August 19, 2019

We all have our peeves (even when we know we shouldn't)

TOPICS: , , ,

 

Early on I got it in my head that you should never use "there's" before a plural. "There's," is a contraction of "there is," which has a singular verb. There is milk in the fridge.

For something plural you'd use "there are": There are strawberries in the fridge.

But does that mean it's wrong to say "there's strawberries"? How about if we put a singular-sounding modifier in there like "a lot": There's a lot of strawberries?

"There's" before a plural isn't wrong. Yet it's one of those peeves that I still can't shake, even though I know it's not an error. Others include "chaise lounge," "chomping at the bit," "beg the question" and "hone in on" — all of which I discuss more fully in this recent column.

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

August 12, 2019

Some subject-verb agreement errors are trickier than others

TOPICS: , , ,

 

Many of the grammar mistakes people warn you about are sheer fiction.

The old “Don’t split an infinitive” is the quintessential example. Putting an adverb like “boldly” after the particle “to” but before the base verb “go” is not an error, contrary to what anyone will tell you. That means you’re able to boldly go there anytime you see fit.

But some grammar mistakes are all too real and, in some cases, easy to make — even for people who know their stuff. Topping the list of easy-to-make grammar mistakes are verb-agreement errors. And topping the list of easy-to-make verb-agreement errors are what are called relative-pronoun-antecedent-agreement errors.

Take, for example, this sentence that came up in my editing this week. “She’s one of the nurse practitioners who oversees the clinic. “That’s a mistake. Contrary to every instinct that might tell you that “who” goes with “oversees,” in this sentence it should be “oversee.” Here, in my recent column, I show you how to handle these.

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

August 5, 2019

So you want to sound proper ...?

TOPICS: , ,

Proper English isn’t correct English. At least, it’s not the only correct English in town. It’s more like a flavor. Or a style.

It’s the type of English used in academic and literary as well as professional and diplomatic circles. An ambassador hosting a foreign emissary would never say, “Tell me you ain’t leaving so soon.”

Sticklers spend a lot of time telling people that informal English is incorrect English. That’s why people like me spend a lot of time pointing out that terms like “ain’t” aren’t wrong.

You can use them if you want to. But we seldom get around to asking the next logical question: Do you want to? Even people who understand that less-formal English is as correct as the proper kind still might like to master the proper kind. It’s nice to know how, even if you know it’s not necessary.

Here's how proper types say to handle a range of terms, including "whom," "lay" and "lie," "between" and "among," and "anxious" and "eager."

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

July 29, 2019

Should you put a period after the exclamation point in Yahoo!?

TOPICS: ,

 

I was editing a business proposal for a company that has an exclamation point at the end of its name, like Yahoo! but it’s not Yahoo! The company name came up multiple times in the document, sometimes at the end of a sentence.

In those instances, the writer followed the name with a period: Yahoo!.

Should the period be there? I asked some editors on social media. The answers I got were surprising and, at the same time, not at all surprising. Here's what I found out.

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

July 22, 2019

Rules for hyphens, commas change with new style guides

TOPICS: , , , ,

 

You may not have noticed, but your world just got less hyphenated. There are fewer commas, too.

That’s because changes to the country’s two most influential style books lean lighter on those punctuation marks, but only in certain, very specific circumstances.

Take, for example, the following AP style rule change: Hyphen not needed for “pre” or “re” before an e. Hyphenation rules break down into different categories. For nouns, like “passer-by” and verbs like “mass-produce,” you can just go with whatever your dictionary says. For compound adjectives you make up yourself, like a “hyphen-obsessed editor,” the longstanding rule has been to add your own hyphen if it helps.

Here in my recent column are some more of the new punctuation rules influencing what you read and, if you like, what you write too.

 

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

July 15, 2019

'Email' Sans Hyphen Takes Another Leap Forward

TOPICS: , ,

The hyphen has been steadily fading from “e-mail” for years. The Associated Press Stylebook, which since the technology’s earliest days explicitly called for “e-mail,” abandoned the hyphen about a decade ago.

Everyday users, in my anecdotal experience, ditched the hyphen even earlier.

AP’s counterpart in the book-publishing world, the Chicago Manual of Style, has been the holdout.

