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Month: August 2017

Punctuation Quiz #19: Capitalization

Punctuation Quiz #19: Capitalization

Correct the capitalization in the following sentences.

1. Next sunday will be our fifth Anniversary.

2. My best school subjects are History, french, math, and Physics.

3. Sallie bought new curtains for her French windows.

4. When we visit Rome, we hope to obtain an audience with the pope.

5. London and paris were already centers of culture in the middle ages.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Next sunday will be our fifth Anniversary.
Correct : Next Sunday will be our fifth anniversary.

In English, days of the week are capitalized. Common nouns, like “anniversary” are not.

2.
Original: My best school subjects are History, french, math, and Physics.
Correct : My best school subjects are history, French, math, and physics.

Languages are capitalized, but other school subjects are not.

3.
Original: Sallie bought new curtains for her French windows.
Correct : Sallie bought new curtains for her french windows.

Although capitalized in other contexts, “french” is not capitalized here because “french windows” refers to a certain type of window. The same usage would apply to “russian dressing” and “danish pastry.”

4.
Original: When we visit Rome, we hope to obtain an audience with the pope.
Correct : When we visit Rome, we hope to obtain an audience with the Pope.

The word “pope” is capitalized here because it refers to a person who bears the title.

5.
Original: London and paris were already centers of culture in the middle ages.
Correct : London and Paris were already centers of culture in the Middle Ages.

Names of cities are capitalized, as are distinctive historical periods.

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Resolving Both Passive Construction and Verbosity

Resolving Both Passive Construction and Verbosity

Writers often unconsciously construct a sentence in which the key information appears at the tail of the sentence. Many, too, take insufficient care to avoid wordiness. All too frequently, readers stumble across sentences that suffer from both problems. In this post are three examples of sentences that are both passive and verbose. The discussion that follows each describes the problems, and revisions demonstrate solutions.

Note that passive construction is not always a malady to be remedied (it can effectively emphasize a point) and verbosity is not necessarily bad (wordiness can be employed for effect or to clarify an ambiguity), but the careful writer always chooses to retain such features only after consideration.

1. At this time, an economic downturn is not anticipated by most established business plans.

Notice that in each of these examples, the sentence ends with the syntax “(verb) by (noun phrase).” However, the sentence is usually improved if a noun phrase relegated to this position supplants the original subject, as here: “At this time, most established business plans do not anticipate an economic downturn.” Further improvement results by omitting the extraneous introductory phrase: “Most established business plans do not anticipate an economic downturn.”

2. Relocation of buildings could eventually be implemented by property owners.

“Relocation of buildings” is a valid subject, but actors, rather than people, places, or things acted on, best fill the role: “Property owners could eventually implement relocation of buildings.”
Here, the sentence is rendered more concise by converting the nominalization (verb turned noun) back to a verb and omitting what is now a superfluous verb: “Property owners could eventually relocate buildings.”

3. The major contribution to increased efficiency was achieved by the team.

Again, whenever possible, begin a sentence by first naming the actors rather than the acted upon: “The team achieved a major contribution to increased efficiency.” Here, too, the sentence can be truncated by converting one part of speech to another and jettisoning unnecessary words; in this case, increased is transmogrified from an adjective to a verb, the weak verb achieved is eliminated, and the excessive elaboration “a major contribution to” is deleted as well: “The team significantly increased efficiency.”

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3 Problems with In-Line Lists

3 Problems with In-Line Lists

An in-line list, one located within a sentence rather than formatted vertically below an explanatory phrase, sentence, or paragraph, may present an obstacle to comprehension in the following ways. Each sentence represents a different type of error, and the discussion that follows each statement explains the problem and a revision resolves it.

1. Organizations must notify affected individuals of a data breach when a reasonable person would conclude that the unauthorized access to, disclosure or loss of the information would be likely to result in serious harm to the individual or individuals. 

