Many writers today strive to avoid the passive voice. Do you know what I mean by passive? Don't be too quick to say yes!  Continue reading...
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This week's publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's long-dormant sequel of sorts to To Kill a Mockingbird, has gotten a tune running through my head: "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." Two titles, same number of syllables, and the same syntactic structure, right down to the use of go plus another verb right next to it. But how do both those verbs fit into the place where just one verb should go?  Continue reading...
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Recently in an online forum for editors, someone balked at then being used as a coordinating conjunction, as in: "I went to high school, then I went to college." Coordinating conjunctions, you'll recall, join two items of equal status: two words of the same parts of speech, two phrases of the same type, or two clauses.  Continue reading...
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Grammar lovers, it's your time to shine! Write a haiku for National Grammar Day, March 4th ("march forth") and tweet it to #grammarday. Or just enjoy these winning haiku from last year.  Continue reading...
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I would like to consider myself among the modern vanguard, letting language take its natural course and evolve as its owners — that is to say, its speakers — allow it to. But at the same time, I spend hours every week at the rock face of language change — that is to say, in classrooms full of young people — and while there, I cannot but lament the passing of some niceties of English.  Continue reading...
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In January, I took part in an interesting discussion on Twitter. Washington Post copyeditor Bill Walsh posted a headline: "Hole-in-the-walls: East, west, and downtown, 19 named." He asked, "Would you take your sister-in-laws to such a place?"  Continue reading...
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The story of Steve Henderson — a software engineer bent on single-handedly fixing every use of the word comprise in Wikipedia entries where compose would be more appropriate — has captured the popular imagination. Yesterday, Southern California Public Radio invited our own Ben Zimmer to explain the difference and weigh in on the wisdom of Henderson's quest.  Continue reading...
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