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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Please come visit my new blog site.

If you are still checking in here for great tips on grammar and usage, please come over and visit my new blog site at http://www.grammarglitchcentral.com/. It's a new format, but the posts are similar. Just click from right here and see what we are now up to.

Just today I posted about a "polygamist" groom and the use of Stone Age spears in Alabama. Now who could resist checking that out?

See you soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

WE'RE MOVING!

Beginning this week, Grammar Glitch Central will launch a new blog site at www.grammarglitchcentral.com. All of the older posts will be available there, so you can continue to check by topic when you want a reminder about good grammar and usage.

Thanks for your loyal support, and I will look forward to seeing you on the new site.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Introductory Phrases and Clauses Have Their Purpose

The following sentence appeared in a news article during the recent campaign leading up to the primary run-offs in Alabama:



Senior staff just before his news conference was set to begin were quietly informing reporters that (Tim) James had decided to end his challenge.



This sentence is difficult to read because the inserted dependent clause (printed in red) separates the subject STAFF from the verb WERE INFORMING for no good reason. It just does not fit in this position, and the focus ends up in the wrong place.



I would suggest rewording it this way and using a comma to set off the resulting nine-word introductory clause before the main idea:



Just before his news conference was set to begin, senior staff were quietly informing reporters that James had decided to end his challenge.



I hope you agree that this sounds much clearer. This is the kind of improvement that can be made if you make time to proofread what you write.





Sunday, July 11, 2010

More "Physical" Responsibility for Financial Matters?

I won't name names here because I have not been able to verify this quote, but apparently a City Council member in one city recently commented that the city needed more "physical responsibility."

This, of course, conjured up the image at left for me. Perhaps the Council member wanted the Council members to carry the weight of the city's financial woes literally on their shoulders much as the Titan Atlas was condemned to support the heavens on his shoulders.

Common sense (and a good reference dictionary) would suggest that the Council member meant to say that the city needed more fiscal responsibility--the word FISCAL referring to the treasury or finances of a branch of government. A quick read of most local newspapers would suggest that city (and county) governments need to take more responsibility for handling fiscal issues.

NOTE: Here again, as I have mentioned many times before, a spelling checker would not catch this error because PHYSICAL and FISCAL are both words.

A word of welcome to any new readers among those who participated in the Business Writing Workshop at Auburn University Montgomery last Thursday. It was a pleasure to work with all of you!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Avoid using BOTH and AS WELL AS in the same sentence.

Birmingham, Alabama's new mayor William Bell has a full plate of issues. One of those is balancing the budget, and he is making great efforts in that direction.



As I have said a number of times in this blog, I do not expect public figures to get the grammar exactly right when they are speaking out loud. However, the following quote from a comment by Mayor Bell last week illustrates a good point about parallel structure. I would hope that, if he were writing this sentence, he would word it in more parallel form:



"I'm asking for a full review by BOTH our legal department AS WELL AS our public works department."



BOTH and AS WELL AS should not be used together. Mayor Bell should have said one of the following:



I'm asking for a full review by BOTH our legal department AND our public works department.



OR



I'm asking for a full review by our public works department AS WELL AS our legal department. (NOTE: I switched the order to get the emphasis on the correct department.)



That said, I wish Mayor Bell progress AS WELL AS ultimate success in solving the many problems of the city.



PLEASE NOTE: This blog site and my website are in transition this month as I work on a more functional design. That is why the number of posts has been slow. Please continue to check this site, and I will notify you as soon as the new blog and web sites are ready for display.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Two Agreement Goofs in One Article!

A recent article in The Birmingham News deals with a sadly
familiar issue--budget cuts in city government. Also sadly familiar is the
issue of subject/verb agreement which is handled incorrectly in TWO
sentences in this one article. The first sentence reads as follows:

Birmingham's financial challenges
and bare bones 2011 budget has made
it to the national spotlight.

This sentence has TWO subjected (CHALLENGES, BONES) connected by the word AND. Therefore, the verb should be plural. The sentence should read this way:

Birmingham's financial challenges and bare bones 2011 budget have made it to the national spotlight.

In the next paragraph, the reporter writes this sentence:

Mayor William Bell will appear on CNN's "Your Money" this weekend to discuss how a tough economy and low revenue is affecting cities nationwide.

Whoops again! The final clause of this sentence also has TWO subjects (ECONOMY, REVENUE), and they are also connected by AND. Therefore, the verb should be plural, and the sentence should read as follows:

Mayor William Bell will appear on CNN's "Your Money" this weekend to discuss how a tough economy and low revenue are affecting cities nationwide.

BONUS POINT: We should give this reporter credit for getting the usage correct by using the VERB "affecting" in this sentence.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Paying Out....Give Out--Parallel Structure Problem Strikes Again

This morning's The Birmingham News has a teaser sentence on the front page about the tough choices BP is facing with its finances. This long and involved sentence needs better parallel structure so the reader can follow it. It reads this way:

As the claims over the oil spill disaster mount for the energy giant, the company is torn between two tough choices: paying out settlements to those affected by the ongoing crisis, or give out dividends to its shareholders, which include public employee retirement systems and pension beneficiaries.

The two verb phrases highlighted in red should be in the SAME format, both ending in ING. The sentence should read as follows:

As the claims over the oil spill disaster mount for the energy giant, the company is torn between two tough choices: paying out settlements to those affected by the ongoing crisis or giving out dividends to its shareholders, which include public employee retirement systems and pension beneficiaries.

