Final Exam

4928502174_7f0a54e2f9_z

High school and college students are graduating, summer is approaching, and I have now shared close to 150 posts since September 2014. This seems the right time to end my weekly blog. Nevertheless, I hope to continue helping you sharpen your writing, as follows:

  • You can email me orders for my book, 100+ Instant Writing Tips. It complements the blog posts – with fuller explanations when warranted – and contains a helpful index. I cover the mailing cost for friends (yes, that’s you) and any sales tax, so each book costs just $12.95.
  • You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, and related services.
  • You can go to the blog page of my website to browse the full “library” of posts since September 3, 2014.
  • You will probably see occasional posts in the future when I spot a juicy writing issue.

Final exam

So to wrap up, here is a sampling of the scores of common errors and commonly missed opportunities to write more gracefully that we have addressed over the past 33 months. Spot the mistakes or “issues” in the following sentences.

1. There’s five bikes parked inside of the Parkers’ garage.
2. Lead by Paula, we are collaborating together in an effort to revamp our interviewing process.
3. Patsy and Pete both attended the same seminar, they said it was “just alright”.

Answers and references

1. A) “There’s” is wrong because we’re talking about more than one bike. Moreover, whenever we start a sentence with “There’s,” “There is,” or “There are,” we are settling for the unexciting verb “to be.” (See the 9-3-14 post.) B) We don’t need “of” after “inside.” (See 12-16-14.) C) The apostrophe after “Parkers” is correct. (See 10-3-16.)

2. A) “Lead” should be “Led.” (See 10-31-16.) B) “Collaborating together” is redundant. (See 2-14-17.) C) Instead of “in an effort to,” all we need is “to.” (See 10-22-15.)

3. A) Using “both” with “same” is redundant. (See 5-23-16.) B) The comma should be a period or semicolon. (See 4-22-15.) C) “Alright” is not standard English; we want “all right.” (See 10-15-15.) D) The period should go inside the quotation marks. (See 11-25-14.)

Here are possible revisions:
1. Five bikes are parked inside the Parkers’ garage.
2. Led by Paula, we are collaborating to revamp our interviewing process.
3. Patsy and Pete both attended the seminar; they said it was “just all right.”

Thank you!

I appreciate your interest in my blog. Please let me know if I can ever help you further.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

The Moral of the Stories

7603517398_16c46a83a5_z

No quiz this time; just two stories and a few add-ons.

#1 Years ago, we heard about a small, independent bakery that sounded perfect for the cake we wanted for our daughter’s birthday party. The place was called Just Desserts, and I phoned in our order.

On the day of the event, as I was paying for the luscious-looking cake, I told the owner, “Your shop has a clever name.” She smiled and thanked me.

And then I couldn’t resist getting pedantic. “You know, most people assume that when we say something like ‘He got his just deserts,’ it’s spelled ‘D-E-S-S-E-R-T-S.’ But it isn’t. It’s spelled ‘D-E-S-E-R-T-S.'” The owner stayed focused on tying a string around the box.

“Yeah, you know,” I continued lamely. “I guess it must be related to the word “deserve.”

Another long pause. Finally, the owner handed me the box and responded, “Well, desserts is the only thing we make, so I named my place ‘Just Desserts.'”

“Right,” I said and headed to my car. Some days you just can’t get through to your students.

#2 Last week, I saw “wits’ end” in a highly regarded publication. “Really?” I thought. “Does the apostrophe come after “wits,” or did the publication contain a rare error?”

Guess what. The plural is correct because we are saying I am at the end of my wits – the sum of my knowledge. I have no idea if I have ever written this expression, but if I did, I’ll bet I got it wrong.

Moral of the stories

Common expressions are often hundreds of years old and based in language use and customs we know little about. For that reason, it’s wise to check before we go final with arcane* expressions like “cut and dry” (it’s “cut and dried,” derived from hay or grass being cut, dried, and readied for sale) or “baited breath” (it’s “bated breath,” related to “abated” because we are holding our breath in anticipation).

