How to Write “God” Words

Most “God” words are actually “god” words.

godWhen I write a word with “God” in it, I sometimes need to pause to make sure I’m capitalizing—or not capitalizing—the word appropriately. Given my lifelong Christian faith, my first thought is to capitalize almost all such words. If “God” is in it, out of reverence, the word should be capitalized. But is that necessary or grammatically correct?

The truth is, most “God” words are actually “god” words, with lowercase g’s, and writing them according to long-established and widely accepted conventions of Standard Written English does not make a person of faith less faithful. Let’s consider the most common “God” words. I’ve consulted several sources for this, including Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. Continue reading “How to Write “God” Words”

How to Write Academic Degree Titles

Do you know how to correctly write college degree titles?

The landing gear is down on another academic year as students and faculty make their final approach toward the graduation runway. Many soon-to-be newly minted grads are now wading into the sometimes turbulent, often murky, and always anxiety-producing waters of job hunting.

So let’s think about how to correctly write academic degree titles on résumés, cover letters, celebration invitations, and LinkedIn profiles. This can be confusing, and in my twenty years in higher education I saw many resumes and applications where the writer apparently didn’t know how to correctly indicate his or her own degree. Stumbling over something so basic may not go over well with prospective employers. It never hurts to get this right. Continue reading “How to Write Academic Degree Titles”

Happy National Grammar Day!

Lay vs. Lie: Oh, the Confusion! Oh, the Humanity!

This Friday, March 4, is National Grammar Day. I couldn’t possibly pass it up without writing a few words for this blog, which is ostensibly about grammar.

Garner’s Modern American Usage claims that “one of the most widely-known of all usage errors” is using lay for lie. This confusion is nearly universal, and whenever I discover a writer or speaker who uses lay and lie correctly, I nearly faint from the sheer wonder of it. It is hardly overstated to say that the correct use of lay and lie is the shibboleth of the educated writer or speaker. (Now there’s a biblical allusion for you biblical allusionists.)

First, let’s have some definitions. Again, Garner says, “lie (= to recline, be situated) is intransitive—it can’t take a direct object <he lies on his bed>. But lay (= to put down, arrange) is always transitive—it needs a direct object <please lay the book on my desk>.”

Let me partially inflect these two verbs and then give several examples (I’ll save the present and past participles for another time):

            Verb               Present          Past               

            1. lay (v.t.)      lay                   laid    

            2. lie (v.i.)      lie                    lay

Got it? Still with me? (Just nod your head.) Here are some examples of when to use lay (#1).

Lay (present tense): “Honey, please lay the baby (direct object) down for his nap.”

Lay (past tense): “She laid the baby (direct object) in his crib for his nap.”

Lay (present tense): “Let us lay our heads (direct object) on our pillows and get some sleep.”

Lay (past tense): “We laid our heads (direct object) on our pillows.”

Here’s a trick to help you remember: When you mean “put,” use “lay.” When you are doing something to something, use “lay.” You never use lay to describe lying down (unless it’s past tense—see the chart). Here are some examples of when to use lie (#2):

Lie (present tense): “Sheila went to the beach to lie on the sand.”

Lie (past tense): “When Sheila went to the beach last weekend, she lay on the sand all day.” (Note, the past tense of lie is not laid. You use laid only when talking about putting something somewhere—“The Ladies Guild laid out a feast for all the revelers to enjoy.”)

Lie (present tense): “It’s time for me to lie down and take my nap.”

Lie (past tense): “I lay (not laid) in bed for two hours this afternoon.”

Lie (present tense): “Come here, Spot, and lie down. Lie down, Spot!”

Lie (past tense): “Spot is such a good dog. She lay on her bed all through dinner.”

Lie (present tense): “The bandit decided to lie low until the heat was off.”

Lie (past tense): “The bandit lay low for two years and then came out of hiding.”

There. That’s enough about lay and lie for one sitting. It’s time for me to lay my books down and lie on the floor to do my stretches.

Need some great resources for improving your grammar? Check out My Bookshelf and Writing Helps, both here on my website.

Momento and Parenthesee

Two common oddities.

Want to listen to an audio podcast version of this post? Here you go:

Momento vs. Memento

When I stopped into a gift shop to purchase a souvenir, the clerk said it would make a “nice momento.” This is a common spoken mistake; the correct word is memento.

Momento is not a word. At least not in English.

It’s understandable why a lot of people (and I do mean a lot of people) get this one wrong. I can think of two reasons: (1) Momento is a Spanish word that means moment, and (2) it makes sense that the souvenir from your vacation will help you remember a particular moment—thus a momento, right? Sorry, but no. Again, sadly, momento is not a word in English.

Here’s how to keep it straight: a memento is a MEMory aid that helps you reMEMber a person, place, or thing, or comMEMorate something. That should be easy to MEMorize.

