To Be or Not To Be

This post describes something useful about ordinary writing, not about Shakespeare.

First, read the comic, first panel.

Notice that you could have put “to be” between “turn out” and “so.” The sentence makes perfect sense the way she wrote it, though, doesn’t it?

Lots of languages leave out forms of “to be” most of the time. I remember hearing an interview in All Things Considered several decades ago. The guy had resolved to stop using any form of “to be.” And I’ve heard occasional remarks from teacher types who pointed out that you can replace “to be” with a more meaningful verb almost all the time, and doing so improves your writing. (I should add that using “to be” often puts a verb into the passive voice, which I already preach against.)

Give it a try: Cut down on using “to be.” It makes your writing livelier.

PS—in the second panel, for example, she could have said “Let’s go offline for the day.”

Resume or Résumé?

Second panel. He’s correct about the spelling, but incorrect about his companion.

Do you know how to make those accents?

Instead of typing the “e,” hold down the Alt key then type 0233 on the numeric keypad then release the Alt key.

On a Mac: Hold down the Option key, and while holding it down, type the letter e; then release those keys and type e again. In Mac notation, this is written Opt+e, e.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

About Bad Instructions

I have a motto on my wall that reads

Bad documentation must never be justified
with the excuse that
the reader will figure it out.

’nuff said.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Such As or Like?

Here’s a good example of the difference.

When you give an example, use “such as” when you’re describing something similar but not the same, use”like.”

(Yes, English has other uses for “like.”)

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

An Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a statement that is funnily self-contradictory.

What makes something funny? That’s a question that goes way way back, but one characteristic of humor, I think, is that it can involve a topic on lots of people’s minds. So even though I don’t do politics on this site, the quality of journalism is a common topic these days, so this comic is funny, right? Right?

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Another Less-Few Comic

Remember the rule: use fewer when you’re counting, and less when you’re measuring. You count how many kids you have, right? Should be fewer

Of course, some things can go either way, such as time. You can count hours, for example (Since I retired, I work far fewer hours than I used to.), but you can also measure the time using units such as hours (I spent less time at work today than I usually do.).

So pay attention to what you’re writing!

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Two Wrong, One Right

Okay, forget about the comic itself (I don’t get it, and besides, this is a grammar blog, not a comic blog).

First mistake; third panel: If you’re talking about distance, use “farther,” not “further.” “Further” is for abstract things that can’t be described by distance.

Second mistake; last panel: He’s talking about the manner in which something is being done, so he needs an adverb, not an adjective. He should say “quickly.”

Third item, not a mistake, but most people get it wrong: His “I” is correct. “I” is the subject of the implied sentence “I can look it up.” People get this wrong so often that you would be ahead to supply the missing verb: “…as quickly as I can.”

Grocer’s Error

I’ve heard of two grammar errors frequently attributed to grocers. One is putting unnecessary quotes around words in signs. The other is incorrect apostrophes to make plurals.

I don’t think the skunk is a grocer, but that’s the error. Maybe the cartoonist wanted to make the skunk seem lower class, no offense to grocers. Next-to-last panel:

The rule: You don’t need an apostrophe for plurals!

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Three Things

First, something unusual. We have a person in a thought bubble talking to the person who has the thought bubble. First time I’ve seen that.

Next, we have a writing lesson. It’s about being concise.

  • “Unique” means “one of a kind.” That’s an absolute; you can’t be very one of a kind. You either are or you aren’t.
  • “Individual” is also one of a kind, so “unique individual” is redundant. You don’t need both words.
  • Solution: be concise. Say something like “Delray is unusual.” “Unique” all by itself would work, too.

Finally, the getting-along-with-others lesson. Both Marcy and I have a rule: Don’t correct someone’s English unless they ask. Especially if the person is your boss.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Sounds Wrong, Doesn’t It?

First speech bubble. It’s correct!

That “whom” sounds wrong because we’re used to hearing the subject of the sentence first. That ‘whom’ is really the object of “of.” You can also say that the “whom” is introducing the noun clause that’s the direct object of “know”!

To fix the word order a bit, you’d have:

Do you know of whom she reminds me?

Of course now you have a rather awkward question. I fear that “who” will become the only form to appear at the beginning of a sentence regardless of the word’s function in the sentence.

PS—If it were me, I’d write. “Hey! She reminds me of someone I knew.”

PPS—Since I ran into it today, here’s a strip that gets it wrong twice. Second panel:

PPPS—And here’s one where he gets it right. First panel.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.