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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Part II: 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to

In my blog post yesterday, March 15, I commented on six of the rules that author Ben Yagoda wrote about in "7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to." Since that blog entry had gotten long, I saved for this post my comments on Yagoda's seventh item: Words.

I agree with Yagoda that "the meaning of words inevitably and perennially change." And I recommend heeding his warning about using words and phrases with a meaning "that has not been widely accepted." 

Here's additional advice from Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual on meanings of words that Yagoda says "aren't quite ready for prime time":
begs the question Often misused or confused. Use this cliche only when you're questioning the logic of another statement--that it assumes as true the very point someone is trying to prove. This statement, for example, begs the question: We had to attack first to prevent him from attacking us. Don't use begs the question to suggest that someone is evading an issue or raising another question. But reduce confusion by avoiding the phrase. Instead, explain why you question the logic. [Yagoda suggests using raises the question, instead.]
criteria, criterion Often confused. As the plural form of criterioncriteria is a plural noun that takes plural verbs and pronouns: The criteria are listed on the board; we will use them to test the product. Don't use the criteria isCriterion is a singular noun that takes singular verbs and pronouns: One criterion is ease of maintenance; it is first priority for mechanics.
phenomena, phenomenon You might notice a single phenomenon while waiting at a bus stop, but if you use that stop often enough, you could see two or more or many phenomena. Correct usage: this phenomenon (singular form), these phenomena (plural form). Phenomenons (plural) is used informally when describing two or more people with extraordinary talents and qualities, each a phenomenon.
cliche [Yagoda advises against using cliche as an adjective; use cliched instead. My manual provides other advice.] William Safire, Fumblerules, 1990: "Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague." And if you must use a cliche, don't put quotation marks around it.
compose, comprise, include Compose is not synonymous with compriseCompose means to create or put together: The division is composed of six sections. Compose takes of, but comprise never does.  [Yagoda focuses on the misuse of comprised of and suggests composed of and made up of as correct alternatives.]
Comprise means to contain, consist of or embrace. The whole comprises the parts. Use it in the active voice and name all the parts that make up the whole after the verb: The division comprises six sections. The zoo comprises mammals, reptiles and birds. Don't use comprised of. Think about using simpler consist(s) of or contain(s).
Use include when what follows is only part of the whole: city government includes the Parks and Human Services departments.
fewer, less Fewer (or few) stresses number, and less stresses degree or quantity. Use fewer for plural nouns and individual items that can be counted, less for singular nouns and a bulk, amount, sum, period of time or idea that is measured in other ways: Fewer than 10 applicants called. I had less than $50 in my pocket. Fewer dollars, less money. Less food, fewer calories
penultimate A useful word for confusing your readers, if not yourself. It means "next to last," but if you mean "next to last," simplify and use next to last. It does not mean "the best, the last, the ultimate," or "the quintessential." If you mean one of those words, use one of those words or a simple phrase like the very last or the perfect example[Yagoda suggests ultimate as the correct alternative, if that's what you mean.] 
ultimate, ultimately Overstated. Simplify. Try most, final, last, best, crowning, perfect, supreme or eventual for ultimate and at last, in the end, finally, lastly or eventually for ultimately.
lead, led Often confused and misspelled. Pronounced as "led" (like "head"), lead is a noun for the marking substance in a pencil and the metal a pipe may be made of. But pronounced as "leed" (like "heed"), lead is both a noun and a verb with the broad meaning of "being in front or in charge": She will lead the investigation. His favorite horse has taken the lead in the race. The reporter quickly wrote a lead for the article. 
Led, pronounced as it's spelled (like "head"), is the past tense of the verb leadShe led the investigation. Don't confuse spelling and pronunciation of lead with verb forms of read. It follows different rules. [Yagoda notes led is the correct past tense of to lead.]
its, it's Often confused or misspelled. Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it, meaning "belonging to it." The possessive its never takes an apostrophe: Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was white as snow. It's is a contraction that means "it is" and sometimes "it has."
The contraction always takes an apostrophe: It's a beautiful day. It's gotten out of hand. If you often mix up these words, consider using only it is or it has and its; drop it's. Finally, use its' only when you're trying to show poor spelling skills or confuse your readers. It's not a word, and no one will know its meaning.
your, you're Often confused or misspelled. And computer spellcheckers won't catch the mistaken substitution of one of these homonyms for the other. Your is the possessive form of the pronoun you, meaning "belonging to you," while you're is a contraction of "you are."
who's, whose Who's is a contraction for who is or who has, not a possessive: Who's using the cellular phone? Who's been eating my radishes? For the possessive, use whoseI do not know whose galoshes these are. Whose may refer to things as well as people: The shopping mall, whose customers come from miles around, began charging for parking.
Yagoda's article was featured March 15, in Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Friday, March 15, 2013

