Compound Modifiers Abound in Descriptive Writing

compound modifiers about in creative writingWhen I had boarded and settled in for a recent flight, I reached for the airline magazine in the back-of-the-seat pouch in front of me.

True to form for this ruthless editor, I selected articles for not only enjoyment, but also for illumination, keeping my grammar radar on high alert: How do other writers use words and punctuation?

Two articles — one about Pioneertown, a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles, and one about Fishtown, a residential area not far from Philadelphia’s historic district — were packed with examples of well-crafted, rich descriptions of American burgs and the colorful locals who inhabit them. Continue

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Blogging Brings Unexpected Benefits

I’ll be traveling this week, so I invited fellow Wisconsin native Richard S. Buse to provide a guest post. — Kathy

Blogging: The greatest benefits grew within me

by Richard S. Buse

surprising benefits of bloggingThe opportunity to launch a blog presented itself in 2009 when the International Association of Business Communicators rolled out xChange, a repository of member-written blogs accessed via the association’s website.

I decided to launch an xChange blog focusing on writing or career topics. My introductory post promised a new post every Tuesday morning. For several months afterward, I simply repurposed older related articles I had written in the 1990s. Then I ran out of old material and had to come up with new ideas. That scared me. Continue

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Apostrophe: Descriptive or Possessive?

If you are a golfer or a fan, you probably know that the Presidents Cup was played in New Jersey from Sept. 26–Oct. 1. The United States team handily won the coveted cup.

You might wonder why there is no apostrophe in the event’s title. Why isn’t it President’s Cup or Presidents’ Cup?

Here’s the reason:

Some words that might appear to be possessive are simply descriptive. Neither the Presidents Cup as an event nor the cup as an award denotes that any president possesses or owns it. Continue

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Mid-size, Midsize or Midsized: How to Decide?

www.RuthlessEditor.comWhen you’re describing a company that is neither large nor small, what’s the proper way to express it?

  • a mid-size company
  • a midsize company
  • a mid-sized company
  • a midsized company

According to my primary and preferred reference, The Associated Press Stylebook, midsized company is preferred. Part of the reason might be the tendency to avoid hyphens in words with prefixes:

coexist | nonfiction | paralegal | prenatal | semifinal | midsize(d)

Another source, Daily Writing Tips, considers midsize (not midsized) correct, agreeing with AP on omitting hyphens after prefixes. Continue

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3 Quiz Questions for National Punctuation Day

man with coffee ponders punctuationSunday, Sept. 24, 2017, is National Punctuation Day.

How will you celebrate?

I’ve thought about spending the day as founder Jeff Rubin suggested:

Sleep late. Go out for coffee and a bagel. Read a newspaper and use a red pen to circle all the punctuation errors. Visit a grocery store and make a list of all the “grocer’s apostrophes” you see (apple’s anyone?).

But I’d rather devote my time and this space to something helpful and constructive for you, my valued readers. Continue

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Is ‘Ones’ a Valid Word?

www.RuthlessEditor.comIf one is defined as being or amounting to a single unit, how can the plural form ones be a valid word?

We recognize one when appropriately used as a personal pronoun referring to an individual or people in general:

One never knows how much good comes from a kind deed.

One should not drink and drive.

One also has a possessive form:

One’s home is one’s castle.

One’s health is more important than one’s wealth.

Yet defines ones as the plural of one.


I’ve noticed ones in a number of online news reports, and I’m puzzled — and discouraged — by its use. Here are examples and my suggestions for rewrites: Continue

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French fries or french fries? How to Capitalize Food Names

www.RuthlessEditor.comI thought the geographic locations of food names such as French (fries), Swiss (cheese) and Russian (dressing) always were capitalized. I just learned that this Ruthless Editor was wrong … sort of.

When searching online for clarification, I found this wonderful post on one of my favorite websites:

Hosted by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, it provides a comprehensive explanation of what to capitalize when.

The post: How to Capitalize Food Names Continue

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May 3 or May 3rd: Should You Use Superscript Letters With Dates?

www.RuthlessEditor.comDo you sometimes add st, nd, rd and th in their superscript form to numbers: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th? (A superscript is a number, letter or symbol positioned slightly above the normal line of type.)

A blog subscriber questioned whether such a practice conforms to grammar rules related to writing dates. Here’s what I found in my online search.

I’ll start with The Associated Press Stylebook, my primary go-to reference: Continue

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3 Worst Places to Make Grammar Mistake: News Headline, Report Title, Email Subject Line

www.RuthlessEditor.comNews headlines draw us into a story. Report titles summarize what our readers can expect. Email subject lines should do both.

That’s why these are the three worst places to make a grammar error.

Here are four headlines that don’t pass my Ruthless Editor grammar test and how they could be better: Continue

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Your English Teacher Was Wrong: You MAY Start a Sentence with And, But, So

www.RuthlessEditor.comA new academic year begins soon. As students of all ages head back to school, many will work on developing or fine-tuning their writing skills.

Different teachers will have different expectations — and different grammar rules. Some will claim that you shouldn’t start a sentence with And, But or So.

Is that a valid edict? It depends.

And, but and so serve as conjunctions; they’re joiners.

As such, they can be the perfect transition between one thought and another when your writing has an informal tone. Continue

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