And by the way, “arcane” doesn’t mean “old,” although it makes us think of “archaic.” “Arcane” means “mysterious,” which does describe many common expressions.

Postscript

Some expressions are considered correct even when we stray from the original. “Stomping grounds” is an acceptable substitute for the original “stamping grounds.” And even though “champing at the bit” is the real deal, “chomping at the bit” is fine.

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

Grab Your Red Pen

5035078230_98194cc421_z

Okay try and read my mind. Why did the following headline aggravate me? Fathers’ Day is Fast Approaching.

Now decide how many changes you would make to improve all three sentences above.

My edits

1. We need a comma after the introductory word “Okay.”
2. Watch out for the common error “try and.” That should be “try to.”
3. The only improvement to be made in the middle sentence involves a fine point. A secondary definition of “aggravate” is “annoy” or “perturb,” but the primary definition is “make something worse,” and that’s not the case here. I wasn’t already bothered.
4. The holiday is called “Father’s Day.” Yes, we are celebrating fatherhood in general, but the holiday’s thrust is to each think of his or her own father.
5. Remember that in headlines all key words – nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs – get initial caps even if they are short. (You can set your own style on length and decide that all words of at least four letters – or five letters – get an initial cap regardless of their function.)
6. If you changed “fast” to “quickly,” fine, but you didn’t need to. “Fast” is an adjective and an adverb.

So we wind up with this: “Okay, try to read my mind. Why did the following headline annoy me? Father’s Day Is Fast Approaching.

But that makes no sense! Now the headline is correct. Apparently, all’s right with the world.

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

 

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

Proceed with Caution

15591778363_1094314025_z

In these sentences, decide if one word is correct or both.

1. I felt (bad/badly) about giving Felix so little time to rehearse his role in our skit.
2. I was worried about Felix’s performance, but he did (good/well).

The bad and the good

In #1 does “felt badly” sound more sophisticated than “felt bad”? Careful, now! We don’t make decisions based on what sounds more sophisticated; we decide based on grammar rules. Then we really sound good.

Although many smart people prefer “felt badly,” it’s wrong. Yes, we might “drive badly” or “sing badly,” but remember that a few verbs – like “is,” “seem,” “appear,” and “feel” – are called linking verbs. They don’t convey any action, like “drive” or “sing”; they just connect. And most of them don’t throw us off because we can tell what sounds right. (His speech was bad, not badly. The weather seemed bad, not badly.) But watch out for “feel” or “felt.” They take the adjective “bad” as well, not the adverb “badly.”

So in #1 we want I felt bad about giving Felix so little time to rehearse his role in our skit.

Now what about “did good”? Yes, we sometimes say that or “I’m doin’ good” in a slangy way, but, of course, those are incorrect. “Do” is an action verb, so it takes the adverb “well.”

Therefore, in #2 we want I was worried about Felix’s performance, but he did well.

I hope you did well on the brief quiz.

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

Award-Winning Words II

3777015632_1126353f77_z

Time to see if you can read my mind again. Come up with a word to replace the underlined section in #1 and another word for the underlined section in #2. (Hint: The words are the same except for the first two letters.)

1. The company has a great number of holdings in the Midwest.

2. The company’s very thorough interviewing process is a key to the high caliber of its staff.

Your answers and a few notes

Extensive, in #1, performed the work of four words, but there are other reasons to appreciate “extensive” beyond its economy. One is that – although we never want to tax our reader or show off – we sometimes want more elegant words than those we’ve used since first grade, such as “big,” “large,” “huge,” and “tremendous.” Having words like “extensive” at our fingertips helps us uplift the quality of our writing without sending anyone to the dictionary to look up a word like “prodigious.”

So we might think of “extensive” as the kind of semiprecious words we want to steadily add to our repertoire. We don’t need diamonds to be an ace writer; clear, semiprecious words will do.

