Category: Grammar and writing help

Pedal or peddle?

Bike

English spelling is full of apparent idiosyncrasies – native speakers and learners alike grapple with doubling consonants, how to form plurals, ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’, and have to dodge umpteen other potential pitfalls. Another rich source of mistakes is the fact that English contains pairs of similar-sounding words (homophones). These words have different […]

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Keep calm, and say it plainly

Plain English

Ever since I first read an ancient edition of Ernest Gowers’ book on plain English about fifteen years ago, I’ve tried to put his guidelines into practice whenever I write. I don’t always get it right – I’m sure you’ll catch me out in this piece of writing – but I always try. What is […]

Faceoff: ‘he’, ‘he or she’, ‘he/she’, ‘s/he’ versus ‘they’

He, she, or they?

I enjoy reading your comments on Oxford’s blog posts: they provide an invaluable insight into your language concerns, likes, and dislikes. Your remarks strengthen my awareness that we have a sophisticated and grammatically knowledgeable audience: this keeps me on my toes, to say the least. Of course, I always aim to stay within the bounds […]

A very, extremely, highly, really, most *unique* opportunity!!

A very, extremely, highly, really, most *unique* opportunity!!

The tendency to wax hyperbolic seems to be hard-wired into our brains. Electronic communications also encourage this leaning towards excessive emphasis. We really don’t want our online audience to be in any doubt *whatsoever* [see what I did there?] as to the meaning and tone of what we are writing, so we add emoticons, bung […]

Is it OK to use ‘hopefully’ as a sentence adverb?

Hopefully

This past week saw a small explosion of anguished queries and dire proclamations in a number of newspaper headlines. “Is This the End of Proper Grammar?” asked the New York Times, and, not to be outdone, the Minnesota Daily trumpeted that the “AP Stylebook seeks to destroy the American way of life”. An article in […]

There, their, or they’re? Whose [who’s??] spelling needs a quick overhaul?

Help With Spelling

Floccinaucinihilipilification – we might not bandy it around much in our daily conversation (well, you might, but I certainly don’t), but it usually ranks fairly highly in Oxford’s search monitor surveys. It’s one of those very rare and curious-sounding long words that entertain and amuse us – so much so that it came 38th in […]

Bacterias, bacteriae, bacteriums? Sorting out the ignoramuses from the cognoscenti (and other ‘borrowed’ plurals)

Bacteria

Cast your eyes over the headline above: which of the three plurals of bacterium is the correct one? Read on, I’ll enlighten you soon… Are you already awarding yourself a pat on the back for knowing the right answer? With English spelling and grammar setting a fair few traps for the unwary, it’s a reason […]

Rein or reign? Hold your horses before applying pen to paper…

Rein or reign?

It wasn’t that many moons ago that horses were an integral part of our daily lives: in war and peace, in commerce and agriculture, they proved their worth by pulling various carts, carriages, and barges or they carried individual riders, from messengers to cavalry, on their backs. Since the dawn of the age of the […]

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