How to Avoid Pronoun Errors: The Grammar Patrol Shares Favorite Bloopers

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

The Grammar Patrol with Bear

The Grammar Bear

When our Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides first came out, we hit seven bookstores in one day along with our Grammar Bear, thanks to Guy Hill Cadillac. Such fun. Along the way people shared their top grammar pet peeves. Ever since, we’ve collected bloopers heard and seen today. This month we’ll focus on the (alliterative!) preponderance of pronoun problems. We’ve omitted names and sources to protect the guilty. Spot the bloopers before reading the explanations!

 

 

 

“What would you say to the idea of you and I becoming friends?”

We hear pronouns used incorrectly so often they start to sound correct. The word “of” is a preposition. Prepositions take objective pronouns (me, you, him, her, whom, us, them), not subjective pronouns (I, you, he, she, who, we, they). The secret is in the words themselves: subjective and objective. Subjects and objects! (Luckily, “you” stays the same whether subject or object.)

So here’s the fix: We like the idea of you and me becoming friends!

 

• “That’ll buy Rick and I enough time.”

Vacuum out “Rick.” Would you say, “That’ll buy I enough time”? “That” is the subject of the sentence. Use the objective “me”: “That’ll buy Rick and me enough time.”

 

• “Jason introduced you and I back in 2010.”

Jason is the subject. He did the action. “You and I” are used as objects of the verb “introduced.” Wait a sec! Objects! We can’t use “I” as an object. We need objective pronouns: Jason introduced you and me.

 

• “One of the differences between Mark and I is that I flunked and he didn’t.”

Remember Edith’s mom’s ditty: “Between thee, me, and the gatepost.” “Between” is a preposition. You know that prepositions take objective pronouns: between Mark and me.

 

• “Being in this play gave my son and I a chance to work together.”

Change the subject (“Being in this play”) to “it.” Would you say, “It gave I a chance to work together with my son”? No: “It gave me a chance . . .” Make this sentence “Being in this play gave my son and me a chance to work together.”

(For those inquiring minds deeply into grammar: The subject, “Being in this play,” is a gerund phrase: the gerund “being,” plus the prepositional phrase “in this play.”)

 

“Who should I serve next?”

Do a turnaround: I should serve who/whom next. Since “I” is the subject, the question of the person to serve is the object. Quick trick: Substitute a different pronoun. Would you say, “I should serve he” or “I should serve him”? Him, because it’s the objective pronoun: Whom shall I serve next?” (Or: “Who’s next?!”)

 

“Her and Ms. Dickerson now get along fine.”

Glide now from objective to subjective pronouns. The two women are the compound subject of the sentence. Use a subjective pronoun: “She and Ms. Dickerson get along . . .”

 Please share

Send us bloopers you spot! Next month, capital fun with capitals.

 

Nailing the Subjunctive: If I Were a Rich Man

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

When we came to the topic of the subjunctive verb mood during our years of teaching our “Nitty-Gritty Grammar” class, we’d get blank stares and shivering spines. “Subjunctive? What the heck?” was the usual response.

But the subjunctive is cool. And useful. Think “shoulda, woulda”!

FiddlerLargeTo start, picture us in our Grammar Patrol hats dancing around the classroom, arms high, singing “If I were a rich man . . . Daidle daidle deedle daidle dum . . .”

We’d get a laugh. (Yep, we really did this!) The tension would ease. And we’d highlight the key word: were.

“We may someday be rich,” we’d tell our students, “but we’ll never be rich men.” We had traveled together to the land of imagination.

“If we were in Paris right now,” we’d say, “we’d not be using were. Our postcards home would read, “Here we are in Paris.” (That’s a true, not imagined, trip.)

Wishes. Dreams. Things contrary to fact. That’s when the subjunctive takes a starring role.

Has something happened? Is it real? If not, think subjunctive. Look for “if,” “as if,” and “as though”—they can signal the subjunctive mood:

It seemed as though we were flying through space. (We weren’t.)

So what’s the correct choice for these examples? Finish each “If” sentence by imagining what might happen if those things were true:

If I was/were CEO of General Motors . . .

If I was/were to win the lottery . . .

If I was/were to go for my third Ph.D. . . .

If I was/were to fly to the moon . . .

If I was/were you, I’d stop whining.

Bingo. If you thought were, you’ve got it. You’re not the CEO, haven’t won the lottery, haven’t started on your third Ph.D. or flown to the moon, and you certainly are not the person to whom you’re speaking (impossible). Substituting were for was is the most common use of the subjunctive.

