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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Driveway is Clean, but the Grammar is Not!

A fellow with a pressure washer did a great job cleaning my driveway this week. However, his flyer left a little to be desired as far as good grammar is concerned. He offered a Holiday Special this way:

All driveway's, sidewalk's, house's, anything - 50% off.

Whoops! I think I will take up a collection to post billboards that say: PLEASE, PEOPLE, YOU DO NOT NEED AN APOSTROPHE TO MAKE A WORD PLURAL. His special should have read this way:

All driveways, sidewalks, houses, anything - 50% off.

Underneath the photos of "before and after" steps, driveways, and decks, he put this sentence:

Hurry and schedule your appointment while offer last.


Whoops again! The word "offer" is SINGULAR, so the verb "last" should have an "s" on it. The sentence should read this way:

Hurry and schedule your appointment while this offer lasts.

What do you think? Should I ignore the goofs with the attitude--who cares? He's not an English major. Or, should I note the problems so that his business flyers give a better impression?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Letter to the Editor Judges Author of I Judge You....


Jim Daniel wrote a Letter to the Editor this morning calling out Sharon Eliza Nichols on a grammar point. Daniel criticized Nichols for saying in an interview, "I know I don't have 15,000 friends, so it's not just them who are buying it (her book)."
Oops, says Daniel. "She violated the rule that states the object of the verb 'to be' always takes the nominative case." She should have said, "...so it's not just they who are buying it."
Daniel is technically correct, BUT, as I have stated several times on this blog, a little leeway is allowed when a person is speaking casually and out loud. Most grammarians do not expect us to go through all the analysis every time we open our mouths. We use contractions, end some sentences with prepositions, and use WHO for WHOM out loud when we would be more careful and technically correct on paper.
Because Nichols was speaking out loud during an interview and making a casual rather than a formal statement, I don't have a problem with her choice of words.
I'd like to point out something else from Jim Daniel's pontifical letter to the editor. He suggested that Nichols "should have remembered the advice given us by Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address: 'but let us judge not, that we be not judged.'" I will take things a step further and judge Daniel who did not correctly attribute this advice. Although Lincoln used it in his second inaugural address, the advice actually comes from Jesus Christ who, in the King James translation of the Bible, is quoted in Matthew 7:1 as saying, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
Do check out Nichols' Facebook page, which is generating a great dialogue about grammar glitches and pet grammar peeves.

Watch Your Word Choice

I hope all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas. I also hope you are looking forward to a good New Year.

Birmingham will elect a new mayor in a run-off election on January 19. The two candidates are very different--William Bell is a political veteran, and Patrick Cooper is an attorney with a background in the business sector.



In a recent interview article about the candidates' opinions on economic growth, the reporter made the following statement:



They agree on many economic development fundamentals, but they come at economic development from different approaches.



This is confusing wording, mainly because "come at" and "approach" mean the same thing. What the reporter wants to get across is that these two candidates approach the issue FROM DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS or maybe that they HAVE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES. The sentence should read like something close to one of the following:



They agree on many economic development fundamentals, but they approach economic development from different directions.



They agree on many economic development fundamentals, but they have different perspectives on how to achieve economic development.



I hope you agree that either of these would be clearer.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sharon Eliza Nichols Judges You By Your Grammar!



Sharon Eliza Nichols is a law student at the University of Alabama. In 2007, she started a Facebook group called "I judge you when you use poor grammar." According to Wayne Grayson's article for The Tuscaloosa News, Nichols started the group out of boredom and figured a few friends might join in.


To her surprise, the idea has caught on and spread. More than 4,000 people have joined the Facebook site, and they have uploaded more than 10,000 examples of poor grammar--from business signs and T-shirts to hair gel labels. I'm impressed!


This year, Nichols took things a step further. She has published a book (see cover at left above) that includes the pictures her Facebook group has mailed to her. With her "short and snarky captions for each picture," the book has become a hit. The first printing of 15,000 copies has sold out, and St. Martin's is printing 7,500 more. For now, it can still be ordered at http://www.amazon.com/.


When Grayson asked Nichols why she thinks the book has been successful, she told him she thinks "it goes back to just how important language is to life." That is so true, and so is the message that people DO judge you by your grammar. I have been "preaching" that message in my workshops on resume preparation at the Hoover library for two years. When I surveyed HR directors at major Birmingham companies, the #1 complaint they had about resumes was POOR GRAMMAR AND USAGE.


Grammar glitches are also welcomed at this blog, and I will be happy to pass them along to Nichols. Just today, I sent her a photo of the Wal-Mart pharmacy bag that says Colgate is recommended by "denists."


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Magic & Tragic" Column Features Apostrophe Goof

The "Magic & Tragic" column in The Birmingham News this week got the ITS straight (without the apostrophe when possessive), but failed to use an apostrophe correctly in a different incidence of possession in the same sentence. Here is what I read:



UAB wants one of its former scientists research papers to be retracted because of concerns about fabricated findings.



