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English language users have long struggled with lie, meaning "to recline," and lay, meaning "to put down." Many of the traditional English Christmas carols we hear at this time of year were written or translated during the 19th century and use lie and lay distinctly.  Continue reading...
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Noel Anenberg, a regular reader of this column and author of the forthcoming book The Dog Boy, asked me about a usage of have that implies, Anenberg writes, "the speaker's active role in the events." Compare "I had my house cleaned" and "I had my car stolen."  Continue reading...
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Recently a reader of the Copyediting newsletter (which I edit) asked me about the phrase take a decision. Shouldn't it be make a decision? In researching the answer, I learned that make and take were examples of "light verbs." It's a concept that few besides linguists are concerned with, if my research is accurate, but one that if writers were more aware of could have a profound effect on their writing.  Continue reading...
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It's September and students of all ages are heading back to school. But why is it back to school and not back to the school or back to schools? Certainly if I were to write about one specific school, I would write the school. If I were talking about schools as a category, I can say schools.  Continue reading...
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This summer, I've been looking at zombie rules, false grammar rules taught and followed slavishly with little thought. Today, I'll kill three final zombies: the split infinitive, hopefully, and singular they. They're style rules — albeit awkward ones — that are lumbering around as grammar rules.  Continue reading...
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Last month, I introduced the idea of a zombie rule: a false grammar rule that is taught and followed slavishly as though it were the real thing. Like their namesakes, these rules have no life in them, but they keep returning no matter how many times their true form is revealed.  Continue reading...
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In 2005, Arnold Zwicky introduced the term zombie rule to describe a grammar rule that isn't really a rule. Zombie rules are taught, followed, and passed along as rules we must follow to speak and write correctly. Like their namesakes, however, these rules are dead and no matter how many times it's explained that there is no grammatical basis for them, they just keep coming back.  Continue reading...
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1 2 3 4 5 Displaying 8-14 of 50 Articles