Digging Deeper

There’s more. Let’s dig deeper.

Use the subjunctive mood . . .

• With verbs followed by “that,” such as demand, insist, recommend, request, suggest, and urge  use “be,” plus a participle:

Ted requests that healthier snacks be offered in the break room.

• With a “to be” verb in the present tense:

It is required that all contracts be evaluated by the eagle-eyed Miss Jackson.

• With other verbs, whether present or past, use the present form of the subjunctive: It has no s even in the third person singular where you usually find it (he runs):

Our coach requires that every team member wear (not wears) orange socks.

                    (present)

The storm required that each snowplow operator work overtime (not works).

                      (past)

• With wishes—use the past subjunctive tense to express a wish.

The Harpers wish they had saved for vacation.

                                    (past subjunctive)

Antonio wished he were hiking in the Rockies.

                                    (past subjunctive)

Other Words to Watch For

Two other words can indicate the subjunctive mood: should and would.

 Should it rain on Tuesday, the barbeque is off.

 Would that I’d booked that cruise instead of that boring seminar.

 As always, there are exceptions. If a statement begins with “if,” but is true, don’t use the subjunctive. Here’s one for the politicians:

 If I was wrong, I apologize. (You very well could have been wrong.)

The same goes for using was in the past tense in a true sentence:

If George Clooney was in that limo, I didn’t see him. (George could have been in the limo.)

 Summing Up

To sum up, if everyone were to memorize just the if/were connection, the world would be a more subjunctive place. (Sorry. Grammar joke.) See you next month.

Grammar Tips for Comparison

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

COMPARISONS

Life and literature are full of comparisons. Shakespeare’s sonnet posed the question, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate . . . ”

In the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the evil queen asks her looking glass, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of us all?” Sorry, Evil Queen—Snow White’s the fairest in the land. She’s superlative.

EvilQueenMirror

When using adjectives and some adverbs to compare, common bloopers can occur: more better, most fastest.

Let’s review. Comparisons have three degrees:

• positive (the basic form of the word)

• comparative (two things)

• superlative (more than two).

 

Positive                     Comparative                   Superlative

frizzy                           frizzier                                    frizziest

warm                          warmer                                   warmest

beautiful                    more beautiful                      most beautiful

 

Comparatives and superlatives often cause mistakes.

 

Comparatives

If you’re comparing two things, one to the other:

—Add an er ending or “more” or “less” to most one-syllable words:

younger, more/less young

wilder, more/less wild

denser, more/less dense

Of stock car racing and archery, archery seems safer (or more safe).

 

—With two-syllable words ending in y, drop the y and add er, or use “more” or “less” before the word:

(silly) sillier, more/less silly

(gaudy) gaudier, more/less gaudy

(zany) zanier, more/less zany

(muddy) muddier, more/less muddy

—With words of three or more syllables, use “more” or “less” before the word:

less bountiful                  more athletic            more intelligent

* Tip: You can also modify the comparative form with the adverb “much.”

Jackson Pollack’s paintings were much sloppier than those by Salvador Dalí.

 

Superlatives

To compare more than two things:

—Add the ending est to most one-syllable and some two-syllable words.

fastest                        shiniest          messiest        lightest           silliest

—Add “most” or “least” to some two-syllable and most three-syllable words:

most savvy    most skillful   least dangerous       least sour      least athletic

San Francisco is the least affordable city in California.

The late Tony Gwynn was the San Diego Padres’ most popular player.

 

Keeping Comparatives and Superlatives Straight

Comparing two things? Use er.

Comparing three things? Use est.

 

Comparison Pitfalls

Young/Old

Camilla is the younger of the two sisters. (not “youngest”)

The 1915 Rio is the oldest of our six antique cars. (not “older”)

Irregulars

Just as chameleons change color, irregular comparatives change forms.

Positive         Comparative            Superlative

good               better                          best

bad                 worse                         worst

 

—Doubling Up

Comparative: Use er or “more,” not both:

Gambling is either “riskier” or “more risky” never “more riskier” than Bingo.

 

Superlative: Use est or “most,” not both:

A gazelle is either the “most swift” or the “swiftest” of animals, never “the most swiftest.”

 

—Problem Words

You can’t add er or est to some adjectives, like “fun” or “false.”

Don’t say, My red glasses are “funner.” She had “falser” eyelashes than I did.

 

Please Share

That’s the scoop from the Grammar Patrol. You’ll find more on comparatives and superlatives in our zany Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides. Let us know when you hear bloopers of any kind, especially ones with comparisons. We love hearing from you.

