dashes and hyphens

What’s The Difference Between Dashes and Hyphens?

To the passive reader, it’s a short horizontal line that appears somewhere in a text, usually joining two words together. To a writer, it’s something else entirely, but what? Is it a dash, a hyphen, or a minus sign? More than once, I’ve been pecking away at my keyboard and stopped suddenly when confronted with…Read More

Homophones: They’re, There, and Their

Homophones are words that sound the same when pronounced out loud but have different meanings. Homophones such as they’re, there, and there confuse kids, slip past spell check, and pop up all over the place as typos and misspellings. To make things worse, many homophones have different spellings, which means spell check ignores them, since alternative spellings…Read More

grammar rules

Grammar Guidelines Versus Grammar Rules

In grammar, there are rules and then there are guidelines. Rules may sometimes be broken, but usually breaking the rules of grammar leads to prose that sounds awkward and is indisputably incorrect. But breaching the guidelines often leads to prose that sounds more natural. An example of a grammar rule would be the use of…Read More

punctuation marks

How to Misuse Punctuation Marks

What is it about punctuation marks that cause so many bad sentence constructions? You know the sentences I’m talking about. They’ve got random commas, missing quotation marks, and way too many exclamation points. To make matters worse, some writers break the rules and get away with it while others are chastised for doing (what appears…Read More

homophones homonyms homographs

Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs

They perplex us, confuse us, and make our heads spin. If you thought learning how to correctly spell words that sound alike was difficult, wait till you try to learn the terms for describing those words. Homophones Homophones are words that are pronounced alike but have different meanings. Some examples are accept and except, affect…Read More

who vs whom

Grammar Rules: Who vs. Whom

It sounds old-fashioned: To whom have you sent those letters? Modern colloquial speakers expect something more along the lines of Who did you send those letters to? While whom may sound outdated, it is still the technically correct word in certain situations. Let’s examine the rules and practices surrounding who vs. whom. One of our…Read More

the comma

Punctuation Marks: The Comma

For such a little punctuation mark, the comma causes an awful lot of confusion. Some writers are too liberal with commas, sprinkling them about like nuts on an ice cream sundae. Other writers hoard their commas and avoid using them whenever possible. Why are these punctuation marks so widely misused? Why are we, collectively, so…Read More

what is a homophone

What is a Homophone?

Homophones are those annoying words that sound exactly alike but have different meanings and are often spelled differently. They give English teachers nightmares, cause headaches for students, and drive editors crazy. We writers need to be diligent about homophones because spell-check won’t catch them, and many readers cite misspelled homophones as pet peeves. And we…Read More

grammar rules lay or lie

Grammar Rules: Lay or Lie

One of the most common grammatical mistakes that we see in both speech and writing is misuse of the words lay and lie. This error is so common, it even slips past professional writers, editors, and English teachers — all the time. Maybe eventually these two words will morph into one and have the exact same meaning,…Read More

serial comma

Punctuation Marks: The Serial Comma

When you use commas to separate items in a list or series, do you include a comma before the conjunction near the end of the list? For example: I write poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. (This sentence does not use a serial comma.) or I write poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. (This sentence does use…Read More

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