Let’s Don’t be Redundant

Good expository writing is concise—all the necessary words, but no more. Redundancy is extra words that you don’t need. Those extra words say what you already said.

Here are a couple sentences from a NASA press release. I’m a bit ashamed to reveal the source because the press release contains a bunch of bad writing (including carelessness: “…including released of water vapor.”)

These two sentences each contain a redundancy:

The ongoing examination of Bennu – and its sample that will eventually be returned to Earth – could potentially shed light on why this intriguing phenomenon is occurring.

Many of the ejected particles are small enough to be collected by the spacecraft’s sampling mechanism, meaning that the returned sample may possibly contain some material that was ejected and returned to Bennu’s surface.

Here’s the rule, dating back at least as far as Joel Chandler Harris:

If you can leave a word out, leave it out.

PS—I ran into a comic that makes the point, too:


Bad Documentation!

When you write instructions, be sure to get them right:

  • Don’t leave anything out
  • Get the instructions in order!

Notes, by the way, generally go before the instructions. They give context.

Two rules of thumb:

  • Test all instructions! If the reader gets it wrong, the problem is with the instructions.
  • Bad documentation must not be justified with the excuse that the reader will figure it out.

Write for the Reader!

Ignore the politics, and ignore that the language is spoken instead of written. This is an excellent (if somewhat hyperbolic) message about adjusting how you write to match whoever reads what you write.


How Would You Sort These?

Dad classifies some nouns in the middle of the comic:


So going from weakest to most likely to be correct, Dad has whim, notion, hunch, gut feeling.

How would you sort these? What words would you add to the list? Lemme know in the comments.

Minced Oath Fail

A minced oath is a mild substitute for a nastier profanity. Myself, I avoid both the real thing and the mild version.


I say what I actually mean. Consequently, my English is a pretty good means of communication.

Good Example of “Who” and “Whom.”

Maybe the title should be “Whom and Who.” That’s the order in our example sentence:

Naipaul is best understood as an inquiline, as a man whom the English have tried to absorb, but a man who has clung to displacement like a floating buoy.”

The Voyage in — A Way in the World by V.S. Naipaul; The New Republic (Washington, DC); Jun 13, 1994.

I got the sentence from wordsmith.org, a site that produces A Word A Day, and I highly recommend that you subscribe.

  • Look at the “whom.” The subject is “the English,” so “whom” is the direct object. (Rearrange it: The English tried to absorb him.”)
  • Now look at the “who.” “Who” is the subject. “Who” did the clinging.

Both usages are correct. Good for them.

Since you might be curious, shamelessly copied from Wikipedia:

Image result for Naipaul

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul TC, most commonly known as V. S. Naipaul, and informally, Vidia Naipaul, was a Trinidadian and Tobagonian British writer of works of fiction and nonfiction in English.  Nobel Prize in Literature, Booker Prize, Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society

A nice List of Errors

Don’t need to say much for this post. Don’t you make these goofs!


By the way, if you click the link to the comic, click the link to the comments. They’re pretty good. One of the comments even explains the solecism in the last panel.

Plural or Singular?

First the puzzle: Is the spider’s sentence correct?


Okay, “all” here means he dreams about only one thing. That’s singular, right? So the verb should be “is,” right?

Then why does “is” sound wrong, and “are” sound right? Think about it before you read the next paragraph.

The reason is called attraction. It’s a legitimate rule in Latin, but not in English, though sometimes it happens. Attraction is when you base the form of a word to agree with the closest candidate (even if it’s incorrect). And “flies” is closer to the verb than the subject is.

Punctuation Matters

The comic is about a little girl who’s afraid of her grandmother’s big dog…


As you can see, the change in punctuation makes a difference. When you write, think about the punctuation!

Okay, now a test. How should you punctuate the labels?