BONUS NOTE: Notice that I also removed the comma before the word OR. There is no logical reason for separating these two phrases with a comma.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Publix Grocery Store Gets the Grammar Right!


The first ever Grammar Glitch "Getting the Grammar Right" award goes to Publix grocery stores for their Express lane sign that reads:


10 ITEMS OR FEWER


A friend pointed this out recently and said the sign used to read 10 ITEMS OR LESS but was changed in order to correct the grammar. I don't know whether that scenario is true or not, but I do know that the current sign is correct.


When you are checking out at the grocery store, you are "supposed to" count the number of items in your basket and choose the appropriate line. Anything you can count (like fewer cans of peas, fewer bags of popcorn, fewer gallons of milk) should be described with FEWER. Save LESS for those lump sum concept items (less sugar, less flour, less money!).


Here are some other examples:

I have FEWER problems with spelling than I used to.


I take LESS time proofreading than I used to.


Justin owns FEWER apartment buildings than John does.


Alice has LESS equity in her house than Sally does.



Got it? Hats off to Publix for "Getting It Right" in their grocery stores.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Manage That Gavel FairLY but firmLY!



Those of you who are registered, please remember to vote if your primaries are tomorrow. I hope you are using some of your time today to remember those who have died for our country.


My local newspaper carried an article about the Lieutenant Governor's race in Alabama. One of the candidates was quoted as saying, "I will manage the gavel fair but firmly."


This quotation offers a good opportunity to remind my readers to be careful with parallel structure. If you take one adjective (FIRM) and add an LY to it to create an adverb, then it is necessary to do the same thing with the other adjective. This sentence should be stated as follows:


I will manage the gavel fairly but firmly.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bob Greene Thinks Typos Deserve Serious Attention

Award-winning journalist Bob Greene (a fellow native Ohioan) wrote a piece recently for CNN in which he speculated that "the lowly typo" might have gained more of the attention it deserves if someone had proved that the recent financial market plummet was caused by typing "billion" instead of "million."



Greene pointed out that, in our computer-screen age, "typos--and their cousins misspellings and grammatical errors--have been given a reprieve. What once prompted people to shake their heads in stern disapproval when it appeared on newspaper or magazine pages--a flat-out mistake, caused by lazy typing and indifferent proofreading--produces not as much of a stir when seen on a glowing screen." http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/05/16/greene.typo/index.html?iref=allsearch



I agree wholeheartedly with Bob Greene, who makes the point in his article that, even in today's digital world, accuracy is just as important as speed. Those of you who have taken my workshops know I'm a stickler for good spelling and good grammar. We should all prefer to be remembered for the message we conveyed, not the poor way we wrote it.



One of my personal favorite typo/usage goofs is the one committed by the student newspaper staff at Brigham Young University. In a photo caption, they identified the leaders of the Mormon church as APOSTATES instead of APOSTLES!


I'm sure that elicited some gasps because an APOSTATE is a person who has abandoned religious faith or principles! (See my blog entry "Spell Checker Disaster in Utah" on April 9, 2009.)


NOTE: Welcome to those who attended my workshop this week in Montgomery. I hope you find these postings helpful.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Is Your Impatience Running Thin? Huh?



This morning, as I was driving to a water aerobics class, I heard a commentator on NPR Morning Edition make this statement in connection with the frustrating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:


BP knows impatience is running thin.


My brain actually heard what the commentator meant (which was that people have BEEN patient but are becoming less so). Then my Grammar Glitch reasoning kicked in. Wait a minute. It is PATIENCE that is running thin. The commentator actually said the exact opposite of what was meant. What was meant was this:


BP knows patience is running thin.


It is unfortunate when incorrect wording distracts the reader or the listener. I didn't hear much of the rest of the story because I was busy thinking about what was said versus what was meant. That's not the goal of good communication.


NOTE: This is an unusual gaffe for NPR. In fact, when I am teaching workshops on business communication, I often suggest that a way to improve good usage and increase effective vocabulary is to listen to quality broadcasts like NPR's Morning Edition.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Do you have the wind "sewed up" yet? Watch your usage!

The writer of a recent letter to the editor in The Birmingham News created a weird mixed metaphor while attempting to quote the Bible. Here is what he wrote:



The Good Book says, "Sew the wind, and you will reap the whirl wind": that is exactly what we have in today's schools.



Whoops! SEW is what you do with a needle and thread. This writer meant SOW, which is how you scatter seed on soil so it will grow.



The correct quotation from Hosea 8:7 is this: "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind...."



There is another WHOOPS in the writer's attempted quotation. WHIRLWIND is one word.



BONUS POINT #1: I will give this writer a huge bonus point, however, for getting the punctuation with the quotation marks and the colon correct. The rule is that colons and semicolons ALWAYS go outside the quotation marks.



Here is how he should have written his comment:



The Good Book says, "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind": that is exactly what we have in today's schools.



This writer, who is a teacher, was defending the principal who shaved off half the eyebrow of a defiant student who was using his eyebrow to display a gang symbol at school.

BONUS POINT #2: A mixed metaphor is a literary image that combines elements of two different images in a confusing way. By using the word SEW (needle and thread image) and combining it with REAP (harvest image), this writer created a mixed metaphor. He meant to create the image of a person sowing seed and then reaping the harvest of what he planted.



