LABELS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, possessives, QUASI POSSESSIVES
Possessives shouldn’t be difficult. In many languages, they’re not. In French, for example, to talk about the car belonging to Robert, you just say “the car of Robert”: la voiture de Robert. Spanish works the same way, with “de,” meaning “of”: el auto de Robert.
English isn’t as fond of simple formulas. We rarely use “of” to show possession. Far more often we use an apostrophe plus an S. It sounds simple, but in practice it’s anything but.
For example, when you’re talking about two phones on the table, one belonging to Beth and one belonging to Sam, are they Beth and Sam’s phones, or Beth’s and Sam’s phones?
Why do expressions like “three years’ experience” take an apostrophe?
If two attorneys general are on the same case, whose case is it?
Why is “whose” possessive while “who’s” is not?
And how do you show it when two passersby share ownership of something?
LABELS: GRAMMAR, NEVER MIND / NEVERMIND, UNDERWAY / UNDER WAY
No matter how many years I work as an editor, no matter how much advice I dole out in this column, some words will always scare me.
Perhaps it’s because they came to my attention early in my editing career, when I cowered at the base of a steep learning curve wondering how I’d ever scale it. Or perhaps it’s because these words are just hard.
Behold: “underway.” Is it one word? Is it two? Do you hyphenate it as an adjective? Or do you just need an advanced understanding of adverbs to master it?
The answer (and this is why it still unnerves me) is: all of the above. Here's my recent column on "underway/under way," "one-time/onetime" and some other terms that still befuddle.
LABELS: GRAMMAR, WRITING, WRITING TIPS
Good grammar is important for good writing. But to be honest, that’s usually the easy part.
Avoiding subject-verb agreement errors such as “I goes” and pronoun case errors like “Me want” isn’t exactly difficult. Good basic grammar is usually a no-brainer, but good writing is another matter.
LABELS: ADVERBS, GOOD AND WELL, GRAMMAR, GREAT AND WELL, GREATLY
Ned in Albany had a question about the phrase, used in this column, “that works out great.” He asked, “Isn’t ‘great’ an adjective and what’s it modifying here? Shouldn’t it be ‘well’ in uncorrupted English?”
Well, no. Adverbs are subtler beasts than most of us are taught. We tend to think of them offshoots of adjectives. “Quick” is an adjective whose job is to modify a noun. “Quickly” is its adverb equivalent and its job is to modify verbs.
Often, that works like a formula. Add “ly” to an adjective and you have an adverb. But not always. If you’re fast at typing, you don’t type fastly. If you’re right about how to cut a pineapple, you don’t cut it rightly. If you wear ugly clothes, you don’t dress uglyly.
Here's my recent column about mastering the complexities of adverbs.