Frequently Asked Questions

Located here are answers to questions previously asked of Dr. Grammar that may provide help with your writing ills.

If after reading Dr. Grammar's response, you still want to learn more, go to this excellent resource at Purdue University and follow the prompts to your question for additional explanations and examples.

A lot or Alot?

A or An?

Accept or Except?

Acronyms and Initialisms?

Active or Passive Verbs?

Affect or Effect?

All Ready or Already?

Allusion or Illusion?

Among or Amongst?

Among or Between?

Amount or Number?

And or But to begin a sentence?

Annotated Bibliography?

Apostrophes?

As per...?

Assume or Presume?

Bad or Badly?

Between you and I or Between you and me?

Bring and Take?

Can I or May I?

Cannot or Can Not?

Capitalization?

Capitalization in Titles?

Capitalization of Titles of Persons?

Cite or Site?

Colon Use?

Commas and Periods Inside Quotation Marks?

Commas?

Complements?

Comprise?

Continually or Continuously?

Coordinate or Cumulative Adjectives?

Data or Datum?

Different From or Different Than?

Disinterested or Uninterested?

Documenting Online Sources?

Done or Finished?

Drank or Drunk?

Due to or Owing to?

Each is or Each are?

earth or Earth?

Etymology (Word Origin)?

Everybody and Everyone?

Everyone/Everybody is/are happy?

Farther or Further?

Fewer or Less?

Good or Well?

Have got or Have gotten?

Hopefully?

Hyphenation?

"I" before "E" except after "C"?

(I.e.) or (E.g.)?

Idiom?

If or Whether?

Imply or Infer?

In regard(s) to?

Independent vs Dependent Clauses?

Intensifiers? really, really tough?

Into or In to?

Irony, Sarcasm, or Facetiousness?

It is I or It is me?

It's her or It's she?

Its or It's?

Lie or Lay ?

Like or Such as?

Linking Verbs?

Littler and Littlest?

Majority is or are?

May or Might?

Me, Myself, or I?

Mid- or just Mid?

Mrs./Ms./Miss?

None is or None are?

Numbers: When to spell out and When to write as numbers?

OK or Okay?

On or Upon?/ In or Into?

Parallelism?

Parenthetical Documentation?

Plurals of Abbreviations, Letters, and Numbers?

Plurals of Proper Names?

Possessive with a Gerund?

Preposition at end?

Proportional or Proportionate?

Punctuation of Dates?

Quotation Marks and Other Punctuation

Reason is because?

Regular and Irregular Verbs?

Semicolon use?

Set or Sit?

Shall or Will?

Sic?

Single quotation marks?

Spacing after concluding marks of punctuation?

Split infinitives?

Than I/Than me?

That or Which or Who?

The faculty is or The faculty are?

Then or Than?

Thru or Through?

To, Too, or Two?

Toward(s), Forward(s), Backward(s)?

Transitive verb or Intransitive verb?

Try and or Try to?

Unique or More unique?

Who or Whom?

A lot or Alot?

A lot should be written as two words. Although a lot is used informally to mean "a large number" or "many," avoid using a lot in formal writing. Example: The crook had many [not a lot of] chances to rob the stranger.

A or An?

"Use a before a consonant sound; use an before a vowel sound. Before a letter or an acronym or before numerals, choose a or an according to the way the letter or numeral is pronounced: an FDA directive, a U.N. resolution, a $5.00 bill" (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage). Please note: This is the basic rule. For a more thorough presentation of the complexities of using a or an, see the source cited here.

Accept or Except?

Accept is a verb meaning "to receive" or "to approve."
Example: "I accept your offer of the book."
Except
is a preposition meaning "excluding" or "leaving out."
Example: "He liked everything on the plate except the liver."
Except
can also be a verb meaning "to leave out" or "to exclude."
Example: "He excepted all Corvettes from his list of favorite cars."

Acronyms and Initialisms?

"Acronyms are formed by combining the first letter or letters of several words; they are pronounced as words and written without periods" (Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu, The Business Writer's Handbook). Examples: radar (radio detecting and ranging), COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus). "Initialisms are formed by combining the initial letter of each word in a multiword term; they are pronounced as separate letters" (Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu). Examples: e.o.m. (end of month), c.o.d. (cash on delivery), p.m. (post meridian). Usage guidelines:

  • "Except for commonly used abbreviations (U.S., a.m.), spell out a term to be abbreviated the first time it is used, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. Thereafter, the abbreviation may be used alone.
  • In long documents, repeat the full term in parentheses after the abbreviation at regular intervals to remind readers of the abbreviation's meaning, as in "Remember to submit the CAR (Capital Appropriations Request) by. . . ."
  • Do not add an additional period at the end of a sentence that ends with an abbreviation (example: The official name of the company is DataBase, Inc.).
  • Write acronyms in capital letters without periods. The only exceptions are acronyms that have become accepted as common nouns, which are written in lowercase letters, such as scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).
  • Generally, use periods for lowercase initialisms (a.k.a., e.d.p., p.m.) but not for uppercase ones (GDP, IRA, UFO). Exceptions include geographic names (U.S., U.K., E.U.) and formal expressions of academic degrees (B.A., M.B.A., Ph.D.).
  • Form the plural of an acronym or initialism by adding a lowercase s. Do not use an apostrophe (CARs, DVDs).

Do not follow an abbreviation with a word that repeats the final term in the abbreviation (ATM location not ATM machine location)" (Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu).

Active or Passive Verbs?

"The voice of a verb indicates the strength of the subject in a sentence. It tells us whether that subject takes action or receives action. There are two possible voices: active and passive. In the active voice, the stronger form, the subject of the sentence takes the action of the verb.
     Our army won the battle.
The subject army is strong since it takes action. This sentence uses the active voice. In the passive voice, the weaker form, the subject is acted upon.
     The battle was won by our army.
In this sentence, the subject battle is weak because it receives the action of the army. It takes no action of its own —a battle cannot win itself — and so the sentence uses the passive voice" (Strumpf and Douglas, The Grammar Bible 38).

