Category Archives: Grammar

Celebrate America—And Be Grammatically Correct

We’re almost two weeks into the summer season, and that means the Fourth of July festivities are kicking off! We shared some spring- and summer-related grammar tips in an earlier post, so this time, we’re focusing on tips to help you celebrate America (while being grammatically correct):

  • The holiday can be written as Independence Day, Fourth of July, July 4 or July Fourth. “July 4th” and “4th of July” are not correct. “July 4” is OK if you’re using it as the date and not the holiday, for example: Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
  • Some people choose to celebrate the holiday with firecrackers and fireworks—both one word—while others like to make s’mores over the firewood (one word).
  • The Fourth of July occurs in the summertime, not summer time.
  • The dog days (two words, not capitalized) of summer—the most sultry days of the season—are July 3 to Aug. 11.
  • If you’re heading to the beach, you might be planning to lie—not lay—on the sand to sunbathe (one word).

Do you have any other tips to share with us? Tell us in the comments!

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Should it be Capitalized?

Proper capitalization is an important component of well-written content, but are you confident you’re capitalizing words correctly? For the most part, we all know to capitalize proper nouns, such as names, cities, and titles, but as always, there are rules to follow. Here are some quick tips:

The First Word of a Sentence

This is a simple one, but there are some instances where you may be questioning if the first word should be capitalized. For example, capitalize the first word of a quotation that is a complete sentence, but not a sentence fragment.

The football coach said, “We need to go out there and compete.” At times, he said the team “took plays off.”

Family Relationships

Words that designate family relationships should be capitalized when they are used as proper nouns.

I’m taking Dad to a baseball game this weekend. You should bring your dad.

Professional Titles

Professional titles should be capitalized when they precede an individual’s name or when referring to the person without mentioning his or her name. Titles should always be lowercase if they follow a name.

Tom Wolf, governor of Pennsylvania, held a Twitter town hall last month. During the session, people could tweet questions to the Governor. One user asked if a hot dog is a sandwich, to which Governor Wolf replied, “Yes, and a good one, too.”

Days, Months, and Holidays, but not Always Seasons

Days of the week, months, and holidays should always be capitalized because they are proper nouns. However, seasons should remain lowercase, unless they are part of a proper name or title.

Do you have any plans on Memorial Day? It’s on a Monday, right?

It’s going to be summer soon, which makes me wonder, when is the next Summer Olympics?

Directions

Directions can be tricky. Compass directions—north, south, east, and west—aren’t capitalized. Regions, such as Western Pennsylvania, are capitalized.

I drove west for a few hours, but still haven’t reached the Midwest.

 

Do you have any other questions for us to explore that’ll help improve your writing?

Spring & Summer Grammar Tips

We’re a full week into May and right in between the spring and summer. Seasonal press releases, ads, blogs, etc. are being published, so here are a few spring- and summer-related grammar tips to help you while you write your content:

  • This Sunday, we will be celebrating Mother’s Day (not Mothers Day or Mothers’ Day).
  • All seasons—spring, summer, fall and winter—are lowercase. Equinox or spring equinox also are lowercase.
  • Memorial Day is a holiday, so the first letter in both words should be capitalized. If you have the day off, you might go to a barbecue (not barbeque, Bar-B-Q or BBQ).
  • Daylight saving time already has passed for the season, but when it comes again in the fall, the written style remains the same—no capitalization, no hyphens and no plurals (it’s “saving,” not “savings”).
  • Graduation season is here, so remember to use apostrophes in the general terms bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, etc. (no capitalization). However, the proper form is capitalized and does not have an apostrophe. For example, Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science.
  • If you’re going on a vacation, you’re a traveler who is traveling (one L, not two).

What are some other good seasonal writing tips! Share them with us in the comments!

Confused About Using ‘Further’ and ‘Farther’?

Today, we are talking about the differences between further and farther, as we continue our series on commonly confused words.

To be fair, both words mean “at a more distant place” and are commonly used interchangeably in most English-speaking countries, with farther being rarely used. However, if you’re a stickler for grammar, they should be used in different situations, at least in American English.

Fear not though, there’s a simple distinction between the two words. Further is used when talking about figurative or metaphorical distances (more time, more effort, etc.), while farther is used for physical distances (more miles, more inches, etc.).