Intensive works nicely in #2. As noted in other posts, the word “very” can often tip us off that the next word is inadequate, and “intensive” eliminates the need to write “very thorough.”

Note also that “intensive” is slightly tricky because its meaning is so close to “intense.” What’s the difference? The dictionary points out that “intensive” is a more exterior or objective description. “Intense” is more interior or subjective. So if we weather a firm’s intensive interview process, we are likely to find the experience intense.

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

Award-Winning Words

3777015632_1126353f77_z

Beginning with this post, from time to time we’ll look at winning words that may not be fully appreciated. See if you can read my mind to come up with a basic yet invaluable word that improves both of the following.

1. (Not initially clear.) Since Kim’s family bought a summer home on the lake, we ought to see if she’ll host our mini-reunion there.

2. (Could be smoother.) Apex’s stock price has fared well even in times as difficult as the Great Recession. Its services are not closely linked to economic shifts. 

And the winner is …

Although neither example contains an error, we can slightly refine each with “because” at the beginning – a word many of us hesitate to use there. Why? Apparently, some of us remember, or think we remember, a teacher telling us not to do that. Well, maybe, but that instruction might have occurred because in third grade we didn’t always recognize sentence fragments, and we wrote something like this: “Because our dog ate my homework.” That came back with a red circle around it.

But now that we’re more mature writers – who instinctively know a complete sentence from a fragment – we’re missing out by rejecting “because” as a sentence starter. See if you agree.

1. Since Kim’s family bought a summer home on the lake, we ought to see if she’ll host our mini-reunion there. Yes, “since” can sub for “because,” but here that backfires because the reader probably thinks we are using “since” to set up a “before and after,” such as: Since Kim’s family bought a summer home on the lake, I have played tennis with her only twice. Then, in mid-sentence, our reader realizes we were going in a different direction. Using “Because” instead of “Since” would have avoided the momentary misreading.

2. Apex’s stock price has fared well even in times as difficult as the Great Recession. Its services are not closely linked to economic shifts. This is fine, but a “because” would help fuse these two thoughts further, and in this case leading with “because” is effective: Because Apex’s services are not closely linked to economic shifts, its stock price has fared well even in times as difficult as the Great Recession. 

Leading with the reason for something can add variety to our sentence structure and often enhance comprehension and impact. We orient the reader with the “because part” and complete our thought with the “therefore part.”

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

Four-Letter Words

3154736047_893fdb6aff_z

What minor repairs would you make in these sentences?

1. Smith might break out of his slump by reverting back to his old batting stance.

2. Did you know that Wilson was drafted right out of high school?

3. Johnson is the pitcher that broke into baseball as an outfielder.

4. Taylor has been giving up less runs since we hired a new pitching coach.

The repairs

1. A word we should pay particular attention to when we proof our work is “back.” It is often redundant, as in “revert back,” “reflect back,” “refer back,” and “return back.” So we want “Smith might break out of his slump by reverting to his old batting stance.”

2. Another four-letter word on our hit list should be “that,” which is often expendable. Sentence #2 reads fine as “Did you know Wilson was drafted right out of high school?”

3. And for those times when we do need a word like “that” to connect two sentence parts, it’s better form to use “who” when referring to a person: “Johnson is the pitcher who broke into baseball as an outfielder.”

4. Remember that we want “fewer,” not “less,” when we are referring to a quantity as individual items – a quantity that can be counted. So it’s “less milk,” but “fewer eggs.” “Less determination,” but “fewer attempts.” And not “less runs,” but “fewer runs.”

Play ball!

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

Gray Matters II

494379388_139c9cccd1_z

Now that you aced last week’s quiz, let’s see if you can replicate that feat. Again, in each sentence decide if both words are correct, only one is correct, or one is passable but the other is preferable.

1. When you mentioned your first job, you seemed to (allude/refer) to disillusionment.
2. The hospital has launched a program to promote (preventive/preventative) care.
3. Ann volunteered here (before/prior to) joining the staff.
4. Thank you for (complimenting/flattering) me on the article, but I couldn’t have developed it without Alex’s help.