In this sentence, there should be three distinct phrases consisting of a noun followed by a preposition, but disclosure is bereft of the latter; either allow it to share one, or give it its own: “Organizations must notify affected individuals of a data breach when a reasonable person would conclude that the unauthorized access to or disclosure or loss of the information would be likely to result in serious harm to the individual or individuals” or “Organizations must notify affected individuals of a data breach when a reasonable person would conclude that the unauthorized access to, disclosure of, or loss of the information would be likely to result in serious harm to the individual or individuals.” 

2. Typically, the best companies: are customer-focused; understand their value proposition; develop powerful and distinctive messaging; and listen well and act to improve their processes, products, and customer experience continuously.

No colon or other punctuation mark is necessarily to signal that an in-line list follows the subject of the sentence; it is redundant to the verb(s) it precedes: “Typically, the best companies are customer-focused; understand their value proposition; develop powerful and distinctive messaging; and listen well and act to improve their processes, products, and customer experience continuously.”

This is true as well for vertical lists, unless the introductory wording constitutes an independent clause—compare “Typically, the best companies [vertical list follows]” and “Typically, the best companies demonstrate the following qualities: [vertical list follows].” Note, too, that with the latter format, the list items would have to be revised to be complete sentences or to not begin with a verb.

3. Its long list of supporters includes Kobe Bryant, swimmer Janet Evans, Venus and Serena Williams and other sports royalty.

When the style a publication adheres to calls for omitting the serial comma in simple lists (“a, b and c”), the serial comma must still be employed on occasion to clarify organization when a compound list item occurs: “Its long list of supporters includes Kobe Bryant, swimmer Janet Evans, Venus and Serena Williams, and other sports royalty.” (This rule applies for list forms “a and b, c, and d,” “a, b and c, and d,” or “a, b, and c and d,” as well as “a and b, c and d, and e” and so on.)

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All About “Most”

All About “Most”

Most is a grammatically versatile word employed in references to amounts, quantities, and degree. This post discusses its use as various parts of speech.

Most, deriving from Old English and related to more, serves as an adjective pertaining to extent (as in “The most support comes from the Midwest”) or the majority (“Most of his supporters are in the Midwest”). Note the distinction between general and specific discussion: Compare “Most households have more than one television” (general) with “Most of the city’s households have more than one television” (specific). As an adjective suffix, it applies to something that most completely or extensively displays a characteristic, appearing in such words as foremost and hindmost, meaning, respectively, “farthest forward” and “farthest behind.”

As an adverb, most performs a similar function, except that it modifies adjectives. When it means “to the greatest degree,” it is preceded by the, as in “He found it to be the most rewarding job he had had to date.” When the meaning is “to a great degree,” the is omitted, as in “His current job is most rewarding.” It can also modify another adverb, as in the phrase “most certainly.” In addition, most is sometimes employed as a variant of almost to modify such words as all, anyone, anywhere, and always, as in “You will find that happens most everywhere,” but this usage is considered informal.

Most is also a noun meaning “the greatest amount,” as in sentences such as “It’s the most I can do” and “You gave him the most of all,” and in the phrases “at most” and “at the most” (which are interchangeable), as in “It will take her two or three days at most.” As a pronoun, it means “the greatest number or part,” as in “Most would agree.”

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Vocabulary Quiz #8: Commonly Confused Words

Vocabulary Quiz #8: Commonly Confused Words

In each sentence, choose the correct word from the pair of similar terms. (If both words possibly can be correct, choose the more plausible one.)

1. Do you mean to __________ that I stole your cell phone?
a) infer
b) imply

2. The students are ___________ in learning algebra.
a) disinterested
b) uninterested

3. The state ____________ is a miniature of the one in Washington D.C.
a) capitol
b) capital

4. Between the years 1845 and 1855, nearly a million people _______ from Germany to the United States.
a) emigrated
b) immigrated

5. The agents used torture to ___________ information from the prisoners.
a) illicit
b) elicit

Answers and Explanations

1. Do you mean to imply that I stole your cell phone?
b) imply

“To imply” means suggest, while “to infer” means to draw a conclusion by reasoning.

2. The students are uninterested in learning algebra.
b) uninterested

The word “uninterested” indicates simple lack of interest, while “disinterested” connotes a lack of self-interest in a matter to be decided.

