May 21, 2018

Nominalizations

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"The walking of the dog is an activity that Naomi enjoys."

What's wrong with this sentence? Grammatically, nothing. Yet it's still bad writing because it turns an action, walking the dog, into an abstraction represented by a noun. Most of the time, verbs are more interesting as actions than they are in noun forms, known as nominalizations. Here's what you need to know.

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May 14, 2018

Semicolons in Series

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Most of the time, semicolons are a obnoxious. But sometimes they're indispensable. When you have no choice but to list unwieldy items in the same sentence, that's when semicolons are your friend. Here's how to use them right.

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May 7, 2018

Know Your Dictionary

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“Must you say “I have gotten” or can you say “I have got”? Is it “She hanged the picture on the wall” or “She hung the picture on the wall”? Why can you turn smart into smarter but you can’t turn intelligent into intelligenter. How many hyphens are in the sentence “A water skier water-skis on water skis”? (Spoiler: It’s not three.) What’s the plural of “medium”? When you need a pickup truck to pick up something, are both instances of pickup written the same way? Should there be a hyphen in “communitywide” The answers to all these seemingly baffling questions and more are in your dictionary. Here’s how to find them.

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April 30, 2018

Some Easily Confused Words

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Easily confused words come in two varieties: basic and advanced. The basic ones — terms like affect and effect and site, sight, and cite, and alter and altar — you're more likely to know. But it's more embarrassing if you don't.

Here are some easily confused words worth a quick refresher.

 

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April 23, 2018

Proofreading Tips and Strategies

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Everyone makes mistakes. Even people who know better. No matter how much you know about language, you're never immune from typos. Here are some strategies for proofreading to help you catch every one.

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April 16, 2018

Could Care Less

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There are two kinds of people in the world: people who say could care less and people driven nuts that the other folks aren't saying couldn't care less. Both can benefit from an overview of the topic.

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April 9, 2018

Home In On vs Home In On

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The original expression is "to home in on," a reference to homing pigeons. But "to hone in on" has become widely used, too, perhaps because "to hone," meaning to sharpen or refine, seems similar to the idea of homing in on something. Technically, you can use either. But "home in on" is considered proper form. Here's the full story.

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April 2, 2018

Do You Know About the En Dash?

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A hyphen is a short mark that connects words, as in a "good-looking car." An em dash, which most people think of as a dash, separates thoughts and indicates a change of sentence structure — this is an example. But there's also something called an en dash, which is longer than a hyphen but shorter than an em dash.  It's nonexistent in AP style but an important part of Chicago style, where it works like a comma on steroids, connecting things like numbers with prefixes, as in pre–1950. Here's what you need to know.

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March 26, 2018

Copular Verbs and Their Complements

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Grammatically speaking, what's the difference between Joe saw the CEO and Joe is the CEO? Here's a hint: That difference is also reflected in He sings badly and She feels bad.

If you don't know about copular verbs, also called linking verbs, you should. These verbs of being, seeming, becoming, appearing, or the five senses refer back to the subject. And because the subject is a noun phrase, these copular verbs are followed by an adjective instead of an adverb, which is why Ice cream tastes good and not well. Here's a more thorough explanation. 

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March 19, 2018

Indirect Objects and Indirect Object Pronouns

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What's the difference between: I sent a letter to Joe and I sent Joe a letter?

They mean the same thing. Yet the first example has a prepositional phrase, "to Joe," that's replaced in the second example with something called an indirect object. Here's everything you need to know about indirect objects.

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