The verdicts

In #2 both options are fine, but in the others only one is correct. Let’s delve into each pair.

1. “Allude” and “refer” are not synonyms. When we allude, our reference is indirect and often incomplete. When we refer, we take that action more purposefully. So in the example, because the speaker only hinted at a problem, the right word is “allude.”

2. “Preventive” and “preventative” mean the same thing. (I say why add a syllable and make the word more of a tongue twister, but you can’t go wrong.)

3. Plenty of people like “prior to,” perhaps because it seems classier than “before,” but to a purist these are not interchangeable. “Prior” should be used only as an adjective – as in “prior commitment.” Whenever we write “prior to,” we are not committing a great sin, but the simple “before” is the right choice.

4. The difference between a compliment and flattery is sincerity. If someone flatters us, we need to beware that the person might be angling for something in return. So if we’re both being honest in #4, the correct word is “complimenting.”

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

Gray Matters

494379388_139c9cccd1_z

We’re delving into a few gray areas this week and next. In each sentence decide if only one word is correct, both are acceptable but one is preferable, or both are correct.

1. Arnold was (disinterested/uninterested) in my vacation advice.
2. Barb missed the performance because she was (nauseated/nauseous).
3. Cal (appraised/apprised) me of the reason for Diane’s sudden resignation.
4. Eugene and Franny have a (common/mutual) fondness for scary movies.

The verdicts

Although a lexicographer might shudder, let’s lump 1, 2, and 4 together and say that in each case using the “wrong” word will usually not get us in trouble, but if you are writing a stickler, you might want to devote a few seconds to using the preferred word. Number 3 has a clearcut answer. Here you go.

1. “Disinterested” has become acceptable as meaning “uninterested,” but “disinterest” is really impartiality (having no vested interest in an outcome, for example). So “uninterested” is preferred for Arnold’s attitude. (We would hope that a judge deciding our case is disinterested but interested!)

2. “Nauseous” is acceptable, but that word is used best in describing something that could make someone nauseated, like a nauseous fume. So “nauseated” is the better choice for how Barb felt.

3. To “appraise,” of course, is to evaluate, and to “apprise” is to inform. So we want “apprised me of the reason.”

4. “Mutual” is best reserved for something that is reciprocal. (For example: Despite their different styles, Sam and Sonya have always maintained mutual respect.) So it’s better to say that Eugene and Franny have a “common fondness for scary movies.”

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment

Not So Fast

6794460197_a0859763b0_z

Feeling cocky because you’ve haven’t needed to slow down to get there, they’re, and their right since third grade? Good for you, but there’s more to that story.

1. You’d never write this, correct? There’s four all-stars on our team. Of course not, because “all-stars” is plural. So we’d start with “There are four all-stars.”

2. And you might make another refinement, right? That’s because the verb “to be” is bland, and whenever we start sentences with “There is” or “There are,” we have painted ourselves into a corner and settled on a form of “to be.” But if we avoid the limp beginning, a dynamic verb might occur to us. For example: Our team boasts four all-stars or Four all-stars exemplify the caliber of our team.

3. Would you write this? We are talking to the company about their security procedures. Well, I wouldn’t, but I’m overly fussy. You can, however, because even though “company” is singular and “their” is plural, it’s clear we are talking to people at the company – not to the building.

But here I’d definitely recommend a change: I love everything about the company – even their logo. In this sentence we are referring to the company itself, the business – not the leaders or employees. So let’s strike “their”: I love everything about the company – even its logo.

4. And what about this? Everyone needs to turn in their March expenses by April 7. Although “everyone” is singular (it means “every one“), using “their” is probably passable, especially because its clunky to replace “their” with “his or her” or “his/her.” But we can escape this problem simply by rewording: All employees need to turn in their March expenses by April 7.

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

Posted in Workplace Writing Tips | Leave a comment