Oops. Not only is it necessary to show that ITS means belonging to UAB, but it is also necessary to show that the research papers in question belong to a scientist. It DOES get complicated because you have a reference to "one" and then to a group of "scientists" and then to the "papers." The "to be" phrase also complicates the sentence.



My suggestion would be to untangle things before deciding how best to show that the papers belong to the one former scientist. I would rewrite the sentence this way:



UAB wants the research papers of one of its former scientists retracted because of concerns about fabricated findings.



Written this way, I conclude that the apostrophe is not needed, but the sentence is now grammatically correct, and we know that the writer is referring to ONE scientist and a GROUP of that person's papers. Did you get that?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

ITS and IT'S again! And millions of dollars!

I counted. It's been nineteen days since the last time I spotted a grammar glitch with ITS and IT's. Here is the one that greeted me in a full page ad for Thomasville furniture this morning:



In preparation for a new Thomasville in 2010, the factory has authorized the liquidation of inventories from it's stores and millions of dollars from the warehouse.



Whoops! This ad is not talking about "it + is" stores. It is talking about stores belonging to the factory (the factory and its stores...). NO APOSTROPHE IS NEEDED WITH THE POSSESSIVE PRONOUN.



There is another problem here, too. I would love to have my share of the "millions of dollars" they've been hiding in that warehouse. According to this sentence, they are liquidating inventories from their stores AND liquidating millions of dollars from the warehouse. Where do I get in line???



The sentence ought to read as follows:



In preparation for a new Thomasville in 2010, the factory has authorized the liquidation of inventories from its stores as well as millions of dollars worth of inventories from its warehouse.



Amazing how much difference a little wording change can make!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pay Attention to Time Line When Choosing Verbs




I am currently reading a wonderful book called "the blue cotton gown" (NOTE: The title IS in all lower case letters!)by Patricia Harman. It is about her experiences as a midwife in Appalachia.



I love the book, but one sentence I came across last evening bothers me because it uses the past perfect tense (HAD as a helping verb) in a confusing way. Here is the sentence:



When I called R. G.'s office to inquire about what was going on, her receptionist had told me R. was in Europe.



If you think of verb tenses in terms of a time line, there would be a crossbar in the middle of that time line for RIGHT NOW. Every verb expresses action in relationship to RIGHT NOW. So, when the author says "When I called...." she is setting up an event that happened in the PAST. Logic tells us that what the receptionist TOLD her should be in the same time frame as CALLED. However, the author uses HAD TOLD, which is incorrect because HAD TOLD would be used for something that happened farther back in the past--before the telephone call. The sentence should read as follows:



When I called R. G.'s office to inquire about what was going on, her receptionist told me R. was in Europe.



Below are some examples of how to use the past perfect tense (HAD + the verb) to express the correct time relationship:




  • When I called to inquire about what was going on, the receptionist told me R. had been in Europe for the past three weeks.



  • Before I accepted the teaching position, I had been working as a gardener.



  • Although Peter now lived in Cleveland, he had grown up in Columbus.


If any of my regular readers would like a copy of my sample time line for choosing verbs correctly, please send along your e-mail address, and I will send a copy.





Wednesday, December 2, 2009

RNS Denies Creating "That clause" Sentence Fragment

In my last post, I fussed about a sentence fragment and attributed the error to the Religion News Service in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. An e-mail I received points out that the sentence was grammatically correct as written for Religion News Service and posted on their website (www.religionnews.com). The culprit, apparently, was a copy editor at my local newspaper who did a poor job when editing the article for publication.

My e-mail correspondent pointed out that the original sentence was written correctly as follows:

That evangelicals, who compose a quarter of the American population, must refocus on shaping authentic disciples for Jesus Christ has always garnered wide support.

I am happy to set the record straight.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A "That" clause is not a complete sentence.

The Religion News Service posted an article this past weekend that began with a confusing mouthful. First came a sixteen-word introductory phrase followed by a fairly direct simple statement. The fairly direct simple statement, which said "...concerned evangelicals gathered last month to search the soul of their movement and find a new way forward." was supposed to set up the point that evangelicals need to refocus, but the article stuck that point in a completely new paragraph and created a sentence fragment in the bargain. Here is what I tried to untangle as I read the article:





Repentant for having spent a generation bowing at the altars of church growth and political power, concerned evangelicals gathered last month to search the soul of their movement and find a new way forward.


That evangelicals, who compose a quarter of the American population, must refocus on shaping authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. But how to do that in a consumerist society with little appetite for self-denial is fueling internal debate.


First of all, the "sentence" that starts with "That evangelicals..." is not a complete sentence. Second, the final "sentence" begins with "but," (which isn't always a crime), but this "sentence" then slogs forward with a 14-word subject ("how to do that in a consumerist society with little appetite for self-denial) before getting to the verb "is fueling". Whew! What a mess of a paragraph!

We all write things this way in our FIRST DRAFT, but most of us go back and proofread and polish after creating such monsters. Here is what I would suggest:


Concerned evangelicals are becoming repentant about the generation they spent bowing at the altars of church growth and political power. A group of them gathered last month to search the soul of their movement and find a new way forward.