Have a better-than-average day and a most delightful summer!

The Grammar Patrol Explains The Job of Conjunctions: Linking

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

You know the term “ear worm,” right? It’s when a song gets lodged in your brain and plays over and over. We’ve been hearing “Conjunction Junction” while planning this month’s column.

 

Can you bring up the song “Conjunction junction—what’s your function?” in your mind? Good old Schoolhouse Rock. Those of us of a certain age learned all about conjunctions singing those jaunty lyrics.

 

If conjunctions puzzle you, get the inside story for their “link with” meaning:

con = with

junct (and join, jug) = join, meet, link

(Think of some words from this cool root! See sampling at end of post.)

 

Conjunctions are words that link groups of words or parts of sentences.

 

pretzelOn April 26, National Pretzel Day, we can say this:

 

• Doughnuts and croissants are jealous of pretzels.

[conjunction]

 

That little “and” does the job of linking doughnuts with croissants.

Other common conjunctions:

as, because, but, if, or, since, so, than, though, unless, while

 

Since it’s April 26, I’ll celebrate with homemade pretzels.

[conjunction]

 

• The Jolly Green Giant is taller than the Hulk.

[conjunction]

 

Tip: If the Hulk is speaking, he’d say, “The Jolly Green Giant is taller than I.”

(Use I, not me. “Taller than I am” is implied.)

 

There used to be a hard and fast rule about some conjunctions, as in: Don’t start a sentence with “and” or “but.” This rule has relaxed. It’s fine to start occasionally with these conjunctions. Just do it sparingly. (Avoid this usage in formal writing, such as a legal contract or a thesis.)

 

And Jeannie’s prank made the best April Fool’s joke ever.

But who really ate all those pretzels?

(more…)

13 Word Jumbles Writers Can Avoid to Prevent Embarrassing Bloopers

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers. 

 

Man with bucket and cleaning suppliesSpring House Cleaning—Easy Mix-Ups

Time to dust off your grammar and mop up those bloopers. Here’s another baker’s dozen of easily confused word pairs.

 

1. AMONG, BETWEEN

Conventional wisdom used to call for using the preposition “between” with two, and using the preposition “among” with more than two.

• Jake forced me to choose between Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

• Jake forced me to choose among Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli.

This rule is relaxing, but do use “between” in one-to-one or direct relationships. Hint: Use “and,” not “or,” to connect the two words:

• He juggles a balancing act between work and family.

Use “among” when the relationship is less specific, broader.

Among the many descendents of Johann Sebastian Bach, four became musicians.

“Don’t use “amongst” or “whilst” unless you are writing a period piece.

 

2. BOTH, EACH

The words “both” and “each” can be used as adjectives or pronouns.

Use “both” when it applies to two words.

Both Steve Jobs and Donald Duck liked bow ties.

Use “each” as an adjective when it applies to one word.

Each Rose Bowl float is unique.

 

3. BRING, TAKE

Use a “come, go” analogy to help remember these two. “Come” is like “bring.” “Go” is like “take.” Is the action coming toward you?” If so, use “bring.” If the action is away from you, use “take.”

• Please bring me this hot cocoa. (Come to me with the cocoa.)

Take toilet paper to the outhouse. (Go re-supply the outhouse.)

  (more…)

How Kindles can improve your vocabulary with the Dictionary Look-Up Feature

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

JuliaJulia Larson is a freelance copywriter & copyeditor. When she’s not on a quadrilateral device, she’s on her yoga mat, a hike, or a cooking spree.

Fantods. Reglets. Circumorals. Kliegs. Boscages. These are just a sampling of the many vocab words I’ve highlighted in Infinite Jest. How many of us actually go back and look up those difficult words that we encounter — especially during an engrossing read?

Honestly, when reading print books, I’d rarely go back and research those noggin-scratchers. Here’s why my Kindle Paperwhite’s Dictionary Look-up Feature has revolutionized my reading:

1. It’s a (relatively) seamless experience.

When using my Kindle Paperwhite, I hardly interrupt my reading to satisfy my lexical curiosity. Keep in mind that the feature does take a moment to pop up (compared to the speed of current mobile devices).

KindleDictionary2. It’s interactive.

I find that my kinesthetic and visual learning is very happy with the ability to touch the screen and see the dictionary screen pop up. If you’re using a touchscreen eReader, simply holding your finger down on the word brings up the dictionary preview, plus the option to highlight or read the full definition. This interaction still leaves me in awe (and I thought I was dumbstruck by typing into the original Kindle’s dictionary!).