Parenthesee vs. Parenthesis

This is kind of a joke, but I have actually heard parenthesee used by more than one person. However, parentheses is the plural of the singular parenthesis, referring to the curved symbol we place around a parenthetical word or phrase. We almost always use those symbols in pairs; thus the plural parentheses is more common. (E.g., “Remember to enclose verbal asides in parentheses in your script.”)

Parenthesee, as the singular form to refer to just one of those curved things, is incorrect; it’s not a word. Nope, nope, nope. The word is parenthesis. (Yes, really!)

Both of these can be found in the chapter “Usage Uncertainties” in my new book, Whatever Happened to English? available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book versions.

Whatever Happened to English? – Part 2

Here’s what’s in my new book.

Regular readers of my blog may want to know more about the contents of my new book. Thanks for asking! There are seven chapters and nearly 100 topics, all listed here:

Introduction

Chapter 1: Whatever Happened to English?

  • The Effect of Social Media on Written English Today
  • Why Study Grammar?
  • What Is Grammar?

Chapter 2: Usage Uncertainties Continue reading “Whatever Happened to English? – Part 2”

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”

Meaningless, Lazy, Inflammatory, Taboo Words

Miscellaneous musings on our culture’s spoken and written language.

Meaningless Words

Facebook invited us to toss words into the dust bin when they created those cute little emoticons or emojis. Now, let me say from the get-go that I use those cute little emojis. I am a user. But what do they really mean? Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. The words—and underlying concepts—are virtually meaningless.

Hang onto your britches and let me explain. FB invites us to express supposed emotions with a single symbol, to save us the time and mental effort involved in using vocabulary to formulate sentences to express thoughtful replies. No need to do that when we can express displeasure by inserting an angry-face emoticon, or astonishment with a wow-face emoticon—when we may not feel anything like true anger or astonishment, in which case we’re conveying pseudo emotions. They’re not real.

Sometimes the feelings involved are deep and genuine—I’m not suggesting we’re all phonies on social media (but I think a lot of us are a lot more unreal there than we care to admit). Continue reading “Meaningless, Lazy, Inflammatory, Taboo Words”

Me, Myself, and I: Using These Pronouns Correctly

Are you using the correct pronouns?

“Would you like some ice cream?” asked Mother.

“Yippee! All three of us would!” cried six-year-old Dean.

“Three? I only see you.”

Dean - Me
Me

“Oh, no, there are three: me, myself, and I. That means three bowls of ice cream!”

“Oh,” she said, coughing once and rolling her eyes.

Thus began Dean’s disastrous, short-lived career as a stand-up comedian.

But seriously, folks—when do we use the pronouns me, myself, and I? Specifically, how do we properly use reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, herself, ourselves, etc.)? Are they just another way of saying I/me, you, her, and us? Continue reading “Me, Myself, and I: Using These Pronouns Correctly”

Five More Commonly Confused Word Pairs

Only 1 in 96 people keep all of these straight.

Two weeks ago I wrote about five pairs of commonly confused words. It’s a topic that always stimulates a lively and full-bodied discussion among readers. While waiting for that discussion to begin, I’ll present you with five more pairs of commonly confused words.

Advise vs. Advice (ad-VĪZ vs. ad-VĪS) 

To advise (an action) is a verb and advice (a thing) is a noun that refers to the information given or received in the act of advising. But confusing these two words is understandable because of another pair of words, vise and vice, which are homonyms: they are pronounced exactly the same (vīs). A vise is a tool attached to a workbench that is used to hold something securely in place. A vice, as people generally use it, is a “habitual and usually trivial defect or shortcoming.” Advise and advice are not homonyms. They are pronounced differently and mean different things. Many people have given me sound advice about a lot of things in my lifetime, some of which I have heeded. Let me advise you to heed wise, godly advice when you receive it.

 Momento vs. Memento

When I stopped into a gift shop to purchase a souvenir, the clerk said it would make a “nice momento.” This is a common mistake; the correct word is memento. Momento is not a word. Continue reading “Five More Commonly Confused Word Pairs”

Acronyms and Initialisms–What’s the Difference?

We All Use Acronyms and Initialisms

Today I hope to enlighten the world like Lady Liberty on the difference between acronyms and initialisms. My colleagues in education often joke that our realm is all about acronyms. I used to laugh at that until I sat down one day and tried to list all the acronyms for departments and programs used on our campus. Writer’s cramp forced me to stop before I’d gotten halfway through. But the joke was on me when I discovered that there are acronyms and there are initialisms and, although similar, they are technically not the same.

Acronyms

Acronyms are abbreviations of multi-word nouns, consisting of the initial letters of each word and are pronounceable words. That last phrase is key. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is universally known by its acronym NASA, and “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” is the mouthful better known by the acronym laser. Continue reading “Acronyms and Initialisms–What’s the Difference?”

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