Indicative or Subjunctive?

At the risk of being repetitious, here’s another example of the difference between the indicative and the subjunctive.

Here’s the rule: The subjunctive is contrary to reality. Not true; hypothetical, if you will. With the indicative, you are presumably describing reality, in other words, the truth.

Dustin - 01/20/2018

Dustin’s friend is not good with words, so the subjunctive, “were better” is correct. Too bad he didn’t get the girl.

Headlines are NOT Expository Writing!

The  point of a headline is to get someone to read what follows, so the more sensational, the better. I could take about any headline nowadays: newspaper, magazine article, or on-line item for an example. Expository writing has the goal of explaining as plainly and accurately as possible. So here’s an example of a headline appropriate for the day:

Mallard Fillmore - 02/11/2018

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to re-write a headline as a piece of good old plain exposition. Post some in the comments.

Phrase out of Place

As a rule, you should put similar parts of a sentence together. For example, if a sentence has two subjects, put them together.

Tom and Dave played tag.
S               S        V       DO

What happens when you don’t put them together? You get confusion!

Tom played tag and Dave
S        V     DO           ?

Huh? Is “Dave” some new kind of game that Tom played? After all, it’s right next to the direct object.

That example is trivial, perhaps, so here’s an example from real life:

Access in divisional and functional areas is too broad in some systems, increasing security risks for potential misappropriation, due to IT [the Information Technology department] owning systems instead of the business areas.

Look at the part after “due to.” “IT” is the subject, “owning” is the verb, and “systems” is the direct object. What is “business areas”? I don’t think IT would be owning business areas, so let’s rewrite the sentence so you can tell that “business areas” is another subject:

Access in divisional and functional areas is too broad in some systems, increasing security risks for potential misappropriation, due to IT instead of the business areas owning systems.

That makes more sense! Go thou and do likewise.

Some Thoughts About the Singular They

I touched on the singular they in the past, and I recommend you follow the link if you don’t know what the singular they is. Today I ran into a usage of it that jumped out at me a little, so I thought I’d share.

First, look at the conversation in the third panel of Scott Meyer’s Basic Instructions:

Since we’re talking about spouses here, the issue of “his” or “hers” being the right word is a little stronger than it would be in a lot of other contexts. On one hand, in this context he’s talking about his wife. And on the other hand, he wants to make his statement tactfully general. And on the third hand, Scott is somewhat constrained for space, so “their” fits better than “his or her.”

Now look at panel three’s heading. Same problems. Scott doesn’t have much room, and he doesn’t know whether your spouse is male of female. So even though the topic is spouses, which is reasonably gender related, which would make “his or her” appropriate, he chose “their.”

Writing can get tricky sometimes, eh?

How Not to do Tech Writing

I dare say this Boomerangs comic speaks for itself…

Do I need to belabor the point? Tech writing should be so plain and clear that you don’t notice the writing! Send for that five critical techniques for good writing document I mention in the column on the right if you don’t believe me, or if you want some good advice.

Someone Gets Enormity Correct

I suppose this is another one of my pet peeves. Enormity means “extremely bad,” not “extremely large.” ‘Nuff said.This is most of one panel from a longish narrative about a visit to a post-apocalyptic—well, here’s the link. Not my kind of adventure, but at least he got “enormity” right.

The Only Time I Recommend Using “It”

That headline is a bit strong, but I want to keep the title to this post short.

To clarify,

  • I generally recommend against pronouns altogether because your reader might not understand what word (called the antecedent, by the way) the pronoun is referring to. Do a search on “pronoun” in the upper right corner of this page to find several more posts on the subject of avoiding pronouns.
  • I also tell you not to use false subjects, one of which is “It is.” See also “There is” and “There are.” Make your sentences name the guilty party!

Here’s a comic that illustrates a point I made in that post about false subjects; the weather can have a false subject:

Mr. Bucket’s hair looks funny drawn from the back.

Lesson in a Pun

English is replete with words that are pronounced the same, but spelled differently, and have different meanings. Peek and peak, for instance. We call these homonyms. Here’s another one, not as common, perhaps, but I still recommend you get these right:

Thank you, Hägar the Horrible.

A Standing Joke

The protagonist in Darren Bell’s strip Candorville is a writer. Hence, like me he’s somewhat of a grammar curmudgeon. Darren must figure that this lesson needs repeating, because I’ve seen this conversation before.

He’s absolutely correct, too.  Myself, I prefer to shop at grocery stores whose express lane says “15 or fewer items.”