Evangelicals, who compose a quarter of the American population, may need to refocus on shaping authentic disciples of Jesus Christ, but there was considerable internal debate at the gathering about how to do that in a consumerist society with little appetite for self-denial.

I hope you will agree that my rewrite is clearer and more direct. Please let me know what you think and if you have a better rewrite suggestion.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

THERE IS not okay for plural ideas

I have three other posts that deal with the confusion of THERE and THEIR. Now comes the confusion of THERE IS and THERE ARE.

Consider this sentence that appeared in my local newspaper this morning in an article about a professor who has written a book to help teachers teach evolution in science classes without offending students' religious views:

"There is piles and piles of evidence for evolution, and scientists can explain that," Meadows said.

Whoops! If Meadows is speaking about "piles and piles" of something, that is plural. Therefore, he should use THERE ARE as the beginning of his sentence. He could only use THERE IS if he said something like this: THERE IS a pile of evidence for evolution. His sentence should read as follows:

There are piles and piles of evidence for evolution, and scientists can explain that," said Meadows.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why Can't Writers Keep Its and It's Straight?

Maybe it's more difficult than it seems, but writers continue to confuse ITS and IT'S. I already have several examples on this blog, but here's a new one that appeared in a wedding feature in last Sunday's local newspaper:



(The reception) was held at the Matt Jones Art Gallery in Birmingham because they liked it's locale and decor.



Whoops. Here we go again. IT'S (with an apostrophe) has only TWO meanings, and neither of them is possessive, as in "the locale and decor" belonging to the gallery. IT'S (with an apostrophe) is a contraction of either "it + is" or "it + has," as in "It's raining again today." or "It's been a pleasure working with you." There are no other ways to use this word.



ITS (without the apostrophe) means only ONE thing--belonging to an "it," as in the example sentence above. In that sentence, "its" refers to the locale and decor of the gallery (which is an "it").



Got that? The example sentence should read as follows:



(The reception) was held at the Matt Jones Art Gallery in Birmingham because they (the bride and groom) liked its locale and decor.



Grammar glitch aside, we do wish Lisa and Kevin (the bride and groom) a long and happy life together.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Title of Talk Gets Apostrophe Placement Wrong

A nationally recognized expert on dementia was to give a talk in Birmingham last Saturday. The newspaper quoted the title of her talk as follows:


Dementia Care Challenges: How to Maintain a Sound Mind When Your Loved Ones' Mind is Changing

Whoops! The speech title clearly refers to ONE loved one. It does not talk about more than one loved one. If it did, the verb would be "are" instead of "is," and the title would refer to when your loved ones' minds ARE changing. Therefore, the apostrophe should appear BEFORE the "s." It should read as follows:



Dementia Care Challenges: How to Maintain a Sound Mind When Your Loved One's Mind is Changing



REMEMBER: The apostrophe goes BEFORE the "s" if you are talking about a singular person or thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Big Difference Between "under investigated" and "under investigation."



This morning's The Birmingham News has an informative and touching article about Major Royer, an Alabama soldier seriously injured in the terror attack at Fort Hood recently. The article told about the two women who helped save his life and also about the many visitors he has had during his recovery, including former President Bush and his wife, and President Obama and his wife.


Unfortunately, the reporter who wrote the article did not go back and proofread after changing around one sentence in the article. I suspect he originally wrote "is being investigated" and then decided to change it to "is under investigation."


This brings up a good point about proofreading. Whenever you make changes to a sentence, ALWAYS go back and read through it to make sure you don't need additional changes to go with the one you made. In this case, the reporter needed to change the verb form and did not. The sentence, as printed, reads as follows:


Royer declined to talk about what happened to him Nov. 5 because the incident is under investigated.


As written, it sounds as if this incident is not receiving enough investigation. The sentence needs the phrase "under investigation" or the phrase "being investigated" to make sense.


I wish Major Royer a good recovery.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A number of football commentators use "amount" for all counting.

As I listened to the commentary with several college and pro football games this past weekend, I heard the same grammar glitch numerous times. As I've said before, grammar glitches like this one may be fairly common when people are speaking, but if they carry over to written work, they stand out as poor usage and should be corrected.



I've blogged about this before, but please remember that AMOUNT is used for "lump sum" things like money, laundry, salt, energy, team spirit, and jewelry. NUMBER is used for things that can be counted (penalities, points, jerseys, and jewels).



Here are two sentences I heard over the weekend:



Georgia has had a ridiculous amount of penalities this year.



For a pro team, they have scored a minute amount of points so far.



Both PENALITIES and POINTS can be counted, so they should be described with the word NUMBER rather than the word AMOUNT. These sentences should read as follows:



Georgia has had a ridiculous number of penalities this year.



For a pro team, they have scored a minute number of points so far.



I hope your team has scored a large number of points so far this year (unless you happen to be a rival of Ohio State) and that the amount of your enthusiasm remains high throughout the season!



Sunday, November 15, 2009

There is a difference between ONTO and ON TO.

Those of you who read this blog regularly have seen the two entries about IN and INTO. Today's newspaper carries a grammar glitch with ON TO and ONTO, which involves a similar point. Here is the sentence I read with my morning tea:

He believed in hard work and wanted to pass that belief onto his children, his son recalled.

