Category Archives: Grammar Tips

When Does a Compound Modifier Need a Hyphen?

woman ponders compound modifiersModifiers are words that provide additional information about or limit the meaning of a word or phrase.

Adjectives modify nouns (person, place, thing). They often are called “describing words,” because they provide more details about a noun.

  • She has a pleasant home.
  • There are three boys sitting on the fence.
  • He’s riding the white horse.

Adverbs modify verbs (action), adjectives, and even other adverbs. They answer questions such as when, where, how, and to what extent.

  • when: She travels to Chicago weekly.
  • where: He dropped the shovel there.
  • how: She pedals her bike furiously.
  • to what extent: He mostly agrees with me.

When a single modifier won’t do the job, a hyphen links the elements to form a compound modifier:

  • She holds a full-time job.
  • He is a good-looking man.

The Associated Press Stylebook, my primary grammar reference, has issued new recommendations for how to hyphenate compound modifiers. Continue

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What Is a Style Guide, and Why Do You Need One?

Whether for a person, a product, a service or an organization, creating a distinct, consistent brand is key to success.

Your brand sets you apart. You achieve a unique brand through images (your logo and product photos), through website content (descriptions of products and services), and through whatever additional forms of marketing and advertising you use.

Behind the scenes, your brand is supported by how you communicate with and serve your customers. Continue

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How to Use Apostrophes to Show Possession

apostrophe with possessivesConfused about where to place the apostrophe when you’re creating possessives?

So am I — especially when a noun (person, place or thing) or proper noun (specific person, place or thing) ends in the letter s or ss.

Consider these examples and how you would pronounce them: Continue

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Capitalize iPad or eBay to Start Sentence?

iPhone_orIPhoneMost of us know to capitalize the first letter of a sentence. It’s one of the few written-in-stone grammar rules.

But what about the i in iPhone or the e in eBay? Aren’t those registered brand names?

Do you write “iPhone prices will drop this fall” or “IPhone prices will drop this fall”? Continue

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Might vs May: Are They Interchangeable?

Do I use 'might' or 'may'?

If you have trouble deciding when to use might and when to use may, this post is for you.

As a writer and ruthless editor who strives for clarity, I prefer this clear distinction:

might implies possibility
Eric might go to the movie tonight.
(There is a possibility Eric will go to the movie.)

may implies permission
Eric may go to the movie tonight.
(Eric has permission to go to the movie.)

Yet I find multiple sources online that offer what I consider this unsatisfactory claim about the difference between might and may: Continue

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5 Tips for Better Emails

Are you receiving more emails with a subject line unrelated to the content of the message — or with no subject line at all?

A blog subscriber designs websites and provides tech support, a service for which she issues monthly invoices. She sometimes gets confirmation of invoice receipt.

Lately, she has begun to receive emails with “invoice” in the subject line because someone took a shortcut and used REPLY to send a new message that has nothing to do with the invoice she sent.

Her concern: If a client has an immediate problem but the subject line does not convey urgency, her response and a critical remedy might be delayed. Her desire to provide excellent customer service can be thwarted when a client fails to make clear the nature — and related importance — of a message. Therefore …

TIP 1: Make your topic clear in the SUBJECT field.


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Hey Millennials: Don’t Forget the Interview Thank-You Note

Millennials Say Thanks

Jason Busch

According to most age guidelines, Jason Busch qualifies as a millennial (born 1980s through 1990s).

That’s why I was so delighted to see his column, “The Power of a Thank-You Note,” in the April 2019 issue of In Business: Greater Madison (Wisconsin) magazine, where he is online editor.

You’ll find plenty of folks who believe that expressing thanks has gone out of style — especially the handwritten versions, and especially among young people.

Even Jason admits:

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Let’s Talk About Redundancies ‘Any’ and ‘Reason Why’

redundancies AS and REASON WHYRegular blog followers probably know how I feel about redundancies. In terms of language, redundant means unnecessary, not required or called for.

The best writing uses the fewest words to express a thought. That’s why I’m targeting both any and reason why in this post.


Any is a determiner, a word that comes before a noun and indicates how much or how little of that noun is being considered.

There are times when any is appropriate. If you deleted any in these examples, they would sound awkward or incomplete:


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