NOTE OF WELCOME: Welcome to all of the participants in my Grammar and Usage Brush-up workshop in Montgomery last week. It is because of a question from one of you that I added today's bonus point about quotation mark rules. I will present the three basic rules on quotation mark usage at your second workshop on May 26.



If any other readers would like to have those three basic rules covered in one blog entry, just let me know.



Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kent State Memories...And a Grammar Glitch

Today is the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, as John Filo's Pulitzer Prize winning photo (copy version at left) reminds us. I had just moved from Ohio to Alabama at that time, and like everyone else, I was stunned that such a thing could happen on a college campus in our country. It was a time of disillusionment with war (Vietnam), and tensions were high on many college campuses. Although I never attended Kent State, it was not far from my home, and many of my high school friends did.

Michael Scott wrote an entry for today in the Metro-cleveland.com online version of The Cleveland Plain Dealer titled "Kent State: Coming of Age After May 4, 1970 shootings." It talked about the development of Ohio's third largest university since that fateful, sad day. It now has 38,000 students--nearly double the number in 1970.

In that article, Scott created a really good example of what happens when a writer does not follow through with parallel structure. In this case, the omission of the simple one-letter word "a" managed to turn a fashion school into a science lab. Here is the sentence:

Kent State is home to the state's largest nursing school and a top 10 U. S. fashion school and museum is generally acclaimed as an international leader in liquid crystal research.

Whoops! There are three separate entities here--the nursing school, the fashion school, and the Liquid Crystal Institute. By putting "school and museum" together without another article (a, an, OR the), Scott managed to make it sound as if the fashion school and museum are leaders in liquid crystal research. I'm not sure what "museum" has to do with it, but there is an internationally recognized Liquid Crystal INSTITUTE at Kent State. I think the sentence should read something like this:

Kent State is home to the state's largest nursing school and a top 10 U. S. fashion school as well as an institute that is an international leader in liquid crystal research.

If each item (nursing school, fashion school, institute) has its own article, the reader does not have trouble understanding what goes with what.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

AFFECT? EFFECT? Which is it?

AFFECT and EFFECT are confusing for just about everyone. On Friday evening, April 30, even the headline writer for ABC 33/40 News http://www.abc3340.com in Birmingham got caught on this one. As the news anchor reported on the Gulf of Mexico oil leak and the first animals found drenched in oil, the screen caption read as follows:

AFFECT ON WILDLIFE

Whoops! As I have reminded before on this blog, AFFECT is the VERB form of this pesky concept. EFFECT is the word needed for a noun slot. The screen caption should have read as follows:

EFFECT ON WILDLIFE

Here are a couple more examples to help you remember this concept:

Wildlife will certainly be AFFECTED by the oil spill.
The oil spill will certainly AFFECT wildlife.

The oil spill will certainly have an EFFECT on wildlife.

Hope that helps!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dear Abby Reader Suggests Closed Captioning to Improve Reading Skills

One of Dear Abby's readers offered a brilliant suggestion this week to parents who want to improve their children's reading skills. I'm sharing this advice here in case any of my home schooling parent readers missed it.

"Proud Parents" explained to Abby that her children often prefer watching television to reading. In trying to address this problem, she and her husband came up with a good compromise. "We mute the television and have the children read the words instead of listening," she wrote. "It works great! Their reading skills have soared, and I have noticed they are now reading more books than they used to."

This clever mother also noted that she enjoys the quiet time when their family "watches" TV.

If anyone cares to comment on this idea, write to http://www.DearAbby.com or PO Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Subject/verb Agreement Again!


This morning's local newspaper reports that the alcohol producers in this country want the federal government to standardize dietary information on the labels of alcoholic products. http://www.discus.org That may be an excellent idea, but the reporter who wrote the story forgot about grammar agreement when creating this sentence:


The Distilled Spirits Council says that there's no consistent labeling rules for beer, wine and spirits to show consumers the serving size, calories and alcohol content per serving.


PERSISTENT REMINDER FROM GRAMMAR GLITCH: When a sentence begins with the word THERE, the choice of singular or plural verb depends on the SUBJECT, which appears AFTER the verb in this construction. Notice that I've highlighted the word "rules" in red in the above sentence. Because "rules" is plural, the reporter should have chosen THERE ARE instead of THERE IS. This sentence should read as follows:

The Distilled Spirits Council says that there are no consistent labeling rules for beer, wine and spirits to show consumers the serving size, calories and alcohol content per serving.


If the reporter wanted to use THERE IS, the sentence could have been written this way:

The Distilled Spirits Council says there is no consistent labeling (SINGULAR) for beer, wine and spirits to show consumers the serving size, calories and alcohol content per serving.




Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What About "To Whom It May Concern"?

One of my readers asked yesterday if all of the words in "To Whom It May Concern" should be capitalized. My answer was twofold:



1. If you must use this salutation, all of the words should be capitalized. This is my opinion, and it is also the opinion of the Owl at Purdue, which is a good grammar reference. http://www.owl.english.purdue.edu/ Here is what their website says:



"If you don't know a reader's gender, use a nonsexist salutation, such as 'To Whom It May Concern.'"



2. The other part of my answer was that I NEVER use "To Whom It May Concern," and I do not recommend it in my workshops because it is an antiquated form and because I think the writer should make an effort to call or e-mail to find out the name of the person being addressed.

