Friday, December 28, 2012

Word Choices (Part 1 of 6)

Watch your nors.

I read these two sentences recently and both are incorrect.

1. Hilda didn't want his money nor his property. Bad word choice.

2. Neither John or Ralph planned to attend Samantha's wedding.

Think of neither and nor as a couple, because they don't like being separated. (And both words start with the letter n, to remind you.) If you invite one of them into your sentence, you want to include the other.

Neither and nor are two words 
that always appear together.

Friday, December 21, 2012

If Only

I'm amazed at the way careless writers use only. Too often it becomes a misplaced modifier. To place it correctly, you need to put only next to the part of the sentence you want to modify.

What's the difference between these two sentences?

"I only wanted your love."

"I wanted only your love."

The first means you have no other wants in life except to be loved by one person. You don't need food, clothes, money—not anything.

The second means you want one thing from the person to whom you talk: That is, "I don't want your money or your advice. Love is the one thing I desire from you."

Make sure you use only
to modify the correct words.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Who and That (Part 3 of 3)

To complicate this, use whose with people or objects because it's the plural possessive of who. However, English has no plural possessive for that.

1. Those students whose work is incomplete will fail the course.

2. Those streetlights whose rays shine into my bedroom prevent my sleeping soundly.

I use whose as the plural possessive 
of people and objects.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Who and That (Part 2 of 3)

In eighth-grade English, you probably learned a simple rule: If you refer to people or animals, use who; if you refer to objects, use that. Most people tend to use that constantly and rarely infuse a sentence with a who.

Today the distinction has largely vanished. This is one of those rules that many people don't know or don't care about. My wife, who is my proofreader, cares deeply about this distinction. (Did you notice the use of who?)

Who refers to people or animals; 
otherwise I use that.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

That and Which (Part 1 of 3)

Over the years, a number of rules have risen and died. One rule governs which and that, although most people don't know or ignore it.

Use that to begin a restrictive clause; use which for everything else.

So what's a restrictive clause? It's the part of a sentence we can't delete to convey the meaning we want.

1. Emails that carry a brief subject line get read more often.

The clause, that carry a brief subject line, is restrictive. If you deleted it, the sentence would read: Emails get read more often—and you've distorted the information. The difference seems obvious. The word that limits or confines (restricts) the type of emails to which we refer.

2. Loud voices, which we hear constantly, annoy us. If you remove which we hear constantly, the meaning of the sentence doesn't suffer.

The which clause adds information, 
but it's not vital to the meaning.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Conditional Sentences

We can write conditional sentences (usually beginning with if) two ways. If the clause starts the sentence, put a comma after the statement. In the previous sentence, I gave you the example.

You don't need a comma if you end the sentence with a conditional clause. This is the second method. Ending with the conditional clause seems not to cause problems.

If I begin a sentence with if
I'll put a comma after the end of the clause or phrase.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Four Invisible Verbs

When we write dialog, most of the time we want readers to focus on what the speakers say and not on how they say it. To keep the emphasis on the dialog itself, you can use four different verbs—I call them invisible—because they are so common, we hardly notice them. They are said, ask, answer, and reply.

Please read these two sentences aloud to get the full effect.

"I walked the entire sixteen blocks," Harlan blurted out.

"I walked the entire sixteen blocks," Harlan said.

Did you notice the emphasis? In the first sentence, "blurted out" grabs your attention and you become aware of how Harlan spoke. Nothing wrong if that's what you want readers to get.

In dialog, when I want the emphasis on what's said, 
I use one of the invisible words of attribution.