Affect or Effect?

"Affect is a verb meaning 'to influence.' Effect is a noun meaning a result.' More rarely, effect is a verb meaning 'to cause something to happen.'
[Examples:] CFCs may affect the deterioration of the ozone layer. The effect of that deterioration on global warming is uncertain.
Lawmakers need to effect changes in public attitudes toward our environment" (Anson, Schwegler, and Muth, The Longman Writer's Companion 475).

All Ready or Already?

All ready means "fully prepared."
Example: "The scouts were all ready for the test."
Already
means "previously."
Example: "The children were already in the pool when the guests arrived."

Allusion or Illusion?

"An allusion is an indirect reference.
[Example:] Did you catch my allusion to Shakespeare?
An illusion is a misconception or false impression.
[Example:] Mirrors give the room an illusion of depth" (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 124).

Among or Amongst?

Both are correct and mean the same, but among is more common.

Among or Between?

"When only two are involved, the answer is easy: between.
[Example:] Miss Bennet sensed a barrier between her and Mr. Darcy.
With three or more, you have a choice. Use between if you're thinking of the individuals and their relations with one another.
[Example:] There were several embarrassing exchanges between Lydia, Kitty, and Jane.
Use among if you're thinking of the group.
[Example:] Darcy's arrival created a stir among the guests" (O'Connor, Woe Is I).

Amount or Number?

Amount should be used to refer to quantities that cannot be counted or cannot be expressed in terms of a single number.
Example: "Repairing the Edsel took a great amount of work."
Number is used for quantities that can be counted.
Example: "A large number of deer ate the corn."

And or But to begin a sentence?

"Everybody agrees that it's all right to begin a sentence with and, and nearly everybody admits to having been taught at some past time that the practice was wrong" (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage). In addition, "many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with 'but. ' If that's what you learned, unlearn it — there is no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is primed for the change" (William Zinsser qtd. in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage). Using and or but at the beginning of a sentence makes the tone of the writing more informal — like a conversation. Care needs to be taken to ensure a sentence beginning with and or but doesn't become a sentence fragment (Fogarty, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing 80).

Annotated Bibliography?

"An annotated bibliography is just like a regular bibliography [. . .] except that each entry adds a description or summary of the work's aim, purpose, or contents. Annotations are usually a paragraph or two [. . . .] Annotated bibliographies are commonly assigned to help students survey and report on a body of scholarship or prepare for a longer research paper. Elements of an annotated bibliography

  • It briefly introduces the topic of the bibliography and perhaps the kinds of works it covers.
  • It refers accurately to the literature cited and follows the expected documentation style [. . . .]
  • It follows each reference with a clear description or summary, briefly but accurately representing the work.
  • It arranges entries alphabetically, sometimes grouped in sections by date or by general topic or focus" (Anson, Schwegler, and Muth, The Longman Writer's Companion 97).

Apostrophes?

"The apostrophe has four main uses:

  1. To show the omission of numbers in such expressions as Christmas '98 or letters in expressions that imitate certain patterns of speech — finger lickin' good.
  2. To form contractions (I'm, we've, can't, they'll).
  3. To form plurals of single numbers and letters: 'Mary brought home a report card with two A's and two B's.' (The apostrophe is not needed when letters or numbers appear in groups of two or more: the 1920s, the ABCs, the rule of 78s, two Ph.D.s.)
  4. To form possessives" (Lederer and Dowis, Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay 156).

Item 3 above can also be stated this way: "Get this straight once and for all: when the "s" is added to a word simply to make it a plural, no apostrophe is used (except in expressions where letters or numerals are treated like words, like 'mind your P's and Q's and 'learn your ABC's')" (Brians, Common Errors in English Usage 15). As you can tell from the explanation on how to form the plural of ABC in number 3 above and in this paragraph, not all experts agree. What should you do? Select a style and be consistent in using it. Forming possessives is the most complicated use of the apostrophe. Again, not all experts agree. You know what to do: Select a style and be consistent in using it. Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis give the following information on forming possessives:

  • "To form the possessive of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an s even if the noun ends in s."

     Example: "He married the boss's daughter."

  • "To form the possessive of a plural noun, add an apostrophe only, except for nouns such as men and people that have irregular plurals and are treated as if they were singular when the possessives are formed."

      Example: "Boston Market advertises 'New! Kid's Meal. Starting at $1.99.' [. . .] When more than one child is involved, the possessive is not kid's. It's kids'."

  • "Do not use an apostrophe to form the possessive of personal pronouns, except for the pronoun one."

      Example: "It is really pleasant to take one's time when playing golf." "This house is ours."

  • "When two or more words, taken as a unit, show joint possession, use the possessive form with the last only."

      Example: "Let's all ride in John and Pedro's car." (Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay 156-159)

As per...?

"We find as per used in two ways. It is still in use in business correspondence and in straightforward but somewhat stiff prose [. . . .] Your decision to use as per or not would seem to be a matter of personal choice and taste; the tonal needs of a particular passage may make it useful at times even if you avoid it ordinarily" (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage).

Assume or Presume?

"They're not identical. Assume is closer to support, or 'take for granted'; the much stronger presume is closer to believe, dare, or 'take too much for granted.'
[Example:] I can only assume you are joking when you presume to call yourself a plumber!" (O'Connor, Woe Is I 91).

Bad or Badly?

We use bad (an adjective) with linking verbs such as is, seems, feels, looks, or appears.
Example: "I feel bad that I missed the concern."
We use the adverb badly with action verbs.
Example: "He smells badly." This sentence means he can't detect the smell of his girlfriend's perfume, but "He smells bad" means he needs to shower and use deodorant.

