Anniversary Month


Yep. If you are one of my original subscribers, you have now been receiving posts for a full year. And if you joined the party late, entries you missed are waiting for you in “Archives.”

So let’s mark the one-year anniversary with a single sentence that includes several points we’ve covered and some new ones. Identify all the changes you’d make to refine the following:

I only interupted for the purpose of explaining that Tess’s idea – though it sounded promising – had been tried for a period of time once before with negative results.

Picky, picky

Please pardon me while I squeeze the heck out of our sentence.

  1. Only. We’ve noted that we tend to put only in front of verbs, but it often is modifying something else. In this case it should connect directly to the reason we interrupted. We’ll move only in a moment.
  2. Interupted. Misspelled. But we have our spellchecking device turned on to lend a hand. Right?
  3. For the purpose of. This can generally be expressed in one word: to.
  4. Tess’s. Did you delete the s after the apostrophe? Did you leave it in? You win either way. Either style (Tess’ or Tess’s) is correct, so we just need to pick a style and stick with it for consistency. (I leave in the s because we hear an extra syllable, but you don’t need to do what I do. Many publications don’t.)
  5. The hyphens. They should be en dashes with a space on either side (idea – though) or em dashes with no spaces (idea––though). Again, pick your style. (Note that in this font em dashes look like two closely connected en dashes, but in most fonts the line is intact.)
  6. Period of time. This phrase belongs in the hall of fame for fat phrases. Using just period or time does the job. (And one could make the case that once before is weak and should be replaced by something specific like a year ago or in 2011, but let’s not go too crazy.)
  7. Negative results. This is fine grammatically, but it’s vague. What was the negative result? No increase in sales leads? No drop in turnover? A drain on staff time?

After all the diagnosis and surgery, then, we should wind up with something like this:
I interrupted only to explain that Tess’s idea – though it sounded promising – had been tried two years ago with no drop in turnover.

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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