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?

Dec 10

Wednesday Writing Tip #99: Aloud vs. Out loud

Laughing Out Loud vs. Laughing Aloud

You know who’s laughing out loud? This guy.

“LOL” (laughing out loud) may be ubiquitous these days, but why not “LA” (laughing aloud)? Is there a difference? It’s shorter—and we love shorter these days in this world of texts and Twitter—so was it just the city of Los Angeles that held it back?

Here’s the nitty gritty on these two words. The original form of the word was “aloud,” but in the early 1800s, “out loud” appeared as a colloquialism. Why? Who knows. But in our day of “totes,” “forevs,” and “awesomesauce,” we can understand weird things happening with language.

Most consider “aloud” and “out loud” synonyms, though the diehards might reserve the original “aloud” for formal writing and “out loud” for casual conversation. “LOL” seems to follow this train of thought. It’s definitely an acronym designed for casual use.

So we can’t just blame Los Angeles for the appearance of “LOL” rather than “LA.” Who knew text-speak considered grammar rules?

Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 03

Wednesday Writing Tip #98: Me vs. I (a.k.a. You don’t know how it feels to be “me”)

I-me pronoun confusionSympathies with Tom Petty aside, I’m going to pretend he really wrote the song about the misunderstood and misused word “me.”

When do you use “I”? When do you use “me”? Across the nation, teachers (and editors) squirm with this one every day. We really don’t know how it feels to be that little word that’s so often messed up. It’s so short and innocent sounding. Let’s make an effort to get it right once and for all, folks.

When there’s more than one person in the sentence, the I/me decision seems to explode, so let’s just focus on this single piece. My favorite advice is to think about how a line would be written without the others involved.

If someone said, “Me and Tom Petty are free, free fallin’” (hint: not correct), I’d tell that person to removed Tom Petty.

“Me is free fallin’,” they’d respond.

Wait, what? We all hear that wording as incorrect. “I am free fallin’” sounds more natural for good reason. It’s proper.

This trick works for subjects and predicates alike.

“He’s dancing with Mary Jane and I” might come out of some over-correcting mouths, but does “He’s dancing with I” really sound right? No, no, it doesn’t.

“He’s dancing with me.”

Do you hear the difference? Your ear already knows. Trust it.

Ah, pronouns.

Let’s get to the point

Let’s roll another… hmmm… maybe not.

**insert blues-y harmonica solo here**

Nov 26

Wednesday Writing Tip #97: The Mother of all Writing Tips (when to capitalize family names)

Mom or mom - CapitalizationThis week, when you gather with your siblings, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, mom, and dad, will you know how to write down all of their names correctly? And I don’t mean an impromptu spelling bee (there’s a great Thanksgiving idea… just kidding, I’m not that crazy).

Now, I’m going to ignore the cool kids with their graphic design backgrounds who just like writing everything—including proper names—in lower case (you know who you are). I’m also going to pretend I don’t notice the obsession with capitalizing all family names like a nonsensical sign of respect. Sometimes, it’s just “mom.” It’s true. Don’t worry. Respecting your elders is one thing, but don’t get carried away

Let’s talk about the method to the madness:

As you know, you capitalize names. If you’re using “mom” or “dad” as a proper name, capitalize it. To test whether this is the case, swap it out for their real name. If this swap makes sense, keep it upper case. If you’re referring to the role of “mother” or “father,” there’s no need to capitalize it. Perhaps that sounds trickier than it is. Seeing it in action will help:

Mom, what’s for dinner? (Mary, what’s for dinner—yep, checks out.)

Happy Thanksgiving, Grandpa! (Happy Thanksgiving, Ted—yep, that works too.)

My dad is excited about the football games on Thursday. (My David is excited—nope, that’s a bit weird.)

Across the country, moms and daughters will be prepping Thanksgiving feasts. (Across the country, Bettys and Sues will—okay, you get the idea.)

I hope this clears up the confusion. Have a happy turkey day, everyone!

Nov 12

Wednesday Writing Tip #96: Whether vs. Weather vs. Wether

wether goat

Whether the weather is sunny or not, this wether is one mellow dude.

It has recently been brought to my attention that “wether” is not necessarily an incorrect spelling, because a “wether” is a castrated goat. Did I know this? No, I did not. My guess is, though, that this isn’t quite the word most writers were intending to use… unless there’s this mass goat fascination that I’m just not aware of.

The real decision probably comes down to the use of “weather” or “whether.” I’m fairly certain that most know the difference between these two words and that it’s just fast typing and auto-correct bringing people down. If I’m wrong, don’t tell me. Let me keep my faith.

Remember, “weather” refers to the conditions outside; “whether” is a word used when considering two or more alternatives. “Wether” really isn’t the word you want to use. I’m 99% confident on that last one.

Older posts «