It sounds as if this good man wanted to put his belief in a bowl, stand on a stool, and pour it down ONTO the heads of his children, which is probably not what the reporter meant. Instead, the man wanted to pass his belief in hard work ON (into the future) and to do that by giving it TO his children. In this sentence, ON and TO should be separate because their meanings are separate. The sentence should read as follows:

He believed in hard work and wanted to pass that belief on to his children, his son recalled.

For more information on this preposition concept, click (in the index at the right) on the entry for INTO/IN TO.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"People" Reporter Creates Sentence Fragment


The "People" section of my local newspaper carried a nice article this morning about the WQED studio in Pittsburgh where Fred Rogers visited the Neighborhood of Make-Believe weekday afternoons until about ten years ago. The studio, which is being renamed for Rogers, will be brought back to life and opened to the public this weekend.

Unfortunately, the reporter who put this story together moved some material around and did not go back and proofread. The result was the following rather long sentence fragment:

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe is being rebuilt and opened to the public Saturday and Sunday, giving generations of Americans who grew up with Fred Rogers.

This sentence proves my point that you can put a capital letter at the beginning, a period at the end, and make it four lines long, but it STILL is not necessarily a sentence if it doesn't have a subject and a verb combination that work clearly together. In this sentence, the first part qualifies. In fact, you could put a period after "Sunday" and have a fine sentence for that part. However, "giving" is not enough of a verb by itself to make the last part of the sentence work.

The reader gets to the period at the end and asks, "Wait a minute. Giving these generations what?" Put together as it is written, the sentence makes no sense. I would suggest finishing the idea as follows:

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe is being rebuilt and opened to the public Saturday and Sunday, giving generations of Americans who grew up with Fred Rogers an opportunity to relive their childhood memories.

If you happen to be in Pittsburgh this weekend and happen to have grown up with Fred Rogers the way my older son did, then stop by WQED and check out the Rogers studio.

By the way, I'd like to welcome any new readers of this blog who found their way here after our workshops in Montgomery this past week. You were all great to work with, and I hope you enjoy the grammar glitches you find here each week.



Monday, November 2, 2009

If it's THESE, it must be KINDS

Agreement is the issue again today. Lawman1856 posted a comment on al.com last week. He (or she?) was complaining about a news report that Jefferson County deputies had been called to a home to referee a domestic dispute over the cost of a facelift. Lawman created this sentence:



It's these kind of calls that take officers and deputies off the streets and waste taxpayers' time.



He may have a point, but even web posters should watch their grammar if they want to be considered credible. THESE is plural; therefore, the word that follows should be KINDS. Or, he might have referred to THIS KIND, but then he would have had to change CALLS to CALL. The sentence should read in one of the two following ways:



It's these kinds of calls that take officers and deputies off the streets and waste taxpayers' time.



It's this kind of call that takes officers and deputies off the streets and wastes taxpayers' time.



Notice how many different elements of the sentence (five in all) must be consistent with each other (all singular or all plural) for the sentence to be correct.



NOTE: I do give lawman1856 credit for putting the apostrophe AFTER the "s" with taxpayers' because he was referring to more than one taxpayer. He definitely got that part right!



Thursday, October 29, 2009

Apartment Manager Needs Usage and Apostrophe Editor



This notice appeared recently on the door of a senior citizen apartment building. Most seniors I know had a good grammar education in school, so I wonder how many of the residents cringed when they read this notice.


First off, the middle section uses the incorrect THEIR where it should be THERE. The phrase should read as follows:


...which means that there will be no elevators!


Second and third, FRIENDS HOUSE is indicating that the house belongs to a friend and FAMILY MEMBERS HOUSE is indicating that the house belongs to a family member, so an apostrophe is needed to show POSSESSION. The first statement in the last paragraph should read as follows:


If you can stay at a friend's house or at a family member's house, that would be even better. (Notice that I also added a comma after the second HOUSE to mark the end of the introductory clause. I might also pose the question: Better than what?)


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ALERT! Do NOT use apostrophe to form plural!

I've written about this before, but there it was again in plain sight in this morning's Hoover section of The Birmingham News. In an article about Hoover not requiring sprinkler systems in new homes, News staff writer Val Walton created this sentence:

Hoover Fire Marshal Frank Brocato said he can understand the city's reasoning in not making the sprinkler's mandatory given the difficult economic times.

The word "sprinkler" should be made plural by simply adding an "s," NOT an apostrophe "s." The apostrophe should only be added when referring to something that BELONGS to the sprinkler, as in "The sprinkler's source of water varies from house to house." I've also rearranged the wording a little for more clarity. I think the above sentence should read as follows:

Hoover fire Marshal Frank Brocato said that, given the difficult economic times, he can understand the city's reasoning in not making the sprinklers mandatory.

Notice also that the reporter used an apostrophe correctly on "city" to show that the reasoning belongs to the city.

Have a great day, everyone!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Whoops! Watch those "relative" plurals.