Need a tip for when to use farther? Take the stem word—far—and think about the opening line of Star Wars IV: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Here, this imaginary galaxy is farther—not further—away than the coffee shop down the street. Why? Because we are talking about the physical distance to the other galaxy, whether it is 100 feet or 100 parsecs.

If you’re in a pinch and can’t decide which word to use, go with further.

Are there other grammar questions that you’d like us to explore further?

5 Grammar Tips to Keep in Mind This Holiday Season

We’re almost through the first week of December, which means holiday-related content is being published everywhere! Whether you’re writing a holiday-themed press release, article, blog post, brochure or just signing your annual cards, here are a couple of tips to help you with your holiday content:

  1. Capitalize words like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Kwanzaa, Yule, Yuletide, North Pole, Jesus, Jesus Christ and Feliz Navidad. Because a Grinch derives from the proper name of Dr. Seuss’ famous grumpy character, it also is capitalized. Though Champagne often is widely used as a generic term to describe what one drinks during a holiday celebration, the term actually refers to a specific type of sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and fermented in the bottle to create carbonation. Because of this, Champagne should be capitalized and other sparkling wines should simply be referred to as sparkling wine.
  1. The jolly guy who brings toys to children around the world is Santa Claus, not Clause, unless you’re referring to the movie, “The Santa Clause.” While we’re on the topic of movies, holiday movie and song titles should be placed inside quotes—“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Silent Night,” “White Christmas” and “Auld Lang Syne.”
  1. The eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights is spelled Hanukkah, according to AP Style. Another popular, traditional way to spell it is Chanukah.
  1. Only the first word in Nativity scene is capitalized. Unless they’re included in titles or headlines, other words/phrases that should not be capitalized include: noel, gifts, poinsettia, menorah, dreidel, mistletoe, happy holidays, season’s greetings and hallelujah.
  1. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have apostrophes. This season, the new year refers to only 2015—Dec. 31, 2014, is the eve of the upcoming new year, and Jan. 1, 2015, refers to the first day of the single year that has just begun. You can always write, “Happy New Year,” without the apostrophe. However, if you’re referring to the new year in general, don’t capitalize it: “We will discuss marketing strategies for the new year.”

Feel free to regift (one word) these pieces of advice, and share your own with us! You can also check out the AP Style’s 2014 Holiday Style Guide.

Confused about using ‘affect’ and ‘effect?’

Affect and effect look and sound almost the same, but that doesn’t mean they can be used interchangeably. Unfortunately, they are two of the most commonly misused words, but figuring out which one to use is easier than you may think.

Simply put, affect is almost always used as a verb, and effect as a noun. Affect means to influence someone or something, or to produce a result, whereas effect is the result of a cause or action.

  • Apollos Hester’s post-game interview had an inspirational effect on me. How did it affect you?

Affect also can mean to act in a way that’s not typical, and effect can mean a private possession. For example:

  •  Normally energetic and supportive, Coach Tomlin affected an air of disappointment on the sideline.
  •  Packing up personal effects is always the hard part of moving.

Before we close this blog out, let’s address why I said affect and effect are almost always used as a verb and noun, respectively. Sometimes it’s the other way around. When used as a verb, effect means to bring about or to accomplish.

  • Coach Franklin hopes the upcoming bye week effects improvement in the Nittany Lions’ offense.

Likewise, affect can be used as a noun—although rarely—meaning an emotional state or implying a mood someone is experiencing.

  • After the Steelers lost to the Browns, I sat on my couch in an emotionless affect.

Would you like us to explore other grammar questions? Let us know in the comments.

Are You Using ‘That’ and ‘Which’ Correctly?

In everyday conversation, people use that and which interchangeably without giving the words much thought. However, when using them as relative pronouns to introduce adjective clauses, the choice of using that or which determines the meaning of a sentence. It’s another grammar rule that is more important in writing than it is in speech.

So, how do you know which word to use? Simply put, use that before a restrictive clause and which before a nonrestrictive clause. Easy enough, right?

That

Restrictive (or essential) clauses limit the meaning of the nouns they modify. They add important information, and leaving it out would change the sentence’s meaning.

Example: The bacon cheeseburgers that are topped with cheddar sell fast.

In this sentence, we specifically know the bacon cheeseburgers with cheddar sell fast. We don’t know anything about the burgers with a different cheese.