3. The state capitol is a miniature of the one in Washington D.C.
a) capitol

A capitol is a building that serves as a center of government; a capital is the chief city in a country or a state.

4. Between the years 1845 and 1855, nearly a million people emigrated from Germany to the United States.
a) emigrated

“To emigrate” is to leave a country with the intention of settling in another. “To immigrate” is to pass into a new country of residence.

5. The agents used torture to elicit information from the prisoners.
b) elicit

“Elicit” is to draw out a response. “Illicit” means not lawful.

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25 Confused Homonym Pairs

25 Confused Homonym Pairs

Dozens of homonyms, words that sound like other words but are spelled differently, are sometimes confused for their near doppelgängers. This post lists and defines twenty-five frequently confused word pairs, in which the first word is usually used mistakenly in place of the second one. (Definitions for words are simplified and not comprehensive.)

1.
add: increase
ad: abbreviation for advertisement

2.
aid: help
aide: one who helps

3.
block: area bounded by streets, or an obstacle or a solid object
bloc: group with ideas or ideology in common

4.
cannon: piece of artillery
canon: collection of works, or regulation, or standards or rules or a collection of them

5.
canvas: durable, heavy protective material
canvass: debate, examine, or go out in search of responses

6.
chomp: bite down
champ: bite down (same meaning, but idiom is “champ at the bit”)

7.
compliment: praise
complement: complete or enhance

8.
conscious: aware
conscience: adherence to or regard for fairness or moral strength

9.
council: deliberative or legislative body
counsel: legal adviser

10.
discrete: separate
discreet: modest, prudent, unobtrusive

11.
fair: event for entertainment, exhibition, and trade
fare: specific type of food

12.
phase: carry out or introduce a stage, or adjust for synchronicity
faze: disturb

13.
flare: signal fire or light, or a reflecting or bright, unsteady light or a sudden outburst, an outward spreading or something that spreads
flair: style, or talent or tendency

14.
forward: ahead of
foreword: brief introductory section of a book

15.
hardy: audacious, brave, durable
hearty: healthy, vigorous, enthusiastic, or unrestrained, or full of appetite

16.
isle: truncated form of island
aisle: passage between groups of seats

17.
ordinance: law or rule
ordnance: ammunition and explosives

18.
premier: best, or a political leader
premiere: first performance or showing of a form of entertainment

19.
principal: leader of a school, or a leading person in an organization
principle: code, idea, or law

20.
roll: list or other document, or material held as or in a roll
role: function, or character or part played

21.
tact: diplomacy or discretion
tack: approach or course

22.
team: group organized to achieve a goal or to compete
teem: be filled to overflowing or present in large quantities

23.
tenant: renter
tenet: something generally held to be true

24.
troop: unit of military personnel
troupe: group of performers

25.
wreck: destroy
wreak: cause, inflict

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Incomplete Parallels

Incomplete Parallels

In each of the following sentences, an associated pair of phrases are not optimally stated and organized to make their relationship clear. The discussion after each statement proposes a solution, which follows in each case.

1. Follow with user support and usage monitoring to ensure a smooth transition and an optimal user experience during and post-implementation.

In this sentence, during and the prefix post– share implementation (and post should be directly attached, with no hyphen), but a preposition and a prepositional prefix cannot share a root word, so replace post– with a distinct preposition: “Follow with user support and usage monitoring to ensure a smooth transition and an optimal user experience during and after implementation.”

2. Millions of Americans, including younger citizens, recent immigrants, and those who do not use credit actively, have a limited or no credit history.

The parallel structure of “a limited or no” is not erroneous, but the idea is more clearly communicated with more complete wording: “Millions of Americans, including younger citizens, recent immigrants, and those who do not use credit actively, have a limited credit history or none at all.”

3. Such programs should be based on a clear understanding and an evaluation of potential threats of data loss. 

Understanding cannot share a preposition with evaluation, because the article an grammatically partitions the two nouns. (An cannot be omitted, because doing so will imply that clear applies to evaluation as well as to understanding.) Assign understanding its own iteration of of, and, to provide further clarity, treat the corresponding phrase as a parenthetical: “Such programs should be based on a clear understanding of, and an evaluation of, potential threats of data loss.”