If you decide to tell tales on your in-laws, be sure to use the correct plural and possessive forms. The reporter covering the deposition of disgraced former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy in Birmingham last week paraphrased a comment by Scrushy and used poor grammar in doing so:



Scrushy said those on the list (of approved telephone numbers he can call from prison) include wife Leslie, son-in-laws Mike Plaia and Martin Adams, and Jim Parkman....



Whoops! When you want to make son-in-law or mother-in-law plural, you add the S to the FIRST word of the compound, NOT the last. The reporter should have written this:



Scrushy said those on the list include wife Leslie, sons-in-law Mike Plaia and Martin Adams, and Jim Parkman....



Now, if Mr. Scrushy had wanted to note that all of his missing assets might be found at the home of one of his sons-in-law or at the home of his mother-in-law, he might have stated this:



All of that cash can be found in my older son-in-law's garage, and the jewelry I didn't give away is hidden in my mother-in-law's bedroom closet.



PLEASE NOTE: Like the prosecutors, I have no idea where Mr. Scrushy's assets are. This sentence is merely a hypothetical example for all my GrammarGlitch Central readers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

AFFECT? EFFECT? Still Not Clear

The Birmingham News published an excellent article titled "Interview body language" in its Sunday edition (October 11). Based on interviews with Mark Hickson, professor of communication studies at UAB, and Lana Thompson, founder of Thompson and Associates, an HR consulting, training and coaching firm, it offered many tips on appropriate body language for job interviews.



Unfortunately, the author of the article used "affect" incorrectly in the very first paragraph, detracting quite a bit from the professionalism of the message. She wrote:



"What affect can body language have on your job interview?"



Oops! She needed the noun form EFFECT in this slot of the sentence. EFFECT is almost always a noun, and AFFECT is almost always a verb. If you remember that, you will be correct at least 90% of the time, as in the sentence above. (NOTE: If you want to know the unusual circumstances EFFECT can be a verb, send me a comment, and I will do a column just on that.)



This sentence should read as follows:



What effect can body language have on your job interview?



That said, there were still some good tips in the article. Here are several examples:



1. Sit up straight, place your hands in your lap or on the chair arms, and keep your forearms slightly away from your body.



2. Take a file folder with you so you have something to hold. You can put an extra copy of your resume in it.



3. Lean forward a bit when the interview is speaking. Take a breath and lean back when you begin to speak.



If you want to see more of this article, go to al.com and search for the title "Interview body language."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More Subject/Verb Agreement Confusion

A recent request in the local "Good Neighbors" column here in Birmingham contained a sentence that read as follows:



M. R. wanted to buy one of the pink and white commemorative plates that was given to adults who were in attendance when South Avondale Baptist Church held its last service.



At first glance, this sentence might appear to be correct. The verb "was" is singular, and the word "one" is singular, so they agree. BUT, read it again. M. R. only wants to buy ONE plate; however, many more than ONE were given out on the day of the last church service.



In this case, the clause "that WERE given to adults who...." describes PLATES (more than one) not the ONE plate M. R. wanted to buy.



The sentence should read as follows:



M. R. wanted to buy one of the pink and white plates that were given to adults when South Avondale Baptist Church held its last service.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Verb Agreement Mixup in The Denver Post

Yesterday's The Denver Post carried a sentence about the Mideast conflict that offers a good example of poor subject/verb agreement. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that is one of my pet peeves.

Here is the sentence:

He did not disclose what kind of action Netanyahu recommend be taken.”

Subject/verb agreement is always difficult when the sentence has more than one clause--more than one subject and more than one verb. In this sentence, there is the added difficulty of the "be taken" tacked onto the end.

The second clause is basically saying "Netanyahu recommends" action, but the reporter doesn't know what kind. Netanyahu is one person (singular), so the verb should be "recommends," which is singular.

Addiing to the confusion and awkwardness is the phrase "be taken," which serves no purpose whatsoever in the sentence. If it's action, it's being taken, so that phrase is implied.

I would suggest that the sentence reads correctly and much more smoothly this way:

He did not disclose what kind of action Netanyahu recommends.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grammar Glitches Elsewhere in the Country

I am on the road this week, but that hasn't stopped me from spotting grammar glitches in what I've had time to read. My Alabama readers will be happy to know that other parts of the country goof, too. Of course, that's not an excuse to ignore careful proofreading!

Here is a glaring example of an apostrophe error that appears in the 2009 Tulsa Visitors Guide. It appears in a letter of welcome from the mayor of the city. I won't speculate on whether the mayor goofed, somebody who keyed in her letter goofed, or the proofreader goofed. It might have been all three.

Here is the offending sentence:

One of the best western art collection's in the nation is housed in oil magnate Thomas Gilcrease's former property, the Gilcrease Museum, just north of downtown.

Only one of the apostrophes in red above is correct. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that the primary purpose of an apostrophe is to SHOW POSSESSION. The primary purpose of an apostrophe is NEVER to show PLURAL.

Therefore, collections is plural (add JUST the s). However, Gilcrease's indicates that the property once belonged to (SHOWING POSSESSION) Thomas Gilcrease, so it needs the apostrophe.

