Speakers of English tend to shorten or truncate longer words, both in writing and speaking. That’s the way we are; it’s normal. We call such truncated words clippings. Sometimes we drop the initial syllable or syllables. Examples are airplane → plane; hamburger → burger; and telephone → phone. When we drop the ending syllable or syllables, we have, for example, popular → pop; public → pub; and technician → tech. Occasionally, we have both the beginning and the ending of the word dropped, leaving us with influenza → flu; and refrigerator → frig. Wait. Frig? Get me a cold one from the frig? Hmmm. More on that one below.
When it comes to writing clipped words, how do we spell them? Here’s the general principle: We most often spell a clipped word as it sounds, not necessarily as a sliced off version of the longer original. Occasionally, therefore, the spelling will be a little different. Here are three common examples: favorite, microphone, and refrigerator. Continue reading “Clippings: How to Spell Words We Commonly Shorten”
A front-page headline in the local newspaper this morning reads, “U.S. Men’s Basketball Team Romp Past China.” Kudos to the U.S. men’s team for romping away in your first game of these Olympics, steamrolling easily over the Chinese team 119-62. But thanks, local newspaper, for reminding us that subject-verb agreement in number is not always so easy.
Nouns that denote an aggregate of individuals or things are called collective nouns and are grammatically singular, which means they take the singular form of the verb. Common examples include flock, herd, group, family, and team. We would say, “The flock of geese is flying overhead”; “The green group challenges the blue group to a sales contest”; “The family that prays together stays together”; and “The U.S. Team Romps Past China.”
There are exceptions and nuances to this rule. For example, when the group is spoken of as a collection of individuals, the plural form of the verb is used, as in, “When the basketball team plays next, I hope they win.”In the first part of the sentence, team is a collective noun, therefore we use the singular form plays. In the second part, the emphasis is placed on the individuals, and therefore we hope they (the individuals who comprise the team) win (the plural form of the verb). This sounds complicated, but it’s something we all get correct without thinking about it.
Suffice it to say that collective nouns are singular nouns and, as such, take singular forms of the verb.
Better lists make better personal and professional documents and website content.
Often the best way to convey lots of information with maximum clarity in minimum space is through vertical lists. Vertical lists work well for brochures, flyers, and reports; website content; PowerPoint presentations; handouts for your class; and resumes and cover letters. Done well, vertical lists will help your readers quickly and easily comprehend the important information you want them to know.
But “done well” is easier said than done, and constructing vertical lists that are clear, concise, and consistent can be tricky. So here are some tips for avoiding common list-making errors and for creating bang-up vertical lists that will add zip and polish to your next project. Continue reading “Making a List and Checking It Twice”
Answering commonly (un)asked questions about copyediting.
A copyeditor’s job is to take an author’s written document and ensure that it is clear, concise, coherent, and correct. I often say that a good copyeditor will make an author’s piece shine a little brighter (and in some cases a lot brighter). A copyeditor’s job is not to “proofread” a document, which is a separate step in the publication process normally handled by a different person after all the copyediting and revising have been completed. Copyeditors will certainly catch many of the errors proofreaders catch—typos, missing or incorrect punctuation, misspellings, and so forth—but that isn’t their primary job.
Here are the three basic steps I typically take in copyediting a piece of writing for a client:
1. Provide the author with a cost estimate based on reviewing—and possibly editing a sample of—a portion of the material the author sends me via email (e.g., book manuscript, article, essay, letter, thesis, website content, etc.). The estimate will be based on two things: the number of words and the amount of copyediting involved, whether basic or heavy. The rule of thumb in the industry is that 250 words of text equals one manuscript page. So, for example, a 60,000-word document equals 240 manuscript pages, and that goes into the cost-estimate formula. Continue reading “How I Do My Job as a Copyeditor”
How to write it: According to commonly accepted style conventions for formal English, official secular and religious holidays are written out and capitalized. Therefore we have Fourth of July, July Fourth, the Fourth, or Independence Day (note the four e’s and no a in Independence). Of course, informally we can (and I do) write it 4th of July or any way that others will understand.
Fascinating coincidence: Our second and third presidents (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson), who were both instrumental in the American Revolution and the founding of our country, died on the same day—July 4, 1826—the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Freedom, like anything else, has a cost. It is not free. It requires sacrifice, vigilance, and a courageous commitment to do what is right, even if what is right isn’t popular.
Happy 240th, America! Have a safe ‘n’ sane Fourth, everyone!
Prospective customers, clients, and patrons judge your business or organization by the impression you make in print and web-based materials. It may not be a conscious thing, but they do. Whether you’re part of an information-heavy business with lots of written text or you make your living by the sweat of your brow—people with a good grasp of English will be more impressed with the public image you present if your text is carefully polished, easy to read, and error free. This is true for the yard care specialist or auto shop owner who creates simple advertising flyers, and it is true for the proprietor or professional who produces multiple pages of text, whether for a website or in hard copy.
If you are trying to build your client base or nurture existing clients, you have something important to say. A good copyeditor can help you say it more effectively. So what does a copyeditor do? In short, he or she takes text (i.e., copy) that someone else has written and ensures that it is clear, coherent, consistent, and correct, all for the purpose of effective communication. But not everyone is convinced they need this service. Continue reading “If You Write for Your Business or Organization, Consider This”
Today I want to talk about me. No, I don’t mean me, Dean, I mean the objective pronoun me versus the nominative pronoun I. One of the most common errors in speech and writing is to use I where me should be.
Here’s the general rule in the simplest terms: Use I as the subject of a sentence or clause and me as the object of a sentence or clause.
Let me give some examples of the incorrect use of these pronouns:
“People gave my wife and I four toasters for wedding presents.” (incorrect)
“One of the best things to happen to Gary and I is that we became best friends.” (incorrect)
Here’s why both are incorrect: the pronoun I is virtually always used in the nominative case, as the subject of a sentence or clause, not the object. The objective pronoun is me. Replace I with me in both sentences:
“People gave my wife and me four toasters for wedding presents.” (correct)
“One of the best things to happen to Gary and me is that we became best friends.” (correct)