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Friday, October 31, 2008

Verb Confusion--One DOES, but Two DO

I just got back from running errands. My dry cleaners--like everyone else these days--has just raised prices. Someone had posted this sign on the front of the counter:

Prices does not apply to household items.

Whoops! If "prices" is plural and refers to more than one (which it does), the verb should also be plural. In this case, that would be "do."

Prices do not apply to household items.

I'd like my readers' opinions on something: I encounter these kinds of errors more and more as I travel around. Do you think I should just post them on the blog for the lessons they offer, or should I also point out the error to the "perpetrator"?

Please send me a comment with your opinion about this. Today, I was tempted to take a pen and just quietly fix the sign, but I didn't.

I'll look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I went to get my mammogram this week (hope if you need one that you got yours this month, too, or whenever it is due). While at the 119 Health Center, I noticed this card sitting on the desk:

Please check-in at the front desk.

Whoever created this card forgot that "check-in" should be used as a NOUN or an ADJECTIVE. In the VERB slot, as in the sentence above, the hyphen is omitted. This sentence should read as follows:

Please check in at the front desk.

Below are some examples of how to use "check-in" correctly:

The check-in desk (ADJECTIVE) is located in the lobby.

After check-in (NOUN), the plenary session will be in the auditorium.

While you are here in the blog, why not click on the "compound words" site in the index on the right and see the other compound word problems I've come across.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Agreement--Even for Jackasses

Kenneth Carter's "Web Surfing" column in Sunday's The Birmingham News lists some interesting and funny websites that have to do with being "nuts." One questions who really invented peanut butter, and another mentions the thousands of pounds of nuts sent to CBS when the network canceled the "Jericho" series. You can find all of them by checking the website.

In one of the entries, Carter messed up the subject/verb agreement. He was talking about the website and made this statement about the "idiots" who perform crazy stunts for MTV. Here is his sentence:

Their hairbrained stunts and masochistic behavior boggles the mind.

Because Carter writes about BOTH stunts AND behavior, he has a COMPOUND (plural) SUBJECT with two items connected by "and." Therefore, he needs the plural verb "boggle." The sentence should read as follows:

Their hairbrained stunts and masochistic behavior boggle the mind.

Even if you check out, I hope these nuts and their stunts don't (not "doesn't") give you any stupid ideas.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More on Choosing Good Wording to Fit Meaning

Here is another example of wording that does not effectively reflect meaning:

Freda Tarbell, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said it may not be until mid-morning Sunday before officials allow residents to return home.

This is one of those sentences that makes the reader think "Huh?" and then reread to try to sort out the meaning. It could be fixed SO easily, if the writer did a little proofreading, by eliminating the unnecessary negative word NOT and the confusion of trying to use both UNTIL and BEFORE in the same sentence.

The sentence should read as follows:

Freda Tarbell, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said it may be mid-morning Sunday before officials allow residents to return home.

Wouldn't you agree that this simple fix makes the sentence clearer and smoother?

If you have an entangled sentence you'd like help with, please send along a comment, and I will be happy to work on it for you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Choose Wording to Fit Meaning

It is always a good idea to go back and proofread something you have written. Sometimes we just don't make the right word choices to express our meaning. Here is a good example from Saturday's The Birmingham News:

"We believe it has been in operation as long as 2005."

Because this was an exact quote from a sheriff's spokesman (about the hydroponic warehouse marijuana operation in Kingston), the goof is not the fault of the reporter, but it still makes a good point about wording.

AS LONG AS is a phrase used to express time up to some specific point or in relationship to some qualification, as in "As long as the store remained open..." or "He is in charge as long as we let him be."

The sentence that is quoted above expresses time in relationship to another time and should use the word SINCE to show that relationship:

We believe it has been in operation SINCE 2005.

Perhaps it is a small distinction, but good writing should read smoothly. The reader should not be thinking, "What was that again?" and rereading what you wrote to be sure of the meaning.

AS LONG AS you write clearly, your readers will get your meaning without scratching their heads.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Be Sure Verb Agrees with the SUBJECT, Not the Phrase Object

While visiting a local bank this week (like most of us in this current financial crisis), I found myself preoccuped with a poster set up on the desk of the banker. This was the headline:

1 in 4 Households Become an Identity Theft Victim

Good information, but poorly worded. This sentence is NOT saying that several households become victims. It is saying that one household becomes a victim (all singular).

The sentence should be written as follows:

1 in 4 Households Becomes an Identity Theft Victim

Do watch out for identity theft--as well as subject/verb agreement goofs. You do not want to be the one person in four who loses his identity.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Quotation Marks...And Then Quotation Marks

The following sentence appeared in the "Jobs" feature of The Birmingham News on Sunday:

“Their attitude is that, ‘You’re very lucky that you’ve got me as your (accountant/physician/salesman),” said Robicheaux.