If this is not possible, the writer should create a title that fits the situation. This title (e.g., Dear Director of Human Resources OR Dear Publications Assistant) should be used in the salutation and also on the envelope. It says the writer took some time to prepare, and it also allows the mail room of a large company to figure out where to deliver the letter.



I like what Rachel Zupek said recently in an article titled "Is 'To whom it may concern' the kiss of death?" This appeared on the careerbuilder.com blog called the Work Buzz. http://www.theworkbuzz.com/career-advice/whom-it-may-concern-kiss-of-death/. Here was her comment:



Most job seekers know that, whenever possible, it's best to address your cover letter to the person who has the power to hire you--or at least the person who can bring you in for an interview.



But, all too often, if a name isn't listed on a job posting, the job seeker resorts to an old-fashioned salutation like, "To Whom It May Concern." What they don't know, is that this approach can sometimes be considered the kiss of death.



Impersonal salutations like "Dir (sic) Sir/Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern" show an employer two things: The first is that you lack the initiative to locate the appropriate contact; the second is that you show a disregard for any research needed to be done on your part. In short, employers will think you're lazy and your cover letter will end up in the trash.



I agree completely with this opinion, and I often say so in business writing workshops. I do have a few comments about the punctuation in this comment, and I will address those in my next blog entry.



Sunday, April 25, 2010

Miss Manners Knows Agreement as Well as Manners

Judith Martin's Miss Manners column, which appears in newspapers across the country, offers excellent advice on etiquette with a gentle twist of sarcasm from time to time. Her grammar is as impeccable as her manners. You can find her online at http://www.missmanners.com/.



In an answer to a "Gentle Reader" in today's column, Miss Manners created an interesting sentence while explaining how a high school girl can politely refuse an invitation to a school dance. Here is the sentence:



But everyone, even vulnerable young gentlemen in high school, has to learn to deal with whatever hurt is felt if an invitation is declined or a romantic impulse unrequited.



Miss Manners knows that the word EVERYONE is singular, and so, in spite of the inserted phrase (even vulnerable young gentlemen (PLURAL) in high school), she chose the singular verb HAS, which is absolutely correct.



I might gently suggest to Miss Manners that vulnerable readers, who have a tendency to confuse singular and plural agreement situations, would understand this sentence more quickly if she changed the inserted phrase to singular, too. I am NOT suggesting that the sentence is incorrect--just that it might be made clearer for readers with less grammar experience. Here is how I would word it for those readers:



But everyone, even a vulnerable young gentleman in high school, has to learn to deal with whatever hurt is felt if an invitation is declined or a romantic impulse unrequited.



Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dodgers Broadcaster Watching Grammar After Fall

Here's a little fun with grammar for a Monday morning: Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully fell recently at his home and was knocked unconscious. When reporters asked how this would affect his spring training workload, Scully answered as follows:

"I'm supposed to cut back on dangling participles, and I'm not allowed to split any infinitives for at least another week."


I hope Scully has no other complications from his fall, and I hope all of you have a great week. By the way, cutting back on dangling participles and split infinitives is good advice for your grammar health in ANY week!

Here are a couple of reminders:

DANGLING PARTICIPLE:

While eating lunch yesterday, my cell phone died. (Really? Does your cell phone eat lunch every day?) This sentence should read as follows:


While I was eating lunch yesterday, my cell phone died.


SPLIT INFINITIVE:

I like to occasionally walk to work.

This sentence reads much more smoothly if OCCASIONALLY does not come between TO and WALK. (TO WALK is an infinitive; that is, TO + VERB.)
It should read this way:


I like to walk to work occasionally.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Agreement Issues

As I continue to proofread that ad brochure I received, I see several agreement issue sentences in Brad Watson's column. Here is one example:



Primary eligibility for borrowing are that you must be 62 years of age or older, own the property, and occupy the property as principal residence.



In this instance, the error might be simply a typo/word omission error, but ELIGIBILITY is singular and takes the singular verb IS. The simplest way to fix this one is to add the word REQUIREMENTS, as follows:



Primary eligibility requirements for borrowing are that you must be at least 62 years of age, own the property, and occupy the property as principal residence.



BONUS POINT: I also simplified the wording to "at least 62 years of age..."



Here is another example from the same article:



State and federal funding has received enormous hits....



This appears to be correct because FUNDING is singular, but state funding is one thing and federal funding is another (as any Southerner would be quick to point out). The sentence should read this way:



Both state funding and federal funding have received enormous hits....



Here is one more agreement problem from the same article, this one involving two related sentences:



Many think that reverse mortgages are a debt builder, but that's not the case when used effectively. It can actually settle debts and can keep seniors in their own home where they want and deserve to be.



The word MORTGAGES is plural, so THEY are debt builders (plural). The second sentence refers to MORTGAGES, so the pronoun should be THEY, not IT. The sentence should read this way:



Many think that reverse mortgages build debt, but that's not the case when they are used effectively. They can actually settle debts and keep seniors in their own homes where they want and deserve to be.



Notice the other changes I made to make this sentence flow more smoothly.



Monday, April 12, 2010

Wedding Couple Share the Same Sister??

As I've mentioned before, I enjoy reading the wedding feature in my local newspaper. It's sort of a mini romance novel each Sunday--a column about how two people met, their engagement, their wedding, and hopefully, happily ever after.



This week's featured wedding article contained a curious sentence. The reporter was explaining how the couple met and said this:



Turns out that Tonorey and Aldrich's sister had attended the same high school in Birmingham and he remembered her photo from the yearbook.



