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Welcome to The Dean’s English

Often humorous, always educational, this website promotes standard written and spoken American English.

Thanks for stopping by my website! My overarching goal is to celebrate and affirm standard written and spoken English and consequently promote clearer, more effective interpersonal communication. To that end, I’ve written blog posts and included other resources related to writing, language, grammar, words, usage, punctuation, and even pronunciation. For a few chuckles, check out the “Grammar Funnies” tab.

Why do I write this blog and manage this site? I’m an educator by nature and nurture and a lover of the English language. Some folks get a charge out of baking  or fishing or painting wall murals. I get energized by reading English-usage manuals and studying the why-fors and what-have-yous of grammar and punctuation. To use old colloquial expressions, I really dig this stuff. It floats my boat.

Please explore the pages in the menu above to learn about me, my copyediting services, and other resources. If nothing else, you might enjoy the Grammar Funnies page.

All writers hope that people read and appreciate their writings. So I invite you to become a follower of this blog, to “like” it, to leave comments, and to contact me with English grammar and usage questions or ideas for future blog topics.

If you’re on Facebook, please “like” my The Dean’s English page there, too. (See the link on the right side of this page.)

And please share my website and individual blog articles with friends, family, business associates, and schoolmates. It will be the gift that keeps on giving.


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Whatever Happened to English?

Now available, in time for the holidays!

My newest book, five-plus years in coming, based on this blog, is now a reality. It’s available on Amazon in paperback (e-book to come).

Here are some details:

Clicking on the image will take you to Amazon.

Speakers and writers of American English don’t have to know how to diagram sentences or write grammatically perfect sentences at all times, but we should aim for a solid grasp of the basics of good usage, syntax, and punctuation—what teachers and copyeditors call the “mechanics” of English, or simply “Standard Written English.” Our goal should be to communicate in writing more clearly, concisely, coherently, and correctly.

Liberally lacing Whatever Happened to English? with practical grammar, usage, and punctuation tips and examples, often with a humorous edge, the author includes nearly one hundred essays of varying lengths—from a single paragraph to several pages. Approximately half of these essays originally appeared in The Dean’s English blog. The other half are brand new. The book is organized into these chapters:

  • Whatever Happened to English?
  • Usage Uncertainties
  • Punctuation Perplexities
  • A Grammar Miscellany
  • Fun with Words
  • A Dean’s English Potpourri
  • English at the Holidays

Whatever Happened to English? is for writers as young as middle school and as old as Methuselah.

I hope you’ll check it out!

In Formal Writing, When Should You Use the Ampersand (&) in Place of “And”?

The short answer to the above question is . . . never.

Or at least rarely.

The longer answer is that the ampersand (&) symbol is used in some instances as the legitimate abbreviation for the word and, and is appropriate in notes, bibliographies, and tabular matter. Further, when it appears in the formal name of a company or logo, it is always appropriate. For example, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and PG&E.[1] Occasionally, it is used as a space-saving or stylistic device in the title of a work, such as Nothing About Baseball Is Trivial: Essential Terms, Rules, Stats & History for Fans and Wannabe Fans.[2]

Style guides, such as The Associated Press Stylebook, expressly state that “the ampersand should not otherwise be used in place of and.”[3]

However, when you do use it, here are a few guidelines to remember: (1) If writing a sentence containing serial (or Oxford) commas, you would normally insert that comma before the and; but (2) the comma is omitted when using an ampersand; (3) when the ampersand appears in a company initialism (such as AT&T), there is no space before and after the & symbol.

Let’s again look at the above book title example: Essential Terms, Rules, Stats & History for Fans and Wannabe Fans. (Note, no comma before &). Otherwise, include the serial comma: Essential Terms, Rules, Stats, and History for Fans and Wannabe Fans.

To reiterate, the ampersand should be avoided in almost all instances of formal writing. Instead, spell it out: a-n-d.

I hope this is clear. If so, go forth & conquer! (I mean, go forth and conquer!)


[1] That’s Pacific Gas and Electric for my non-West Coast readers.

[2] How’s that for a sneaky way to slip in the title of my first book. Don’t ask me why I didn’t use an ampersand for the second and. Just . . . don’t ask. Thanks.

[3] AP Stylebook 2017, 17.

Usage bite: Two Words

And always two.

Two cute babies

“I love you a lot, little brother! And pleeease remember: a lot is always two words.”

Grammar Bite: Misplaced Modifiers

Watch out for misplaced modifiers.

A modifier is a word or phrase that describes something. A modifier at the beginning of a sentence is considered “misplaced” when it doesn’t match up with what follows, which can cause confusion for your reader. For example, I recently received an email from an organization I support financially. Here’s how it began, “Dear Dean: As a faithful supporter of our organization, we are requesting your participation in a special research project.” Continue reading “Grammar Bite: Misplaced Modifiers”

Usage Bite: Is It Pleaded or Pled?