Which

Nonrestrictive (or nonessential) clauses simply provide additional information that can be left out of a sentence without changing its meaning.

Example: The bacon cheeseburgers, which are topped with cheddar, sell fast.

In this sentence, we can assume cheddar is on every bacon cheeseburger and they all sell fast.

Did you notice the commas in the nonrestrictive clause example and how they are absent in the restrictive clause example. The rule of thumb is to surround a nonrestrictive clause with commas. If the sentence ends in a nonrestrictive clause, set it off with a single comma. For example, “I ate a bacon cheeseburger for lunch, which was delicious.”

Would you like us to explore other grammar questions? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Is It Who or Whom?

While thinking of a topic to blog about, I was looking at headlines on a popular news website when I saw, “Whom will Jackson hire to coach Knicks?” I smiled, but then I clicked the link and read, “Who might Phil Jackson want as his first Knicks coach?” My smile turned upside down.

Who vs Whom

While “who” and “whom” are both pronouns, many people do not use them correctly. The rule of thumb is to use “who” when referring to the subject of a clause—the person doing something—and “whom” when referring to the object—the person having something done to them.

There’s a really simple trick to help you figure out which pronoun to use. If the question can be answered with “he” (she, they, or we), then use “who,” but if it’s answered with “him” (her, them, or us), then use “whom.” The “m” in “him” and “whom” is the trick. Simple.

Who/Whom will Jackson hire to coach Knicks?

Jackson is the subject and the soon-to-be coach is the object. Jackson will hire “him,” so “whom” is correct.

Who/Whom might Jackson want as his first Knicks coach?

Here, the new coach is still the object. Jackson might want “him,” so “whom” should have been used.

Who/Whom will start in goal for the Penguins in game four?

Here, the goalie is the subject. “He” will start in goal, so “who” is correct.

Because many of us do not think fast enough on our feet, the distinction between “who” and “whom” is generally less important in speech than it is in writing. Unfortunately, since people aren’t taking the time to learn the difference between the two pronouns, the use of “whom” may disappear altogether.

Is it just I?

Last week, my colleague, Heidi Dezayas, a former newspaper reporter, wrote despairingly of the Associated Press’ decision to sanction the use of “over” and “more than” interchangeably when writing about numerical values.

Heidi’s right, but her blog reminded me of a piece I saw on TV a few weeks ago about another grammar gremlin that frequently annoys me. Apparently, it annoys Bill Flanagan, a regular contributor to CBS Sunday Morning, too.

In the short video linked below, Mr. Flanagan laments the growing inability of English speakers to use “me” and “I,” properly; then offers some easy instruction to help us keep them straight. Here’s his take:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/bill-flanagan-of-the-grammar-police-on-i-and-me/

What do you think?  Is it just “I,” or does it bother you, too.  Are there other common grammar bugaboos that annoy you? If you want to get them off your chest, share them with us here.

More Than Words?

A few weeks ago, Associated Press (AP) Stylebook editors announced that “over” and “more than” could both be used when writing about numerical values. Previously, the rule stated that “more than” was used to refer to numerical values and “over” was used to talk about the physical, spatial relationship of two objects.

For example: I ran more than five miles this morning, but I had to keep stepping over patches of ice.

On the surface, the change doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but copy editors everywhere were shocked. Because of my background as a news reporter and editor, I wasn’t thrilled with the announcement. When I was in school earning my journalism degree, the rule of “more than” versus “over” was drilled into my mind.

The words generally are used interchangeably by anyone who doesn’t work in a newsroom, as long as it sounds right in a particular sentence. AP editors stated they decided to make the change because using “over” has become common usage. Some copy editors on Twitter discussed spending a lot of time making the correction when they were editing articles. I’m 100 percent sure that copy editors spend a boatload of time correcting the common, yet incorrect, interchangeable uses of “affect” and effect,” “between” and “among,” and “which,” “that,” and “who.” That being the case, would it grammatically make sense for the AP to be more lenient with those word uses? I don’t think so. Rules should change for grammatical progress, not for simplicity’s sake.

AP Stylebook editors stated that those who prefer using “more than” aren’t required to start using “over.” I can say with absolute certainty I won’t be making the switch, but that’s my own personal preference. What about you?