The writer got the OUTSIDE set of quotation marks correct.
  • Double quotations marks around what Robichaux said
  • A comma INSIDE the quotation marks at the end of the quote when the speaker credit is at the end

The writer was also correct in putting a single quotation mark before "You're" because he was inserting another quote inside the first one. However, he apparently got busy and forgot the second single quotation mark at the end of the "quote within a quote." The sentence should look like this:

“Their attitude is that, ‘You’re very lucky that you’ve got me as your (accountant/physician/salesman),'” said Robicheaux.

Notice that you have three quotation marks together where BOTH the outside quote and the inside quote end.

Here are some good reminders about using quotation marks:

  • Put quotation marks at the beginning AND the end of anything you copy word for word from what someone said.
  • ALWAYS put commas and periods INSIDE the quotation marks.
  • Use single quotation marks around anything you quote inside something you are already quoting.

Here are a couple examples:

The Birmingham News has a Sunday column called "Jobs."

"We have a Bull Connor problem," Condoleezza Rice said recently as she described the distrust Iraqis feel towards their police forces. She was recalling her childhood during the turbulent 1960s in Birmingham.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

You're About to Be Reminded About Your "Your/You're" Grammar

I love to read the daily posts of the ProBlogger because they are full of good suggestions for improving my own blog and linking it in creative ways to the wider world.

Occasionally, however, I find a grammar glitch in the good advice. Sunday's blog is a good example of how NOT to confuse two words that sound exactly alike:

The key to getting picked up is to write content that adds to the conversation on partner sites. Your articles need to be highly relevant and add value to the article your linking to.

The first "your" is correct--the possessive form that shows the articles belong to "you." The second "your" is supposed to be a contraction of "you" and "are" and, therefore, should be written you're.

The sentence should read as follows:

The key to getting picked up is to write content that adds to the conversation on partner sites. Your articles need to be highly relevant and add value to the article you're linking to.

If you're wondering whether or not the contraction is okay, the answer is yes. Website copy is considered more casual and conversational than formal business prose.

if you're wondering about the final sentence that ends in a preposition, you can lighten up on that one a little, too. Contemporary English allows a preposition at the end of the sentence--at least when it makes the sentence less awkward (Is this the person with whom I saw you last evening?), but avoid redundant and unnecessary ending prepositions that create SLANG expressions like "Where are you going TO?" and "Where will you be AT?" The two SLANG examples would be just as clear without the end prepositions, so leave them off.

By the way, if you want some good advice about managing and promoting your own website, be sure to check out

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Word Usage Important If You Want to Convince This Voter

Many people are bouncing e-mails around as part of the political process lately. Some of the background data is interesting and informative, but I am always skeptical of the message when the writer uses poor grammar or usage.

Jerry Teasley of Pine Mountain, Georgia, says he is a former banker and then goes on to blame the current financial crisis on decisions made by Jimmy Carter's and Bill Clinton's administrations. I will leave the decision about his opinions to you (You can read the rest of what he says by Googling his name.), but Mr. Teasley does not seem to understand when to use there and when to use their. He also does not recognize the difference between a compound noun and a verb used with an adverb.

Here is a sentence about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from his comments:

In addition, since 1989 their have been several politicians who have
received campaign donations and kick backs from these two failed

First of all, the word their is possessive and is only used to refer to something belonging to "them."

Second, kickback is a compound word referring to money paid to someone in return for a biased decision on a public matter. To kick back
means "to relax."

If Mr. Teasley wants to persuade intelligent people to agree with him about financial matters, he should brush up on his grammar and usage before writing his opinions. His sentence should read as follows:

In addition, since 1989 there have been several politicians who have
received campaign donations and kickbacks from these two failed

How to Tell If That Bank Notice is Legitimate or Not

In these "scary" economic times, we need to be extra careful about preserving our financial resources. The last thing any of us needs right now is to be the victim of a "phishing" scam that tricks someone into revealing personal security information.

First of all, it is NEVER a good idea to respond to an online inquiry that asks for such information even if it LOOKS as if it came from your bank.

Second, the grammar in these notices is often really bad because they are crafted by criminals, not educated bank officials.

I've posted a good example below. This one appeared in my e-mail box this week, and it didn't take more than a few seconds to recognize that it was written by someone who would not have been hired by my bank. I've deleted the bank name, but left everything else the same. See if you agree:

Dear Customer,

To ensure your safety and protection in all internet banking transactions, We (no need to capitalize) were cross-examining all accounts file (this word not needed) Via (no need to capitalize) our newly upgraded SSL server. This is to inform you that we encountered an error updating your SECURITY QUESTION and ANSWER in your Online Banking profile. To avoid someone from accessing (poor wording--TO KEEP SOMEONE FROM...) your account, we request you verify your account immediately. We also wish to inform you that from time to time you will be having difficulty accessing special account features and might be liable to facing online fraud (LIABLE FOR...) for which (the bank) wouldn't (not likely a real bank would have used a contraction here) be held responsible unless your account has been updated. We kindly ask you to "click here"
so as to update via our newly upgraded SSL server.We apologize for any inconveniences.
Thank you,

I did leave one grammar/usage error uncorrected just in case the perpetrator happens to read this blog, but I doubt that is likely.

If you think you know what the other error is, please add a comment, and I will let you know if you are correct.