Category: Grammar and writing help

Performance-wise, adverbs are alive and kicking!

Adverbs

Thankfully, most of us negotiate post-educational life very well without having to do much (or any) conscious grammatical analysis. My hunch is that if you put twenty people into a room and asked them to say what an adverb is, they might look rather uncomfortable or even try to flee. If you applied some metaphorical […]

Swaggering bullies, strutting models, and parading bands

Swaggering bullies, strutting models, and parading bands

He marched forward on to the lectern with the possessive insouciance of a hoodie swaggering on to his sink estate. [Guardian 5 October 2011] This evocative description of British PM David Cameron as he stepped up to address the recent Conservative Party Conference prompted me to think about the verb ‘swagger’ and how it’s often […]

imply_infer wordle4

Imply or infer?

What’s the difference in meaning between imply and infer? If you’re scratching your head, it’s not surprising:  many people get these two verbs confused. Here are two sentences in which the wrong one has been chosen: X  He seems to be inferring, only days after the appointment, that Michael is the wrong man for the […]

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Hyphens in the headlines

Man eating chicken

Who’d have thunk it? The humble hyphen, the shorter sibling of the dash, is in the media spotlight, and for once it has nothing to do with dictionaries, either. The celebrity gossip websites have been buzzing with news of Lauren Pierce Bush, niece of former US President George W. Bush. Lauren’s marriage to David Lauren […]

Truly. Madly. Deep.

Truly. Madly. Deep.

A few years ago, I became unusually vocal over a particular bit of linguistic abuse. Unusually, because the lexicographical instinct is to be descriptive of language change at all times, and sanguine about those bugbears that others decry. But this particular trend had me sufficiently riled that I wrote an article entitled ‘The Adverb is […]

Participles, and how not to dangle them…

Dangling kitten

True confessions time: back in the dim and distant days when I first embarked on lexicography, I was tasked with drafting potted biographies of famous people. In trying to be succinct, I had a rather bad habit of writing in the following vein: ‘Born in Russia, his most famous opera is …’ The problem stems […]

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Punctuational perplexities

Punctuation

Are you punctilious about punctuation, or do you regard it as a hassle or a minefield? Many people, including no doubt the person who posted the example below on a social networking site, seem to share the latter view. It often appears that, rather than get it wrong, there are those who prefer to omit […]

Agreement

A quest for agreement over collective nouns

I’d like to begin with a quick mental workout. Do you know which of the following sentences, both found in the same British online newspaper in 2003, would be considered incorrect according to standard British and American usage, and why? Colchester police has also queried the proposal. Colchester police have launched a new tough approach […]

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