3. It’s highlightable & catalogued.

My favorite part: You simply highlight that word, and you can return to your “Notes” section later and revisit your vocab collection.

You see, when I read from paper books, I’ll wield a pen, either circling the unknown word in the text, or keeping track elsewhere (usually on a sorry scrap of paper-turned-bookmark). Both these methods take much more time & effort.

4. It’s easy to add variety.

You can download all sorts of dictionaries and toggle between different options that you download. One eReader feature I’d like to see is the smart, automatic assignment of one of your dictionaries to each book, or a prompt to download the dictionary that’d best match the era and diction of the text.

5. It’s not bulky.

The eReader is already lightening your book-toting load, and the dictionary (or as many dictionaries as you want to download), add no extra weight or bulk. After all, who has that much room to spare in your backpack, purse, or car for the big Oxford editions that your eReader holds effortlessly?

It’s still our job to do the learning.

Although the dictionary look-up is supremely helpful, most of us probably don’t thoroughly absorb those words we look up (and highlight), except for those fortunate souls with photographic memory. I’ve had some words come to mind when writing (e.g., “simpering”) and have run into them elsewhere, but when it comes to memorizing and utilizing the whole breadth of words I’ve found, I need to be proactive. My belated New Years resolution? To start writing up that bevy of vocab flashcards!

Please share

But before I get started (Note: I didn’t resolve to not procrastinate), I want to ask our readers: What’s your favorite way to solidify and memorize the words you want to add to your vocabulary?

Mispronunciations—Written Words, Spoken Words

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

Have you ever heard someone say “guh NOME” instead of “nome” for the word gnome? We’ve all had those moments.

gnomeHere’s a true tale told by a student from our days teaching a one-day grammar refresher through San Diego State University Extension. An English prof—engaging, funny, full of intriguing information—frequently read aloud to his students. One day, introducing Robert Frost, he read, “ . . . Then for the house that is no more a house/But only a ‘be-lilaced’ cellar hole/. . .”

“Excuse me, sir,” said a guy. “Might ‘belly-laced’ perchance be ‘be-lilaced,’ as in wreathed in lilacs?”

Sometimes when a person misspeaks, it’s cringe-inducing. At a solemn memorial service for a prominent citizen, a grieving friend read a poem about crossing the chasm, but three times pronounced the “ch” in chasm as in chair, rather than saying “KA sm.”

Edith grew up hearing and saying “ascertain,” “sword,” and “colonel” correctly. But when reading these words in books, they sounded in her head like “uh SIR tan,” “sword” with the “w,” and “CAH luh nul,” as in her book, The Little Colonel. To her, these were six words, not three.

Everyone has examples of words they’ve pronounced incorrectly for years.

The state of Illinois is “Il lih NOY,” not “Il lih NOISE.” Hyperbole is “high PER buh lee,” not “HIGH per bowl.” Epitome is “eh PIH tuh mee,” not “EH pih tome.” The Army Corps of Engineers is the “core,” not “corpse” of engineers.

Those who sell houses and properties are “REE uhl ters,” not “REAL uh ters.” There’s no “real” in realtor. Neither is there a “cue” in nuclear. Say, “NU clee er,” not “NU cue ler.” This month is not “FEB you air ee.” Note the “r.” We salute our sweeties on “FEB roo air ee” fourteenth.

Your chic outfit isn’t “chick.” It’s “sheek.” When seeking respite from onerous chores, you look for “RES pit,” not “re SPITE.” That diamond necklace isn’t “JOO la ree.” It’s “JOOL ree.” “Drowned” is just one syllable. “Drown-ded” is egregious.

 

Measurement Words

Take care with measurement words. For height, say, “hite,” not “hithe.” For length, say “lengkth,” not “lenth.” For width, say the “d” in width, not “with.”

Some mispronounced words can be funny. Some people call the famous pie place Marie Colander’s (“COLL enders”—so handy for rinsing pie berries) rather than the correct Marie Callender’s (“CAL enders”).

A radio announcer said, “Let this music of Beethoven envelope you.” She read the word envelop (“en VEH lup”) as “envelope” (“EN veh lope””). Likewise, if you witness a clash of wills, pronounce the word conflict as “CON flict.” But if your views differ from another’s, say “con FLICT.”

Here’s one final example encompassing the whole kit and caboodle of this topic. You “pronounce” or “mispronounce” a word. But the very word mispronunciation is often pronounced wrong! The word “pronounce” does not lurk within. Say, “mis pro nun see A tion.” Both pronunciation and mispronunciation have “nun,” not “noun” in the middle.

