Spacing After Terminal Punctuation
Posted by June on March 23, 2015
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Did you know that you're never supposed to double-space between sentences? Most people don't. Almost daily, I see writers putting two spaces after every period -- half of which an editor will have to delete.

Why do people do this? Because once upon a time, long before anyone ever heard the term "word processing," it was correct to double space between sentences. It was logical, too. Back then, typewriters typed in what was called "monospace." The same amount of space was allotted for each character.  A capital W got as much room as a tiny little period. Picture that and you can see how much it would help to double space. With just a single space after it, a period looked almost as though it were floating between words. So it just made more sense to always put a double space after any terminal punctuation mark, including question marks and exclamation points.

But that was a long time ago. In the interim, word processing programs starting spacing letters in a more visually appealing way. Eventually, book publishers, periodicals, editing styles and even academic writing rules have came to the nearly unanimous conclusion that there should be just one space after each sentence.

If you've developed the bad habit of double spacing between sentences -- or if you worry you might have -- don't forget how helpful search and replace functions can be. In Microsoft Word, for example, you can just type period-space-space into the "search" field and "period-space" into the replace field and the computer will find and clean up every one at once, or let you approve each change individually.

 

'Log Onto' or 'Log On To'? Prepositions with Phrasal Verbs
Posted by June on March 16, 2015
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Would you write about how you log "onto" the Internet? Or would you make that log "on to”?

It seems that most people prefer the first one, which makes sense in a way because “onto” is the offspring of “on” and “to” – as if they just sort of melded into one word anytime they appear next to each other.

But it’s not always that simple. And to know whether you need “onto” or “on to,” or for that matter “into” or “in to,” you need to know about phrasal verbs.

Phrasal verbs are verbs composed of more than one word: throw up, shrug off, speak up, go on, make up, and many more. The first word is usually a regular verb and the second is often a preposition, though sometimes it can be more than one preposition, as in put up with.

They’re different from other verb-preposition combos – speak to, compare with, throw at, etc. – for one very important reason: the preposition doesn’t just work with the verb. It actually changes it. For example: “speak to” vs. “speak up.” The latter has an entirely different meaning. The preposition "up" actually changed the verb in a way that “to” could not.

So "speak up" is a phrasal verb. And that’s the key to understanding “log on” and “log in,” both of which are also phrasal verbs. To “log” would mean something different without the preposition. That’s why, in my view, “log on to” is superior to “log onto” and “log in to” is better than “log into.” The first preposition is actually part of the verb, so it's not like some other generic preposition that can be melded into another in "onto" and "into."

Of course we can also question whether “log onto” and “log into” are phrasal verbs in their own right. That’s not quite as clear – it’s determined by usage plus time, really. So time may tell. But for now, logging on is something you do and you may or may not being doing it "to" something else.

A Reminder About 'Led' and 'Lead'
Posted by June on March 9, 2015
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Here's a reminder we could probably all use: the word "lead" is always trying to squeeze in where you want "led." In fact, almost any time you are talking about leading in the past tense, it's good to take note of your verbs.

Here's why "led" is so tricky. It's the past tense of the verb "lead," which rhymes with "read," but which happens to have a homograph that's a metal, "lead," which rhymes with "head." (If you are, at the moment, experiencing a rush of sympathy for people from other countries who are trying to learn English, you're not alone.)

So it's no surprise that one of the most common mistakes I see comes in sentences like, "The tour guide, a charming man named Raul, lead us through miles of rainforest."

Nope. That should be "led us through" because the past tense of the verb "lead" is "led": today I lead the meeting, yesterday I led the meeting.

I would estimate that writers -- native English speakers -- get this wrong close to half the time. And it's not because they don't know better. It's because this past tense form, which sounds like a noun that looks like its own root verb, is perfect for tripping you up.

A Sign of 'The Times'
Posted by June on March 2, 2015
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Sometimes it seems like a good chunk of my day is spent lowercasing the T in the word “The.”

In Las Vegas articles and marketing pieces, I lowercase it in “the Strip.” In articles about shopping centers I might lowercase it in “the Forum Shops.” Whenever there’s mention of “the New Yorker,” “the New Republic” or “the Atlantic,” down it goes.

Why? Because that’s the style at the Los Angeles Times. Specifically, the style rule is this: Whenever a proper noun that begins with the word “The” appears in running text, lowercase the t for aesthetic reasons.  And when you spend some time looking at the alternatives, you can see the logic in this. In uppercase, all those Ts would look self-conscious and obtrusive. They really do interrupt the visual flow of the text.

The companies being mentioned, of course, don’t like this one bit. We’re “The” Cosmopolitan or “The” Forum Shops, they'd insist. They’re all about brands and trademarks and property, after all. But they can’t dictate how other people capitalize their names, so newspapers like the Los Angeles Times are free to make decisions that they believe put readers first, lowercasing “the” in order to make the passage more visually palatable.

I’m all for that, barring one little bit of irony. The newspaper does make an exception: There’s one name that does, in Times style, always use a capital T in "The." And that name is ... you guessed it: The Times. Not the New York Times, mind you. In the Los Angeles Times, the East Coast paper would be “the Times” (though because that would be confusing their whole name is usually spelled out). Only when it’s a reference to the Los Angeles Times does The Times start with a capital T.

So in running text, it's the Forum Shops, the Standard, the Anythingyoucanthinkof, but The Times.