When someone makes a drastic direction change, they are not turning in a full circle. If you miswrite this common phrase as “doing a 360” or “pulling a 360,” you would be metaphorically going 360 degrees around to face in the exact same direction—turning in a circle, which is 360 degrees.
To turn and go the opposite direction, either physically or metaphorically, you would turn 180 degrees.
Tap into those old geometry recollections and remember what you heard there—it was more than just the squeaky leather shoes of your teacher. Now let that basic math knowledge wash over your writing, and you’ll be all the better for it.
Happy writing, everyone!
Sure, we can be loose with our grammar sometimes, but we shouldn’t lose it all together. This is admittedly tricky sometimes when logical pronunciations don’t follow certain spelling rules, but we have to take a moment, ponder what we mean to say, and get it right.
For example, “loose” is the opposite of tight. We hear that “oo” sound like in “caboose,” so this is a logical spelling. The problem comes with “lose,” which, of course, is the opposite of win. It’s not a rhyme for “hose” or “rose.” It also has the “oo” sound, but without the double “o.”
Lose vs. Loose comes down to just remembering the difference. Just take a moment when you’re writing these two. Loose interpretations of spelling tend to lose their meaning.
Oh, I know, you’re confident on this one. Just listen to that pronunciation!
Starting off with refreshers, we know that a tasty post-meal treat is a “dessert” (s x 2). We know that cacti grow in “deserts” (s x 1).
When you use the “just deserts”/”just desserts” expression, it is pronounced the same way you say “desserts.” It’s clearly not talking about a sandy, dry locale. There’s probably some etymological backstory about a poisoned soufflé or something, right? Yeah, that guy got his “just desserts,” someone once said, and it stuck, right? Someone like Shakespeare? Something from Titus Andronicus? If you think about it hard enough, it almost makes sense, doesn’t it?
But then, of course, you would be wrong. More
Who’s on first? Whose shoes are those? Who’s that girl? Whose cupcake is that? Can I have it?
Wait, before I get distracted by my sweet tooth, let’s dive into the differences between “who’s” and “whose” today. Logic doesn’t always apply easily to grammar. This one—like “its” and “it’s”—is another exception to the rule that possessives have the apostrophe “s.”
“Whose” is the possessive form.
Yes, it’s true. Every time you’ve assumed “who’s” was possessive, you’ve been wrong. Hopefully, those were just emails to your friends, not your boss’s boss’s boss. My fingers are crossed for you.
We’ve talked “who” vs. “whom,” but this simpler distinction is sometimes equally as confused. Or perhaps it’s less confused and just typed quickly without thinking about it. Either way, it’s time to pause and get it right, don’t you think?
This week, when you gather with your siblings, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, mom, and dad, will you know how to write down all of their names correctly? And I don’t mean an impromptu spelling bee (there’s a great Thanksgiving idea… just kidding, I’m not that crazy).
Now, I’m going to ignore the cool kids with their graphic design backgrounds who just like writing everything—including proper names—in lower case (you know who you are). I’m also going to pretend I don’t notice the obsession with capitalizing all family names like a nonsensical sign of respect. Sometimes, it’s just “mom.” It’s true. Don’t worry. Respecting your elders is one thing, but don’t get carried away
Let’s talk about the method to the madness:
As you know, you capitalize names. If you’re using “mom” or “dad” as a proper name, capitalize it. To test whether this is the case, swap it out for their real name. If this swap makes sense, keep it upper case. If you’re referring to the role of “mother” or “father,” there’s no need to capitalize it. Perhaps that sounds trickier than it is. Seeing it in action will help:
Mom, what’s for dinner? (Mary, what’s for dinner—yep, checks out.)
Happy Thanksgiving, Grandpa! (Happy Thanksgiving, Ted—yep, that works too.)
My dad is excited about the football games on Thursday. (My David is excited—nope, that’s a bit weird.)
Across the country, moms and daughters will be prepping Thanksgiving feasts. (Across the country, Bettys and Sues will—okay, you get the idea.)
I hope this clears up the confusion. Have a happy turkey day, everyone!
Every writer who’s ever taken a creative writing class has heard the instruction: “Show don’t tell.” It’s so often said, it’s almost meaningless. Except it shouldn’t be. Because if actually understood, being able to show and not tell can make the difference between a humdrum story and a tale that comes alive.
“Show don’t tell” is classic writing advice, and for good reason. Imagine the difference between reading, “she’s angry,” and reading, “her hands tightened into fists; her fingernails pressed so hard against her palms that blood surfaced to her sensitive skin.” Okay, maybe I made that up really quickly, and it’s not the most eloquent of lines. But you see what I’m going for. There can be a named emotion, and then there can be the reality of it that a reader can be pulled into. More
Dylan Thomas told us, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” But something as simple as a space would confuse the meaning of a famous line, wouldn’t it? Are you one of the many who muddle “into” and “in to”?
“Do not go gentle in to that good night” just doesn’t make sense, as if you’re “going gentle” for the reason of doing something vague and badly worded to the night. And you know what else doesn’t make sense? Your recent Facebook post when you meant to use “in to” instead of “into.” I kid. But I don’t.
A simple reminder, if you’re unsure whether you need to use “into” or “in to,” ask yourself the question, “where?” If your sentence answers that question, you need “into” – the preposition. Otherwise, maybe you just happen to be using these two words (“in” and “to”) next to each other. Maybe it’s a short version of “in order to,” or maybe it’s not. But if it answers “where,” it should probably be just one word.
Where should you not go gentle? Into that good night.
Where should dirty laundry go? Into the hamper.
If the “where” question doesn’t make sense with your sentence, you probably don’t need the preposition.
Rage, rage against the dying of the proper grammar. In my own little way, I try.
Remembering how old you are is one thing. Remembering where to put (or not put) the hyphens when you describe your age is another.
A thirty-one-year-old woman should be able to write grammatically. I am thirty-one years old. A thirty-one-year-old is old enough to know better.
Did you see those hyphens (or lack thereof)? They’re all correct. Do you know why?
Here’s the reminder: if the age is being used as an adjective or as a noun (as it is in my first and third examples), use hyphens; if the age is part of the adjective phrase following the noun (as it is in my second example), don’t use hyphens. Got it?
When a child is two years old, he or she doesn’t care about grammar. Maybe a ninety-year-old still doesn’t. Either way, knowing the rule doesn’t hurt, right?
Politics can be fascinating, can’t they? Every once in a while I play with writing opinion pieces (like this), some of which walk on the edge of political debate. Recently, I came across a book on the subject entitled Political Writing: A Guide to the Essentials. In it, the author writes:
“So it stands to reason that one of the tasks you must successfully complete in your quest to become a good writer is to expand your vocabulary. The more words you have mastered, the more distinctions you can make.”
I’m totally cheering on the author at this point. He clearly gets it. He’s helping people change the world. He’s surely a master with words himself. Then, I come upon this sentence:
“Mark Twain, who once observed that there are no true synonyms in the English language, said it best: ‘The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.’”
And once again, I shake my head at the state of politics today. Even their advisers seem lacking. Did you catch why?
“Lightening” and “lightning” are two different words. That giant bolt of static electricity once thought to be summoned by the gods is “lightning.” The verb “to lighten” is written as “lightening” in its present participle state. Auto-correct or spellcheck won’t help you with this one. You just have to pay attention.
Clever old Samuel Clements had his way with words, so let’s at least try to do the man justice by getting them right.