Common sense tells me that Tonorey had a sister and Aldrich had a sister and that the TWO sisters went to the same high school. However, the grammar used by the writer does NOT say that. When you have two names with an apostrophe plus S ONLY on the second name, that means that the noun following belongs to BOTH of those people.



Notice, too, that the writer used the SINGULAR of "sister." Whoops! I am guessing that is not at all what she meant. The sentence should read this way:



Turns out that Tonorey's and Aldrich's sisters had attended the same high school, and Aldrich remembered Tonorey's photo from the yearbook.



BONUS POINT #1: Notice that I added a comma before AND in this sentence because the material that comes after AND (Aldrich remembered Tonorey's photo from the year book) is a complete clause.



BONUS POINT #2: Notice also that I changed the pronouns HE and HER to the names of the people. I did this because it is not clear from the context who HE and HER might be.



I hope this helps the next time you need to create a double possessive. I also hope Tonorey and Aldrich live happily ever after!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ad Brochure Cannot Keep Its "Its" Straight

I'm still proofreading the ad brochure I mentioned in my last post, and I am wondering why people find it so difficult to distinguish between ITS (belonging to an IT) and IT'S ( short for IT IS or IT HAS). Brent Watson did a column about reverse mortgages and said this:

The nation's elderly population is at it's highest in history and will be that way over the next several years.

Whoops! This sentence calls for the possessive form (IT referring back to the population). The sentence should read this way:

The nation's elderly population is at its highest in history and will be that way over the next several years.

I'll share some more sentence gems from the reverse mortgages column tomorrow, but the Subaru ad at the back of the brochure contains this sentence:

It truly has a flagship sedan that offers better performance, passenger volume, fuel economy, and standard AWD at a better price than it's FWD competitors.

Whoops again! This sentence also calls for the possessive form (IT referring back to the sedan). The sentence should read this way:

It truly has a flagship sedan that offers better performance, passenger volume, fule economy, and standard AWD at a better price than its FWD competitors.

Friday, April 9, 2010

HAS? HAVE? Pick one only, please!

I received a colorful ad brochure magazine in my mailbox this week. It contains many ads for upscale shops in my area. The graphics and the photography are quite attractive, but the feature articles about businesses are riddled (yes, riddled!) with glaring Grammar Glitches. Whoever is writing these pieces is either careless or does not have a good grasp of common writing rules.



I'll share three examples this morning--all from the same short article. The first is a parallel structure issue in this sentence:



Lucy's even has a school spirit department for all the Vestavia Rebel fans and have recently created a Teen Advisory Board.



The writer started the sentence assuming correctly that "Lucy's" is ONE store and used the singular verb HAS. Then, maybe because Lucy's offers "Gifts, Toys and a Whole Lot More," the writer switched to the plural verb HAVE in the second part of the sentence. Hm-mmm. Maybe the writer made this mistake because the word FANS (object of the preposition FOR and NOT the subject for the verb HAVE) was just too close to the verb, and she could not resist.



Whatever the reason, the writer was creating two verb phrases that both refer back to the singular subject LUCY'S. The sentence should read as follows:



Lucy's even has a school spirit department for all the Vestavia Rebel fans and has recently created a Teen Advisory Board.



The same short article contains two more Grammar Glitches. One is a run-on sentence:



When you have the time you will want to go in the store and shop, they have convenient front door parking and specialize in great gifts for every budget.



This is not easy to read because the one comma in the sentence (which should be two sentences) is in the wrong place. The comma should come after the five-word introductory clause WHEN YOU HAVE THE TIME. There should be a period after SHOP. It should read as follows:



When you have the time, you will want to go in the store and shop. They have convenient front door parking and specializde in great gifts for every budget.



The other Grammar Glitch is another comma placement error:



Owner, Tahara Evans is a Vestavia graduate as well as a resident of Vestavia Hills.



The writer needs to make up her comma mind on this one. Either she wants to set off the owner's name with a comma in front of it AND a comma after it OR she should streamline, journalism style, and not set the name off from the OWNER title at all. The sentence should read this way:



Owner Tahara Evans is a Vestavia graduate as well as a resident of Vestavia Hills.



When you put a person's title BEFORE the name, it is not necessary to use the commas. The writer would only have needed commas if she had written it this way:



Tahara Evans, owner of Lucy's, is a Vestavia graduate.

Whoops! As I was proofreading this blog entry, I noticed yet another Grammar Glitch in this same short article. Here it is:

Lucy's reopened in their new location on September of 2009.

Lucy's could reopen ON a specific day in September or IN September. It is not necessary to add the word OF. This sentence should read as follows:

Lucy's reopened in its new location in September 2009.

BONUS POINT: I am sticking with the writer's first usage--that Lucy's is SINGULAR--and changing THEIR to ITS in this sentence!



Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I'm Not Sure How You ALLUDE a Police Officer

A young shoplifting suspect ran a red light yesterday in Birmingham and caused a crash that killed one person and left another seriously injured. The police had stopped chasing him, but he was still racing away. What a sad situation.

The article in The Birmingham News stated that the suspect was charged with the following:

...felony attempting to allude a police officer, theft, reckless driving and several traffic violations...

I HOPE that the police manual refers to this first charge as "felony attempting to ELUDE a police officer." Just a reminder for all of my Grammar Glitch readers: ALLUDE means to make an indirect reference to something, as in:

The professor often alluded to his own poetry.

