Rank #1: Nominalizations
"The walking of the dog is an activity that Naomi enjoys." What's wrong with this sentence? Grammatically, nothing. Yet it's still bad writing because it turns an action, walking the dog, into an abstraction represented by a noun. Most of the time, verbs are more interesting as actions than they are in noun forms, known [...]
May 21 2018
Rank #2: Direct Objects
Direct objects receive the action of a verb, so to speak. The direct object is the thing or being navigated in Joe navigated traffic. It's the person being punched in Bill punched Lou. It's the thing being seen in I saw it. Understanding direct objects can be very helpful in knowing when to use, say, John and [...]
Mar 12 2018
Rank #3: Historic and Historical
The differences between historic and historical are subtle. If you have a vague, unarticulated sense of how best to use each, you're probably right. Here it is articulated.
Nov 13 2017
Rank #4: Mood, Modality, Voice, Aspect, Tense, Number and Person
Have you ever heard someone say a sentence is in the subjunctive mood or the first person or the passive voice? These aren't just general descriptions. They're hard concepts in grammar that are worth taking a moment to understand.
Apr 15 2019
Rank #5: How to Write People's Titles
There are rules for writing people's titles, especially when it comes to capitalization. Here's what you need to know.
Jan 14 2019
Rank #6: 'Wrong' and 'Wrongly'
We think of adverbs as basically adjectives with "ly" tacked on the end. But of course, that's an oversimplification. The many exceptions include words like "wrong," which can be an adverb all by itself. "Wrongly" has its own unique role. Here's a look at this unusual pair.
Jan 02 2018
Rank #7: Attributive Nouns
When is a noun not a noun? When it's acting like an adjective like "chicken" in "chicken soup" and "air" in "air travel." Here's everything you need to know about attributive nouns.
Oct 01 2018
Rank #8: Indefinite Pronouns
Indefinite pronouns — words like anyone and all and everything and many — have some unique properties and deserve a closer look. Here it is!
Jan 22 2018
Rank #9: Into, In To, Onto, On To
When is into one word and when is it two? Here's a hint: When a preposition is integral to the noun's meaning, as in give in, log in, and tune in, that preposition is kept separate from a subsequent to. Tune in to the weekly program. Here's more on that.
Aug 13 2018
Rank #10: Hyphenating Compounds After a Noun
If your company has customer-friendly policies, would you say those policies are customer friendly or customer-friendly? The rules on modifying compound adjectives before a noun are pretty clear: use the hyphen anytime it aids comprehension. But when that same compound comes after the noun, especially when a verb intercedes, too, the rules get fuzzy. Here [...]
Jul 23 2018
Rank #11: Faulty Sentence Structure
There are a lot of ways your sentences can go wrong. Here are some major structural problems to look out for.
Jun 25 2018
Rank #12: Appositives
If you don't know what an appositive is, you should. An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that sits right next to another and restates it, like "a CPA" in, "My boss, a CPA, is a stickler for accuracy." And once you understand that, it makes certain punctuation and sentence structure decisions a [...]
Mar 18 2019
Rank #13: Prefixes with Special Hyphenation Rules
The rules for hyphenating prefixes are different from the rules for hyphenating compound modifiers and nouns. There are a lot of case-specific rules and a lot of disagreement between styles. If you don't need to be exactly in line with a style guide but you just want an easy guideline, omit hyphens with prefixes unless [...]
Jan 07 2019
Rank #14: Hyphenating Compound Nouns
Style guides and grammar books have helpful rules for hyphenating compound adjectives. But the guides are mum on compound nouns like market-watcher and six-pack. Here's how to handle these.
Jan 01 2019
Rank #15: Do You Know About the En Dash?
A hyphen is a short mark that connects words, as in a "good-looking car." An em dash, which most people think of as a dash, separates thoughts and indicates a change of sentence structure — this is an example. But there's also something called an en dash, which is longer than a hyphen but [...]
Apr 02 2018
Rank #16: Literally
If you hear something like, "The town was brought literally to its knees," it's okay to snicker. But don't get too judgmental. Yes, talk like this is best reserved for towns that have actual knees. But these "intensifier" uses are sanctioned by most language authorities, including dictionaries. Here's what you need to know.
Jul 09 2018
Rank #17: Common Comma Pitfalls
Everyone understands comma basics. Commas are separators, weaker than periods. And they work within a single sentence. But while comma basics are easy, comma gray areas are not. Would you put a comma before the book title in "We read the book Oliver Twist"? How about between the adjectives in "He saw a big scary [...]
Feb 12 2018
Rank #18: The Unkindest Apostrophes
If you pay attention to grammar, you already know that apostrophes cause some of the worst and most common mistakes. But it can still help to get a heads up for some of the apostrophe's most dangerous pitfalls. Here are some apostrophe traps to watch out for.
Sep 10 2018
Rank #19: Working With Quotations
It's not enough to know how to quote someone. You have to know when to quote them. Here's a quick lesson on all things quotation!
Oct 29 2018
Rank #20: If and Whether
Have you ever wondered about the difference between "if" and "whether"? Good news: grammatically, there's no line in the sand between these words. The subtle differences are best determined by your own ear. So use whatever seems most natural. Here's a more complete explanation.
Dec 18 2017