As the rest of the world slid toward “email,” this influential guide stood firm. It’s e-mail, Chicago insisted. Hyphen included.

Those days are over. In its most recent edition, Chicago finally changed its position. “Email” is now its official recommendation.

You don’t have to follow their rule or AP’s. Many dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate and Webster’s New World, allow “e-mail” as an alternative to “email.” So you can write “e-mail” if you want to. But you won’t. Together, AP and Chicago govern the vast majority of your reading material, with AP style observed by most news media and Chicago style by most book and magazine publishers.

But anyone who holds firm on “e-mail” will be swimming against the tide. Here’s my recent column explaining why.

 

 

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

July 8, 2019

Serial commas can cause confusion, too

TOPICS: , , ,

“It was a typical Friday night at Costco in Corona. Customers, including an off-duty Los Angeles police officer, 32-year-old Kenneth French and his parents, waited in line for food samples.”

How many people are mentioned in this excerpt from a real Instagram post about a Los Angeles Times story? And, more interesting, could commas help answer that question?

Don’t ask a serial comma fan. You won’t get an unbiased answer. Instead, you’ll hear, “There should absolutely be a serial comma after the name Kenneth French. That’s why serial commas are great. They eliminate confusion.”

But I, a serial comma agnostic, see it a little differently. In some cases, serial commas eliminate confusion. In other cases, they cause it. I explain in this recent column.

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

July 1, 2019

What's old in the AP Stylebook's 'What's new" section

TOPICS: , ,

I got my 2019 Associated Press Stylebook in the mail the other day and, as I suspect most editors do, I turned immediately to the “What’s new?” section up front.

This handy reference tells you at a glance what’s changed since the last AP guide. Some changes deal with broad language issues, like an entry in this year’s guide for “Medicare for All,” with a capital M and a capital A.

Other changes don’t hold much interest to anyone but editors, like a 2019 change that says we should stop spelling out “percent” when it comes after a number and just use the symbol: 20%.

Still other changes are downright adorable, like how, this year, AP decided to warn editors that “Santa Claus” and “Santa” are both “nice,” but using “Claus” on second reference is “naughty.”

However, this year, “What’s new?” got me thinking in reverse. I wondered: What’s old in “What’s new?” That is, what was new in previous editions of AP’s style guide and have those changes stood the test of time?

To find out, I headed to my bookshelf, where I have an incomplete collection of AP Stylebooks past. Here’s some of what was new in newspaper editing when these guides came out.

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

June 24, 2019

Time to talk y'all

TOPICS: ,

 

Mike in Newport Beach writes: “Recently, while my wife was watching Chip and Johanna’s show, ‘Fixer Upper,’ on HGTV, I noticed on the closed captions a translation of Chip’s speech. He’s from Waco, Texas, and commonly uses the contraction ‘y’all.’ My Southern friends say that the word ‘y’all’ is totally acceptable if you live south of Virginia and east of El Paso, Texas. I was fascinated when Chip used the contraction ‘y’all’s’ and it appeared on the closed caption, with two apostrophes right in print. Questions: 1. Is y’all acceptable English? 2. Is y’all’s a word?”

Here's how I answered.

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries

June 10, 2019

Dreyer's 'Nonrules' You Can Ignore

TOPICS: , ,

 

They say that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on. The source of this pithy saying is a perfect example: It’s usually attributed to Mark Twain, though the New York Times reports it was most likely Jonathan Swift.

But we need an equally pithy saying for what happens next: The lie colonizes the world and decrees that under no circumstances should the truth be granted a visa for entry.

That’s how grammar myths work — especially the grammar myths that were all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s.

These misguided “rules” traveled around the world at lightning speed, carried on the tongues of folks who love to say, “You can’t split an infinitive” and “You can’t start a sentence with ‘and.’” And despite the efforts of many language experts determined to set the record straight, the lies linger.

In his best-selling new book, “Dreyer’s English,” Penguin Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer delivers these “nonrules” the bludgeoning they deserve.

Could his be the final death blow to these superstitions? We can only hope. Here are Dreyer’s “nonrules” and why you can, with his blessing, ignore them entirely.

 

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • DOWNLOAD MP3
  • PODCAST
  • Share
    SHARE
« Older Entries