The judge would not allow the attorney to allude to the defendant's former crime.

The word ELUDE is needed here. It means to evade or escape from, especially by a daring move. The suspect reference should read as follows:

...felony attempting to elude a police officer, theft, reckless driving and several traffic violations.....

BONUS POINT: I did not add a comma between "driving" and "and" in this series because it was part of a journalism article in a newspaper. Although the comma after "and" in a series is highly recommended in business and literary prose, it is usually omitted by journalists.

Monday, March 29, 2010

My 200th Grammar Glitch Post! Commas, Commas, Commas!

I'm treating myself to a virtual torte this morning in honor of my 200th Grammar Glitch post. Please enjoy a virtual slice with today's post, and thank you to all my regular readers.

If you have a question or a topic you'd like covered, please let me know. As you can see, I never lack for ideas, but I am ALWAYS glad to respond to a specific inquiry.


Today, I'm going to highlight some comma problems that appeared in the current issue of 280Living http://www.280living.com/.


1. A good rule of thumb for comma usage is to set off any introductory phrase or clause that is more than three words long. Here is an example sentence:


According to Chelsea High School art teacher Max Newton over 400 art pieces were entered from local Southeastern states.


The subject of this sentence is "over 400 art pieces," and the reader must plow through nine words to find the subject. A comma definitely helps with that process by pointing out where the subject is. The sentence should read this way:


According to Chelsea High School art teacher Max Newton, over 400 art pieces were entered from local Southeastern states.


2. If you insert an ING phrase after the subject and before the verb (especially if you also add a phrase like "at first"), set the phrase off front AND back with a comma. Here is an example sentence:


His mom Sue being a nurse at first was skeptical about the correlation of his spinal structural compromises coinciding with Jacob's symptoms.


In repairing this sentence, I set off the ING phrase with commas (front AND back), and I also moved the "at first" phrase to a better location. I also reversed the word "Jacob's" and its pronoun "his" so that the reader knows who Jacob is before "his" refers back to him. Whew! Lots of repairs here! The sentence should read as follows:


His mom Sue, being a nurse, was skeptical at first about the correlation of Jacob's spinal structural compromises coinciding with his symptoms.


3. It is important to use commas in the logical places for pauses in a sentence. Here is an example sentence that puts the comma way too early:


Unfortunately, for the conference another unlikely scenario could be worse than last season....


The phrase that should be set off before the subject here is "Unfortunately for the conference," NOT just the word "unfortunately." The subject is "another unlikely scenario." The sentence should read this way:


Unfortunately for the conference, another unlikely scenario could be worse than last season....


4. Finally, when you set off a phrase or clause WITHIN clause (rather than at the beginning), it is important to use a comma AT THE BEGINNING and another comma AT THE END of what is set off. Look at these two sentence examples:


John Calipari, after leaving Memphis has a new stable of freshman who are very skilled....


Mississippi State is another team that has a slim chance and, in my opinion would be a good representative for the conference.

In both sentences, the writer has inserted a comma at the BEGINNING of an inserted phrase but failed to insert another comma at the END of the inserted phrase.


BONUS POINT: If you have a whole stable full of them, the word should be FRESHMEN (plural).

These sentences should read as follows:


John Calipari, after leaving Memphis, has a new stable of freshmen who are very skilled....


Mississippi State is another team that has a slim chance and, in my opinion, would be a good representative for the conference.
Have a great day, everyone! And thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Apostrophe and Compound Problems in Katrina-related Article

Once again, the current issue of 280 Living http://www.280living.com/ provides a number of opportunities to talk about grammar glitches. On the front page of the March 2010 edition, there is a wonderful article about a family from Metairie, LA that is beginning a new life in the Birmingham area. Even though I'm going to point out two Grammar Glitches in that article (See below.), I hope you will visit the website and read this interesting story about new opportunities arising from tragedy.

Here is one sentence that caught my Gramma Glitch eye:

Unaware of FEMA's plan for evacuees, the VanGeffen's made the decision to purchase a camper from a local dealer to setup at their home in Metairie to begin repairs.

There are two problems with this sentence, and both of these issues have been addressed before on this blog. First, it is NOT necessary to use an apostrophe to create the PLURAL of a word--even a proper name. These people are named THE VANGEFFENS. Unless you are speaking about something that belongs to them (e.g., the Vangeffens' camper or FEMA's plan), it is NOT necessary to use an apostrophe.

Second, the word SETUP is only used as a compound word when it is in the NOUN position of a sentence (e.g., The SETUP of the camper was difficult.) In this sentence, the writer uses TO to create an infinitive verb form, so SET UP should be written as two SEPARATE WORDS.

The sentence should read as follows:

Unaware of FEMA's plan for evacuees, the VanGeffens made the decision to purchase a camper from a local dealer to set up at their home in Metairie so they could begin repairs.

BONUS POINT: In order to avoid having two TO phrases so close together (TO SET UP AT THEIR HOME IN METAIRIE TO BEGIN), I changed the second TO phrase to SO THEY COULD.

If you'd like to check out the other blog entries on these subjects, please check out the following:

  • "Proofreading with Your Parmesan" on March 1, 2010
  • "More Incompetence with Apostrophes" on February 8, 2010
  • "My Driveway is Clean...." on December 10, 2009

You can also click on "Compound Words" to see the five blog entries on that subject.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, March 25, 2010

If you are letting THEM know, why do I have to quit driving?