Between you and I or Between you and me?

"Because the pronouns following between are objects of the preposition, the correct phrase is between you and me. Yet the phrasing between you and I is appallingly common" (Garner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style).

Bring and Take?

"Use bring when an object is being transported toward you, take when it is being moved away.
[Examples:] 'Please bring me a glass of water. Please take these flowers to Mr. Scott'" (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 126).

Can I or May I?

"Can implies ability; may implies permission or uncertainty.
[Example:] "Bart can drive now, but his parents may not lend him their new car'" (Anson, Schwegler, Muth, The Longman Writer's Companion 477).

Cannot or Can Not?

"Both spellings are acceptable, but cannot is more frequent in current use" (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage).

Capitalization?

For a list of all the rules about capitalization, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to the top of this page and use the "click here" feature to learn more.
  2. Scroll down and click on "capitalization and spelling."
  3. Click on "capitals," and you'll come to the rules of capitalization.

The two rules for capitalization listed below are asked most often.

Capitalization in Titles?

"In titles, capitalize the first word, the last word, and all words in between except articles (a, an, the), prepositions under five letters (in, of, to), and coordinating conjunctions (and, but). These rules apply to titles of long, short, and partial works as well as your own papers" (Anson, Schwegler, and Muth. The Longman Writer's Companion 240).

Capitalization of Titles of Persons?

"Capitalize titles of persons when used as part of a proper name but usually not when used alone.
[Examples:] District Attorney Marshall was reprimanded for badgering the witness. The district attorney was elected for a two-year term.
Usage varies when the title of an important public figure is used alone.
[Example:] The president [or President] vetoed the bill" (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 305).

Cite or Site?

Cite is a verb meaning "to quote for purposes of example, authority, or proof."
Example: "He cites many experts in his article."
Site
is usually used as a noun meaning "place or scene."
Example: "Check the AARP website," and "We erected the wall on the site of our future home."

Colon Use?

"A colon tells the reader that what follows is closely related to the preceding clause. The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash. It usually follows an independent clause and should not separate a verb from its complement or a preposition from its object. . . .
[Example:] Your dedicated whittler requires three props: a knife, a piece of wood, and a back porch.

Join two independent clauses with a colon if the second interprets or amplifies the first.
[Example:] But even so, there was a directness and dispatch about animal burial: there was no stopover in the undertaker's foul parlor, no wreath or spray.

A colon may introduce a quotation that supports or contributes to the preceding clause.
[Example:] The squalor of the streets reminded her of a line from Oscar Wilde: 'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.'

The colon also has certain functions of form: to follow the salutation of a formal letter, to separate hour from minute in a notation of time, and to separate the title of a work from its subtitle or a Bible chapter from a verse.

[Examples:]  Dear Mr. Montague:
                    departs at 10:48 P.M.
                    Practical Calligraphy: An Introduction to Italic Script

                  Nehemiah 11:7" (Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, 7-8).

Commas and Periods Inside Quotation Marks?

"Place periods and commas inside quotation marks. [Example:] "This is a stick-up," said the well-dressed young couple. "We want all your money." This rule applies to single quotation marks as well as double quotation marks. It also applies to all uses of quotation marks: for quoted material, for titles of works, and for words used as words. Exception: In the Modern Language Association's style of parenthetical in-text citations . . ., the period follows the citation in parentheses. [Example:] James M. McPherson comments, approvingly, that the Whigs were not averse to extending the blessings of American liberty, even to Mexicans and Indians" (48). (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 285)

Commas?

These are the basic comma rules. If you learn them or keep a copy of them with you whenever you write, you will solve 98% of your comma problems.

  1. Put a comma before and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet when they connect two independent clauses (sentences that can stand alone).
    Example: "She hit the shot, and he cheered for her."
  2. Separate three or more items in a series with a comma.
    Example: "We want to protect cats, dogs, and horses."
  3. Put a comma after an introductory word group.
    Example: "Because I was hungry, I bought a hamburger."
  4. Set off interrupters with pairs of commas, pairs of parentheses, or pairs of dashes.
    Examples:  "The hamburger, hot and juicy, tasted great."
                       "The hamburger — which was hot and juicy — tasted great."
                       "The hamburger (made from ground beef and tofu) tasted great."
  5. Put commas around the name of a person or group spoken to.
    Example: "I hope, Carlene, that you're going with me."
  6. Put commas around an expression that interrupts the flow of the sentence.
    Example: "We took our fishing rods, therefore, and got into the boat."

Complements?

"Linking verbs link the subject to a subject complement, a word or word group that completes the meaning of the subject by renaming or describing it. If the subject complement renames the subject, it is a noun or noun equivalent (sometimes call a predicate noun).
[Example:] The handwriting on the wall [s] may be [v] a forgery [sc].

If the subject complement describes the subject, it is an adjective or adjective equivalent (sometimes called a predicate adjective).
[Example:] Love [s] is [v] blind [sc]." (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 814).

"When a pronoun is used as a subject complement (a word following a linking verb), your ear may mislead you, since the incorrect form is frequently heard in casual speech. . . .
[Example:] During the Lindbergh trial, Bruno Hauptmann repeatedly denied that the kidnapper was he [not him].
If kidnapper was he seems too stilted, rewrite the sentence: During the Lindbergh trial, Bruno Hauptmann repeatedly denied that he was the kidnapper."(Hacker, The Bedford Handbook 287).

Comprise?

"Nothing is ever 'comprised of' something. To comprise means 'to contain or to embrace':
       The jury comprises seven women and five men.

All of the following mean the same thing:
     The jury is composed of seven women and five men.

     The jury is made up of seven women and five men.

     Seven women and five men constitute the jury.

     Seven women and five men make up the jury.