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12 Idioms Commonly Seen with Homonymic Spelling Errors

12 Idioms Commonly Seen with Homonymic Spelling Errors

As, in time, idiomatic phrases become more isolated from their literal origins, writers are more likely to erroneously substitute a homonym (a word that sounds like another but is spelled differently and has a different meaning) for one of the words in the phrase. This post lists idioms that frequently appear with homonymic mistakes.

1.
Incorrect: baited breath
Correct: bated breath

This phrase refers to abating, or stopping, breathing, and the related adjective bated is intended.

2.
Incorrect: eek out
Correct: eke out

Eke originally meant “increase”; the verb is now obsolete except in the phrase pertaining to achieving after exerting effort; it has nothing to do with a squeal of surprise one might make when one is startled.

3.
Incorrect: just desserts
Correct: just deserts

This idiom refers not to a sweet dish served after a main course but to what one justly deserves. Deserts is a noun, obsolete except in this usage, which refers to just that.

4.
Incorrect: making due
Correct: making do

The expression pertaining to managing with available resources is “making do.”

5.
Incorrect: marshal law
Correct: martial law

A marshal is a type of law-enforcement official, and to marshal is to order or organize, so this error is understandable, but the phrase refers to martial law, a state in which military forces maintain order under martial, or warlike, conditions.

6.
Incorrect: peak (one’s) interest
Correct: pique (one’s) interest

In the sense of arousing interest, the correct verb is pique.

7.
Incorrect: reign in
Correct: rein in

This phrase refers to managing someone or something as if one were using reins on a horse to control its movement, hence “rein in.”

8.
Incorrect: sewing doubts
Correct: sowing doubts

This phrase refers to planting doubts as if they were seeds—thus, “sowing doubts.”

9.
Incorrect: slight of hand
Correct: sleight of hand

This idiom is sometimes misunderstood to refer to deceptive movement so slight as to be undetectable, but the key word is sleight, meaning “dexterity.”

10.
Incorrect: to the manner born
Correct: to the manor
born

It is natural to assume that this phrase alludes to being born in a certain manner—specifically, “in an affluent environment”—but “to the manor
born” pertains to those born in a manor, as opposed to a more humble dwelling.

11.
Incorrect: tow the line
Correct: toe the line

The phrase alluding to placing one’s feet right on a line and not stepping over it is “toe the line.”

12.
Incorrect: wet your appetite
Correct: whet your appetite

This idiom refers to sharpening one’s desire for something, not moistening it. Whet means “sharpen by rubbing against,” as with a whetstone against a knife, and the correct phrase is “whet your appetite.”

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Studios and Studies

Studios and Studies

The word study has a variety of meanings and a small but meaningful array of words based on it. This post lists those definitions and terms.

Study derives from the Latin verb studere, meaning, “application” in the sense of applying one’s attention, especially to learning. From that word came studium, the term for an artist’s workshop (but also meaning “eagerness” or zeal”), which evolved into the Italian term studio.

Today, studio retains its primary meaning, though it has expanded to designate the site of any of a variety of artistic endeavors, from fine arts to photography and motion pictures, as well as performing arts and, by extension, media broadcasts. Therefore, a studio might be small room where a painter or sculptor produces his or her art, a larger chamber where radio, television, or film production occurs or where audio recordings are created, or (referred to in the plural) an entire complex of buildings and outdoor sets where TV programs or movies are filmed. Studio also denotes a company that produces media or a group of people associated with a particular studio where artists work.

Also by extension, from the fact that through history, many artists’ studios have doubled as living quarters, a small, one-room dwelling is often referred to as a studio (or, for clarity, a studio apartment or a studio flat).

Study often refers to a room, usually one furnished with a desk and bookcases or bookshelves and devoted to reading and/or writing. Study also pertains to a topic of learning, though in that sense it is usually employed generically in plural form (as in “He devoted himself to his studies”). A study hall was originally a common room on a university campus for study and tutoring; the term “study hall” now often denotes a period during the school day or after school where secondary school students can work on class assignments.

