Feb 25

Wednesday Writing Tip #109: Who’s vs. Whose

Who’s on first? Whose shoes are those? Who’s that girl? Whose cupcake is that? Can I have it?

whose cupcake is thatWait, before I get distracted by my sweet tooth, let’s dive into the differences between “who’s” and “whose” today. Logic doesn’t always apply easily to grammar. This one—like “its” and “it’s”—is another exception to the rule that possessives have the apostrophe “s.”

“Who’s” is a contraction—just like can’t, you’re, or y’all—short for “who is” or sometimes “who was” or “who has.”

“Whose” is the possessive form.

Yes, it’s true. Every time you’ve assumed “who’s” was possessive, you’ve been wrong. Hopefully, those were just emails to your friends, not your boss’s boss’s boss. My fingers are crossed for you.

We’ve talked “who” vs. “whom,” but this simpler distinction is sometimes equally as confused. Or perhaps it’s less confused and just typed quickly without thinking about it. Either way, it’s time to pause and get it right, don’t you think?

Feb 18

Wednesday Writing Tip #108: Unpalatable (Palate vs Palette vs Pallet)

Wine palate or palette or palletIf you have an artist who’s also a foodie, who has a day job driving the forklift at a big box store, do you know what vocabulary you should be using in all instances? Hey, everyone needs a day job—most of us anyway—so it could happen.

This spelling distinction doesn’t come up often, but when it does, there’s often confusion.

“Palate” is the word used when describing your sense of taste or simply the roof of your mouth.

A “palette” is a selection of colors or the flat board an artist mixes her paints upon.

A “pallet” is the large platform upon which goods are loaded or rarely a term used for a makeshift bed, perhaps made of straw. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 11

Wednesday Writing Tip #107: Money vs. Moneys vs. Monies

Destinys Child

Grammar divas?

Here’s a thought: when Destiny’s Child sang, “All the honeys that making money, throw your hands up at me,” were they annoyed that “honeys” and “money” didn’t make an exact rhyme? Were they right to say “money” and not “moneys” or “monies”? Did they miss an opportunity for poetic perfection? Am I over-analyzing things again?

Hold that thought, early-Beyonce fans. Do you know the difference between “money” and “moneys” and “monies”?

The good news here—for all of us—is that Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle were absolutely right in their use of “money.” This is an example of a mass noun, which often refers to an uncountable abstract. We’re talking about the idea of cash or capital, not a specific amount of dollars or cents. There’s a plurality that’s understood in “money,” which is what often confuses people about the uses of “moneys” or “money.” Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 04

Wednesday Writing Tip #106: Tenant vs Tenet

tenant vs tenetIf you hold a tenant close to your heart, you might not be a good landlord. Just sayin’.

In case you’ve ever wondered which word is the one you really need, you’re confusion is understandable. Both words come from the same Latin root, tenere, which means “to hold.” It’s just a matter of holding beliefs (tenet) or holding a lease (tenant).

Are there any other words that make you wonder if you’re using the right one?



Jan 28

Wednesday Writing Tip #105: Toward vs Towards

Grammatical dual-citizenI’m not one who can don a believable British accent, so maybe that’s why I always use “toward” and not “towards.” Don’t know what I’m talking about? This is another case of regional differences.

The choice of “toward” or “towards” is not a matter of right or wrong. Usually, it’s a matter of geography. Across the pond, “towards” is more commonas are related forms: “backwards,” “forwards,” “upwards,” “afterwards,” etc.

In the U.S., “toward” is more common—as are “backward,” “forward,” “upward,” “afterward,” etc.

I guess I’m conventional and follow the crowd on this one—my crowd being American. Either one you choose, though, make sure you’re consistent about it. If your writing waffles between the two, it’s jarring not only for your reader, but also for your national identity. There’s no such this as a grammatical dual-citizen.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 21

Wednesday Writing Tip #104: Parentheses vs. Brackets (and Braces too!)


Some see shapes in the clouds; I see punctuation marks in rock formations.

We all know (and love) parentheses, but I wonder if you know when to use related punctuation. Brackets, for example, are handier for more than just playoffs. And what about braces? Where do they fit into the equation? Bonus question: do you know where brackets and braces are found on your keyboard? How many of you just looked down?