Even when used correctly, in my humble opinion, comprise and constitute tend to sound stilted. Some form of is made up of sounds better in most cases." (Walsh, Lapsing into a Comma 122-123).

Continually or Continuously?

"Yes, there is a slight difference, although most people (and even many dictionaries) treat them the same. Continually means repeatedly, with breaks in between. Continuously means without interruption, in an unbroken stream. Heidi has to wind the cuckoo clock continually to keep it running continuously. (If it's important to emphasize the distinction, it's probably better to use periodically or intermittently instead of continually to describe something that starts and stops.) The same distinction, by the way, applies to continual and continuous, the adjective forms" (O'Conner, Woe Is I 95-96).

Coordinate or Cumulative Adjectives?

"When two or more adjectives each modify a noun separately, they are coordinate.
[Example:] Roberto is a warm, gentle, affectionate father.
Adjectives are coordinate if they can be joined with and (warm and gentle and affectionate).

Two or more adjectives that do not modify the noun separately are cumulative.
[Example:] Three large gray shapes moved slowly toward us." Hacker, A Writer's Reference 262).

Data or Datum?

"In much informal writing, data is considered a collective singular noun. In formal scientific and scholarly writing, however, data is generally used as a plural, with datum as the singular form. Base your decision on whether your readers should consider the data as a single collection or as a group of individual facts. Whatever you decide, be sure that your pronouns and verbs agree in number with the selected usage" (Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu, The Technical Writer's Companion 290-291).

Different From or Different Than?

"Different from is preferred to different than. I remember this by remembering that different has two f's and only one t, so the best choice between than and from is the one that starts with an f" (Fogarty, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips 22).

Disinterested or Uninterested?

"They're not the same. Disinterested means impartial or neutral; uninterested means bored or lacking interest. A good umpire should be disinterested, said Casey, but certainly not uninterested" (O'Conner, Woe Is I 98).

Documenting Online Sources?

What documentation style are you required to use? Once this is determined, click on Dr. Grammar's Documentation Resources, and go to the appropriate website for your documentation style.

Internet sources come in two forms: articles that have been previously published in the print media (Time, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune; scholarly journals; books; etc.) and articles or websites that have life only on the World Wide Web (WWW).

Since the WWW is itself a work in progress, it is constantly changing as are the systems which attempt to document material found there. Perhaps the easiest source of information concerning each system of documentation is a book entitled Online! A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources by Andrew Harnack and Eugene Kleppinger (can be found on Dr. Grammar's Documentation Resources).

Done or Finished?

"Today both done and finished are Standard, and you may use whichever one meets the style requirements of your speech or writing" (Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English).

Drank or Drunk?

"When in doubt about the standard English forms of irregular verbs, [. . .] look up the base form of the verb in the dictionary, which also lists any irregular forms. (If no additional forms are listed in the dictionary, the verb is regular, not irregular. [. . .]
Base Form: drink
Past Tense: drank
Past Participle: drunk" (Hacker, The Bedford Handbook 312-313).

Due to or Owing to?

"Due to is as impeccable grammatically as owing to, which is frequently recommended as a substitute for it. There has never been a grammatical ground for objection [. . . .] There is no solid reason to avoid using due to" (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage).

Each is or Each are?

"When each is used as a subject, it takes a singular verb or pronoun.
[Example:] Each of the reports is to be submitted ten weeks after it is assigned.
When each occurs after a plural subject with which it is in apposition, it takes a plural verb or pronoun.
[Example:] The reports each have white embossed titles on their covers." (Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu, The Technical Writer's Companion 291).

earth or Earth?

When you mean dirt, it's earth. When you mean the third planet from the sun, it's Earth.

Etymology (Word Origin)?

"The origin and history of word or words, or the study of word origins" (Cambridge Dictionary of American English). Dr. Grammar's Word Origins page has a list of online sites and a list of books about etymologies (word origins).

Everybody and Everyone?

Everybody and everyone are interchangeable.
Anyone and anybody are also interchangeable.

Everyone/Everybody is/are happy?

"What's wrong with saying, Are everybody happy? After all, when you use the word everybody, you're thinking of a crowd, right? Then why do we say, Is everybody happy? In other words, just how many people do we mean when we say everybody or everyone?

The answer is one. Odd as it may seem, these pronouns are singular. We often use them when talking about whole gangs of people, but we treat them grammatically as individual gang members. The result is that each takes a singular verb: Everybody loves a lover, but not everybody is one" (O'Conner, Who Is I 15).

Farther or Further?

Use farther to refer to physical distances.
Example: Indiana is farther than I thought.
Further
refers to quantity, time, or degree.
Example: They progressed further on their research.

Fewer or Less?

Fewer is an adjective used to refer to people or items that can be counted.
Example: Because fewer cars showed up for the show, we required fewer categories.
Less
is used to refer to amounts that cannot be counted.
Example: The small dogs required less space and less food than the large dogs.

Good or Well?

"Good is the adjective; well is the adverb. You do something well, but you give someone something good. The exception is verbs of sensation in phrases such as "the pie smells good' or 'I feel good.' Despite the arguments of nigglers, this is standard usage. Saying 'the pie smells well' would imply that the pastry in question had a nose. Similarly, 'I feel well' is also acceptable, especially when discussing health; but it is not the only correct usage" (Brians, Common Errors in English Usage).

Have got or Have gotten?

"When we say, Fabio has got three Armani suits, we mean he has them. When we say, Fabio has gotten three Armani suits, we mean he's acquired or obtained them. It's a useful distinction" (O'Conner, Who Is I 191).

Hopefully?

"Hopefully is a sentence adverb that has raised the hackles of some conservatives, but probably its overuse has made most of the trouble; it had been a perfectly good sentence adverb for generations before the recent objections were heard. Those who don't like it usually urge that I hope that or It is hoped that be used instead, but hopefully is in fact Standard" (Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English).

Hyphenation?

