Alarm #2: It’s About Time


Last week’s post introduced the notion of setting an alarm on words and phrases that can lull us into making an error or failing to write concisely. To continue the theme, here are a few sentences that each need an edit. Try your hand and then see if you want to set a new alarm or two.

1. Because my car tires are hardly new, I check their air pressure on a monthly basis.

2. Stella served as committee chair for a period of time and then joined the professional staff.

3. I currently know of several three- and four-year-old homes for sale in our development.

The answers

1. Because my car’s tires are hardly new, I check the air pressure monthly. Set an alarm on “basis.” That word is often part of a fat phrase like “on a monthly basis.” All you need is “monthly” or, if you prefer, “every month.” Instead of “on a daily basis,” write “daily” or “every day” (two words, not “everyday”).

The decoy was starting the sentence with “Because.” That’s fine.

2. Stella served as committee chair for a period and then joined the professional staff. Set an alarm on “period of time,” which might be the most common fat phrase we have. It’s as though “period of time” has become one word, but all we need is “period” or “time,” not both. (And steer clear of “point in time” too. All we need is “point.” At what point did you spot the error?)

The decoys were “chair” and “and.” Using “chair” (instead of “chairwoman” or “chairperson,” for example), is fine and often preferred, and “chair” should not get an initial cap here. (It would get a capital “C” directly before the name, such as in “Chair Stella Smith,” because then it’s like writing “Dr. Stella Smith” or “Ms. Stella Smith.”)

And we don’t want a comma after “and” because there is no new subject. We’re still talking about Stella.

3. I know of three- and four-year-old homes for sale in our development. Watch out for “currently”; often it’s unnecessary, as here. The words “I know” establish that we are in the present, so we don’t need “I currently know.”

The decoy was the weird-looking hyphenation, but putting a space after “three-” is how we’re supposed to write “three- and four-year-old.”

The alarms

Did you notice that each alarm related to time? Here they are again: Watch out for “basis,” as in “on a yearly basis”; “period of time,” instead of “period” or “time”; and “currently” when it’s already clear to the reader we’re in the present.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at

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