Which is correct?

Should It Be Pleaded or Pled?

Watching a news program recently on PBS, I heard two different narrators give two different past tense renderings of the legal term “plead”—as in “What do you plead to these charges?” A female reporter said the congressman “pleaded” not guilty. In an unrelated story a male reporter said a defendant “pled” not guilty. Why the different words? Which is the preferred usage?

I don’t recall the nationality of the two reporters, but I do know that speakers of British English consider plead to be a regular verb* and therefore will use the regular past tense, pleaded. In American English, the irregular verb form pled is considered to be an informal but acceptable usage.

The call is yours to make. If I were writing a formal essay or letter, I would use the almost universally accepted standard form pleaded.

*As you will recall, a verb is “regular” when its past or past participle is formed by adding -d or -ed. Most verbs are regular.

If this post has been at all interesting or helpful to you, please let me know by liking it or writing a comment. Also feel free to share with someone who might appreciate it. Thank you!

Usage Bites: Five Frequently Confused Words

Frequently Confused or Misspelled Words

Choose the correct spelling (answers follow below):

  1. Johnny [use to / used to] go to all his alma mater’s football games.
  2. [Based on / Based off of] your most recent visit to our restaurant, how would you rate the service you received?
  3. I take vitamins and walk two miles [everyday / every day].
  4. Flan is Jose’s favorite dessert. He eats it [a lot / alot].
  5. The Joneses arrived at the park early to [set up / setup] the food and games for the party.

(1) used to. It’s past tense, so we add the -d. I understand that the d and t are blended together when we say it, but remember to add the d when spelling it. Always. I repeat: always.

(2) It’s based on (or upon) something, not based off of something, no matter how prevalent the misusage is. Standard English is based on.

(3) The correct form here is every day. Keep the words separate. You use the closed compound word everyday, an adjective, when describing something ordinary or run-of-the-mill: “Wear your everyday shoes.” “Brushing one’s teeth is an everyday chore.” (And I do brush my teeth every day.)

(4) a lot. Jose eats flan a lot. Sometimes we see these words fused together (alot), likely because it’s confused with the very different word allot, which means “to assign as a share or portion.” (We often see allot used in its noun form: allotment.)

(5) Set up refers to an action; setup is a noun. The Joneses arrived to set up (verb) the food and games. During the party, one guest commented, “What a nice setup (noun) you have here!”

Now you know. Remember to practice every day.

If this post has been at all interesting or helpful to you, please let me know by liking it or writing a comment. Also feel free to share with someone who might appreciate it. Thank you!

Punctuation Bite: Use Commas in Direct Address

Use commas to separate words in direct address.

The cartoon humorously illustrates the importance of properly punctuating a sentence that involves direct address—that is, when writing directly to someone. The Standard-English convention is to place a comma after the introductory word or phrase.

Need some examples, friend? Here you go, gentle reader. (Um, notice the two examples there?)

Here are a few more:

  • “Hello, John!”
  • “Thanks, Maria.”
  • “How are you, Pete?”
  • “Way to go, Andrea!”
  • “Give me a break, buster!”
  • “You’re confusing me, Dean.”

Don’t leave out those poor, underemployed commas. Let them serve their intended purpose.

And let’s not forget these:

  • “Happy birthday, Tori!”
  • “Merry Christmas, Lou!”
  • “¡Feliz Navidad, Luis!”
  • “Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!”

It’s almost time for lunch. Let’s eat, Grandma!

Grammar Bite: Subject-Verb Agreement

Subjects and verbs must agree.

As a copyeditor, a common grammar issue I find in a piece of writing (besides punctuation problems) is subject-verb agreement difficulties.

In simplest terms, in any sentence, verbs must agree with their nouns in number, whether singular or plural. Look for the subject of the sentence and don’t be distracted by intervening prepositional phrases, the may be the most common cause of subject-verb agreement problems. Consider the following example:

“The box of chocolates (has/have) fallen on the floor.” The correct verb is has, although many writers would mistakenly write have. How can you be sure? Trust your ear. Remove the prepositional phrase (of chocolates) and hear what makes sense: “The box [singular subject] has fallen [singular verb] on the floor.”

Another example: “The main argument of the defense attorneys (is/are) that the defendant wasn’t anywhere near the scene of the crime that day.” Remove the prepositional phrase (of the defense attorneys) and what remains? “The main argument [singular subject] is [singular verb] that the defendant wasn’t anywhere near the scene of the crime that day.”

Questions or comments? Let me know.

Quote of the Day

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

Attributed to Carl Sandburg

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I want to be rich. Rich in love, rich in health, rich in laughter, rich in adventure and rich in knowledge. You?

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