A study can also be an experimental or exploratory creative or intellectual exercise, especially a musical composition intended not only to be aesthetically pleasing but also to exercise musicians in technique or demonstrate their musical skills, though in this sense, the French form étude is often employed.

In addition, study refers to reflection or thought in general but also describes, in the phrase “quick study,” someone who learns or memorizes quickly; “brown study” is an outdated description of a gloomy or melancholy state of thought into which someone was often referred to as falling. (Brown once had the sense in an emotional context that blue has now.) Meanwhile, an understudy is an actor prepared to substitute for another cast member in a theatrical production.

The sense of “an academic or scientific research project” derives from the verb study, which means “engage in learning” or, more specifically, refers to the act of consuming information to acquire knowledge and understanding. The verb can also pertain to attentively regarding something, as in “She studied the room for a moment to determine the best hiding place for the book.”

A student is a learner, not only in a formal academic sense but also in reference to someone who carefully and closely follows a discipline or topic. Open compounds such as “student driver” and “student teacher” generally denote someone practicing the endeavor indicated by the second word.

Someone who studies diligently is studious, does so studiously, and demonstrates studiousness.

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Grammar Quiz #11: Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Constructions

Grammar Quiz #11: Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Constructions

In each of the following sentences, a lack of punctuation creates a mistaken impression about the relationship of a modifying word or phrase to the idea it modifies. Insert punctuation so that the relationship is clear.

1. The coach observed most of practice from a midfield tower where he could see all the action.

2. Unhappy with her previous 1,500-student high school, she transferred to the academy, which has just 120 students.

3. He mentioned another classroom project in which students learned about trial procedures by acting out a mock trial.

4. In the former schoolyard where tetherball once reigned, an outdoor patio now sports a restaurant.

5. Students wrote a third essay on the impact of geography on history and culture in light of our understanding of Smith’s works.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: The coach observed most of practice from a midfield tower where he could see all the action.
Correct : The coach observed most of practice from a midfield tower, where he could see all the action.

The sentence implies that more than one midfield tower exists, and the coach observed the action from one of them, but the meaning is that he did so from the one and only tower, so the inserted comma is essential.

2.
Original: Unhappy with her previous 1,500-student high school, she transferred to the academy, which has just 120 students.
Correct : Unhappy with her previous, 1,500-student high school, she transferred to the academy, which has just 120 students.

“Previous 1,500-student high school” indicates that the current school has the same number of schools as the previous one, which is contrary to the point of the sentence. A comma intervening between previous and “1,500-student high school” shows that the word and the phrase are independent of each other.

3.
Original: He mentioned another classroom project in which students learned about trial procedures by acting out a mock trial.
Correct : He mentioned another classroom project, in which students learned about trial procedures by acting out a mock trial.
Alterna.: He mentioned another classroom project, one in which students learned about trial procedures by acting out a mock trial.

Is the previous classroom project, the one implied by the use of another, did the students conduct a mock trial? If so, then no punctuation is necessary. But if the first classroom project did not involve a mock trial, “In the previous classroom project” must be set off by a comma to demonstrate that the project was not identical in format: (This distinction could be further clarified by inserting one after the comma.)

4.
Original: In the former schoolyard where tetherball once reigned, an outdoor patio now sports a restaurant.
Correct : In the former schoolyard, where tetherball once reigned, an outdoor patio now sports a restaurant.

A lack of punctuation between “former schoolyard” and “where tetherball once reigned” implies that two or more schoolyards are under discussion. But “where tetherball once reigned” describes the sole schoolyard.

5.
Original: Students wrote a third essay on the impact of geography on history and culture in light of our understanding of Smith’s works.
Correct : Students wrote a third essay, on the impact of geography on history and culture in light of our understanding of Smith’s works.
Alterna.: Students wrote a third essay, this one on the impact of geography on history and culture in light of our understanding of Smith’s works.

It’s possible that all three essays were on the same topic, but if the context contradicts this assumption, “third essay” must be set off from the topic description to indicate that the topic is specific to that essay alone.

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