Archive for the ‘adjectives and adverbs’ Category

MOSTLY ABOUT or MORE ABOUT? Check the context.

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Mary Sanchez  columnist  Mary Sanchez, opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star, could have benefited from a quick edit of her recent column about the new U. S. policy on Cuba. Using comparative and superlative forms like MORE and MOST can be tricky.

  Take a look at this sentence:

"Our country's stand against the Castro regime was always mostly about the geopolitical threat to us, our country, than it was about the oppression of the Cuban people."

Good point, but MOSTLY is the superlative form (like GREATEST, FINEST, COSTLIEST). It does not imply a direct comparison between two things–in this case, THE GEOPOLITICAL THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY and THE OPPRESSION OF THE CUBAN PEOPLE. It does not fit with THAN. What is needed here is the comparative form, which would be MORE ABOUT….THAN…. The sentence should read this way:

Our country's stand against the Castro regime was always more about the geopolitical threat to us, our country, than it was about the oppression of the Cuban people.

We all make these mistakes as we commit our thoughts to paper. The solution is to spot and correct them by going back and editing the wording for clarity.

NOTE: Welcome to any of my Mobile workshop participants who may be reading this blog for the first time this week. I hope you find it useful and will visit often.

To use or not to use? (A grammar checker, that is.)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

brain in gear

I use Grammarly's free grammar checker because I don't want to misplace a comma and end up eating Gramma (as in "Let's eat Gramma!" instead of "Let's eat, Gramma!").

When I teach business writing workshops, I often remind participants to use grammar checkers with “brain in gear.” A grammar checker can point out possible problems in your writing, but if you choose to use one, you must have enough self confidence to recognize when the grammar checker has misinterpreted your meaning. After all, grammar checkers are NOT human, and they don’t catch all the nuances of what we humans write.

That said, I recently reviewed, which bills itself as “the world’s most accurate online grammar checker.” I tried it out on several pieces of my own writing as well as a newspaper article. It spotted one overlooked typo and offered good suggestions for two overly wordy sentences. It also detected an incorrect indefinite article (A vs. AN). However, it declared EVERY proper noun I used (e.g. TALLASSEE, TUKABAHCHI, and WOODALL) to be a misspelling. Using the scoring system to rate myself, I ended up with a horrible score, based mostly on properly spelled proper nouns that were declared incorrect. failed to spot a missing apostrophe in this sentence from an article about new education standards in Alabama:

“The change is intended to more closely align students education with the ACT, improving high school seniors’ scores….”

SENIORS’ SCORES is correct, with the apostrophe after the S, but STUDENTS EDUCATION should also be possessive (STUDENTS’ EDUCATION). As I write this, I see that the Word grammar checker put a green squiggly line under that one, but overall, I don't think Word's grammar checker is as effective as this one. also missed the incorrect plural form in this sentence:

“However, the director of student academic support at Auburn University said low ACT scores tend to be a better indicators of which students won’t perform well in college than high ACT scores are of which students will do well.”

A BETTER INDICATORS (plural) should be simply BETTER INDICATORS without A in front.

I do think does an excellent job of explaining the errors it spots, and the examples it offers for correction are clear and easy to understand. As someone who writes virtually every day, I would say Grammarly could be a useful tool IF you keep your own brain in gear and view Grammarly as a helper rather than a quick cure for all errors. To try, you can search "free grammar checker" or go to

Where you put the modifiers matters!

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

I am still adjusting to the three-day newspaper format and trying to become friends with Here is a lead sentence from an article on on October 6:

Two units of the apartment complex at 4252 3rd Ave. S. this evening were damaged by fire and two others sustained smoke damage.


What I want to know is where this apartment complex is the rest of the time. By placing the descriptive phrase (modifier) THIS EVENING right after the location of the apartment complex, the sentence makes it sound as if the complex is only in this location THIS EVENING. The phrase THIS EVENING is meant to describe when the fire damage occurred, but it cannot do that if it is not placed correctly.  The sentence should read this way:

Two units of the apartment complex at 4252 3rd Ave. S. were damaged by fire this evening and two others sustained smoke damage.

Whenever you use modifiers or descriptive phrases (adjectives and adverbs), read back through your writing to make sure they describe what they should describe.

Ikea high chair restraint buckles open worldwide!

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Here is a good example of where proofreading could improve a sentence:

Ikea has received eight reports of the buckles opening worldwide, with three reports of injuries.

 What was that again?  Ikea has (to their credit) voluntarily recalled high chairs sold between 2006 and the beginning of 2010 because of a problem with restraint buckles. However, the sentence above makes it sound as if these buckles OPEN WORLDWIDE. What the reporter means is that, worldwide, there have been eight reports of the buckles opening unexpectedly, but that is not what the sentence says.  It should read this way:

Worldwide, Ikea has received eight reports of the buckles opening unexpectedly, with three reports of injuries.

It is important to be sure that a modifier like WORLDWIDE is inserted where it will describe the correct thing.

Corporate Writing Pro on Commas with Adjectives (Guest Post, Part II)

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

As promised, here is Part II of the Corporate Writing Pro's Guest Post for Grammar Glitch Central. Michelle Baker is a teacher, scholar, and business professional from West Virginia whose mission is to help people communicate more clearly. You will find a link to her blog site, Keys to Easy Writing, on the Home Page for Grammar Glitch Central. Here is her post:

 Everyone trips over commas, especially the little one that sits between adjectives. That's because there's a difference between coordinate and cumulative adjectives. And most of us don't know how to test our adjectives to find that difference.

Remember, adjectives are words that give more information about nouns–words like pretty, blue, light, nice, fabulous. Sometimes we use more than one in front of the same noun, like in this sentence:

The dark red dress was her favorite.