The sentence should read as follows:

One of the best western art collections in the nation is housed in oil magnate Thomas Gilcrease's former property, the Gilcrease Museum, just north of downtown.

Hope this is helpful. Check again tomorrow to see what I caught in Sunday's The Denver Post.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Denists? Wal-Mart Bag Says They Recommend Colgate Total!


My husband picked up a prescription at Wal-Mart the other day and left the bag sitting on the kitchen table. Apparently my subconscious likes to proofread as much as my conscious mind because while we were discussing something else, my eye caught the misspelling shown here at the left and set off alarm bells. "Dentist," of course, has a "t" after the "n."
I would imagine that Wal-Mart and Colgate would both prefer that I remember them for their good products and customer service, NOT for a spelling blooper in an advertisement on one of their bags. I wonder how long it will be before this one is corrected.
PLEASE remember to proofread anything that will be read by large numbers of people. Accuracy goes hand in hand with professional image.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ooops! Setting the "reccord" straight?

That old saying about people in glass houses not throwing stones should apply to copy editors as well. The small correction notice on the second page of a local newspaper last week carried the following headline:

Setting the Reccord Straight

Hm-mmm. Seems to me if you are going to correct someone else, you should first proofread your own copy! The article noted that someone had given the wrong figure for how many home sales would be triggered by an extension of the $8,000 federal homebuyer credit, but the copy editor misspelled "record" in his own headline!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bad Grammar Best Clue to Bogus Offers


If you don't want your hard-earned money to fly away on the next bogus scheme for easy riches, keep a sharp eye out for messages written in poor grammar. Whether these come from faraway places like Nigeria or a remote village in the UK or just some basement near you, they are usually created by people who didn't bother to learn how to communicate well and people who use phrases that are not natural to American English.
Here is a choice example I received recently. It claims to be from Bank of America and even includes a "Click here to continue" link and a link to "sign in to Online Banking." If I were to click on either of these spots, I am sure I would be asked to provide sensitive security information that could then be used to empty my account. Before scrolling on down, see how many errors you can spot in this message:
...We are unable to active your account because we have upgraded our online services, we are sorry for that but you have to reactive your BofA online bank account to be able to send and recive money online.....Your account might be place on restricted status....To lift up this restriction, you need to login into your account (with your username or SSN and your password)....All restricted accounts have their billing information unconfirmed, meaning that you may no longer send money from your account until you have reactive your billing information on file.
How many errors or oddities did you spot? I've reprinted the same message below with the corrections in red:
...We are unable to activate your account because we have upgraded our online service. We are sorry for this inconvenience, but you must reactivate your BofA online account to be able to send and receive money online....Your account might be placed on restricted status....To cancel this restriction, you need to login to your account (with your username or SSN and your password)....All restricted accounts have their billing information unconfirmed, meaning that you may no longer send money from your account until youhave reactivated your billing information on file.
Beware the bank notice that is filled with errors like the ones above.
NOTE: If you are a regular reader of this blog, I apologize for the almost three-week hiatus in posts. I had to be away and did not have good access to the Internet. Hopefully, I can resume a regular posting schedule now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Crossword Editor not Proofreading Well Enough



I've been working and recommending crossword puzzles for a long time. They are a great way to keep your mind sharp, increase your vocabulary, work with ideas, and fine tune your grammar skills.


Until recently, I have rarely seen a spelling error or a grammar glitch related to a crossword puzzle clue or answer.

This week, however, the USA Today Crossword contained a spelling error one day and a grammar glitch the next. That really surprised me because I had come to think that crossword puzzle editors must be the best proofreaders in the world.


The spelling error--and I might note that it was one a spelling checker would have caught--was in Clue #48 Down. It read "Sherrif's assistance." Hm-mm, I thought. Maybe a "sherrif" is some exotic person I've just never heard of. And then I even considered that maybe the puzzle was asking about Omar Sharif. But, as I worked the puzzle, I could clearly see that the answer was turning out to be "posse." I even checked my dictionary to be sure I hadn't suddenly forgotten how to spell "sheriff."


I chalked this up to the "Everyone is entitled to a goof once in a while" category until I settled in the very next evening to work the USA Today crossword puzzle. This time, I only got as far as Clue #9 Down, which was "Car lot figure." After getting a couple of Across letters, I concluded that the answer was "salesman," which is singular like "figure" in the clue. (You need to know at this point that I often tell my husband, who loves crossword puzzles, and my workshop participants that the grammar in crossword puzzles is always impeccable.)


Unfortunately, that worked only until I tried to fill in the answer for Clue #34 Across, which was "Goalies' specialities." The answer here had to be "saves," and the "e" in "saves" meant that the answer for #9 Down was working only as "salesmen," which is plural. Clue #9 Down should have read "Car lot figures."


You might read this and think that I'm being picky, but then again, crossword puzzle people are people who are interested in words and using them correctly. I think USA Today should expect its crossword puzzle editor to be more careful.
Please send me an e-mail if you come across any other careless crossword puzzle editors. I'm hoping this is a one-time phenomenon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Be careful not to tangle up your prepositional phrases!

