Grammar Help

Index Thanks for contributions to:
  • Linda Seligman Boxer
  • Kallie Campbell
  • Dr. Meredith Sarkees

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Above thing/thing above

When referring to something mentioned above, one should consider how the reference sounds. If this rule of thumb leaves the form of the reference unclear, consider the parallel construction for referring to something discussed later.

E.g.:

Wrong: The above described car was in an accident.

Right: The car described above was in an accident.

These are parallel to the following, where the sound of right and wrong is perhaps more clear.

Wrong: The below described car was in an accident.

Right: The car described below was in an accident.

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Affect & effect

As a noun, the correct choice is almost always effect, meaning result or event. E.g.:

Wrong: Her disapproval had a devastating affect on his mood for the rest of the night.

Right: Her disapproval had a devastating effect on his mood for the rest of the night.

As verbs, use affect to mean display with pretense; also to mean produce an effect B-) or make an impression. Use effect to mean bring about. E.g.:

Wrong: The governor effected outrage when the legislature didn't pass the bill, but his staff knew he felt the bill was flawed.

Right: The governor affected outrage when the legislature didn't pass the bill, but his staff knew he felt the bill was flawed.

Wrong: The principal hoped the reduced speed limit would effect the safety of street crossings in a positive way.

Right: The principal hoped the reduced speed limit would affect the safety of street crossings in a positive way.

Wrong: Raising tuition may affect decreased applications.

Right: Raising tuition may effect decreased applications.

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... and I vs. ... and me

When one refers to oneself, be it alone or in a list, one uses "I" as the self-referential pronoun for the subject of the sentence or verb phrase, "me" for the object of the sentence or verb phrase. Most people get it right for a single person, but often, an error is made in a list.

Examples

First person reference as subject:

Wrong: Darlene, Hermine, and me went to the mall together.

Right: Darlene, Hermine, and I went to the mall together.

First person reference as object:

Wrong: They gave discounts to Darlene, Hermine, and I.

Right: They gave discounts to Darlene, Hermine, and me.

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Between / Among

Use "between" to compare or distinguish two entities:  "among" for three or more.

Examples

2 entities:

Wrong:  The selection committee had to choose among Philadelphia and Phoenix.

Right: The selection committee had to choose between Philadelphia and Phoenix.

3 or more entities:

Wrong: It came down to a comparison between Joe, Jane, and Jacquie.

Right:  It came down to a comparison among Joe, Jane, and Jacquie.

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Chose / Choose

Chose is the past tense of choose.  E.g., yesterday, she chose to dine on pizza; today, she might choose the soup and sandwich selection.

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Cite / Sight / Site

You should cite a citation, the site of your source of information (the place at which your information came into your sight).

To cite is to call attention to something.  You should cite the source of data you quote in a paper you write.

A site is a place (or a source of information such as a book or a Web address - a Web site).

Sight refers to your sense of vision.  When you see a distant ship, the boat is in your sight.

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Dash & hyphen

A dash is often confused with a hyphen. They are made with the same key, but a dash marks an interruption or otherwise parenthesized phrase, hence should be set off by space.

E.g.:

Wrong: Tonight, we'll go-after dinner-to the movies.

Right: Tonight, we'll go -- after dinner -- to the movies.

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Dates, places, and commas

When a date, including a year, appears in mid-sentence, a comma should follow the year.

E.g.:

Wrong: On August 12, 1981 a new family moved into the neighborhood.

Right: On August 12, 1981, a new family moved into the neighborhood.

Similarly, when a place reference that consists of two or more proper nouns separated by a comma (e.g., city, state) appears in mid-sentence, the end of the place reference should be followed by a comma.

E.g.:

Wrong: The championship game was played in Buffalo, New York on a beautiful August afternoon.

Right: The championship game was played in Buffalo, New York, on a beautiful August afternoon.

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"Fillup" and "fill up"

It seems that some spell-checkers don't recognize fillup as a valid word.  Methinks, however, that its widespread usage makes it valid, as a noun.  That is, we can speak of the act of filling one's gas tank as a fillup.

However, the related verb phrase consists of two words:  fill up.  Thus, one may fill up one's gas tank.

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Hopefully

This is a word perhaps more often misused than correctly used. Hopefully is an adverb, but is often misused as a preposition or an adjective.

E.g.:

Wrong: Hopefully, our investment will be profitable next year.

Right: We hope our investment will be profitable next year.

Right: We look hopefully to next year, when we expect our investment to become profitable. (Here, hopefully is correctly used as an adverb, modifying the verb look.)

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Italics

When available (as they are on most word processing systems these days), italics should be used for such purposes as setting off foreign words or abbreviations and for the names of books, magazines, movies, works of art, etc.

If italics aren't available, one may substitute underlining.

E.g.:

Wrong: She graduated summa cum laude.

Right: She graduated summa cum laude.

Wrong: The local theater group is presenting Romeo and Juliet.

Right: The local theater group is presenting Romeo and Juliet.

Note, however, that some authorities state - see

http://www.ilw.com/articles/2005,0128-sandford.shtm
http://www.aaanet.org/pubs/style_guide.pdf
http://www.umma.lsa.umich.edu/Pub/main/otherstuff/latin.pdf)
that foreign words (including abbreviations) that have become part of common English usage, need not be italicized (thanks to Kallie Campbell for calling this to my attention). Examples include etc.
i.e.
e.g.
ibid.
ad nauseum
mazel tov

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Its & it's

Its is the possessive form of it. E.g.:

Wrong: Give the dog it's bone.