How to Be Creative: 6 steps

This wikiHow article provides some great ideas, with pictures! Here's the introduction:
Creativity can't be taught, but you can get better at aligning the circumstances that foster the greatest chances for creative expression. Creativity is not like a lightning strike, but more like something which bubbles up inside those who can create the right conditions for it to prosper.
And the steps--described at the website in much more detail:
  1. Limit your tools to only the most vital. 
  2. Don’t listen to feedback.
  3. Having a routine may not actually be a bad thing.
  4. Let go of perfectionism.
  5. Ignore trends.
  6. Ignore the past.
Some Creative Exercises and additional Tips follow those steps. 

BTW, I wasn't familiar with wikiHow. Here's a description of it where people can edit articles:
wikiHow is a collaborative writing project. You should expect other wikiHow community members will edit and build upon the writing that you submit here. By submitting your writing, you confirm that you wrote this content or have received permission from the copyright holder to post it here.
This article is featured today, March 15, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections, available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Junk the Jargon and Write in Plain English

You'd think we all know not to use the jargon--the unique, technical or unusual lingo--of our profession, hobby or industry when writing to people not involved in those particular pursuits.

But sadly, that's not the case. In this column, Brian Scott defines the problem:

Jargon is a specialized writing style often abused by big business, certain trade industries in the legal and medical fields, federal and state governments, and institutes of education. Jargon contains "workshop words," vague figures of speech, hackneyed expressions, and pompous writing that communicators use obsessively to communicate with their peers and colleagues. ...
jargon Avoid jargon, the special or technical words, phrases and idioms of a particular class, profession or occupation. Example:The biota exhibited a 100 percent mortality response. Rewrite: All the fish died. When jargon is necessary, explain or define terms that will be difficult for most readers to understand.
Scott describes the consequences of using jargon when writing to other people who don't know or use it: 
Jargon creates wordiness in a document. Wordiness often creates confusion. Confusion leads to a lack of understanding. Overuse of passive voice, using bigger words instead of simpler synonyms, and lack of specifics contribute to jargon. Too much jargon in a document is said to "muddy its meaning" because readers have trouble understanding its true purpose.
He goes on to mention some reasons writers use jargon. And then he provides some advice on eliminating jargon from your writing.

Scott recommends using plain English (aka plain language) to eradicate jargon and verbose words:
The focus is on the reader and conveying the message and the importance of the document. Not only does plain English writing create clear communication, but the results are more effective in grabbing and keeping readers' interest. When readers do not have to pause constantly to grasp a word or feel lost in the clutter of hackneyed expressions, their brains are more receptive to keep reading and learning what the document is communicating.
He concludes by highlighting a key principle of plain English/language, write to meet the needs of readers: 
The ideal method to prevent jargon is to know your audience. Can they read and understand what you are writing? If you have a gut feeling that a word or phrase might cause confusion, substitute it with a better word.
I provide more advice and information on clear, concise writing at Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes the process in seven steps:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.
Also see Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. This guide can help make your documents easier to read and understand. It provides concise alternatives to overstated, pompous words; wordy, bureaucratic phrases; and redundant phrases.