Parentheses: Parentheses are used within sentences to include non-mandatory information that adds to the sentence. So in other words, if you took that information out, nothing would be lost from the sentence. The difference between when to use parentheses versus commas or dashes is a matter for another tip (perhaps next week). Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 14

Wednesday Writing Tip #103: Sticking to one Point of View (p.o.v.)

point of viewChoosing the right point of view for a story is hard. Sticking to that point of view can be even harder. This is a lesson that applies to creative writers, sure, but it’s also important for anyone trying to tell a story—be it in the voice of a brand or the voice of a pirate ghost trying to protect its lost treasure… or otherwise.

The key is consistency. Whatever narrative voice an author chooses, they must stay with it through the course of their text. Website homepages cannot jump from first person plural (we) to third person (the Acme Company) within a paragraph, and novels cannot vary between third person omniscient and third person limited (with limited exceptions). When the p.o.v. isn’t stable, the story becomes a bit wobbly—and not just for the picky editors among us.

What are your point of view choices? Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 07

Wednesday Writing Tip #102: Login vs. Log-in vs. Log in

loginHere’s an interesting case of computer programming influencing spelling. (You certainly don’t see that every day!) In honor of the official merging of K. S. Writing and Petrofy as Midlothian Web Solutions, I thought I’d go techie today. Have you ever noticed the difference between “login,” “log in,” and “log-in”?

While some argue that “login” is never correct—that it should either be “log-in” or “log in”—the use of “login” is growing. Why? There are a few possible arguments. Some argue “login” is becoming common because spaces are not used within coding languages, and hyphens can be read as a break between two separate words. Others argue that “login” just looks cleaner from a web design standpoint. Either way, when these rules trickle into the non-digital world, grammar chaos ensues!

Getting back to the correct, original usage of these words:

To log in or log on to a site (log in/log on as a verb), you would always use two words.

If you ask a user for their log-in information (used as an adjective) or simply for their log-in (noun), the hyphenated form is correct. This hyphenated form is often where the one word “login” is used interchangeably, but you know there’s a heated grammarian hullabaloo about this. (Oh, the many ways you can annoy a grammar nazi…)

Are there any other techie words or phrases you have questions about?

Dec 31

Wednesday Writing Tip #101: Single vs. Double Quotation Marks

Sad dog

Sigh. So much to teach, so little time.

Sometimes, we are so clever we invent grammar rules that don’t actually exit. Then wonderful **insert sarcasm here** sites like YahooAnswers allow readers to vote on correct answers where the winner isn’t necessarily correct just popular. When uninformed Wikipedia writers also jump on the popular-but-not-actually-correct bandwagon, we’re in trouble.

This week, I was asked about the use of single vs. double quotation marks, a question that comes up fairly often and a rule that is often confused. But you know what? This answer is easy—so easy in fact that I can write it in nine words:


Always use double quotes unless inside of another quote. Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 17

Wednesday Writing Tip #100 May vs. Can (and an announcement)

A bit over two years ago, when I started this blog, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to tip #100. Was this a worthy endeavor? Would people even care? Was there anyone out there who was as particular about this stuff as me? One hundred tips later, thanks for following, folks. It’s been a great journey, and I look forward to it continuing.

And speaking of which (yes, you can start sentences with “and” on occasion), last week, I said I’d have an announcement. Here it is:

The EFL (English as a First Language) Guide to Grammar (tentative title) will be published in early 2015. Since this is a self-publishing endeavor, I’m aiming for March, but that’s a fluid release date.

More on that soon, but without further ado, let’s get to today’s writing tip.


mother may i

Did their mothers agree to this?

“Mother, May I?” is so much more than a game. It’s a lesson in respect and grammar, isn’t it? The game isn’t called “Mother, Can I?” (You know where I’m going with this…)

I feel like most people know the difference between when we should use “may” and when we should use “can,” but no one takes the time to get it right. “May” is all about permission. “Can” is about physical ability.

“Can I go to the bathroom?” (I sure hope you can.)

“Can I walk down the street?” (It’s possible, but it might not be happening.)

“May I take three giant steps forward?” (Yes, you may.)

We’re all sloppy on this one, so I present a challenge to all of us. Channel the second grade teacher who first introduced you to this rule. Imagine the look on her face every time a student said this incorrectly. Take that look to heart. Embrace it. Internalize it. Then do the grammarians in the world (and yourself) a favor, and say it right.

Challenge accepted?

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