May we commend to you The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker by Charles Harrington Elster. It’s funny. It’s thorough. You can even learn from the cover: “There is no . . . ‘berry’ in ‘library,’ no ‘store’ in ‘pastoral,’ no ‘ant’ in ‘defendant,’ no ‘x’ in ‘espresso,’ and no ‘home’ in ‘homicide.’ ”

For a more complete list of commonly mispronounced words, see pp. 157-160 of our More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guide.

ValentinePlease Share

Do send the mispronunciations you grew up with. Happy Valentine’s (not “Valentime’s”) Day! We love to hear from you.

 

Writing Dates and Abbreviations: What are the rules?

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

The Grammar Patrol We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

Dates and Abbreviations

What’s the Date?

 

dreamstime_xs_33388245It’s a brand new year, a good time to review how to write dates. Dates can bring about a comma conundrum.

The Basics

When writing a full date, not just a year in a sentence, follow it with a comma:

• On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela, a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist died.

 

Skip the final comma when listing only the month and year:

• Our North Woods adventure of July 2013 included a tornado, fabulous food, a canoe tipover, but great fishing!

 

And what to do about bothersome add-ons, such as “st,” “nd, “rd, and “th”?

When a date appears after a month, don’t add st, nd, rd, th:

• The wedding was August 12, 2013 (not August 12th, 2013).

 

Only use those add-ons when they precede the month.

• Their wedding was on the 12th of August.

• The fourth season of Downton Abbey premiered in America on January 5.

 

Use no commas when the date comes before the month, as is often the case in writing that’s academic or for the military:

• The scientific findings were published 16 January 2014.

 

Say it Short!

Abbreviations are shortened versions of words. Some—called acronyms—can be pronounced as a word, such as “NATO” for North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” Others—called initialisms—are read letter by letter, such as “AAUW” for American Association of University Women or “IRS,” (yikes!) for Internal Revenue Service.

Use only abbreviations that are easily understood by your readers. The first time you use an abbreviation, write out what it stands for; follow it with the abbreviation in parentheses:

• Edith and Judith belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Our San Diego SCBWI chapter meets monthly.

When a sentence ends with an abbreviation, use only one period:

• Our class read the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. (not King, Jr..).

Abbreviations are used frequently in parenthetical citations, notes, and bibliographies. Use them as little as possible in the body of your writing.

Many abbreviations use periods. Over time, the periods have been dropped from some abbreviations, especially with the names of organizations.

 

Here are some common abbreviations:

a.d. or A.D. (with or without periods) means “in the year of the Lord,” from the Latin anno Domini. The a.d. goes before the year: a.d. 1066.

a.m. or a.m. means “ante meridiem”—before noon. Use a.m. with numerals, not words:

• 4:45 a.m. (not four forty-five a.m.)

TIP: Use words, not numerals, with the word “o’clock”:

six o’clock (not 6 o’clock)

b.c. or B.C. means “before Christ.” In naming a specific year, the b.c. goes after the year: 274 b.c.

e.g. from the Latin exempli gratia (“for the sake of example”). It means “for example.” After “e.g.,” list your specific examples. Put a comma before and a comma or colon after the abbreviation e.g.:

• Bring one clown prop, e.g., rubber nose, huge shoes, squirting flower.

etc. from the Latin et cetera, meaning “and so forth.” Since “et” means “and,” don’t write “and etc.” Don’t use “etc.” after a series that begins with “such as.”

ibid. (pronounced “IH bid”) The abbreviation ibid. means “in the same book or passage.” From a bibliography:

Conroy Pat, The Water Is Wide, New York: Bantam Books, page 43.

Ibid., page 87. [This cites The Water Is Wide, but a different page number.]

i.e. from the Latin id est, means “that is.” This abbreviation explains. Put a comma before and a comma or a colon after i.e.

• The 30-meter three-legged dash was the penultimate race, i.e., the second to last.

p., pp. The abbreviation “p.” stands for “page”; “pp.” stands for “pages.” Use only in citations, notes, and bibliographies. Don’t use “pg.” or “pgs.,” even if your word processor tries to insist.

p.m. or p.m. means “post meridiem”—after noon.

PS stands for postscript. (Note: Use no periods.) Use it for an additional thought at the end of a letter.