Scott's article is featured today, March 15, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Part I: 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to

In this column, author Ben Yagoda follows up on a recent article in which he described the "7 bogus grammar 'errors' you don't need to worry about." I responded to those columns with two blog entries--Part I and Part II--that offered differing advice on some of his comments.

I'm more in sync with Yagoda about these "legitimate rules that you should be aware of." He writes:

Not following them doesn't make you a bad person or even (necessarily) a bad writer. I'm sure that all of them were broken at one point or another by Henry James, Henry Adams, or some other major author named Henry. ... If you make these errors, you're likely to be judged harshly by an editor you want to publish your work; an executive who, you hope, will be impressed enough by your cover letter to hire you; or a reader you want to be persuaded by your argument. ...
I recommend heeding Yagoda's advice but offer additional comments below (mostly from Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual):

1. The subjunctive

Yagoda makes a distinction between using subjunctive verbs (were instead of was, for example) when describing a "non-true situation" and not using them (was instead of were) when describing "hypothetical situations, questions." He provides clear examples to show the difference.

Here's a related item in my style and usage manual; my examples are consistent with Yagoda's advice, though I suggest using the subjunctive for hypothetical conditions:

was, were Use was to state a fact: He was planning a vacation trip to Kauai. I was hoping to go too. But use the subjunctive verb were to express a nonexistent, desirable, hypothetical or far-fetched condition--even with a singular subject like I or heIf I were a rich man, I'd move to Kauai. If he were to plan a vacation trip, he'd go to Kauai.
2. Bad parallelism 

Yagoda says this issue often comes up in lists, and he gives an example of a list in paragraph form. It also comes up, perhaps more noticeably, in bulleted (or vertical) lists. My style manual provides a lot of related advice in its list entry.

This problem often occurs when writers are drafting their document. And that's fine. But the error can be easy to spot during the essential review and edit of the text.

3. Verb problems

Yagoda gives examples (incorrect and corrected) of "a few persistent troublemakers: lay/lie, laid/lay, shrunk/shrank, sunk/sank, seen/saw.

Here's my style manual entry on lay/lie and laid/lay:

lay, lie Often confused. The action word is lay, which means "to place, put or deposit." It is followed by a direct object: I will lay the agenda on the desk. I laid the agenda on the desk. I have laid the agenda on the desk. I am laying the agenda on the desk.Use lay, laid or laying if place, placed or placing would substitute correctly.
Lie means "to be in a reclining position." It does not take a direct object. It is often followed by down or a prepositional phrase:The mechanic decided to lie down. The wrench lies on the workbench. The wrench lay on the workbench all day. The wrench has lain on the workbench all day. The wrench is lying on the workbench. ...
4. Pronoun problems

Yagoda focuses on me, myself and I. I hear them misused mostly when someone is talking. But the distinction between them is worth remembering when writing. 

He also notes the current popularity of using myself instead of I or me. Perhaps speakers use it to sound modest; but we shouldn't assert our humbleness by speaking or writing incorrectly. 

Related entries from my style and usage manual:
pronouns Often confused and misused. The "nominative" pronouns I, he, she, we and they are always the subject of sentences and clauses (groups of words with a subject and a verb). In other words, I and the other nominative pronouns are more likely to be at the front of a sentence or clause (typically before the verb).
And the "objective" pronouns me, him, her, us and them are always the object of verbs and prepositions. In other words, me and the other objective pronouns are more likely to be at the back of a sentence or clause (typically after the verb). Also follow those rules when joining pronouns (and other nouns) with conjunctions like and and or.
Examples: I hugged her. He talked to me. She hugged him. We talked to them. They talked to us. We and Alex debated him and her. He and I considered them and Amanda. She or they would attend with me or us. 
I, me Often confused. The pronoun I (like he, she, we and they) is always the subject of sentences and clauses. And the pronoun me (like him, her, us and them) is always the object of verbs and prepositions. In other words, I is more likely to be at the front of a sentence or clause (typically before the verb). And me is more likely to be at the back of a sentence or clause (typically after the verb): I hugged her. He talked to me. She hugged him. We talked to them. They talked to us.
Also, please remember these correct uses when the sentence has a conjunction (such as and or or): He talked to Linda and me. Linda and I talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and me. Debbie and I rode the horse. Incorrect: He talked to Linda and I. Linda and me talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and I. Debbie and me rode the horse. To be polite, me or I usually follows the conjunction.
To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving the pronoun; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He talked to I" or "Me talked to him" or "Me rode the horse." 
myself Often misused. Use this word to refer to yourself or for emphasis: I dressed myself. I'd rather do it myself. But don't use it self-consciously as a substitute for me. Incorrect: He asked Tina and myself for a ride home. Give it to him or myself. He talked to Tina and myself. The horse carried Tina and myself. Correct: He asked Tina and me for a ride home. Give it to him or me. He talked to Tina and me. The horse carried Tina and me.
To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving myself; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He asked myself for a ride home. Give it to myself. He talked to myself. The horse carried myself."
Also see my style manual entries for I; between you and I, between you and meit's I, it's me; and than I, than me.