"Consult the dictionary to determine how to treat a compound word. The dictionary will tell you whether to treat a compound word as a hyphenated compound (water-repellent), one word (waterproof ), or two words (water table). If the compound word is not in the dictionary, treat it as two words" (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 300).

The following rules are not all inclusive, but they are the most common uses of hyphenation. Consult a writing manual for a more extensive explanation.

"Use a hyphen to connect two or more words functioning together as an adjective before a noun.
[Examples:] Mrs. Douglas gave Toshiko a seashell and some newspaper-wrapped fish to take home to her mother. Richa Gupta is not yet a well-known candidate.

Generally, do not use a hyphen when such compounds follow the noun.
[Example:] After our television campaign, Richa Gupta will be well known.

Do not use a hyphen to connect -ly adverbs to the words they modify.
[Example:] A slowly moving truck tied up traffic.

Note: In a series, hyphens are suspended.
[Example:] Do you prefer first-, second-, or third-class tickets?

Hyphenate the written form of fractions and of compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
[Example:] One-fourth of my salary goes to pay my child care expenses.

Use a hyphen with the prefixes all-, ex-, and self- and with the suffix -elect.
[Examples:] The charity is funneling more money into self-help projects. Anne King is our club's president-elect. A hyphen is used in some words to avoid ambiguity or to separate awkward double or triple letters. Without the hyphen, there would be no way to distinguish between words such as re-creation and recreation.
[Examples:] Bicycling in the city is my favorite form of recreation. The film was praised for its astonishing re-creation of nineteenth-century London.  [. . . .]

If a word must be divided at the end of a line, divide it correctly " (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 300-302). Consult a dictionary if you are unsure as to where a word should be divided.

"I" before "E" except after "C"?

We have all been taught the rule, but Richard Lederer has compiled a list of 144 exceptions in his book Adventures of a Verbifore. When in doubt about the spelling of a word, go to a dictionary.

(I.e.) or (E.g.)?

"Properly used, each of these is Standard. I.e. abbreviates Latin id est, 'that is'; use it when you wish to repeat in different words what you've just finished saying: I'm strongly opposed; i.e., I'm determined not to cooperate. E.g. abbreviates the Latin tag exempli gratia, 'for the sake of example, for example.' [Eat foods containing a lot of fiber, e.g., fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.] People sometimes say the names of the letters i and e or e and g instead of saying the English that is or for example, but the abbreviations aren't much shorter, and most of us would prefer the English words in speech, no matter how familiar the Latin abbreviations are in writing....Most editors put them in italics; all require a comma after the second period (The Columbia Guide to Standard American English 165).

Idiom?

"Idioms are phrases that don't mean what they literally say, but have meaning to native speakers. For example, the phrase under the weather is known by most native English speakers to mean that someone isn't feeling well, but if you weren't a native English speaker, you would probably have no idea what under the weather means by just looking at the words" (Fogarty, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips 55).

If or Whether?

"It's good practice to distinguish between these words. Use if for a conditional idea, whether for an alternative or possibility. Thus, Let me know if you'll be coming means that I want to hear from you only if you're coming. But Let me know whether you'll be coming means that I want to hear from you about your plans one way or the other" (Garner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style).

Imply or Infer?

"If you imply something, you hint or suggest it.
[Example:] Her email implied that the project would be delayed.
If you infer something, you reach a conclusion on the basis of evidence.
[Example:] The manager inferred from the email that the project would be delayed" (Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu, The Technical Writer's Companion 294).

In regard(s) to?

"The use of the plural regards in the phrases in regards to and with regards to is incorrect. Since each phrase shows its speaker regarding just one issue, the regard is singular: in regard to and with regard to.
[Examples:] I am calling in regard to your memo.
                   With regard to our meeting, I cannot attend." (Strumpf and Douglas, The Grammar Bible 220).

Independent vs Dependent Clauses?

"An independent clause is a complete sentence; it can stand alone.
[Example:] Tattooing was not known in the Western world.
A dependent (subordinate) clause is part of a sentence; it cannot stand alone.
[Example:] Until Captain Cooke returned from his voyage to Tahiti" (Rozakis, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style 142).
If the above independent and dependent clauses were put together in a sentence, it would read: Until Captain Cooke returned from his voyage to Tahiti, tattooing was not known in the Western world.

Intensifiers? really, really tough?

"People are always looking for ways to emphasize how really, really special the subject under discussion is. (The use of 'really' is one of the weakest and least effective of these.) A host of words have been worn down in this service to near-meaninglessness. It is good to remember the etymological roots of such words to avoid such absurdities as 'fantastically realistic,' 'absolutely relative,' and 'incredibly convincing.' When you are tempted to use one of these vague intensifiers consider rewriting your prose to explain more precisely and vividly what you mean: 'Fred's cooking was incredibly bad' could be changed to 'When I tasted Fred's cooking I almost thought I was back in the middle-school cafeteria'" (Brians, Common Errors in English Usage).

Into or In to?

"Into is a preposition that has many definitions, but they all generally relate to direction. On the other hand, in by itself can be an adverb, preposition, or adjective (and to by itself is a preposition or an adverb). Sometimes in and to just end up next to each other.

Maybe examples will help! 
     He walked into the room.
     (Which direction was he going?  Into the room.)

      We broke in to the room. 
      ('Broke in' is a phrasal verb. What did you break in to? The room.)

(Fogarty, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips 34-35).

Irony, Sarcasm, or Facetiousness?

Irony is "the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning." Sarcasm is "a cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound. " By contrast, facetiousness is "playfully jocular; humorous." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

It is I or It is me?

"Instead of the old choice between right and wrong we are now choosing a style; it is a choice that is much closer to the reality of usage than the old one way. [. . .] Clearly, both the it is I and it's me patterns are in reputable use and have been for a considerable time. It is I tends to be used in more formal or more stuffy situations; it's me predominates in real and fictional speech and in a more relaxed writing style" (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage).

