How to Use a Colon: The Basics
Posted by June on March 18, 2019


The colon has a couple of different jobs, all of which can be explained in these broad terms: A colon introduces something. Sometimes, the idea is just to tell the reader, “Here you go. Here’s that thing or things I wanted to tell you about.” But to master their use, you need a deeper understanding of the basics plus a few advanced insights. For example, in Associated Press Style, you use a lowercase letter after a colon unless the stuff that follows is a complete sentence. But in Chicago style, you use a lowercase letter after a colon unless the stuff that follows is two or more complete sentences.

Another fine point about colons that a lot of people miss: Don't use one after the word "including" or to introduce objects of a verb. That is, in "Bruce likes apples, oranges and pears," no colon follows the word "likes." And though that's pretty clear in a short sentence like this, longer sentences make this fact harder to keep a grasp on. Here's my recent column covering everything you need to know about colons.

Some Things You Just Gotta Know
Posted by June on March 11, 2019


Years ago, I worked for a team of editors who hired someone from another department in the company. It became clear pretty quickly that the newly minted editor was out of his element — not the born wordsmith his colleagues were.

Like those other editors, he would send me, the copy editor, an email to tell me when an article was waiting to be reviewed in a shared computer folder.
But, whereas the others would tell me there was a story waiting for me in the queue, he would report he’d sent me something in the “cue.”

Some things you’ve just got to know. If you’ve heard the expression “eek out a living,” you’re not going to check your dictionary to see if that’s a valid definition of “eek.” Only by having read and noted, either consciously or subconsciously, that the correct term is “eke out a living,” would you understand that “eek” is an error.

My recent column looks at some other things that, as I’ve learned in my editing career, you’ve just got to know: ordnance, till, sleight and why you shouldn’t use a serial comma before an ampersand even if you use a serial comma before “and.”

Happy National Grammar Day!
Posted by June on March 4, 2019


Monday, March 4, is National Grammar Day.

The holiday was started 11 years ago by author, super-mom, and all-around cool person Martha Brockenbrough, Founder of Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, Brockenbrough started the holiday 11 years ago as a way to help people focus on grammar learning. Organizations like ACES, the American Copy Editors Society, come up with creative ways to celebrate every year, like these fun punctuation cookies ACES aces showed off last year.

My personal recommendation on how to spend the holiday: Spend a little time thumbing through the front matter of a dictionary — especially the "How to Use This Dictionary" stuff. It helps you unlock mysteries like, for example, whether you can use "graduate" as a transitive verb or whether it needs a preposition "from" to connect it to an object.

Another way to celebrate: Check out Saturday Evening Post copy editor Andy Hollandbeck's post: Celebrate National Grammar Day by Not Being an Insufferable Know-It-All.


Do You Know About Nominalizations?
Posted by June on February 25, 2019


Here's a terrible sentence:  "The delaying of the closing of the stores until 10 p.m., which was a decision of the CEO, enables the staff to have greater productivity and the company to have greater profitability."

If you wanted to make this better, it helps if you know the term "nominalization."

A nominalization — or buried verb — is a noun rooted in another part of speech, usually a verb or an adjective.

The adjective "happy" has the corresponding noun form "happiness." The verb "delay" has the corresponding noun forms "delay" and "delaying." The verb "change" has the corresponding noun form "change." For example, in "I changed my hairstyle," change is a verb, but in "I made a change to my hairstyle," it's a noun.

So you can see that some nominalizations are formed by adding a suffix like "ness" or "ing." Other times they're identical with their verb forms. What makes them nouns is how they're used in the sentence.

Of course, not every word derived from a verb that ends in "ing" is a nominalization. Again, it depends how it's used in a sentence. In "I am painting my house," the -ing form is functioning as a verb, so it's not a nominalization.

In "I took a painting class," the -ing form is functioning as an adjective. But in "Painting is fun," it's working as a noun: Painting is actually the subject of the true verb "is." So this is a nominalization. In fact, this particular kind of nominalization has its own name. It's called a gerund, which means any "-ing" form of a verb doing the job of a noun.

Nominalizations are serious problems for some writers. If you accept the principle that the best writing uses vivid subjects and lively verbs (as most professional writers and editors do), you can see how nominalizations can hurt your writing. Here's a column on how to best deal with nominalizations.