5. The 'dangling' conversation

Here's what my manual says on this topic:
dangling modifiers Avoid modifiers that do not refer clearly and logically to some word in the sentence. Dangling: Holding the paper to the light above the table, it cast an image on the wall. Holding does not refer to the subject of the sentence, it. As written, the sentence suggests that it (the paper) was holding itself (as well as casting its image)--an extraordinary feat!
To eliminate the dangling participle, the first words following that introductory phrase should be the name or description of the person (or thing) holding the paper: Holding the paper to the light above the table, Benjamin made it cast an image on the wall. The participle is no longer dangling; it's held in place by Benjamin--or, the subject of the sentence.
Another way to fix dangling participles is to put the original subject of the sentence in the introductory participle phrase, then refer to the object of the action as the replacement subject of the sentence. Thus: As Benjamin held the paper to the light above the table, it cast an image on the table.
The pronoun it could still be confusing to some readers, however: Is it the paper or the light? If that's a problem, replace it with the paper. Here's another way to rewrite the sentence: As Benjamin held it to the light above the table, the paper cast an image on the wall.
6. The semicolon

Yagoda says there are two proper uses for this punctuation mark. I describe three in my manual, breaking one of Yagoda's uses into two:
semicolon (;) The semicolon has three main uses, although the first use below is the most common. The semicolon shows a greater separation of thought and information than a comma but less separation than a period.
First, use semicolons to separate parts of a series when at least one item in the series also has a comma. A semicolon also goes before the final and in such a series: Attending were Tina Lopez, 223 Main St.; Ron Larson, 1414 Broadway; and Robert Zimmerman, 1976 E. Pine St.
The following two uses can add variety, eliminate a word or two, and closely link contrasting or related ideas. But breaking a long sentence with a semicolon into two or more shorter sentences can aid readability and clarity.
Second, use a semicolon to link two (or more) closely related statements that could stand alone as independent sentences (or clauses): The train arrived on time; the passengers were overjoyed. If a coordinating conjunction such as and, but or or separates the two independent clauses, a comma would replace the semicolon: The train arrived on time, and the passengers were overjoyed.
Third, use a semicolon between two independent clauses when the second clause begins with transition words such as therefore, however, thus and for example: The department had planned to drop the service; however, overwhelming customer demand persuaded officials to keep it. ...
7. Words

I provide additional advice on Yagoda's Words comments in my Part II blog entry.

Yagoda's article is featured today, March 15, in Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Accurate interpreters, clear translations crucial to serving diverse populations

This news article from Utica, N.Y. reminded me of an effort I took part in several years ago across the country in Washington state. While working in local government communications, I helped develop a county policy for translating public materials from English into other languages, as required by a U.S. presidential order. 

During the process, I successfully advocated for building plain-language principles into the policy. I also led an effort to create an "international symbol" meaning "interpreter" for use on our agency's public materials.