Right: Give the dog its bone.

It's is a contraction of it is. E.g.:

Wrong: Its raining today.

Right: It's raining today.

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Lay/lie

Here's a nice discussion quoted from http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/l.html:

A frustrating pair. Here's the deal. In the present tense, lay is a transitive verb, meaning it takes a direct object: you lay something down. Lie doesn't take a direct object: something just lies there. If you're tired of holding something, you should lay it down; if you're not feeling well, you should lie down. (Of course I'm excluding lie, "tell an untruth" - this is just the reclining lie.)

Not too bad: if this were the whole deal, there'd be nothing to worry about. But it gets messier, because the past tense of lay is laid, and the past tense of lie is, well, lay. It's easier in a little table:

Transitive
Intransitive
Present Tense He lays the bag down. He lies down.
Past Tense He laid the bag down. He lay down.
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Lists and Commas

List items within a sentence are generally separated by commas.  In some circles, it has become acceptable not to place a comma between the last two items of a list; methinks, however, that said practice is inelegant and may have misleading implications. Consider the example

My friends Jon, Jim and Paul went with me. The lack of a comma between "Jim" and "and" seems to suggest that Jim and Paul are related in a way that neither is related to Jon, e.g., perhaps Jim and Paul are brothers, or perhaps they are a romantic couple. Since in the majority of such references, such will not be the case, it is preferable to use My friends Jon, Jim, and Paul went with me.

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Lose/loose

To lose is to experience a loss. One might wish not to lose a competition; one might wish to lose 20 pounds of excess weight.

Something that is insufficiently tight is loose. If a toddler's shoes are too loose, the child could lose them.

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Need to/should

Often, I read of things that "need to" be done, that have no such need.  For example:

Wrong:  My term paper needs to get done.

One might ask, what will your term paper do if it doesn't get done?  Will it have a hissy fit?  Will it bop you upside your head?  One supposes not.  Your term paper, being inanimate, has no need for much of anything.  By contrast, you, as a hard-working and diligent disciple of the learned faculty, need to write your term paper.  Thus:

Right:  I should write my term paper. or I need to write my term paper.

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Plural possessives

Most plural nouns end in s. The possessive form of such a plural is almost always formed by appending an apostrophe. E.g.:

Wrong: After they took an easy exam, the student's grades were higher than expected.

Right: After they took an easy exam, the students' grades were higher than expected.

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Plural/singular mismatch

A common error is mismatching a singular form with a plural. E.g.:

Wrong: You should all make up your mind.

Right: You should all make up your minds.

Right: Each of you should make up your own mind.

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Principal/principle

Principal, as a noun or an adjective, is used in the sense of chief. An old rule for kids: The principal (of the school) is your pal.

Principal also refers to the initial value of an investment or loan. E.g.:

Wrong: Mr. Gargle, the school principle, had a stern demeanor.

Right: Mr. Gargle, the school principal, had a stern demeanor.

Wrong: Dr. Abacus, the project's Principle Investigator (PI), reported exciting preliminary results from recent studies in her laboratory.

Right: Dr. Abacus, the project's Principal Investigator (PI), reported exciting preliminary results from recent studies in her laboratory.

Wrong: How much will a principle of $1,000 grow to at 5% interest compounded quarterly over 4 years?

Right: How much will a principal of $1,000 grow to at 5% interest compounded quarterly over 4 years?

A principle is a rule. E.g.:

Wrong: A fundamental principal for physicians is do no harm.

Right: A fundamental principle for physicians is do no harm.

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Punctuation at the end of a quote

Usually, punctuation at the end of a quote should be inside the closing quotation marks. E.g.:

Wrong: I recommend the articles "Raising Your Gerbils", "Raising Your Cucumbers", and "Raising Your Parents".

Right: I recommend the articles "Raising Your Gerbils," "Raising Your Cucumbers," and "Raising Your Parents."

An exception to the guideline above may be made when context calls for specification of an exact character string in which the trailing punctuation could cause confusion if included in the quotation marks. This often occurs in technical writing related to computers. For example, a file named "specs.doc" could be referred to via

I need the file "specs.doc". This avoids the possibility misleading the reader into thinking the file name has two periods, as could be the case had the sentence been written I need the file "specs.doc." Of course, one could avoid the issue by writing The file "specs.doc" is what I need.

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Split infinitive

The infinitive is the "to" form of a verb. An infinitive is split when another word appears between "to" and the base verb. The infinitive generally should not be "split."

E.g.:

Wrong: I want to really do well on the exam.

Right: I really want to do well on the exam.

Wrong: ... to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Right: ... to go boldly where no man has gone before. (Sorry, Trekkies!)

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There/their/they're

There refers to a place further away than here. E.g.:

Wrong: The scissors is their, on the table.

Right: The scissors is there, on the table.

Their is the possessive of they. E.g.:

Wrong: They did a lot of work. Show respect for there achievements.

Right: They did a lot of work. Show respect for their achievements.

They're is a contraction of they are. E.g.:

Wrong: There going on a vacation trip after they finish this project.

Right: They're going on a vacation trip after they finish this project.

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y endings, plurals, possessives

Most nouns that end in y take their plurals by substituting ie for y (and appending s). E.g.:

Wrong: Few universitys offer degrees in museum management.

Right: Few universities offer degrees in museum management.

On the other hand, the possessive of most such nouns is formed in the usual way, appending 's to the word. E.g.:

Wrong: The universitys basketball arena is being renovated.

Wrong: The universities basketball arena is being renovated.

Right: The university's basketball arena is being renovated.

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