Who Goes First?

Yes, the comic breaks a rule, but you know that rule: “I” is for the subject of a sentence, not “me.” This post is about another rule: Don’t put yourself first! But be sure to read the comment after the comic.


We have no grammatical rule that says not to put yourself first! All it is, is being polite to mention others first. Particularly in scientific writing the author mentions the main researcher, him- or herself, first, and adds associates (mere grad students maybe?) who participated, second.

So if you deserve most of the credit, go ahead and mention yourself first. But use “I,” (or “we”) not “me” (or “us”)!

I ran into a sentence that correctly puts “we” first:

These recent updates, suggesting that climate change and its impacts are emerging faster than scientists previously thought, are consistent with observations that we and other colleagues have made identifying a pattern in assessments of climate research of underestimation of certain key climate indicators, and therefore underestimation of the threat of climate disruption.


This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

He’s Correct, But…

…He’s being a jerk about it. This is why I regularly promise not to correct someone’s grammar unless they ask me to.


I gotta admit, he’s unlikely to forget his PIN, though.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

The Janitor Gets it Right

The rule he gets right has to do with the apostrophe when you want to make a word possessive.

If the word you want to make possessive ends in “s,” just add an apostrophe; don’t add another “s.”

Last panel:


But you pronounce the possessive as if that second “s” were there! So it sounds like “Joneses.”

A head locker room attendant is a janitor, right?

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Follow-on to the Previous Post

The previous post was mainly about the verbs lay and lie, but it made a brief reference to the transitive-intransitive dichotomy. Here’s an article that got it right, then got it wrong. Should help make the distinction clear.

First the headline, which is correct:

MSDN Magazine will publish its last issue, ending a Microsoft developer era


And the article’s first sentence (it’s the subhead), which is incorrect:

The final issue of the print magazine will publish this November.

“Publish” is transitive! You always publish something! In this case they publish an issue.

  • So to make that second sentence correct, they need to use either the passive (ick) by saying it will be published;
  • Or they need to give the verb a direct object, saying something like they will publish the last issue this November.
  • Or they could use an intransitive verb, saying the magazine will end in November.

See the difference? Good. Now you’re a grammar expert. For practice, go look for a few more examples.

I like pictures in these posts, so here’s a picture of the product that the magazine was all about.

MSDN Magazine's heyday fell firmly in the era of Windows XP Professional.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Correct Laying-Lying Usage

  • Laying something on the table—transitive (has a direct object, in this case, “something.”)
  • Lying on the table—intransitive (no direct object. Just doing it.)

The guys in this comic both get it right.


Frankly, I suspect we’re seeing evidence of the cartoonist’s knowledge of grammar, not his characters’.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

She Knows the Weakness of Pronouns

This is a quote from a post on Facebook from the Icelandic chicken group:

This is my best friend’s hen.. her name is Hildigard (the hen) and she is 10 years old… anyone else here with old ladies that they would like to share a picture of?

I bolded the text where she clears up the main problem with using pronouns—ambiguity of antecedent. What, exactly, does the pronoun refer to? That’s why I recommend you avoid using pronouns.

By the way, here is a picture of Hildegard.

Unprofessional Writing

Want to write professionally? About your area of expertise perhaps? Something related to work? Maybe your résumé even?

Then get your mechanics right!!! Mechanics are grammar, punctuation, spelling, vocabulary.

Regardless of your area of expertise, savvy, knowledge, or insight, if you have bad mechanics, you come across as a doofus! Yes, bad punctuation in a paper about magneto-hydrodynamics, or an article about migraine headaches, or a document outlining your job history and skills; these all give the lie to your ability to know what you’re talking (writing) about.

Here are some examples from a webpage that described some articles whose headlines sounded interesting. I won’t embarrass the writer by identifying the site. I’ll identify the errors even though you probably can see them yourselves.

  • Thirty eight million people or more suffer from migraine headaches in America, according to Mirgraine.com. [Hyphenate: Thirtyeight; and they misspelled migraine.com]
  • This 3000 years-old secret to preserving food without refrigeration was invented by the ancient Egyptians. [3000 year-old secret. Adjectives don’t show number]
  • EMPs are bursts of electromagnetic energy which can disrupt or seriously damage electronic equipment. [Should be “…energy that can disrupt…”
  • People with dementia show a different makeup in the bacteria dwelling in their guts, a preliminary study finds — raising questions about whether the “bugs” play some role in the brain disease. [Use a dash, not two hyphens. We’re out of the age of typewriters. It should be “…findsraising…”]

Some of these are sixth-grade mistakes, and all of them are things a professional should know. If you doubt your ability with mechanics, get someone to proofread your work. Don’t look like a doofus!

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

We or Us?

This is a fairly standard curmudgeonly (okay, grammarian’s) complaint. Is the guy in the last panel right or wrong?


Well, he’s wrong. Somehow that word (it’s called an appositive) between the subject and the verb makes us want to use “us” instead of “we.” You wouldn’t say “us are allowed to be stupid,” would you? Nah, that would be stupid!

Don’t smoke Tareytons, either.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

A Little Humor

Okay, the last post was rather heavy duty. Here’s some light duty:

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Compound Subject, Singular Verb

That title sounds like a practice I would disagree with, but a compound subject with a singular verb can be correct! Here’s the rule:

  • A compound subject with “and” gets a plural verb.

Here’s an example of getting this wrong. _others” is plural, so the verb should be plural:

Our results provide new insights into how this subduction zone, and possibly others, behaves over geologic timeframes of millions of years.


Here’s the other rule: A compound subject with “or” takes the number of the last item in the subject. If the last item is plural, use a plural verb, if the last item is singular, then use a singular verb.

A correct example:

Anomalous propagation, or AP, is the name given to radar echoes that are not related to precipitation.


Here’s an incorrect example. “rhetoric” is singular, so the verb should be singular:

Administration officials push back on the idea that Trump or his rhetoric have any responsibility to bear, saying the only people responsible for these mass shootings are the people shooting the guns.


This is correct; plural second subject, plural verb.

I don’t think most schools or employers are there yet.


This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.