• PS Your birthday present’s in the mail.

vs. or vs The abbreviation “vs.” stands for “versus”: Bruins vs. Trojans. But in most cases, use the word versus, rather than the abbreviation. (In the language of law, a single “v.” is used for “versus”: Brown v. the Board of Education.)

For more about dates and abbreviations, see pp. 9–12 of More Nitty-Gritty Grammar or pp. 86–87 of Nitty-Gritty Grammar.

That’s the long and short of it. Stay tuned for another grammar grabber—this one on mispronunciations—in February.

Uh-Oh! A Year-End Grammar Pop Quiz!

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

The Grammar Patrol We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

Heads up! Sharpen those number two pencils. Time for a pop quiz covering previous Grammar Patrol columns.

popquiz

Puzzled? Click on the links to our 2013 blog posts with more info for each question.

Can you spot the errors in these sentences in less than a minute?

On your mark. Get set. Go!

1. Felix was the man who Oscar called.

Who or Whom? A Writer’s Dilemma

2. Your help means a lot to my friend and I.

Put Out a BOLO [Be on the Lookout] on Pronoun Agreement

3. My favorite show is “The Big Bang Theory.”

The Italics vs. Quotes Debate

4. Sign: Holiday Wreath’s, $10

Apostrophes: Flowers or Weeds?

5. Magazine Cover: Let the Caribbean Peak your Interest.

Going on Blooper Patrol

6. “I feel nauseous,” said LaVon, who overindulged on Thanksgiving.

A Baker’s Dozen of Word Switcheroos

7. A musician must practice their instrument.

Put out a Bolo [Be on the Lookout] on Pronoun Agreement

8. My sweet Jonathan can be a rebel rouser.

Idioms, Malapropisms and Other Funny Expressions

9. Romeo’s and Juliet’s romance was doomed.

Apostrophes: Flowers or Weeds?

10. Who made this song famous—“Hello Dolly?”

Quotation Mark Questions? Think Symphony Orchestra.

11. Galloping around the corner, the castle loomed on the hill.

Dangling Participial Phrases Can Cause Confusion

12. Luella was on a journey of self discovery to become more well-rounded.”

Hyphens: Part I and II

How did you do? (You’re not being graded!)

Here are the fixes for these common errors:

1. whom  2. me  3. Big Bang Theory (italicized)  4. wreaths  5. Pique (Tip: Check out peek, peak, pique.)  6. nauseated  7. his or her, depending on musician’s gender.  8. rabble  9. Romeo and Juliet’s  10. Dolly”? (Louis Armstrong)  11. A galloping castle? Rewrite: “. . . corner, I saw the castle looming. . .”  12. self-discovery, well rounded.

 

Win More Nitty Gritty Grammar

Good holidays to you all from the Grammar Patrol! For much, much more on these sticky wickets, see our in-depth A-Z grammar guide, More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. Rumor has it that Santa calls it a great stocking stuffer.

To win a free copy of More Nitty Grammar, enter the raffle by posting your quiz score  and listing the questions you missed in the comments section. If you earned 100%, post your score and a grammar blog post suggestion for 2014. Everyone will be entered and the winning number will be selected randomly by the Grammar Patrol. Entries due by Saturday, December 14. Winner will be contacted directly and announced on Tuesday, December 17.

Happy Holidays!

Hyphens, Part II: Pick Up (Not Pick-Up) More Tips!

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

In October, we covered some hyphen basics. This month, more hyphen tips.

More Hyphen Uses

green pick-up truck

With the names of compound numbers from 21–99 and written fractions:

thirty-three                           eighty-seventh          five-eighths

six and two-thirds                fifty-four and three-fourths

 

• With numbers showing age or time:

ten-year-old spelling champ                      18- to 22-year-old undergraduates

two- to three-year period                            a 47-year marriage

 

• with highways and to designate aircraft:

I-805                F-16

 

Hyphens with Verbs, Nouns, Adjectives

•  If you’re thinking “action,” skip the hyphen. Make most compound verbs two words.

Back up your computer documents.

Pick up your room.

• Link the words in compound nouns and adjectives, either as a single word or with a hyphen.

Take this offramp [noun] for the off-road [adjective] rally.

You can borrow my pickup [noun] to haul the manure.

Provide backup [noun] for the back-up [adjective] team.

(While most dictionaries list the noun backup as a single word, a few recognize back-up. Just don’t use the two-word verb “back up” when you mean the noun. Write “The spy called for backup” (or back-up), not “The spy called for back up.

(You’ll find more on two-word verbs like these, called phrasal verbs, in More Nitty-Gritty Grammar, page 131, including a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon!)

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