It's her or It's she?

"In all but the most formal circumstances, it's OK to use It is me, That's him, It's her, and similar constructions, instead of the technically correct but stuffier It is I, That's he, and It's she" (O'Conner, Woe Is I 186).

Its or It's?

This one is simple if you remember that it's is a contraction of it is or it has.
Example: It's a beautiful morning; however, it's been an ugly season.
Its is the possessive form of it.
Example: It appeared the squirrel couldn't make up its mind whether or not to run across the street.

Lie or Lay ?

The verb lay means to place or to set down. It always takes a direct object, the thing that is placed or set down.
Examples: Lay the magazine on the table. 
                I have laid the bike under the tree.
The verb lie means to recline. It does not take a direct object.
Examples: I will lie down around noon.
                 Let's go lie out on the grass.

Like or Such as?

"Writers whom we respect disagree on whether there is any significant difference between like and such as. Wilson Follett and Theodore Bernstein say no. James J. Kilpatrick says yes. We come down gingerly on the side of Kilpatrick. His argument seems valid: 'When we are talking of large, indefinite fields of similarity, like properly may be used. . . . When we are talking about specifically named persons [places or things] . . . included in a small field, we ought to use such as.' In 'Books like this one can help you write better,' like means similar to. In 'Cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham are important to the economy of the Southeast,' the intent is to specify those cities as examples, not merely to put them into a broad category of cities that are important to the economy of the Southeast" (Lederer and Dowis, Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay 79).

Linking Verbs?

"Linking verbs link the subject to a subject complement, a word or word group that completes the meaning of the subject by renaming or describing it.
[Example:] The handwriting on the wall may be a forgery.
Linking verbs are usually a form of be: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been. Verbs such as appear, become, feel, grow, look, make, prove, remain, seem, smell, sound, and taste are linking when they are followed by a word group that names or describes the subject" (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 500).

Littler and Littlest?

"Although occasionally used, both these forms [littler, littlest] are regarded as dialectical or perhaps as juvenile. When size is involved, the better forms are smaller and smallest; when quantity or importance is involved, the better forms are less (sometimes lesser) and least" (Bernstein, The Careful Writer).

Majority is or are?

"Many words that mean a group of things — total, majority, and number, for example — can be singular or plural. Sometimes they mean the group acting as a whole, sometimes the members of a group.

"As with the other two-faced words, ask yourself whether you are thinking of the whole or the parts. A little hint: The before the word (the total, the majority) is usually a tip-off that it's singular; while a (a total, a number), especially when of comes after, usually indicates a plural.

[Examples:] The majority is in charge. Still, a majority of voters are unhappy" (O'Conner, Woe Is I 26).

May or Might?

"These words occupy different places on a continuum of possibility. May expresses likelihood {we may go to the party}, while might expresses a stronger sense of doubt {we might be able to go if our appointment is cancelled} or a contrary-to-fact hypothetical {we might have been able to go if George hadn't gotten held up} (Garner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style).

Me, Myself, or I?

"In the old days when people studied traditional grammar, we could simply say, "The first person singular pronoun is I when it's a subject and me when it's an object,' but now few people know what that means. [. . .] The misuse of I and myself for me is caused by nervousness about me. [. . .] But the notion that there is something wrong with me leads people to overcorrect and avoid it where it is perfectly appropriate. People will say, 'The document had to be signed by both Susan and I' when the correct statement would be, 'The document had to be signed by both Susan and me.'

Trying even harder to avoid the lowly me, many people will substitute myself as in 'The suspect uttered epithets at Officer O'Leary and myself.' Myself is no better than I as an object. Myself is not a sort of all-purpose intensive form of me or I . Use myself only when you have used I earlier in the same sentence: 'I am not particularly fond of goat cheese myself'" (Brians, Common Errors in English Usage).

Mid- or just Mid?

"In forming compounds, mid- is normally joined to the following word or element without a space or hyphen: midpoint. However, if the second element begins with a capital letter, it is separated with a hyphen: mid-May. It is always acceptable to separate the elements with a hyphen to prevent possible confusion with another form, as, for example, to distinguish mid-den (the middle of a den) from the word midden. The adjective mid is a separate word, and as is the case with any adjective, it may be joined to another word with a hyphen when used as a unit modifier: in the mid Pacific but a mid-Pacific Island" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Mrs./Ms./Miss?

"Ms. is widely used in business and public life to address or refer to a woman, especially if her marital status is either unknown or irrelevant to the context. More traditionally, Miss is used to refer to an unmarried woman, and Mrs. is used to refer to a married woman. Some women may indicate a preference for Ms., Miss, or Mrs., which you should honor. If a woman has an academic or professional title, use the appropriate form of address (Doctor, Professor, Captain) instead of Ms., Miss, or Mrs." (Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu, The Technical Writer's Companion 297).

None is or None are?

"None has been both singular and plural since Old English and still is. [. . .] If in context it seems like a singular to you, use a singular verb; if it seems like a plural, use a plural verb. Both are acceptable beyond serious criticism" (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage).

Numbers: When to spell out and When to write as numbers?

"Spell out numbers of one or two words or those that begin a sentence. Use figures for numbers that require more than two words to spell out.
[Examples:] It's been eight years since I visited Peru. I counted 176 DVDs on the shelf.

If a sentence begins with a number, spell out the number or rewrite the sentence.
[Example:] One hundred fifty children in our program need expensive dental treatment.

Exceptions: In technical and some business writing, figures are preferred even when spellings would be brief, but usage varies. When in doubt, consult the style guide of the organization for which you are writing.
When several numbers appear in the same passage, many writers choose consistence rather than strict adherence to the rule.
When one number immediately follows another, spell out one and use figures for the other: three 100-meter events, 25 four-poster beds.

