Transitive or Intransitive?

Some verbs take a direct object. We call them transitive verbs. Other verbs don’t take a direct object; we call them intransitive verbs.

So: “The computer displays a window”—transitive. You have to display something, in this case, a window.
And: “When you press Enter, the window appears.”—intransitive. Well, “press” is transitive, and “appears” is intransitive.

And some verbs can go either way. You can say, “Let’s run!” and “Let’s run a race!”

Here’s an example of a verb phrase (work out) that go either way. I hope you don’t mind a big, complicated noun clause for the direct object…

Note that the transitive and intransitive meanings are quite a bit different, and therein lies the humor.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

A Tricky Less/Fewer Construction

The rule is (Okay, maybe I should say “the rules are.)

  • Use “less” when you’re measuring
  • Use “fewer” when you’re counting.

Warning: pay attention to the context!

This sentence looks okay, right?

Astronomers have detected less than half of the estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects thought to be 459 feet in size or greater.

“Less than half” feels correct, doesn’t it? That’s because with fractions, usually you’re measuring. But this sentence is counting asteroids, so it should say “fewer.”

When you write, be alert! Pay attention! Here’s a picture of an asteroid so you have something besides text to look at. Thanks, NASA.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

The Difference Between “Concise” and “Terse”

  • Concise means you take out unnecessary words. For example, write “daily,” not “on a daily basis.”
  • Terse means you take out too many words. Terseness introduces ambiguity.

Here’s an example of ambiguity caused by terseness:

The sign leaves out the possessive adjective that tells whose hands to wash. Readers shouldn’t have to pause to figure out what you mean. Say enough to remove ambiguity, but say no more.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Grammar Joke

She’s right of course. Get it right in your own writing, and don’t correct others unless they ask. Or to make a joke.

Use “fewer” when you’re counting and “less” when you’re measuring.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

What Goes with “Mentor”?

Everybody knows what a mentor is. It’s a well-trusted usually older person who teaches and trains someone, and who generally has a close relationship with the person they’re mentoring.

Mentor was a fellow in Homer’s story The Odyssey. He instructed Odysseus before he left on his journey, and took care of the home castle while Odysseus was gone.

But what do you call the person who has a mentor? Not “student” that goes with “teacher.”

Maybe mentee? That’s what these guys think (it’s a good guess, but they’re wrong).

Mentors help their mentees to get back into work, find volunteering, apply to university or develop new skills, all whilst working on their own communication and leadership techniques.

The actual correct name of the person being mentored is protégé. Yup, from the French.

Betchya didn’t know that, huh?

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

A Word I Use a Lot

This is a grammar and writing blog, after all, and I frequently write about mistakes, or at least about how not to make mistakes. I not infrequently use “goof” for mistake, though my serious word for a mistake is “solecism.” Here’s a definition:


1. A grammatical mistake or a nonstandard usage.
2. A breach of etiquette.
3. An error, inconsistency, or impropriety.

From Latin soloecismus, from Greek soloikismos, from soloikos (speaking incorrectly; literally, inhabitant of Soloi) after Soloi, an ancient Athenian colony in Cilicia where a dialect considered as substandard was spoken. Earliest documented use: 1577.

I’m quoting A Word a Day, a daily vocabulary lesson that I’ve plugged several times in the past. Check it out. For the home page, it’s

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

Be Careful When You Compare

Check to be sure you actually mention what you’re actually comparing.

He means “…than the food at the places…”

I see this mistake surprisingly often. Don’t do it.

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

A Redundancy

Writing concisely saves your reader time and effort (and irritation), because when you don’t repeat yourself, your reader doesn’t have to read the same thing twice. I’ve written about redundancy before. Use the search box in the upper right corner to find more on this subject.

He could have said:

  • Get the sign painter back!
  • Get the sign painter here!
  • Get the sign painter again!

That sentence would be correct if the sign painter had already been there more than once, though.

When you write, don’t repeat yourself!

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

A Correct Double Negative

Ordinarily, good English avoids using two negatives in a sentence. I’m thinking of sentences such as these:

I ain’t got none.
It don’t make no never-mind.

But we do have a way to use two negatives, when it’s what we mean. I’d say it’s a kind of understatement. I ran into a nice example the other day:

Meanwhile, there’s little reason to think that stealthy, sophisticated hackers aren’t already exploiting BlueKeep in secret, says Jake Williams, a former NSA hacker and founder of the firm Rendition Infosec.

You can get away with a sentence like that if you want to sound “literary,” but when you’re into being clear and concise, something like this is better:

We think that sophisticated hackers are already exploiting BlueKeep in secret.

Not as colorful, perhaps, but more to the point. And that’s what you want, isn’t it?

A Nit Pick

The mistake is in the first panel. I bet you won’t see it. I’m not referring to the false subject (there’s) either:

Here’s the goof: technically, “slower” is an adjective, and she’s using it as an adverb, to modify “drive.” You can have a slow driver, but you drive slowly, or in this case, more slowly.

Ah, idiomatic spoken English is so full of solecisms…