Writing for the Utica newspaper, Sarah Tracey describes a problem that hospitals, the judicial system, transit agencies, health departments, and other public and nonprofit organizations are facing:

Imagine a Russian man going to a doctor and trying to explain that he has angina.
The doctor might see that as a heart condition, but in Russian, it means he has a sore throat.
With ever-increasing numbers of refugees and immigrants in the area, navigating language and cultural differences in ethically complicated settings, such as a hospital room or as a defendant in a courtroom, can be a challenge.
Tracey's article highlights the importance of accurate, responsive interpreters,  but the message also applies to accurate, responsive translators.

Where I worked, we strongly supported the need to translate documents. But we also wanted to make sure the policy allowed flexibility for effective, responsive alternatives to translating documents. 

Interpreting English for customers: To help gain that flexibility, I led a graphic design task in my agency to support use of our existing alternative. It's built on the agency's use of interpreters to aid customers with limited English proficiency when they phone the customer information office. 

We developed an "international symbol" for use on our materials. Besides the word "Interpreter" in English, the symbol contains Interpreter translated into the most common foreign languages in our county or the most common languages in targeted distribution areas. It also provides the phone number for our customer information office. People who speak any language can call that number and, when needed, get connected with an interpreter.

Translating in plain language: In addition, as an editor concerned about clear, concise writing, I wanted to build plain-language principles into the translation policy. If county writers follow those principles, I urged, our materials would be easier and less costly to translate into other languages, with fewer errors.

Doing that would also benefit readers with limited English proficiency who are learning English as a second language. As an important side benefit of the effort, our materials would be easier for literate English speakers to understand and use.

For my local government, I prepared guidelines that highlighted plain-language principles especially pertinent to meeting the needs of readers with limited English proficiency and people who translate English documents. I've incorporated those guidelines into Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide

My guide describes seven steps for creating clear, concise documents:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.
The Utica article is featured today, March 14, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Seven Deadly Sins of Creativity

Here's a provocative look at being creative that I haven't seen before. It works!

Blog writer Old Nick (Mark McGuinness?) discusses how to apply creativity to each of these "sins"--actually, how to achieve creativity by experiencing each sin in a creative way: 

  1. lust
  2. gluttony
  3. greed
  4. sloth
  5. wrath
  6. envy
  7. pride. 
For each sin, Old Nick also describes a "takeaway"--or what acting on each sin might mean for you in real life. So, for example, his Takeaway for the sin of lust:
Essentially, I am giving you a licence to indulge in pleasure. Your work should be fun! It MUST be fun!
So don’t waste your time on anything boring or difficult. If you don’t find yourself in the creative zone within five minutes, it’s a sure sign that you should stop and do something else.
Go for a walk. Relax. Stretch. Check out Twitter or Facebook. Have a coffee, or better yet, a glass of wine. Call your friends, go out for a drink. The weekend starts here…
Never forget: your talent is your ticket to pleasure.
Old Nick's blog post is featured today in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections, available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

The Drama of “And” and “Or”

In his blog article, Rich Adin discusses the potential confusion among readers when they encounter the legalistic shorthand conjunction of and/or.

He writes:

It isn’t that and/or isn’t sometimes correct; rather, it has become a way for an author to fudge. Basically and/or adds drama to a manuscript because it leaves the reader wondering what precisely is meant (assuming the reader thinks about it at all). And/or gives at least two options, both of which are true, both of which should be exclusive of the other.
Adin does not consider that drama to be a benefit to readers. Instead, it's a benefit to lazy writers who don't take the time and effort to state clearly what they mean.

I include a brief item in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual on this vague shortcut:

and/or Jargon. Avoid this ambiguous, awkward, overused phrase. Change: Use gold and/or purple beads in your project. To: Use gold beads or purple beads or both colors in your project. Or simply use or alone. 
Following an idea in Adin's blog, I plan to add an example to my manual entry that emphasizes the distinction between the choices (using both and either):
Use both gold beads and purple beads in your project, or use either gold beads or purple beads.
When rephrasing a sentence to eliminate and/or, your sentence is likely to get longer. Depending on the choices you're describing, breaking the sentence into two simple sentences could be even more effective. But the resulting clarity to readers is more valuable than giving readers a short sentence.

