Category: Grammar and writing help

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 […]

principal

Principle or principal?

It’s very easy to confuse these two words. Although they sound the same when they’re spoken, their meanings are quite different. Here are two sentences in which the wrong choice has been made: X The principle aim of the initiative is to make art accessible to everyone. X There are too many designers who do […]

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Spelling: as easy as ABC?

Spelling: as easy as ABC?

Spelling.  It’s a great leveller. The most academically decorated can find it difficult, and someone without a single formal qualification can find it as easy as, well, as easy as ABC.  If you are lucky enough to be in the latter category, it can be bewildering to encounter others who are not equally as adept […]

Redundant expressions

Redundant expressions

Bad habits are hard to break A bad practice in writing (and speaking) is redundancy. Anyone who has sat through a speech that goes round and round and uses the same few words over and over knows what I mean. We may sometimes do this deliberately, for stylistic reasons, or in order to raise the […]

The Oxford Comma: Hart’s Rules

Comma

The presence or lack of a comma before and or or in a list of three or more items is the subject of much debate. Such a comma is known as a serial comma. For a century it has been part of Oxford University Press style to retain or impose this last comma consistently, to […]

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Mitigate or militate

Mitigate or militate?

These two verbs have similar spellings and they sound alike when they are pronounced. As a result, it’s easy to get them confused, even though their meanings are completely different. Mitigate means ‘make something less harmful, severe, or bad’. It’s often used in formal or official contexts, as in the following sentences from the Oxford […]

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A plague of initials

Initialisms

There are always initials in the news, but it seems of late that we are suffering from a veritable plague of them (to borrow IMF, FIFA, BBC, NATO, PBS, and the NCAA. Most people probably don’t think too much about such abbreviations. If they do, it will be to classify them as different in some […]

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