Generally figures are acceptable for dates, addresses, percentages, fractions, decimals, scores, statistics and other numerical results, exact amounts of money, divisions of books and plays, pages, identification numbers, and the time.
Dates July 4, 1776, 56 BC, AD 30
Addresses 77 Latches Lane, 519 West  42nd Street
Percentages 55 percent (or 55%)
Fractions, Decimals
½, 0.047
Scores 7 to 3, 21-18
Statistics
average age 37, average weight 180
Surveys
4 out of 5
Exact Amounts of Money
$105.37, $106,000
Divisions of Books
volume 3, chapter 4, page 189
Divisions of Plays
act 3; scene 3 (or act III, scene iii)
Identification Numbers
serial number 10988675
Time of Day
4:00 p.m., 1:30 a.m. (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 310-311).

OK or Okay?

Both OK and okay are acceptable in informal writing; however, avoid them in formal writing.

On or Upon?/In or Into?

On/upon and in/into are equally interchangeable according to the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.

Parallelism?

"Parallelism is the expression of similar or related ideas in similar grammatical form. Besides emphasizing the relationships of ideas, parallelism can create intriguing sentence rhythms and highlights." "Once you begin a parallel pattern, you need to complete it. If you mix structures, creating incomplete or faulty parallelism, your sentences may disappoint readers' expectations and be hard to read.

Mixed                Consider swimming if you want an exercise that aids cardiovascular fitness, develops overall muscle strength, and probably without causing injuries.
Parallel              Consider swimming if you want an exercise that aids cardiovascular fitness, develops overall muscle strength, and causes few injuries."(Anson, Schwegler, and Muth, The Longman Writer's Companion 396-397)

Parenthetical Documentation?

To obtain the information for your specific documentation style, go to Dr. Grammar's Documentation Resources page and click on the appropriate website.

Plurals of Abbreviations, Letters, and Numbers?

"No two authorities seem to agree on how we should form the plurals of abbreviations (GI, rpm, RBI), letters (x, y, z), and numbers (9, 10). Should we had s or 's? Where one style maven sees UFO's, another sees UFOs. One is nostalgic for the 1950's, the other for the 1950s. This is more a matter of taste and readability than of grammar, and frankly, we have better things to worry about. For the sake of consistency and common sense, here's what I recommend. To form the plurals of all numbers, letters, and abbreviation (with or without periods and capitals) simply add 's" (O'Conner, Woe Is I 30).

Plurals of Proper Names?

"Here are a few rules that will help the curious pluralize proper names. Please note that, in every case, the spellings of the proper names should not change except for the addition of -s or -es.

"With proper names ending in a sound that blends well with s, simply add -s.           

Brown = the Browns             Lindberg = the Lindbergs            Ericson = the Ericsons           Shaw = the Shaws  Hogan = the Hogans             Whitlock = the Whitlocks

"With proper nouns ending in sounds that don't blend well with s, the sibilant sounds, add -es.           

Cox = the Coxes                   Jones = the Joneses            Douglas = the Douglases       Martinez = the Martinezes Firch = the Firches                Nemetz = the Nemetzes"

(Strumpf and Douglas, The Grammar Bible 15-16).

Possessive with a Gerund?

A gerund is a verb form ending in -ing that functions as a noun.
Example: Crying is good for you.
When a pronoun modifies a gerund or gerund phrase , use the possessive case (my, our, your, his/her/its, their).
Example: Your crying made me sad.Nouns may also modify gerunds; add -'s to form the possessive case.
Example: The dog's suffering angered me.

Preposition at end?

"If a sentence that ends with a preposition sounds fine and makes sense, by all means, write the sentence. It is absolutely antiquated to forbid ending a sentence with a preposition. However, it is always possible to reword the sentence" (Strumpf and Douglas, The Grammar Bible 214-215).

Proportional or Proportionate?

Both are correct and neither is preferred.

Punctuation of Dates?

"Put a comma between the data and the year, between the day of the week and the date, and after the year when you give a full date.
[Example:] I ordered a laptop on May 3, 2007, that arrived Friday, May 18.

You don't need commas when a date is inverted (5 July 1973) or contains only month and year, month and day, or season and year.
[Example:] We installed the software after its June 2007 test. (Anson, Schwegler, and Muth, The Longman Writer's Companion 429)

Quotation Marks and Other Punctuation

There are three basic rules.

  1. All commas and periods should be placed inside the quotation marks.
  2. All colons and semicolons should be placed outside the quotation marks.
  3. Question marks and exclamation marks should be placed within the quotation marks when they apply only to the quoted material; they should be placed outside when the entire sentence, including the quoted material, is a question or exclamation.

Reason is because?

"Reason is because is a redundancy. Use reason is that . . . . The reason we recommend 'reason is that' is that the grammatical subject, reason, is balanced by a noun clause in the predicate, headed by that" (Lederer and Dowis, Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay 51).

Regular and Irregular Verbs?

"A verb is regular when its past tense and past participle are formed by adding -ed or -d to the base form.
[Example:] honor, honored, honored.
A verb is irregular when it does not follow the (-ed or -d pattern. If you are unsure about whether a verb form is regular or irregular, or what the correct form is, consult [. . .] a dictionary. Dictionaries list any irregular forms under the entry for the base form" (Lunsford, The Everyday Writer 230).

Semicolon use?

"A semicolon creates a brief reading pause that can dramatically highlight a close relationship or a contrast. The semicolon alone can't specify the relationship the way words like because or however can. Be sure, therefore, that the relationship you are signaling won't be puzzling to readers."

"Join two sentences with a semicolon. A semicolon joins main clauses that can stand alone as complete sentences.
[Example:] The demand for paper is at an all-time high; businesses alone consume millions of tons each year."