Adin's article is featured today, March 13, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Those Grammar Gaffes Will Get You

Writing guru extraordinaire Bryan A. Garner has posted another useful blog article based on his new book, HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

He highlights two common problems:

  1. Subject-verb disagreement. A verb must agree in person and number with its subject. ... [such as the choice between there is and there are].
  2. Double negatives. ... "We didn't have no choice" ... "We couldn't scarcely manage to keep up with the demand." ...
I comment on using there is, there are in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual:
there is, there are, there's, there was, there were Avoid beginning sentences with these often unnecessary, wordy phrases. Try rewriting the sentence. Change: There were two native rhododendrons at the nursery. To: Two native rhododendrons were at the nursery. Also, there's is a contraction for there is; it refers to a single noun: There's one signal at the intersection. Do not use it with plural nouns. Incorrect: There's better ways to write this sentence. There sure are!
Garner also gives advice on the correct use of pronouns and two artificial rules "that plague so much writing":
  • the "rule" about beginning sentences with conjunctions
  • the "rule" about ending sentences with a preposition.
He writes:

Do you worry that your readers will think a sentence-starting conjunction or a sentence-ending preposition is wrong? They won't even notice it. Good style gets readers focused on your clear, concise message. Bad style draws attention to itself.
I comment on those two writing "rules" and nine others at Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.

Garner's Modern American Usage is one of my first-choice reference books on writing. I consider it the contemporary equivalent of similar books by Fowler and Follett.
The Garner blog item is featured today, march 13, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Part II: Bogus grammar 'errors'--or not--and writing myths and superstitions

In my my blog post yesterday, March 11, I commented on six of the errors that author Ben Yagoda wrote about in 7 bogus grammar 'errors' you don't need to worry about. Since that blog entry had gotten long, I saved for this post my comments on Yagoda's seventh "It's okay to use ..." item.

I agree with "a lion's share" of Yagoda's first six bogus errors but found more differences with him on his "okay to use" words. When choosing words or phrases, I advocate using the most familiar, simplest version of synonyms that more people will likely understand immediately. But I think it's also useful to choose words, when they're available, that have a precise meaning for your message. 

I accept that our language changes over decades and centuries, but the richness of our language and our communication weakens when we get to the point of noting only blue, symbolically, and not the unique shades of blue, like turquoise and teal. We should use familiar nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs but favor familiar words (or phrases) that have unique or even subtle differences in meaning when significant to the message or context of our writing. 

