Archive for the 'red pen: grammar and friends' Category

Down With Capitalism

Capitalism can be a very ugly thing. I say this with all sincerity, though with no reference whatsoever to economic systems. (Trust me: As someone who had to learn economics using M&M’s, this is for the best.)

Why, oh why, do people insist on capitalizing things willy-nilly? Does it make them feel more important? Stop capitalizing random words. Stop capitalizing what the Associated Press calls “common noun elements of a name when they stand alone.” Just stop it.

In my opinion, the worst victims of capitalization are university, president and city. Especially city. Double-especially when referring to lesser cities such as San Francisco. The City? Really? Please.

Here are some examples to help you:
Penn State University has the best football team.
The university will celebrate a national championship this year.

President Obama lives in the White House.
The president looks old.
(Once and for all: Only capitalize titles when they immediately precede a proper name: Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs is a genius. but Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple, is a genius.)

New York City is the capital of the universe.
The city has the best pizza. (Let’s review: Even mention of a real city doesn’t get capped when it’s not the full proper name.)

Long live the lowercases!

For the Last Time

We are pessimists. This is proved (see recent post on proved/proven) by one of the most common mistakes I encounter: the use of the word “last” when it should be “past.”

“Last” means last, literally. Use “last” if it is the end of the road, and there is no hope of ever doing/having/being whatever it is again. Ever. If you can safely substitute “final” for “last,” you should use “last.”
He spent the last months of his life with his family.

Use “past” if it is not necessarily the complete and total end of something. If you can’t safely substitute “final,” use “past.”
During the past year, I ate an awful lot of food.
We have reported profits for the past three months.
I have been watching
Laverne & Shirley for the past two weeks.

If you used “last” in these sentences, it would mean there are no more years or months or weeks, ever. So even if you don’t plan ever to report profits or watch Laverne & Shirley again, you do plan to have more weeks, months, years in your future. Hopefully. So, please, use “past.”

Shall we make this the last time we discuss this matter?

Innocent Until Proved Guilty

Yes, that is how it should read. I swear. Really.

Correct: “Innocent until proved guilty.”

Incorrect: “Innocent until proven guilty.”

Don’t believe me? Here’s the thing: Prove and proved are verbs; proven is an adjective.

She has proved herself worthy.

It is a proven formula.

If only I can convince Law & Order.

Quote Me

I know you all spend sleepless nights worrying about how punctuation fits with quotation marks. Does it go inside? Does it go outside? Where, oh where, does it go?

Here’s the deal:

Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. Always. Did I say always?

Semicolons always go outside quotation marks. Again, always.

Dashes, question marks and exclamation points go inside quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only; they go outside when they apply to the whole sentence:
She asked, “Why are you so anal?”
Did you hear her say, “Stop correcting my grammar; I hate you”?

Colons go outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quotation itself.

Sleep well, little lambs.

Who’s on First

Speaking of apostrophes (well, we were a while ago), here’s another often-flubbed item:

Who’s is a contraction of “Who is”: Who’s going home for Passover? Who’s eating too much?

Do you recall how we remember it’s (the contraction of “it is”)? Same goes for who’s: Think of the apostrophe as a leftover from the dot of the i.

Whose is possessive: Whose life is it anyway? Whose family is certifiably insane?

Who’s with me?

Old Friends

I’m grateful for a definitive answer. It’s unfriended, not defriended. As in when you deliberately stop being someone’s “friend” on Facebook by purposely removing him or her from your friend list. As I did this very thing recently — it being my only (passive-aggressive) recourse against a familial schmuck — I wondered aloud on Facebook about what the action was officially called. I am grateful to New Oxford American Dictionary for choosing the accepted term (unfriend is, in fact, the 2009 “Word of the Year”). Now if those kind folks could only help unfriending feel as good as punching the aforementioned schmuck in the face…

Feeling Sadly?

Do you feel sadly? No. You feel sad.
Do you feel gladly? No. You feel glad.

So why, oh why, do so many people — including many fairly well-educated folks —
say they feel badly when they just feel bad.

If you feel badly, it likely means something is wrong with your hands. Have you
lost all feeling in your fingers? Is your sense of touch on the fritz?

Once and for all: If you feel sorry about something, you feel bad. No –ly.

No need to feel bad about this; just say it correctly.

Speaking of Bodily Functions…

Please don’t use the word impact as a (transitive) verb. It’s not nice. And it makes me wince.
Every time.

Your dictionary may tell you it’s OK. But it isn’t. You want to have an impact on something
(noun). But you do not want to impact something (verb).

Here’s why: If something is impacted, such as a tooth or your digestive system, it is a BAD
thing. So you don’t want to do that to someone or something. To impact is hurtful. To have
an impact is noble.

Most of the time, when people use impact as a verb, they should be using affect. You want
to affect an outcome; you do not want to impact an outcome. Wince.

Apostrophe Apoplexy

To editors, superfluous apostrophes are a blot on the grammatical landscape. While apostrophes are necessary to indicate possession and construct contractions, please don’t use them willy-nilly. There are rules! And they are pretty easy to follow:

Do use an apostrophe with plurals of single letters: Mind your p’s and q’s. I got two A’s on my report card.

Do NOT use an apostrophe for plurals of multiple-letter combinations: The CEOs are meeting today. I gave her five IOUs.

Do NOT use an apostrophe for plurals of figures: There are four 727s in the fleet. The temperature is in the low 50s. The 1980s were filled with neon.

Ignore The New York Times’ incorrect use of an apostrophe in decades: It’s 1960s, not 1960’s, unless you are claiming ownership on behalf of that single year. I also suggest you ignore The Times’ crazy use of ’s after s (Times’s — no!). We all learned in elementary school that is just plain wrong.

And for the love of G-d, do NOT use an apostrophe to make a poor unsuspecting word plural. Just add the s, no apostrophe. Really.

To be specific: If you absolutely must put a sign on your house announcing your family name, don’t use an apostrophe: The Hauptmans, NOT The Hauptman’s (if you are feeling super-possessive, you may put an apostrophe AFTER the s, indicating the house belongs to the family — as in The Hauptmans’ House — but NEVER before).

P.S. Its is possessive: The posse lost its way. It’s is a contraction for it is: It’s now or never. Think of the apostrophe as a leftover from the dot of the i.