What's a declarative question?
Posted by June on October 26, 2020
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Simple, declarative questions — that’s the best way to get answers from a Supreme Court nominee, a news commentator insisted recently. Just ask declarative questions.

I scoffed and filed the term in the corner of my mind home to “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence.” An oxymoron. A contradiction in terms. Nonsense.

But now, after doing a little research, I know better. “Declarative question” is neither nonsensical nor a contradiction in terms. Instead, it’s a mashup of two basic concepts: declarative and interrogative sentences.

All sentences come in one of four forms: declarative, interrogative, imperative or exclamatory.

A declarative sentence is a simple statement: You eat gluten.

An interrogative sentence is a question: Do you eat gluten?

An imperative sentence is a command: Eat gluten!

An exclamatory sentence is an exclamation: Gluten!

So if a declarative is a statement and an interrogative is a question, what's a declarative question? The answer is in my recent column.

'Every day' vs. 'everyday'
Posted by June on October 19, 2020

A while back, I saw written on a truck something like, “Delivering the best to you everyday.” I see that use of “everyday” a lot, which is unfortunate. The two-word version, “every day,” would have been a better choice.

According to a number of dictionaries, including Webster’s New World, the one-word “everyday” is an adjective. Adjectives modify nouns. “We offer everyday values.” Here, the one-word version is correct because it’s doing what an adjective should do -- modifying a noun.

But the message on the delivery truck didn’t call for an adjective. Try plugging in a different adjective, for example, “great,” in the example sentences above. You end up with “Delivering the best to you great.” If that were truly a sentence that called for an adjective, “great” would have worked fine, as it does in “We offer great values.”

So you can see that this usage actually calls for an adverb.

Adverbs answer the question when? where? or in what manner? The passage “Delivering the best to you every day” calls for an adverb because it needs something to answer the question “when?”

“Every day” is a noun phrase. It consists of a noun, “day,” and an adjective modifying it. Together, they work as a single unit in our example to function as an adverb: Delivering the best to you every day.

If that's more than you care to take in right now, just remember that the one-word “everyday” is an adjective and you’ll never have to worry about bloggers pointing out mistakes on your delivery truck.

Lead, sneak peak, reign, eek and other words even smart people get wrong
Posted by June on October 12, 2020

In our tricky language, certain words are out to trick you. Sometimes, they succeed. It doesn’t matter how grammar-savvy you are or how many degrees you have in English lit. Some misused words can and will pop up in your writing. Vigilance won’t save you, but it can help. So watch out for these seven words that even smart people get wrong.

Lead. You may know all about the verb “to lead.” You may know that in the present tense it has an “a” but in the past tense it doesn’t: “He led them astray.” That knowledge is worthless if you let your guard down. The metal, “lead,” is lurking in your subconscious waiting to ambush your sentence. It’s spelled just like the verb’s present tense, but it’s pronounced just like the verb’s past tense. That’s why so many people who know better use the wrong form, as in “He lead me astray.” That should be “led.”

Sneak peak. In any other context, “peak” isn’t a problem. Most people know not to say, “I peaked out the window.” But, true to its name, “sneak” is trying to pull a fast one here. The human brain has a thing for patterns — and shortcuts. So when we see with our eye the spelling s-n-e-a-k and we hear in our mind the “eek,” our brain goes on autopilot and repeats the spelling at served us so well in our last “eek” sound, causing us to write “peak” instead of the correct “peek.”

Five more are here in my recent column.

Media outlets flub the past tense of 'lie'
Posted by June on October 5, 2020
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When plans were announced for late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lie in state at the Capitol, no one seemed to struggle with the verb. But after the fact, editors and social media managers stumbled.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s trainer of 21 years, Bryant Johnson, paid tribute to her with a set of push-ups as she laid in state at the Capitol on Friday,” National Public Radio announced in a Facebook post.

NBC News tweeted: “The flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lied in state at the US Capitol.”

For news folks, those are bad errors. Unlike casual users who have a lot of leeway in how they use “lay” and “lie,” news agencies are supposed to follow the strict guidelines for these words.

Present and future tenses don’t seem to cause too much confusion, but past tense forms trip people up — even pros. So for anyone who wants to master “lay” and “lie,” here’s my recent column offering a refresher.