Category: Grammar and writing help

09 Aug - Collective nouns- Large

Who decides on the right collective noun for something?

  The short answer is no one. While some languages, such as Spanish, French, and German, are ruled by committee there is no academy or governing body that decides on how English should evolve. Indeed English has never been under the administrative rule of a language academy. A keeper of English, according to the eighteenth-century […]

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Plain English in practice: writing instructions

Plain English in practice: writing instructions

In a previous piece, I looked at some guidelines for writing plain Engl­­­ish: that is, the kind of English that will get your intended meaning across most clearly. Here, I take you through an example. Warning: Instructions may contain lethal sesquipedalian lexemes There are times when clear writing can make the difference between life and […]

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

English has a rich vocabulary for rhyme, but names are unstable: in what follows, therefore, alternative names are sometimes provided in parenthesis. Fortunately, however, there is more variation in labelling than understanding, for the basic definition of rhyme as involving two elements (the last stressed vowel + all following letters) creates an obvious structure of […]

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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 […]

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