If you create a sentence that contains several prepositional phrases, it is important to arrange them in a clear and logical order. If you don't, the reader will end up wondering what goes with what.



Here is a good example from a recent article in a Birmingham newspaper:



Jimmerson, the film's writer and director, has interviewed immigrants, academics, politicians and others for her documentary at the U. S.-Mexico border and across Alabama.



I've highlighted the prepositional phrases in this sentence in different colors so you can spot them easily. The problem is that the focus of the sentence is supposed to be on WHERE the interviews took place, NOT on where the documentary was filmed. By inserting "for her documentary" between the interviewees and their locations, the reporter has thoroughly confused the sentence.



It would be much clearer written as follows:



For her documentary, film writer and director Jimmerson has interviewed immigrants, academics, politicans and others at the U. S.-Mexico border and across Alabama.



Another solution would be to drop the phrase "for her documentary" completely from this sentence because the reporter makes it clear in the previous sentence (The 58-year-old spoke over coffee in Birmingham, where she came recently to tape the last interview for her documentary.") that the interviews are for her documentary.



Happy Prepositional Phrase Placing, Everyone!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Job Hunting? Use Grammar Knowledge to Spot Internet Scams



The New York Times News Service reported this week that criminals are setting up "increasingly sophisticated traps" to catch those surfing for job opportunities on the Web. Although your Spam filter offers some protection, many of these creeps are still getting through.


The article suggests that one good way to protect yourself is to notice which of these offbeat ads use poor grammar and bad spelling. Also watch out for e-mails from addresses that don't match that of the company they are supposed to represent.


So--IF THAT THEIR OFFER'S TWO GOOD TOO BE TRU, IT PROBABLY ARE!


Good luck with your job search--on reputable sites from reputable companies!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Whoooo? or Whooom?


We have all struggled with when to use WHO and when to use WHOM. Even if I know that WHO is the subject form and WHOM is the object form, I still have to analyze the sentence to figure out which one to use.


The wedding article person at my local newspaper forgot to run an analysis before posting her wedding article last week. In talking about how the couple met, she wrote:


After dinner, they saw "The Chronicles of Narnia" with Chad's twin brother and his girlfriend, whom today is his wife.


Whoops! She should have used the subject form in this sentence because WHO is the subject of the second clause.


The sentence should read as follows:

After dinner, they saw "The Chronicles of Narnia" with Chad's twin brother and his girlfriend, who is now his wife.


Better, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This slide show are????

Like most of you, I have friends who send me lots and lots of slide shows and YouTube videos through e-mail. Some I enjoy, and some I just delete. The other day I received one with beautiful photos of our treasured National Parks.

As I told the sender, I loved the photos, but I was not impressed with the first sentence the original sender had affixed to the e-mail:

This slide show of National Parks are in alphabetic order.

This person forgot to mentally remove the prepositional phrase (of National Parks) while deciding what the verb should be. The subject of this sentence is SLIDE SHOW, which is singular. Therefore, the verb should be IS, which is singular.

One more comment: Although "alphabetic" is a word, the preferred form for use when describing the order of words is "alphabetical."

I'd suggest this sentence should read as follows:

This slide show of National Parks is in alphabetical order.

I hope all of you get to visit at least some of these beautiful parks in your lifetime. If you'd like to receive an e-mail with the slide show attached, please leave me a comment. (I promise to correct the sentence before forwarding it!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

That Clauses Confusion

Be careful when using "that clauses" in your writing. It is easy to confuse the meaning. Here is a good example from a letter to "Miss Manners" in a recent column:

My biggest concern is that I don't want her to think that she was an afterthought and that we really did send her an invitation.

This bride was worried about insulting someone whose invitation to her wedding was returned because of a postage issue. What she meant was that she did not want the person to think that she HADN'T sent her an invitation in the first place. The first "that clause" works, but the second one is confusing.

Here is a better rewrite:

My biggest concern is that I don't want her to think she was an afterthought and that we sent her invitation later than all the others.

I hope you agree that this is much clearer. One less "that" helps a lot, too!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Have You Turned Your Pet Into Shelter Yet?


The June 8 and 15, 2009 edition of The New Yorker magazine has a great example of something I pointed out several weeks ago--the difference between "into" and "in to." The New Yorker quotes a headline from the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune:


"ECONOMIC SLUMP HAS MORE OWNERS TURNING PETS INTO SHELTER"


This headline conjures up some weird images--a dog being used as a tent? A cat sitting on its owner's head to keep it out of the rain? Maybe a pet elephant letting its owner string a hammock between its thick legs?


When you turn something INTO something else, it becomes that thing, as in turning a wild rabbit INTO a household pet.


When you turn something IN TO something else, you give it to that something else, as in turning your pet IN TO the animal shelter because you can no longer care for it.
I hope your pets are still with you and definitely NOT being turned INTO something else!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Proofread to Avoid Wordy Phrasing

Let's face it--all of us write wordy, illogical sentences when we are in a hurry. The trick is to take the time, once you've written a complete draft, to read back through and clean things up.



