We’d all like to think that our thoughts transfer from our brains to the keyboard in precise, punchy, perfect prose — but anything we write benefits from a once-over (or twice, or thrice-over). When editing, we clarify specific sentences and hone our overall message.
A key step in editing eliminates unnecessary words. Unnecessary words drag your writing down; since they don’t contribute to your message, they throw a roadblock between your thoughts and the reader. Finding and nixing them moves readers from “Hmm, this seems interesting!” to “Genius!” that much faster. One simple way to do this? Vigilance against weak “be” verbs.
For nearly two years, I’ve written posts about grammar and usage, so clearly it’s a topic that I think is important. Equally important, I think, is knowing when it’s appropriate to insist on proper grammar and how to go about it.
You hear of cases now and then in which people go into public and make a big show of correcting grammatical problems on signage. Take for example this instance that resulted in probation for two men who fixed the grammar on a sign at Grand Canyon National Park. The men in fact went on a nationwide crusade to fix public typos, as documented in an NPR story and a book. Read more
Without reruns, I would never have known the joys of Gilligan’s Island and Happy Days, of The Brady Bunch and M*A*S*H. Without reruns of the culinary variety, I’d have to cook every night instead of doing half-labor by cooking a meal planned for two nights. Some things — I’m looking at you, chili — are even better warmed over. So in celebration of reruns, I offer a retrospective of a few posts I’ve written from the past couple of years that I liked, that garnered a fair number of comments, or whose ideas (if not necessarily my particular expression of them) are important. Read more
Tasked this week with explaining how to properly use a semicolon, I thought immediately of the poster designed by the fellow behind web comic The Oatmeal. He’s done a number of grammar posters, and there’s very little I could add to the explanation he offers. I’ll summarize, but for some colorful examples, be sure to check out his post. Read more
English usage snobs all over the internet shudder when they hear the word “literally” used to mean its opposite. For example, somebody who claims to have been “literally scared to death” actually means that he was figuratively scared to death. If he had been literally scared to death, he wouldn’t be around to tell us about his fate. Search Google for the simple word “literally” and you’ll find no shortage of sites correcting the misuse. Some fun treatments include that of The Oatmeal (beware, it’s a little off-color) and xkcd.
You may have heard of the subjunctive mood. You may even be a little bit afraid of it. But did you know that you use it all the time without likely even knowing it? Even as someone who’s pretty familiar with the rules of grammar, I was a little iffy on exactly what the subjunctive mood was. In fact, I was even iffy on what “mood” meant in a grammatical context. So let’s start there. Read more