You've probably heard this advice before, but it bears repeating: Write with stronger verbs (action words), instead of adding adverbs. The right verb can do the job of both the verb and the adverb, making your writing more powerful, engaging, concrete and concise. Adverbs, on the other hand, are often unnecessary. Adverbs describe the way … Continue reading Why most adverbs are unnecessary
A few months ago, I wrote about why you shouldn't follow the made-up rule to never start a sentence with and or but. This week, I'm defying your grade-school teacher again. You've likely heard the old-fashioned maxim to never end a sentence in a preposition (such as after, at, before, for, in or through). Although … Continue reading Can you end a sentence in a preposition?
Through the piercing screech of chalk on the blackboard, you discern a command: "Never start a sentence with 'and' or 'but,'" your school teacher stated. Forget this "rule." It's perfectly fine to begin a sentence with a conjunction, such as or, but, and or so. Most experts think the made-up rule stemmed from an oversimplification; … Continue reading Can you start a sentence with “but” or “and”?
Some people think hyphens are unnecessary; others overuse them. It's a divisive topic even among copy editors. But if you think hyphens don't matter, consider the following examples: People who believe in hate-free speech are quite different from those who hate free speech. You'd likely react differently to a man eating chicken than you would … Continue reading Why hyphens matter
In past tips, I've highlighted the importance of avoiding wordiness. Clear, concise writing conveys your message quickly and directly, and helps us keep readers' attention. One way to do this is to avoid redundancy. We can eliminate adjectives and prepositions that some words' meanings already include. For example, the phrase "tall skyscraper" is redundant because … Continue reading Avoid redundancy
Rivaling the Oxford comma, the so-called singular they is one of the most debated grammar topics. What do I mean by "the singular they"? I'm referring to the use of they as a gender-neutral pronoun to mean he or she (and the use of them in place of him or her, and their instead of … Continue reading The singular “they” and guidance on gender
Ah, the Oxford comma. It's at the center of one of the most contentious copy-editing debates of all time. Today, I'll clear up a long-held misconception about this famous grammar dispute and provide guidance on when to use this infamous punctuation, to ensure your writing conveys the intended meaning. What is the Oxford comma? The … Continue reading When to use the Oxford comma (gasp!)
In my previous tip, I advised writing in the positive form and avoiding the use of "not" before an adjective. Double negatives are even worse because they make the reader think too hard about what you actually mean. Do two negatives make a positive? Sometimes. Maybe. Just avoid any confusion in the first place. Double … Continue reading Avoid double negatives
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." "I came, I saw, I conquered." "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Their parallel structure is one reason they're memorable. WHY SHOULD YOU CARE? The human brain likes patterns, and using parallel … Continue reading Keep your sentences parallel
Syntax. It may sound like a boring grammar term, but correct syntax can mean the difference between an accurate message and utter humiliation. What is syntax? In short, syntax is the order or arrangement of words. Bad syntax can lead to embarrassing or incorrect statements. Case in point: More embarrassing mistakes A couple of years … Continue reading Scary syntax: Avoid this embarrassing mistake