DARK and RED are both adjectives. Should we separate them with a comma?  Here's the test:

       1) Can you separate the adjectives with the word AND?

       2) Can you reverse their order?

In this case, you cannot.  It is not a DARK and RED DRESS, nor is it a RED DARK DRESS.  It's a DARK RED DRESS.

The word DARK is describing the kind of red–it's not light red, or brick red, or rose red; it's dark red. The two adjectives build on one another, and that's why we call them cumulative.

But what about this sentence?

Did you read about Macomber's short, happy life?

You could say SHORT AND HAPPY LIFE; HAPPY AND SHORT LIFE; or HAPPY, SHORT LIFE.  The order of the words does not matter, and so the two adjectives are coordinate and need a comma between them.

Remember to test your adjectives. (Or, just stick to one at a time!)

Fifty-four word sentence needs editor. Best rewrite WINS!

Monday, July 11th, 2011

I've decided to offer a contest today–with 1st and 2nd place prizes.  The following 54-word sentence appeared in my newspaper this weekend, in an article about soil contamination around a brand new school in Birmingham.  Here is the sentence:

While saying there has been nothing to show where the contaminants came from its plant, Walter Coke, the largest company still operating in the area that has had many heavy industrial operations, is voluntarily paying for some soil testing in the area, as well as soil replacement at Hudson K-8 and 23 surrounding properties.

You have until Wednesday, July 13, 2011, at 5:00 Central time to come up with the best possible rewrite of this sentence and submit it as a comment to this blog.  I'll announce the best and second best rewrites on Thursday and award the following prizes:

1) A personal critique of up to five pages of your own writing, with comments on usage, grammar, and style. (a $40 value)

2) A personal critique of up to two pages of your own writing, with comments on usage, grammar, and style. (a $20 value)


Hope to hear from many of you!  Meanwhile, take a look at the Grammar Glitch follow-up below:

 My blog post for July 7 dealt with LY endings on adverbs, and I didn't expect to see this Glitch again so soon, but there it was in Mary Sanchez's "Other Views" column in this morning's The Birmingham News.  It is an excellent column about Operation Fast and Furious, which involved tracking the sales of weapons to buyers procuring them for criminals in Mexico.  Here is the sentence:

The initial sales of both guns from a Phoenix-area gun shop, along with serial numbers, had been careful tracked by ATF agents.

Whoops! HAD BEEN TRACKED is a verb phrase, and CAREFUL is supposed to describe how the guns were tracked.  A word that describes a verb (TRACKED) should be an adverb (CAREFULLY), not an adjective (CAREFUL).  The sentence should read this way:

The initial sales of both guns from a Phoenix-area gun shop, along with serial numbers, had been carefully tracked by ATF agents.

Remember when to use LY at the end of a word.

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Here is a coupon I came across recently:

The word REGULAR is describing the word PRICED, which is an adjective that describes ITEM. It would be correct to write A REGULAR (adjective) ITEM, with REGULAR describing the noun ITEM.

Here, though, REGULAR refers to PRICED, which is an adjective itself.  The word needs to be an adverb (REGULARLY).  Adverbs describe verbs (The snake slithered SLOWLY.) or adjectives (REGULARLY PRICED or COMPLETELY mistaken) or other adverbs (The snake slithered VERY SLOWLY. or Traffic is moving TOO SLOWLY.) 

On this coupon the wording should be as follows:

25% off any one regularly priced item of $150 or more…

Was the giant renown? Or renowned?

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

I always enjoy reading Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column, and Tuesday's on "Americans evolving in wrong direction" was exceptionally good.  He noted that most science teachers (60 percent) "cheat controversy by such stratagems as telling students it does not matter if they 'believe' in evolution, so long as they understand enough to pass a test."  He went on to tell a great story about a giant who had once been intelligent but had become stupid.  Whatever your personal opinions on this subject, his column is worth reading.  You can find it at

Pitts is an excellent writer, and I have never before noticed a Grammar Glitch in his column.    Tuesday, however, a couple of things caught my eye and seemed worthy of comment.  First, there was this sentence:

Indeed, the giant was renown for an ingenuity and standard of living that made it the envy of the world.

I admit I had to check several sources on this one.  It didn't look right, but I wasn't positive it was wrong.  It turns out that RENOWN is a noun, as in "The white crystalline marble of Sylacauga, Alabama, has achieved great RENOWN."  RENOWNED is an adjective, as in "The RENOWNED marble of Sylacauga is the focus of the April festival."  Therefore, Pitts' sentence should read this way:

Indeed, the giant was renowned for an ingenuity and standard of living that made it the envy of the world. ( The adjective RENOWNED comes after the verb but still modifies the GIANT.)


My second comment has to do with parallel structure.  Consider this sentence:

Or they teach evolution on a par with creationism and encouraging students to make up their own minds.

As written, this sentence suggests that teachers put evolution on the same level as creationism AND on the same level as encouraging students to make up their own minds.  I suspect what Pitts meant was that these teachers teach both evolution and creationism and THEN encourage students to make up their own minds.  Because the structure is not parallel, the sentence is misleading.  The two verbs that need to be parallel are TEACH and ENCOURAGE.  Therefore, the sentence should read this way:

Or they teach evolution on a par with creationism and then  encourage students to make up their own minds. 

ADDITIONAL NOTE: One of my readers has pointed out that the parallel structure of the first sentence could also be improved by inserting the word A in front of STANDARD. I agree, especially because INGENUITY takes AN while STANDARD takes A. When I checked on that, I also noticed that the pronoun IT is used to refer to the GIANT when HIM would probably be more appropriate. So here, hopefully, is a final edit of that sentence:

Indeed, the giant was renowned for an ingenuity and a standard of living that made him the envy of the world.