Here is a good example from that investment newsletter I've mentioned before:



"Bernanke patiently explained to the member of Congress making this accusation that what she was calling money was actually not really money at all, but rather temporary reserves loaned to banks to stop fears of a crash and depression."



In my workshops, I like to call this "bopping it twice when once will do." A quick proofread would have led the writer to conclude that one or the other of the words in red needed to go. Then he could have made a quick decision about what to keep and what to get rid of. I liked keeping "really" after the "not."



I also made a second little punctuation adjustment to clarify the wording. I moved the comma between "rather" and "temporary" so that "but rather" clearly goes together. Otherwise, it sounds as if he is talking about "rather temporary reserves" (whatever those would be).



The sentence should read as follows:



"Bernanke patiently explained to the member of Congress making this accusation that what she was calling money was not really money at all, but rather, temporary reserves loaned to banks to stop fears of a crash and depression."



For those of you who are about to send me a comment stating that I don't understand how busy you are--that you don't have time for writing, then proofreading, then fixing--I disagree. Every one of us procrastinates while we think in our heads about what we are going to put on paper. My suggestion is to put it on paper as quickly as you can and THEN use your time wisely to proofread and polish.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Confusing Semicolon with Comma

I read an interesting article this week about how churches are using Twitter and other social media networks to appeal to young people. Good idea, perhaps.

The following sentence in the article had a problem--it used a semicolon where a comma should have been:

At Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens; the Rev. Adam Durso and his brother Chris, the youth director, keep in contact with their flock, sometimes hourly, on a half-dozen social media sites.

A semicolon should only be used to separate one clause from another (or items in a series from each other). In this sentence, the first six words are an introductory PHRASE, so they should be set off from the main sentence with a COMMA, not a SEMICOLON.

At Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens, the Rev. Adam Durso and his brother Chris, the youth director, keep in contact with their flock, sometimes hourly, on a half-dozen social media sites.

Even if you Twitter, keep those semicolons for special occasions!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Who is the Felon? Who is the Judge? Verb Confusion!

Corruption in local government runs rampant these days, and the City of Birmingham is no exception. John Katapodis was convicted here last week of using a charity designed to donate computers to needy children as his own personal cookie jar.

Unfortunately, the reporter who wrote about the guilty verdict got his noun and verb relationships confused and wrote a sentence that suggested the JUDGE rather than the convicted FELON was led away after the verdict was read:

"He (Katapodis) showed no reaction after Bowdre announced the verdict and was led away by marshals as a convicted felon."

In order to fix this sentence, the reporter needed to put the TWO actions involving Katapodis next to each other. Judge Bowdre needed to be somewhere other than in the middle between the two. The two Katapodis actions were these:

1) He showed no reaction.
2) He was led away by marshals.

I should also note that the judge (Judge Karen Bowdre) is a woman.

This sentence would be much clearer and more effective written this way:

After Bowdre announced the verdict, he (Katapodis) showed no reaction and was led away by marshals as a convicted felon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Subject Verb Agreement Problem Hinders Good Columnist


I enjoy reading a certain column about investment trends and strategies, but I am bothered by the fact that this columnist does not proofread for good grammar. Here is an example of a problem sentence from an entry last week:
"By implication he was saying that the White House offer of huge regulatory powers were not appealing and had not won him over to allow Treasury control of money."
Whoops! The subject of this sentence is "the White House offer," and there is only ONE offer in the sentence. The prepositional phrase "of huge regulatory powers" does NOT determine whether the verb is singular or plural. Therefore, this sentence should read as follows:
"By implication he was saying that the White House offer of huge regulatory powers was not appealing and had not won him over to allow Treasury control of money."
Please proofread your own writing to make sure you are not using plural verbs with singular subjects.
Have a great day!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Be Picky About Prepositions!



My favorite produce market sent out an e-mail this morning about its holiday weekend schedule. The e-mail contained the following sentence:


We will be open normal business hours now until Friday the 3rd but will be closed Saturday July 4th and re-open Monday July 6th at 8am.


The preposition "until" means "up to a certain point in time." As used in this sentence, it suggests that normal business hours are only in effect UNTIL Friday, but I suspect the market plans to conduct normal business hours on Friday and then close on Saturday.


Therefore, the better choice would be to say:


We will be open normal business hours now through Friday, July 3, but will be closed Saturday, July 4, and reopen Monday, July 6 at 8 a.m.


If you look closely, you will see that I tweaked a couple other things in this sentence:


1) It is not necessary to write "rd" or "th" after a day, even though you say the ending out loud.


2) "a.m." should be written with periods so it does not look like the word "am."


3) The word "reopen" is usually written without the hyphen.


Now I'm being picky!


Once you've smoothed out your grammar, I do hope you will get outdoors and take advantage of the wonderful farmers' markets and produce stands available this time of year. Around here, it's time for Chilton County peaches as well as local blueberries and other summer goodies.


I'd like to welcome any new blog followers from the ALDOT office in Mobile. I did a workshop there last week and thoroughly enjoyed working with them.