When Does a Sentence Need ‘That’?

students_at_computerWe judge writing in part by how lean it is; proficient writers, bloggers, students — and ruthless editors — strive to convey a thought using the fewest words.

In my own writing and the editing I do for others, I sometimes pause when I come to that in a sentence: Is it necessary for clarity or flow? What are guidelines for the use of that?

There aren’t many! Writers can exercise discretion about when and how to use that.

Let’s start with some examples showing how the absence of that might cause a reader to pause and reread: Continue

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Did Capt. Mark Kelly ‘Receive’ or ‘Earn’ a Degree?

Astronaut Mark KellyIt happened again … in fact, twice in one week.

First I read that Mark Kelly, retired astronaut and husband of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, launched his campaign to run for the U.S. Senate seat once occupied by the late John McCain. The Arizona Republic described Kelly’s background: Continue

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When to Use Apostrophes With Numbers

guy in freezing tempsFrigid winter temperatures have punished much of the United States this winter. For grammar enthusiasts, weather reports have drawn attention to when to use an apostrophe with numbers.

These guidelines will help you decide.

When you add an s to numbers to make them plural, do not add an apostrophe:

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Hawaiʻi: Only US State With 2 Official Languages

About the Hawaiian languageAs I was preparing to visit Hawaiʻi early this month, I did some research on the geography, history and language of the islands. My youngest son and his wife moved there recently, and I was eager to see them and their new surroundings.

With my interest in grammar, I was especially fascinated by the Hawiian language. A glimpse of the state’s history provides a background for understanding Hawaiian. Continue

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Baby sit, Pet sit, House sit: One Word, Two Words or Hyphenate?

pet-sitting cat & dogA Ruthless Editor blog follower noted that babysitting, which first appeared in the U.S. lexicon in 1937, is generally expressed as one word.

Yet she finds pet sitting and house sitting often expressed as two words, and in some cases they are hyphenated. Which are correct: pet sit / pet-sit / petsit or house sit / house-sit / housesit?

As I did the research, it occurred to me that some might consider this issue trivial in terms of grammar. On the other hand, these words could readily arise in news writing, fiction or blogging.

Here are some reliable sources and how they present all three: baby sit, pet sit and house sit: Continue

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Is Alright the Same As All Right?

A blog follower sent me an email questioning all right versus alright and when each should be used. The query arose at her weekly writers group gathering.

No one felt confident about the answer, so they reverted to what apparently is a common refrain when they hit a grammar roadblock: “Ask Kathy!”

Let’s begin by considering the meanings of all right. Continue

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Want to Improve Your Writing and Speaking? Start Here!

people communicating at workYou’ve been out of the classroom for how long?

Your English teacher’s name was … ?

Why am I asking? I’m starting to think about New Year’s resolutions. (I know, I know, it’s still early December.)

If self-improvement is on your 2019 radar, and if fine-tuning your writing and speaking skills is among your targets, make brushing up on basic grammar your first step.

My definition of grammar: the words we choose, how we string them together, and how we punctuate them to make sense. Continue

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What’s the Difference: Incident and Incidents, Incidence and Incidences

incident_incidence_of_wildfiresAs the United States has struggled with catastrophic hurricanes, wildfires and mass shootings, I’ve heard people stumble over the use and pronunciation of incident and incidents, and of incidence (a valid word) and incidences (not a valid word in plural form).

The following definitions and examples will help you tell the difference.

incident: a noun meaning an event or occurrence; synonyms are episode, happening, escapade, occasion, adventure, proceeding, circumstance, development

These examples show how to use incident and incidents:

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Sending Holiday Greetings? Ditch the Apostrophe!

sign_holiday_card_no_apostrophe_family_nameIf you send holiday greetings, or if you ever sign a gift card on behalf of your whole family, here’s a tip about writing a family name.

No apostrophes, please!

An apostrophe in a name indicates possession. A signature does not imply possession. When you send a card on behalf of your family unit, use care with how you express your last name — your surname — in plural form.

Here are samples of an assortment of last names and how to make them plural. Continue

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What is Syntax, and Why Does it Matter in Writing and Speaking?

guy_edits_syntaxIf you haven’t heard my definition of grammar, here it is:

Grammar encompasses the words we choose, how we string them together, and how we punctuate them to give them meaning.

The stringing-words-together part is called syntax: the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences.

Why should you pay attention to syntax? Because the order of your words can be critical to making your message clear.

Consider these examples from a variety of online sources. You’ll find the original sentence, what’s wrong with it in terms of syntax, and a rewrite. Continue

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