Below, I've excerpted my related entries from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual, also noting my agreement or not with Yagoda:
[agree] decimate Commonly misused. Remember that the Romans used this word centuries ago to mean killing only one in every 10 of their enemies. They didn't use it to mean killing all their enemies. To decimate now means "to destroy a large part of something or to kill many people." Don't use it to mean simply destroy or annihilate, demolish or wipe out, all of which imply doing away with something completely. And don't use decimate to mean something less significant, such as break, damage, defeat, hamper, kill or reduce. Use one of the stronger or weaker alternative words if that's what you mean.
[disagree] including, like, such as Use including and such as when listing examples or when the items that follow are only part of the total; don't list everything or end the list with words such as and moreand othersetc.He's a fan of British rock groups such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. [He's a fan of British groups that include The Beatles and the Stones.]
Use like when listing similar things or similarities: He's a fan of British rock groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. [Though he's a fan of groups that resemble The Beatles and the Stones, he might not be a fan of The Beatles and the Stones.] ...
[disagree] liable, libel, likely Sometimes confused. Both liable and likely express probability of something happening, but liable suggests exposure to something undesirable or unpleasant. 
[agree] hopefully Ignore the rapidly dwindling number of style gurus who think it is incorrect to modify the meaning of an entire sentence by beginning it with the adverb hopefully. As other style experts note, adverbs such as apparently, fortunately and obviously are already used correctly to modify entire sentences. And hopefully can be used that way too! Thus, go ahead and use hopefully to mean "it is hoped, let us hope, we hope" or "I hope" when describing feelings toward the entire sentence: Hopefully, the war will end quickly with few civilian casualties. ...
[mostly disagree] over, more than Over usually refers to one thing being above another thing: The plane flew over Bellevue. More than is preferred when using figures, numbers and amounts: More than 300 people attended the meeting. The document had more than 40 pages. But over may be less awkward in some uses: He is over 40. Let your ear be your guide.
[mostly agree] because, since Both words can be used to mean "for the reason that." Because is the stronger conjunction for pointing out a direct cause-effect relationship: They went to the concert because they had been given ticketsSince is milder in suggesting a cause-effect relationship: Since I love folk music, I went to the concert. When readers might confuse since with its meaning "from the time that," use because. See Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
[mostly disagree] while Avoid the indiscriminate, ambiguous use of this word for and, but and althoughWhile is best used to mean when or as a simpler word for at the same time or during the time that.
[agree, but ...] momentarily [My style manual doesn't include this word (yet), but I know its original meaning of "for a moment" is being replaced by "in a moment"--somewhat like switching from now to soon. To prevent confusion among some readers, using "in a moment" or "for a moment," depending on what you mean, could be a better choice.]
[agree, but ...] the lion's share [My style manual also doesn't include the lion's share, but I agree it could mean "the majority" ... or "most." To reduce reader confusion, especially among readers not familiar with that phrase, I suggest using either majority or most instead. See below.]
majority, most Often confused. Use majority to describe "more than half a total or amount" and "the group, party or faction with more than half the votes": A majority vote of only 51 percent is no mandate to make changes that affect everyone. Use simpler most to mean "greatest in amount, quantity, number, extent or degree." Also, use simpler most instead of almost all. And simpler most may replace these wordy phrases: vast majority, the great majority, a significant majority and the overwhelming majority. Or be more specific about the details.
Use majority for describing the larger of two clearly divisible things: A majority of the councilmembers voted for the resolution. Or be specific: Fifty-two percent of the councilmembers were for the resolution. ...
[mostly disagree] oral, verbal, written Use oral to refer to spoken words: The planner gave an oral presentation. Or be less formal and more specific: The planner gave a talk ... The planner spoke about ... The planner talked about .... Use verbal to compares words with some other form of communication: His facial expression revealed the ideas that his limited verbal skills could not express. Use written to refer to words on paper: The two jurisdictions had a written agreement
[disagree] could (not) care less If you care somewhat about something, drop the not. But if you don't care at all, keep it.
Yagoda's column is featured in the March 11 edition in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Part I: Bogus grammar 'errors'--or not--and writing myths and superstitions

Author Ben Yagoda writes about 7 bogus grammar 'errors' you don't need to worry about in the March 5 issue of The Week. While I agree with most of what he writes, I can't hop on his bandwagon condemning all of them. I think a couple of these rules have value to clear, strong writing.

I provide a somewhat similar list at Garbl's Writing Myths and Superstitions.

Below, I've excerpted my related entries from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual, also noting my agreement or not with Yagoda. Since this blog entry is getting long, I'll follow up on Yagoda's It's okay to use... items in my March 12 blog entry:

Excerpts from my style manual (following Yagoda's order of comments):
[agree] split infinitives Avoid awkward sentence constructions that split the infinitive forms of a verb, such as to leave or to help, as in this sentence: Try to not awkwardly or incorrectly split infinitives. But splitting infinitives is grammatically correct--and even useful if it helps strengthen the meaning of a sentence by placing the modifier before the word it's modifying: He wanted to really impress the council. Unfortunately, split infinitives can distract some readers who think they're incorrect. 
[agree] prepositions A preposition is a word or group of words that links a noun or pronoun to a verb, adjective, or another noun or pronoun. The most often used prepositions are at, by, for, from, in, of, on, to and with. ...
It's correct to end a sentence with a preposition, but doing so could weaken the point of the sentence. Consider alternatives. ...
[disagree] that, which, who, whom That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun for essential clauses: The camera that is broken is in the shop (tells which one). Which is the nondefining, or nonrestrictive, pronoun for nonessential clauses: The camera, which is broken, is in the shop (adds a fact about the only camera in question).
In the examples above, note the correct use of commas: Which clauses are always set off with commas (or sometimes dashes or parentheses), and that clauses aren't. Essential that clauses cannot be cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. Don't set off an essential clause from the rest of a sentence with commas.
Nonessential which clauses can be dropped without altering the meaning. Set off a nonessential clause with commas.
James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer's Art, 1984: "Rule of thumb: If the qualifying phrase is set off by commas, use which; if not, use that."
In addition, that is the preferred pronoun to introduce clauses that refer to an inanimate object: Greg remodeled the house that burned down Friday. Which is the only acceptable pronoun to introduce a nonessential clause that refers to an inanimate object: The house, which Greg remodeled, burned down Friday.
When an essential or nonessential clause refers to a human being or something with human qualities (such as a family), introduce it with who or whomThat -- but not which -- also may be used to refer to human beings, as well as inanimate objects. Don't use commas if the clause is essential to the meaning. Use them if it is not. 
Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer, 1977: "Which normally refers to things, who to persons, and that to either persons or things."
[agree] and, but Some teachers wisely taught us not to begin every sentence or fragment of a sentence with and (or but). And others taught us mistakenly not to begin any sentence with those conjunctions. Whatever the lesson, the result has been a common misunderstanding that it's incorrect to begin sentences with conjunctions. Ignore that myth!
And and but are simple, clear and correct transition words between related (and) and contrasting (but) sentences. Go ahead and use 'em--And instead of Additionally, Furthermore, In addition or Moreover, and But instead of However. But don't overdo it. They'll lose their punch. A comma is unnecessary following And and But at the beginning of a sentence. 
[mostly disagree] active vs. passive verbs A verb is active when it shows the subject acts or does something: The clown caught the bouquetThe board approved the contract unanimously. A verb is passive when the subject of the verb is acted upon: The bouquet was caught by the clown. The contract was passed unanimously by the board.
The active voice is simpler, more direct and more forceful than the passive voice. Passive voice may be acceptable when the person or thing receiving the action is more important than the person or thing doing the acting. ...
Rita Mae Brown, Starting from Scratch, 1988: "Avoid the passive voice whenever possible. University term papers bleed with the passive voice. It seems to be the accepted style of Academia. Dump it."
[mostly agree] collective nouns Collective nouns name a group or collection of people, places, things, ideas, actions or qualities, including board, class, committee, crowd, family, group, herd, jury, panel, public, orchestra, staff, team. Nouns that show a unit take singular verbs and pronouns: The board is electing its committee chairs. The crowd is eager to march. To stress individuals in a group, usemembers of: Staff members answered questions. Some members of the panel left before lunch. 
Some nouns are both singular and plural in meaning, including corps, chassis, deer, fat, fish, grease, moose, oil, public, sediment, sheep, soil, water and waste. The use of a singular or plural verb in a particular sentence conveys the meaning. Because these words are already plural, avoid adding s or es to make them plural: Scientists studied sediment from Charger Bay. The geologist took samples of soil from the site
When mentioning various types or species, however, plural spellings may be used: Scientists studied Fox Lake and Lake Roosevelt sediments. The site contained both glacial and sandy soils. ...
[agree] data Normally a plural noun, it takes plural verbs and pronouns when writing about individual items: The data have been analyzed thoroughly. Data may take singular verbs when the group or quantity is considered a unit: The data is accurate. Stick with the plural verb after data if you're not sure which one to use. ...
[agree] media Media takes plural verbs and pronouns when it refers to more than one medium of communication, such as TV, radio and newspapers: Radio and television are popular entertainment media. The Internet is now a major news medium. But it's becoming acceptable to refer to the mass media or communications media or news media as a singular entity that takes singular verbs and pronouns: He's convinced the local news media is out to get him
Yagoda's column is featured today, March 11, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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