Tag Archives: Grammar Hammer

Grammar Hammer: It’s the Principle of the Thing

the Grammar Hammer“The principal is your PAL!” With apologies to Ferris Bueller, that’s how I learned the difference between “principle” and “principal.” Here again, we have two words that sound the same but have two completely different meanings.

“Principle” refers to a fundamental law, doctrine, or tenet. It can only be used as a noun.

“Principal” actually has a lot of heft as a word. It can be an adjective (meaning “main, or highest rank in importance”); an adverb (meaning “for the most part” – example: “Norman was principally a life studies model.”); or a noun (meaning “the head of a school,” “the non-interest portion of a loan,” along with a bunch of other meanings, which you can see for yourself here).

From a business perspective, the difference between principle and principal gets most confused when talking about someone who is most important in a business or organization. For example, “Jane Doe is the principle/principal designer for XYZ Designs, Inc.” Which is the correct word? I see this mistake pretty often. The correct answer is “principal.”

The old “the principal is your pal” trick does work in helping you determine which word to use. Talking about a person? Principal. Talking about a belief? Principle. If you’re standing on the principal, you’ll probably be arrested. If you’re standing up for something that is a deeply-held, long-standing belief, you are someone who holds strong to your principles.

Just remember, “It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.” – Alfred Adler

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Comma Drama

via Grammar Girl

via Grammar Girl

In the thousands of news releases that cross the desks of the PR Newswire Customer Content Services team on a weekly basis, placing commas outside of quotation marks ranks as one of the most commonly made errors. Though misplaced commas are not a major grammatical offense in comparison to some others we’ve seen, its frequency makes this a topic worth exploring.

What’s fascinating about this topic is really how the U.S. grammar rules vary from the British. In the U.S., the comma (or other punctuation) goes inside the quote marks, regardless of logic. I refer you to English Grammar for Dummies, 2nd Edition, which gives a great recap of the scenarios in which this rule applies. On the other hand, British grammar rules focus on the context and want the punctuation placed “logically” versus “conventionally”. (See what I did there?)

For historical context, good old-fashioned typography is the primary reason Americans place punctuation inside their quote marks. According to the Guide to Grammar and Writing, when printing used raised bits of metal, periods and commas were the most delicate keys and writers risked breaking off or denting the face of the piece of type if they had a quotation mark on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using periods and commas inside the quote regardless of logic. In today’s digital age, it seems that we could eliminate this rule as easily as the rule of two spaces following a period.

My advice is to pick a style and stick with it. In 99% of my writing, I’ll follow the American rule of tucking my punctuation marks neatly inside the quotation marks, except for that teeny tiny 1% where context or logic necessitates it being outside (and please know that inconsistency makes an editor’s brain hurt).

In other grammar news, the Associated Press announced they were relaxing their stance even further on “more than” vs. “over.” A part of me has died; I just talked about this topic in February. How do you feel about AP’s new position on this rule?

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Are You Taking Preventative or Preventive Measures?

preventive_maintenanceThis week’s grammar conundrum stems from someone correcting me (ME! The Grammar Hammer) when I made mention of “preventative” measures I needed to take to curtail further water damage from the gutters that are falling off of my house at the moment. Needless to say, I felt somewhat disgruntled by this remark.

I courteously smiled, acknowledged the correction and bolted home to start my research. Preventive has always been one of those words that just sound wrong to me, so I’ve always used preventative instead. Have I been wrong this entire time?

Merriam-Webster says that preventive is used more frequently than preventative and we are free to use either one, but if you use “preventative,” you are more likely to have someone try to correct you.

I tried to persuade myself out of using “preventative” with the same argument I make when I hear the cringe-worthy word “orientated.” You orient things, you don’t orientate things. That means I should stick with “preventive” because I’m trying to prevent something bad from happening. If I say “preventative,” it would be like saying I’m trying to preventate something, right?

Grammar Girl tackled this subject recently and affirms my position on this word. She acknowledges “preventative” as a “troublesome” word – some reference books say preventative is incorrect while others say it’s fine to use.

If I’m being honest, I think I’ve taken sufficient preventive measures to stop using the word preventative. I know that both words are correct and mean the same thing. I also know that “preventive” is more common than “preventative,” but if someone chooses the longer word, they’ll get no corrections from me.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Why Would a Good Man Such As Yourself Do a Thing Like That?

Why would a good manThis week’s topic explores the proper use of “like” versus “such as.” While we love to pepper our sentences with this classic crutch word, grammatically speaking, there is a very specific time and place for like.

For those about to take the GMAT, this little tidbit will help you get at least one question right. The technical use of the word “like” should be used for comparison, NOT for examples. An example should be introduced by “such as.”

Example: Cathy plays several musical instruments such as the flute, the piano, and the kazoo.

In this example, I’m telling you specific examples of instruments I play. Technically, if I said I played instruments like the flute, the piano and the kazoo, you could speculate as to what type of instrument is “like” a flute (pan flute, recorder, tin whistle), a piano, and a kazoo.

Outside of the GMAT world, though, the big grammatical sticking point is becoming all but obsolete. Follett said in Modern American Usage (1966) that “such as” leads the mind “to imagine an indefinite group of objects” while “like” suggests “a closer resemblance among things compared.”

In layman’s terms, test-takers should remember this:

  • Use “like” when emphasizing similar characteristics.
  • Use “such as” when introducing examples.

For the rest of us in the English-speaking world, there isn’t much distinction between using “like” and “such as” in a casual setting. Therefore, consider the context and if a more formal tone is needed, and you need to show an example of how the shoe fits, use “such as.” Otherwise, I don’t think you’ll confuse or offend anyone if you continue to use “like.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Feeling Nauseous?

