Author Archives: Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson

About Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers to follow standard, accepted usage per The Associated Press Stylebook. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

Why Active (vs. Passive) Voice Is More Readable

www.RuthlessEditor.comDid your English teacher make you rewrite passive-voice sentences, converting them to active voice?

Mine did.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence clearly is the doer of the action.
In passive voice, the doer of the action is identified in an indirect way.

Active voice is more lively and easier to read. It helps prevent wordy, convoluted sentences: Continue

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Happy National Grammar Day! (Yes, grammar still matters)

www.RuthlessEditor.comI’m a shameless grammar geek!

I love writing, rewriting, and rewriting a sentence or paragraph until it says exactly what I want it to say in the manner I want to say it — commas, em dashes, capital letters, italics and all.

It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone.

In celebration of March 4 National Grammar Day 2017, I offer this selection of thoughts by like-minded people who agree: Yes, grammar still matters.


“Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control.”
— Jeffrey Gitomer, American author and business trainer

In Advertising and Marketing, Does Grammar Matter?

“The rise of texting, social media, and website comment sections mean there’s more language being written than ever before. Along with impulsive typing on small devices, our grammar has collectively gotten worse. Brevity is frequently appreciated, but it’s amazingly easy to hit “send” before really examining what we’re sending. And relying on spell-check is basically a condom — highly effective but not foolproof.

“I can tell you one thing for certain: The fine print of any brand contest, the terms and conditions of any cell phone contract you sign, and the privacy clauses of any app you download have been proofread many times over. Lawyers know how to do that pretty well.

“Perhaps we could take a lesson from them, and write as if we’d get sued for our grammatical mistakes. We’d certainly be more careful.”

Good Grammar: Does It Even Matter Anymore?

“Today’s use of digital platforms and social media has changed our appetite for news and certainly how we consume it. It is no longer acceptable to get today’s breaking stories on the late night news or in tomorrow morning’s newspaper. We require a constant digital feeding tube of new news and the latest, subsequent updates. We also want it as free as possible. At the same time, reduced advertising revenues add less to a media outlet’s bottom line, straining staff resources.

“Has our demand for immediate delivery and a churn of updates destroyed the writing and editing process? Has the prevalence of social media, full of all kinds of shortcuts and abbreviations – along with the preference for immediacy outweighing carefulness – made us turn a blind eye to proper grammar in professional writing? Can we trust a news article’s factual accuracy if it’s full of other obvious errors?

“A well written, properly spelled and grammatically correct article demonstrates a level of conscientiousness that can reflect the overall quality in the writing of the actual report. I am more likely to have faith in the reporting, fact-gathering and editing if I am not tripping over other errors. Yes, good grammar still very much matters.”

Do Commas Still Matter?

“It [grammar] matters because good grammar conveys a great deal about a person.

“Quality is in the details — and attention to commas, semicolons, dangling participles, gerunds and the proper placement of quotation marks says to the reader that this person is careful, considerate (because bad grammar is painful to the discerning eye), and (there’s that Oxford comma) competent.”

” ‘Grammar is credibility.’ says Amanda Sturgill, an associate professor of communications at Elon University, where I recently spoke. ‘If you’re not taking care of the small things, people assume you’re not taking care of the big things.’ ”

Why Grammar Still Matters in Today’s Digital Age

Credibility and Reputation

“We all seek to create an online persona that is respected by the community. To find success in that endeavor, we must build a reputation for accuracy and credibility. Unfortunately, poor grammar and spelling errors are not trademarks of a credible writer.

“These types of issues reflect ignorance and carelessness and suggest the writer didn’t truly care about the quality of the post. In short, mistakes reflect poorly on your brand. If you want the respect and adoration of your readers, provide them with high-quality and polished content free of grammatical errors.”

Does Grammar Matter?

And for the hard-core grammarians — or those of you who are tired of reading and need some visual and auditory stimulation — this video explains the difference between prescriptivists and descriptivists.

Again, may your day … your week … your month … your year be the most grammatical yet!

Warm regards,

The Ruthless Editor

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Comma Confusion Clarified

Grammar encompasses the words we use as well as how we string them together and punctuate them. Confusion about comma use abounds.

My book, Grammar for People Who Hate Rules, addresses four scenarios of this often used — and often misused — punctuation mark: with Latin abbreviations (chapter 29), with academic degrees (chapter 30), with conjunctions (chapter 41), and with but (chapter 42).

This post focuses on commas when they are used to separate clauses, both independent and dependent.

An independent clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb and that expresses a complete thought. I often refer to an independent clause as a complete sentence.

We decided to go to a movie.
Susan is a gifted artist.
The employee handbook defines our corporate dress code.

When you connect two independent clauses, use a conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) and a comma to separate them:

We decided to go to a movie. The bus stops a block from the theater.
We decided to go to a movie, and the bus stops a block from the theater.

Susan is a gifted artist. Her prices are too high for my budget.
Susan is a gifted artist, but her prices are too high for my budget.

The employee handbook defines our corporate dress code. Few people follow its dictates.
The employee handbook defines our corporate dress code, yet few people follow its dictates.

If you use a comma but no conjunction to separate the clauses, you get what is known as a run-on sentence:

We decided to go to a movie, the bus stops a block away from the theater.
Susan is a gifted artist, her prices are too high for my budget.
The employee handbook defines our corporate dress code, few people follow its dictates.

Note: A semicolon where there is a comma also would convert each example above to an acceptable construction.

A dependent clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb but does not express a complete thought.