"Use a semicolon with words such as however and on the other hand. When you use a semicolon alone to link main clauses, you ask readers to recognize the logical link between the clauses. When you add words like however or on the other hand, you create a different effect on readers by specifying how the clauses relate.
[Example:] I like apples; however, I hate pears."

"Use a semicolon with a complex series. When items in a series contain commas, readers may have trouble deciding which commas separate parts of the series and which belong within items. To avoid confusion, put semicolons between elements in a series when one or more contain other punctuation.
[Example:] I interviewed Debbie Rios, the attorney; Rhonda Marron, the accountant; and the financial director." (Anson, Schwegler, and Muth, The Longman Writer's Companion 432-433)

Set or Sit?

Set is a verb meaning "to put" or "to place."
Example: He set the urn on the table.
Sit
is a verb meaning "to be seated."
Example: He sat on the couch next to the dog.

Shall or Will?

"Will has almost entirely replaced shall in American English except in legal documents and in questions like "Shall we have red wine with the duck?'" (Brians, Common Errors in English Usage)

Sic?

"In scholarly writing you should copy quotations exactly as they appear in your source, but you must also produce a paper free of grammatical and mechanical errors. So how should you handle a source that contains an error? One way is to rephrase the quotation in your own words, crediting your source for the idea. However, if the quotation is so eloquent or effective that you decide to include it despite the error, use [sic] (an abbreviation of the Latin sicut, meaning thus) to indicate that the original source is responsible for the mistake.
[Example:] 'One taste tester reported that the Carb Charge energy bar was to [sic] dry; she said it had the consistency of sawdust' (Cisco 22)." (Faigley, The Brief Penguin Handbook 496)

Single quotation marks?

"Single quotation marks enclose a quotation within a quotation. Open and close the quoted passage with double quotation marks, and change any quotation marks that appear within the quotation to single quotation marks.
[Example:] Baldwin says, "The title 'The Uses of the Blues' does not refer to music; I don't know anything about music." (Lunsford, The Everyday Writer 338)

Spacing after concluding marks of punctuation?

Until recently, there were two spaces after concluding punctuation. It is now common to use one space after concluding punctuation. Either one space or two spaces is correct; however, be consistent in whatever spacing you use.

Split infinitives?

"Today almost everyone agrees that it is OK to split infinitives, especially when you would have to change the meaning of the sentence or go through writing gymnastics to avoid the split." (Fogarty, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips 56)

Than I/Than me?

"Some of the smartest people I know hesitate at the word than when it comes before a pronoun. What goes next, I or me? he or him? she or her? they or them?"

The answer: All of the above! This is easier than it sounds. Take I and me as examples, since they're the pronouns we use most (egotists that we are). Either one may be correct after than, depending on the meaning of the sentence.

  • Trixie loves spaghetti more than I means more than I do.
  • Trixie loves spaghetti more than me means more than she loves me."

(O'Conner, Woe Is I 12)

That or Which or Who?

Do not use which to refer to persons. Use who instead. That, though generally used to refer to things, may be used to refer to a group or class of people.
[Examples:] The player who [not that or which] made the basket at the buzzer was named MVP.
The team that scores the most points in this game will win the tournament (Hacker, A Writer's Reference 136).

The faculty is or The faculty are?

Faculty is a collective noun. "A collective noun is singular in form yet identifies a group of individuals (audience, mob, crew, troop, tribe, or herd). When the group acts as a single unit, choose a singular verb. When group members act individually, choose a plural verb.
[Examples:] One Single Unit: The staff is hardworking and well trained.
                   Individual Members: The staff have earned the respect of our clients."
(Anson, Schwegler, and Muth, The Longman Writer's Companion 355).

Then or Than?

Than is used to indicate comparison or degree.
Example: His drive was longer than mine.
Then
is used to indicate time.
Example: Then he putted out and won the tournament.

Thru or Through?

Through is acceptable in all forms of writing.
Thru
, if used at all, should be used only for informal writing.

To, Too, or Two?

"To generally shows direction.
Too
means 'also.'
Two
is the number.
[Example:] We, too, are going to the meeting in two hours." (Lunsford, The Everyday Writer 313).

Toward(s), Forward(s), Backward(s)?

"No final s ('towards'), although that's how they say it in Britain. Similarly, in American English, standard practice is not to add a final s to forward, backward, upward, onward, downward, and so on.
[Example:] George and Karmer were last seen heading toward the buffet." (O'Conner, Who Is I 117-118).

Transitive verb or Intransitive verb?

"Any verb that requires a direct object is known as a transitive verb.
[Example:] I trim the lawn. (The noun lawn receives the action of the verb, the trimming. The verb trim is a transitive verb.)
[Example:] I taught the children. (The noun children receives the action of the verb, the teaching. The verb taught is also a transitive verb.)
Verbs that do not take objects are intransitive verbs.
[Example:] We shall run when we get the chance. (No word receives the action of this verb. Therefore, run is an intransitive verb.)
[Example:] We stayed at the Ritz. (No noun or pronoun receives the action of this verb either. It is intransitive.)" (Strumpf and Douglas, The Grammar Bible 71).

Try and or Try to?

"The phrase try and is colloquial for try to. [. . .]
                                   to
[Example:] Please try and finish the report on time." (Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu, The Business Writer's Handbook).

Unique or More unique?

"The primary meaning of unique is 'one of a kind'; it's an absolute, so something can't be more unique than something else." (Fogarty, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips 66).

Who or Whom?

"The words who and whom are both pronouns [, . . . and] you use who when you are referring to the subject of a clause and whom when you are referring to the object of a clause. [. . . A] simple memory trick — we'll call it the 'him-lich' maneuver. It's as easy as testing your sentence with the word him: if you can hypothetically answer your question with the word him, you need a whom." (Fogarty, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips 50-51).
[Example:] Who/Whom do you love? You love him. Whom do you love? (51)