Is ’til a Contraction of Until?

Is ’til a Contraction of Until?

A curious request for a post has come across my desk: Please discuss the misuse of “till” for the contraction “’til”. The best place to begin is with the term contraction. As applied to speech, a contraction is the contracting or shortening of a word or a syllable by omitting or combining some elements. For example, info is a contracted form of information. ID is a contracted form of the word identification. In writing, a contraction is formed by substituting…

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How to Write Concise, Active Sentences

How to Write Concise, Active Sentences

One of the most valuable results of revising one’s writing (or inviting another person to do so) is leaner, more active prose. Review written content with the objectives of reducing the number of words in a sentence and using stronger, more direct syntax. (Accomplishing the latter occasionally increases rather than reduces sentence length, but attack the problems in that order.) The following sentences are prime candidates for this treatment; discussion and revisions explain the problem and offer solutions. 1. There…

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Worshipped and Worshipping Revisited

Worshipped and Worshipping Revisited

A recent comment on a past post, “Worshiping and Kidnapping” made me doubt my sanity: You note that Merriam-Webster lists worshiped and worshiping as preferred spellings in the US, but my M-W app lists the double-consonant spelling first. Which should I recommend to an American writer whose readers are also American? In my post, “Worshiping and Kidnapping,” I stated confidently that the single consonant spellings are given first and the double letter spellings are second-choice variants in the US Merriam-Webster…

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5 Types of Case and Punctuation Problems with Quotations

5 Types of Case and Punctuation Problems with Quotations

The following sentences demonstrate issues writers confront when they write sentences that incorporate quotations that are not framed with attribution (phrasing that identifies the source of the quotation, such as “he said” or “she writes”). Each example is followed by a discussion of the problem in the sentence and a solution. 1. The consultant’s answer to the question of how to get started is always: “Begin with a plan.” A quotation should be introduced with a statement that ends with…

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Adverb Placement

Adverb Placement

A reader wants to know “if there is a rule for the proper placement of an adverb in sentence structure.” The general rule with adverbs is to place the adverb as close as possible to the word being modified. Most adverbs can go in one of three positions in a sentence. First position (before the subject) Cautiously, she opened the door. Second position (before the main verb) She cautiously opened the door. Third position (after the verb or after the…

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Wringer or Ringer?

Wringer or Ringer?

The other day I read an essay in the Washington Post in which a woman describes herself as having been “put through the ringer” with a difficult birth. I’m always surprised to find an error of this kind in a major publication because I imagine that their owners still employ copy readers. The idiom intended is “to be put through the wringer,” meaning, “to suffer an unpleasant or difficult experience.” The verb to wring means “to twist and squeeze.” The…

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Questions on WAS and WHO

Questions on WAS and WHO

A reader poses two grammar questions, one on linking verb agreement and one on pronoun case. Question One What is the rule that governs which linking verb to use when the subject is singular and the predicate is plural? The highlight for me ______ the poems that Mary wrote and read.” was or were? The rule for linking verbs is the same as for any verb: Verbs agree in number with their subjects. When the verb to be is used…

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Two Verb Puzzles in the News

Two Verb Puzzles in the News

I suppose I may be exposing my own comprehension failings by writing about two verb uses that puzzled me recently. I’ll just have to take the chance. In a New York Times article (Jan 3, 2020) about the death of an Iranian military operative, I had to read the following sentence three times before I understood what was being said: They also say he has masterminded destabilizing Iranian activities that continue throughout the Middle East and are aimed at the…

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Bedbugs and Bessie Bugs

Bedbugs and Bessie Bugs

The other day, I heard a celebrity say that someone was “as crazy as a bedbug.” I laughed, amused that the person had gone so far wrong with the idiom “crazy as a bessie bug.” As I usually do when struck by some linguistic oddity, I began searching for other examples. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that “crazy as a bedbug” is not only a recognized idiom, it is more common in the printed record than “crazy as a…

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Creative Writing 101

Creative Writing 101

What is Creative Writing? Creative writing is anything where the purpose is to express thoughts, feelings and emotions rather than to simply convey information. I’ll be focusing on creative fiction in this post (mainly short stories and novels), but poetry, (auto)biography and creative non-fiction are all other forms of creative writing. Here’s a couple of definitions: Creative writing is writing that expresses the writer’s thoughts and feelings in an imaginative, often unique, and poetic way. (Sil.org – What is Creative…

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