I apologize for my silence this past week. Unfortunately, it has not been because the entire world has suddenly started using good grammar. I have just been busy with other things. HINT: See my http://www.genevapow.blogspot.com/ blog next week for an update on my marble quarry research in Sylacauga.



To make it up to my regular readers, I'll post two good pieces of grammar advice this afternoon instead of one. The first has to do with the appropriate choice of pronouns. Here is a sentence that appeared in an article in this morning's The Birmingham News:



"We want to let them know that you don't have to quit driving."



This was a quote from someone at AARP http://www.aarp.org/, and I recognize that it was said out loud, which is somewhat of an excuse. However, it is confusing. In this sentence, THEM refers to older drivers who need to update their skills to keep driving. The speaker should be letting THEM know that, with the AARP defensive driving class, THEY (not YOU or I) can keep driving. The sentence should read this way:



We want to let them know that they don't have to quit driving.



When you proofread, always make sure the pronoun you use refers clearly to the person or thing it represents and that the antecedent and the pronoun agree in number.



A bullet point in another article in this morning's newspaper brings up my old pet peeve of subject/verb agreement. By the way, this is my thirty-sixth blog post relating to subject/verb agreement.

This bullet point appears in an exciting article about the upcoming Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race to be held at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham http://www.barbermotorsports.com/ in just a few weeks. This is the bullet point:



  • All 250 of the $450 "Speed Pass" packages, which includes admission all three days along with special access to the paddock area and access to the pit area during Friday and Saturday races.



Unless somebody is not playing fair, ALL 250 of the PACKAGES (plural) INCLUDE (plural) the items listed. The bullet point should read this way:\





  • all 250 of the $450 "Speed Pass" packages, which include admission to the paddock aea and access to the pit area during Friday and Saturday races



BONUS POINTS: 1) Whoever proofread this sentence (copy editor perhaps?) did not notice that the word TO had been left out.



2) Bullet points that are not complete sentences (and this one is not--no verb in the main clause) do NOT require end punctuation, so I removed the period after RACES. They also do not require a capital letter at the beginning, so I uncapitalized ALL.



I hope you find this information useful.




Thursday, March 18, 2010

AS and THAN are like oil and water. They really don't mix.

Making comparisons correctly can be tricky in writing. Many writers use comparative words that do not work well together. Here is a good example from a sentence in this morning's newspaper. It is from an article for Bloomberg News http://www.bloombergnews.com by Nicole Ostrow.



Those who used the drug for six or more years were twice as likely to develop a psychosis such as schizophrenia or to have delusional disorders than those who never used marijuana.



When using AS at the beginning of a comparison, use AS rather than THAN in the second part of the comparison. This writer was probably trying to avoid using AS twice because she had the phrase "such as schizophrenia," but the comparison is still awkward. I would also use the word MARIJUANA first and then use THE DRUG in the second part of the sentence. It could be written correctly this way:



Those who used marijuana for six or more years were twice as likely to develop a psychosis like schizophrenia or to have delusional disorders as those who never used the drug.


THAN can be used in comparisons, but it won't work in this sentence because of the phrase TWICE AS LIKELY. Here are examples of using THAN correctly in comparison:



Those who turned the essay in early were more likely to get a good grade than those who turned it in on time.



Those who used salt ate more french fries than those who did not.



Those who chose Door Three were less likely to win the big prize than those who chose Door One.



Hope that helps.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Double Negative Confusion

While reading Greg Mortenson's Stones into Schools yesterday, I came across a sentence with a problem. Before I share that example, please let me say that Greg Mortenson is an incredible writer. It is amazing to me that he can be the unique humanitarian and educator he is and also create fascinating descriptions of some of the starkest places in the world.

Here is the sentence:

Nothing takes place inside the Corridor that does not escape the knowledge of these three "big men."

I read this sentence two or three times, trying to decide why it bothered me. Greg means to say that nothing escapes the knowledge of these three men. By adding NOT to the sentence, he creates a double negative that makes the meaning the opposite of what he intended. Also, THAT is misplaced in this sentence. It should be written as follows:

Nothing that takes place inside the Corridor escapes the knowledge of these three "big men."

Having pointed that out and clarified it, I want to suggest that, if you have not read Three Cups of Tea, which is on the reading lists of several branches of the U.S. military as well as numerous universities and community libraries throughout the country, you have missed a powerful message about "last-place-first" opportunities in our world. You have also missed an enjoyable read and an incredible true story. Stones into Schools is the sequel. http://www.gregmortenson.com



Thursday, March 11, 2010



One of my international readers asked a question about parallel structure that brings up a good point for all of us. She wanted to know which of these sentences is correct:

I prefer to watch movie to play video game.


I prefer to watch movie to to play video game.


My answer was that neither is correct for several reasons. Here were my suggestions for better ways to word this idea:


I prefer watching movies to playing video games.

I prefer to watch movies rather than play video games.

I would rather watch movies than play video games.


Another http://www.englishforums.com/ reader suggested another alternative that I also think is better:


I like watching movies better than playing video games.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two Good Questions: Articles and Communication

One of my international readers sent an example today with two good questions. She wanted to know when to use the DEFINITE article THE in describing a company and when to use the INDEFINITE article A or AN. Here is a similar example:

ABC Communications, the/a global communications company, is based in Singapore.

