the introductory phrase or clause:
Armed with this knowledge, you will make better decisions.
Set correctly, your Calendar view will show your appointments.
As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices, they are being distracted by email alerts (and) meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times.