Don’t tell someone you are nauseous, you wouldn’t want them to agree with you. lil tweet bird

An employee comes up to me –looking pale and visibly clammy, and says, “I feel nauseous. Ok to head out?” First of all, yes. Please go. Take your germs with you. Secondly, if you’re about to get sick anywhere near me, it’s not the time for me to spend too much time thinking about whether you should have said you were feeling nauseated instead of nauseous.

  • To be nauseous, according to the dictionary, is an adjective and means to be “affected with nausea; nauseated: to feel nauseous.”
  • To be nauseated (verb), means “to affect with nausea; sicken” or “to cause to feel extreme disgust.”

Is there enough of a difference between nauseated and nauseous to be concerned about proper usage? My wonderful grammarian grandfather, The Colonel, would have said, “Well, now granddaughter, if you’re feeling sick, you are feeling nauseated. Nauseous means that something is making you sick. Don’t tell someone you are nauseous, you wouldn’t want them to agree with you.”

 

In today’s world, saying you feel nauseous is pretty commonplace. Is it worth getting into a grammatical spat? While purists may currently consider misuse of nauseous and nauseating a mistake, it might not even make the radar in another 20 years. My advice, take two of whatever will ease the pain and call me in the morning.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Because

It’s the exchange that has befuddled small children forever:

Offspring: “Why?”

Parent: “Because.”

Sound familiar?  I heard that a lot as a kid, and you probably did, too. But what about this one?

“I’m moving to Hawaii because winter.”

Did the conjunction “because” just become a preposition? When did that happen? I know I may miss things from time to time, like whatever new TV series everyone else is watching but me, but I think I’d remember if a word I have always used as a subordinating conjunction now takes on new life as a preposition. Not a compound preposition (“because of…”), but an outright preposition.

Is this just a fad? Will this eventually morph into what is considered acceptable vernacular (like saying someone graduated college, a topic I addressed last spring)? Or is this just meme-induced slang?

This is apparently a THING now. The “prepositional-because.” Linguists have named it the “because NOUN”. Neal Whitman, in a post for Grammar Girl, found an example from 2008 and described it as “putting hand waving into words.”

I’ve been pouring over articles this week, reading about my beloved home state of West Virginia cleaning up after a major chemical spill that hit the water supply of some 300,000 residents in nine counties. The overall population of the state of West Virginia in 2012 was 1.855 million, and this chemical spill affected 16% of the entire state’s population. For some perspective, the population of New York City in 2012 was 8.337 million – if something pollutes 16% of their water supply, we’re talking about 1.33 million people. Sixteen percent of a population without access to clean, potable water is a big deal, because human rights.

If you know me personally, you’ll be able infer my tone, my sense of humor (although chemical spills are never funny), and the implied “there’s-more-to-the-story-but-you-already-know-it”. If you don’t, the reasons behind the “because” are left solely to your interpretation.

Is this just the next step in the devolution of language? My sister recently rented the movie “Cloud Atlas.” She said she had to turn on the subtitles during the most futuristic part of the movie because the characters spoke in such abbreviated language. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you know what she’s talking about. I haven’t yet, so I’ll just take her word for it.

Internet memes aside, whether or not this continues as a trend, a fad, or a passing fancy remains to be seen. I’ve said before I’m a purist at heart and tend to cling to old-school rules when it comes to grammar. Maybe this will find its way into more than just the vernacular. Until then, I will keep my subordinating conjunctions and compound prepositions to myself because…

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Passive Aggressive Voice (Not Behavior!)

This week we’re looking at the difference between the active and passive voices, and how to use (or avoid) their use.

Active voice: the subject of the sentence performs the action described in the verb.

Example: “I shoveled the driveway.”

The subject does the action to the object. I shoveled the driveway. The benefit to using active voice?  It makes your writing more concise and keeps the meaning of the sentence clear.

Passive voice: the subject is acted upon.

Example: “The driveway was shoveled.”

I intentionally left off the “by me” part of this to illustrate one way of determining passive voice.  If you can add “by so-and-so” to the end, the sentence is written in passive voice.

Passive voice is often used in scientific writing. It allows the writer to present information without having to attribute it to a particular agent. For non-scientific writing, passive voice is useful when the agent doing the action is obvious or unimportant, or if the writer wants to avoid mentioning the agent until the end of the sentence, if at all.

Identifying passive voice: if the object of the sentence is in the subject position = passive.

Three quick tips for avoiding passive voice mistakes:

  1. Don’t start a sentence in active voice and change it to passive voice (or vice versa).
  2. Avoid dangling modifiers.
  3. Trust your judgment. Your computer-programmed grammar checker may not have all the answers, you know.

And because English is confusing, remember that passive voice will always include some form of “to be” – am, is, was, were, are, been – but the presence of that verb doesn’t always mean passive voice.

If you really want to reduce your use of the passive voice, try the Paramedic Method.

Write your sentence and pick it apart!

  1. Circle the prepositions (of, in, about, for, onto, into)
  2. Draw a box around the “is” verb forms
  3. Ask, “Where’s the action?”
  4. Change the “action” into a simple verb
  5. Move the doer into the subject (Who’s kicking whom)
  6. Eliminate any unnecessary slow wind-ups
  7. Eliminate any redundancies.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

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Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

The Top 10 Grammar Conundrums of 2013

Over the course of last year, our beloved Grammar Hammer tackled a host of topics, ranging from verb tenses to punctuation,  and everything in between.

The most popular Grammar Hammer posts for the year focused on basics, for the most part, and here are the ten that garnered the most readers.

I thank you for your interest in Grammar Hammer and welcome your suggestions for topics I should revisit or add to my list for 2014!

Connect with me on ProfNetConnect (http://www.profnetconnect.com/cathyspicer) for a complete archive of my previous Grammar Hammer posts.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.