As this reader pointed out in her question, ABC Global Communications is NOT the only global communications company in the world, so the article choice should be A. The sentence should read as follows:

ABC Communications, a global communications company, is based in Singapore.

This reader also asked about the difference between COMMUNICATIONS and COMMUNICATION and wondered which would be the best choice for a sentence like this.

COMMUNICATIONS is a relatively new term that refers to the whole business of media and its related technology. COMMUNICATION is a generic term that expresses the concept of conveying ideas from one person to another. In this sentence, the appropriate choice is COMMUNICATIONS.

By the way, for another good point about use of articles, please check my blog entry for February 26. It talks about correct article use for parallel structure.

Welcome to New Readers from Around the World


Welcome to our new Grammar Glitch readers from www.englishforums.com. It has been my experience that native speakers of a language can learn a great deal about grammar and usage by considering the questions non-native speakers often ask.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Non-native speakers often learn best by interacting with native speakers.

With that in mind, I hope Grammar Glitch can become a good place for that kind of exchange. In some future blog entries, I will feature questions posed by people who are learning English and offer good solutions. I suspect my "local" English readers will also find these examples helpful.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cal Thomas Column Presents Sticky Agreement Issue

Cal Thomas's column http://www.calthomas.com appears regularly in my local newspaper, and most of the time, I don't even think about his grammar or usage as I read what he writes. Yesterday, however, one sentence stood out with a jolt because it sounded awkward. My pet peeve, agreement, was the issue, but the solution was not so simple. Here is the sentence:



"So much of what passes for facts today are like what another generation called 'old wives' tales.'"



Generally, the word WHAT can be considered singular (therefore, the verb PASSES) even if what follows the verb (FACTS) is plural. However, this sentence goes further and adds ARE, which sounds awkward to me. I visited a couple other websites to check their opinions and found a good discussion of this subject on Englishforums.com http://www.englishforums.com/. If you want to access the discussion, which is an older post, Google the words "plural what," and this discussion will pop up.



I decided to tweak the sentence myself and improve it as follows:



So much of what passes for fact today is like what another generation called "old wives' tales."



I'd be interested in your comments. To me, my version sounds much clearer. (Of course, I hold a certain bias for my own opinion.) What do you think?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Proofreading with Your Parmesan!

My 280.com advertising brochure for this month features a mouthwatering ad for Nino's Italian Restaurant in Pelham http://www.ninos-pelham.com/. The food sounds wonderful, but the person who wrote the "Southern Palate" review of Nino's needs to be more careful with the grammar and usage. In describing the lasagna, she wrote:

"This lasagna was even better than your moms with lots of gooey cheese and a generous portion of meat, the sauce was perfect!"

Whoops twice for this sentence! First, this lasagna is NOT being compared to your moms, and your moms don't come covered with gooey cheese! This lasagna is being compared to the lasagna your mother might make. Second, "the sauce was perfect" should be a completely separate sentence--partly to avoid a comma splice (run-on sentence) and partly because the point about the sauce should stand on its own and not be buried in the previous sentence. This part of the review should read as follows:

This lasagna was even better than your mom's with lots of gooey cheese and a generous portion of meat. The sauce was perfect!

BONUS POINT: I don't recommend frequent use of the exclamation point in formal business prose, but in a restaurant review in an ad brochure, it is certainly acceptable if you want to exclaim over the sauce!

Another run-on sentence appears in the last paragraph of the restaurant review:

"Don't be afraid to step out and try something different, this delicious dish is mild and includes a side of pasta."

This sentence, which refers to Eggplant Parmigiana, dilutes both parts by running them together. They should be separate and read as follows:

Don't be afraid to step out and try something different. This delicious dish is mild and includes a side of pasta.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Parallel Structure Streamlines Writing

Ulta's ad brochure this month contains a whole page of curling irons and crimpers ranging in price from $12.99 to $47.99. The ad for the Revlon Perfect Heat Brush Iron describes its function this way:

Curl hair under or flips it out

Even though this is not presented as a complete sentence, the two verbs (CURL..FLIPS) should match in format. The ad may be suggesting that you, the reader, can do both things. If that is the case, the phrase should read as follows:

(You can) curl hair under or flip it out.

Or, the ad may be suggesting that the device itself can do both things. In that case, the phrase should read as follows:

(This iron) curls hair under or flips it out.


In either case, BOTH verbs should match in format. Either they end in S or they don't.

Friday, February 26, 2010

1 + 1 only equals 2 if each 1 has its own article!

"The Issue" statement for an editorial in this morning's The Birmingham News caught my eye. Here is what it said:

An investment banker and lobbyist ought to pay at least $5.5 million in restitution for their part in a scheme that cost the citizens of Jefferson County dearly.

Whoops! I happen to know that the investment banker is ONE person and the lobbyist is a SEPARATE person. There is also the clue that the writer used the word "their" to refer to the part in the scheme. As written, this sentence makes it sound as if ONE person (who is both a banker and a lobbyist) should be making restitution to the county. The sentence should be written as follows:

An investment banker and a lobbyist ought to pay at least $5.5 million in restitution for their part in a scheme that cost the citizens of Jefferson county dearly.

BONUS POINT: Remember that the correct format for writing millions and billions of dollars is to put the dollar sign BEFORE the numerals and the word "million" or "billion" AFTER the numerals (as above).

I certainly hope someone figures out the sewer mess scheme soon so that Jefferson County can retrieve its dignity and its solvency.