When we decided to go to a movie …
Although Susan is an artist …
Because the handbook defines our corporate dress code …

When you combine a dependent clause with an independent clause, use a comma to connect them.

When we decided to go to a movie, we checked the bus schedule.
Although Susan is a gifted artist, her prices are too high for my budget.
Because the employee handbook defines our corporate dress code, you shouldn’t have problems deciding what to wear to work.

In American English, commas always go inside quotation marks:

“Let’s go to a movie,” she said.
The art critic described Susan’s paintings as “exquisite,” and I agree.
You might call our dress code “arcane,” but it is not open for debate.  

Final note: A comma indicates a pause. Read your full sentence aloud or in your head to help you decide if you need a comma to make your meaning clear.

Grammar puzzles pop up every day. Let me know what you read or hear that sounds wrong. We’ll learn together!

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Should You Avoid Impact And Impactful?

The battle rages! Is impact a noun, a verb … or both?

And what about impactful? Is it even a word?

The American Heritage Dictionary points out that impact as a verb dates to the early 1600s. What happened between then and now?

Language evolves. Because so many among us dislike impact in verb form, instead preferring affect or influence, you as a writer must decide whether using phrases such as “Cutting prices will impact sales,” or “How will regulation impact water quality?” is worth the scrutiny.

In my online research, I discovered a reader who acknowledges that negative feelings about impact as a verb run deep: Continue

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7 Headlines, 8 Grammar Lessons

In the past, I’ve used headlines to show how to — but more often how NOT to — write or speak. Examples teach best.

This post’s seven headlines comprise three good and four bad examples that involve correct word use, incorrect word use, and redundancies.

One headline boasts a double whammy: two grammatical errors in just nine words!

Please know that the frequent appearance of the name Trump is simply due to the fact that so many headlines have been and continue to be about him.


1) A Thai Shrimp Salad of Myriad Tastes

Myriad means many, a countless or infinite number. It also can mean both numerous and diverse.

Some would write or say a myriad of. However, when you consider the writing guideline of always expressing something in the fewest words, myriad by itself works just fine. Hooray for this headline writer!

2) Trump Offers Carson Role Of HUD Secretary Despite His Not Wanting It

What’s correct that warrants calling out? Many would think it should read:
Trump Offers Carson Role Of HUD Secretary Despite Him Not Wanting It

I consider this example noteworthy because it shows how to correctly use a possessive (his) with -ing words (gerunds) and why gerunds sometimes should be considered nouns.

Here’s how you can tell:
What would be another way of expressing Not Wanting It? Let’s try rejection to demonstrate how the sentence would be constructed with an obvious noun:

Trump Offers Carson Role Of HUD Secretary Despite His Rejection of It
When you view Not Wanting It as a noun, His is the best choice.

3) How Trump’s Labor Nominee Benefited From Undocumented Workers

I’m fond of saying that English is a confusing language, and this is a prime example. When you have a verb that ends in a consonant, you generally make it past tense by doubling the final consonant and adding ed:

plan, planned  |  slip, slipped  |  pop, popped

With benefit, you do NOT double the consonant for either benefited or benefiting.

Why not? If a verb ending with a consonant has more than one syllable, you don’t double the consonant if the first syllable is stressed:

ben-e-fit, ben-e-fited  | can-cel, can-celed  |  mar-shal, mar-shaled


4) Refugee Youths Find Safe Haven in Boy Scouts

Haven is defined as a place of safety or refuge, or an inlet providing shelter for ships or boats. Therefore, describing a haven as Safe is redundant.

5) Snatching Healthcare Away From Millions

To snatch means to quickly seize something in a rude or eager way, so Away is redundant.

6) Samantha Bee Slams Donald Trump for Diverting Attention Away from His Travel Ban

To divert means to change course or turn from one direction to another, or to distract someone or their attention from something. Therefore, Away is redundant.

7) Neither Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump are Talking Education

First, when you use neither, its companion is nor: Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump …

Second, when you use neither, the appropriate verb is singular: is, not are.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is Talking Education

Think of it this way: Neither one is talking education.
The opposite would be: Both are talking education.

Other words that take a singular verb: each, either, everyone, everybody, nobody, someone

Consider sharing this blog with a colleague, friend or family member. And please excuse the seemingly heavy emphasis on Trump; he has dominated headlines.

If you see questionable headlines, send them to me:

You’ll be helping demonstrate either good or bad writing … or maybe we’ll find the headlines just darned funny!

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Who vs. Whom? Here’s How To Decide

Do you have difficulty when it comes to choosing who or whom?

Some think whom sounds stuffy and pretentious.

When did proper grammar become stuffy? I think that’s an excuse made by people who don’t know the difference.

Does anyone criticize Ernest Hemingway for using whom in the title of his famous novel For Whom The Bell Tolls?

Here are four guidelines to help you recognize whether to use who or whom: Continue

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10 Sets of Words That Confuse

I love words, but I often find myself second-guessing whether I’m using a certain word properly — especially when two words are similar in sound, spelling or meaning.

If you love words, you know how confusing the English language can be.

Consider this simple choice. Would you say:
Over a dozen skiers flew over the jump.

Or would you say:
More than a dozen skiers made it over the jump. Continue

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Which Is Right: Proved or Proven?

Have you ever proven someone wrong, or have you proved someone wrong?

A reader wonders which is right, and as is often the case with English, there are differing opinions.

My primary and preferred resource, The Associated Press Stylebook, suggests using proven only as an adjective, which describes or tells more about a noun.

Some claim that chicken soup is a proven remedy for a cold.
She has a proven record of success.
The band has a proven level of popularity.


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