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.

Ten Christmas Terms Explained

Do you know where all ten of these Christmas terms came from?

(This essay also appears in my new book Whatever Happened to English? – available on Amazon.)

The Christmas season is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many of us. Just think of the many words we associate only with Christmas. The following ten words are among them.

Advent Candles_31. Advent – Advent is derived from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival” or “the coming.” By the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory I had instituted in the Roman church the practice of conducting a special mass on each of the four Sundays leading up to “the coming” of the Christ-child. Similar to Lent, the season of Advent included fasting and penitence followed by a time of celebration. Eventually, the penitential nature of Advent gave way exclusively to the celebratory nature. Today, Advent is still celebrated in many churches, with each Sunday featuring a different theme, such as the prophecies of Jesus’ birth, the Annunciation to Mary, the visitation of the angels and shepherds, or the gifts of the wise men—with a candle lit for each theme. Continue reading “Ten Christmas Terms Explained”

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”

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 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!

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