Category Archives: Grammar

Good Grammar Is a Necessity, Not a Luxury

Good grammar and writing skills are important to presenting you and your business in the most positive light, according to Kyle Wiens, CEO of  the free, online repair manual iFixit.

“Good grammar is credibility, especially on the Internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in emails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.

“Good grammar makes good business sense — and not just when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn’t in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers. If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s,” then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.”

Read Wiens’ full article on why he won’t hire people who use poor grammar here.

And when you’re not comfortable with your own writing or grammar prowess, maybe it’s time to hire an editor to polish your words.

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MLB Managers Get E’s for Grammar

While it’s not part of their official job description, two Major League Baseball managers provided useful grammar lessons this week. Who says sports isn’t educational?

Mariners manager Eric Wedge (center) addresses players at spring training.

Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge benched starting shortstop Brendan Ryan after the normally slick-fielding Ryan failed to complete two double plays because of poor relay throws to first base. Asked whether he told Ryan why he was sitting, Wedge said to reporters, “I think it’s inferred.” Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker blogged that Wedge had replied “with a long, drawn-out roll of the r’s” to emphasize his point.

Sorry, Skip, but it’s “E-Wedge” on that one. Riding the bench might make Ryan infer that was his manager’s message, but Wedge was actually trying to imply it, not infer it.  Use “imply” when something is suggested without being explicitly stated, and use “infer” when someone is trying to arrive at a conclusion based on evidence. To imply is active: Wedge’s action with Ryan implies that the manager is benching the shortstop because of the poor defensive execution, while Ryan might infer that Wedge didn’t think highly of his recent level of performance.

Eric Wedge

Wedge certainly comes across as a stern, no-nonsense guy in his media interviews and also in recent TV and radio commercials in which he talks off-the-cuff about winning and player accountability when they come to the ballpark.  Current Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, on the other hand, has as a former player and then a manager with the Chicago White Sox, carefully developed a different persona:  a full-nonsense guy. If Major League Baseball were casting the new film version of the classic TV comedy The Three  Stooges, Ozzie could easily play Larry, the one with curly hair. Ozzie tried to blame his latest gaffe, praising Fidel Castro in a Time magazine interview, as an unfortunate facet of English being his second language (he was thinking one thing in Spanish but saying another in English, he claimed). Still, Guillen appeared genuinely contrite at his press conference held to explain his comments and admitted the furor has left him sad, embarrassed and feeling stupid. “I am stupid,” he said at one point, “but I’m not dumb.”

Ozzie Guillen

Well, not exactly. If Ozzie had wanted to say he was “incapable of human speech,” he would have been correct, but obviously lying. However, since “stupid” and “dumb” are really synonyms (both defined as “lacking intelligence”), then Ozzie’s statement is clearly incorrect. If Ozzie admits that he’s stupid, he is also admitting he’s dumb – about as dumb as he was when he started praising Fidel Castro in the first place.

Of course, using baseball managers as examples of proper wordsmithing implies they ought to know something about it. They don’t. That’s why they need an editor.

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How to Avoid Common Grammar Goofs

Sometimes you come across something so good that you wish you had thought of it yourself.

I just love 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Sillyon Copyblogger, particularly the way writer Brian Clark and designer-illustrators at BlueGlass have put them together visually.  I advise anyone who has to occasionally write letters or presentations for business, or even in personal situations, to print out this list, hang it  above their computer screens, and look at it whenever there’s any doubt about what word or usage is needed in these common situations. You certainly don’t want to be the one looking silly, either.

f your writing needs more attention than merely avoiding the errors on this list, however,  it might be time to find an editor. Your words should always leave the right impression.

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Sorting Out a Real Dilemma

Spring training in Arizona.

Baseball’s spring training is in full swing, giving followers of our national pastime their annual opportunity to blow the dust off their stable of  horsehide clichés for another season. From every training camp in Florida and Arizona, including that of my adopted team, the perennially woeful Seattle Mariners, local media coverage will be full of  “things have never looked better,”  “he showed up in the best shape of his career” and “the offense will improve. These are major-league hitters.” Even if they hit .188, apparently.

In the Washington Post, baseball beat reporter Adam Kilgore tried to display overwhelming optimism for the hometown nine when he wrote the decision by the Washington Nationals (or “Natinals,” as the jerseys of two players read during one game in the 2009 season) to limit pitching wunderkind Steven Strasburg  to 160 innings this season might cause “a pleasant, yet thorny, dilemma”  for the Nats if they find themselves in a playoff race next September.  A playoff appearance would be their first since moving to Washington from Montreal in 2005; would they risk Strasburg’s future to get a playoff berth now?

Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

However,  Nats fan and self-appointed Proofreader General of the United States Roland Sweet points out that  Kilgore’s copy editor should have trashed that description, specifically the “pleasant” part. Dilemma denotes a choice between equally unpleasant alternatives: a lose-lose situation.

In baseball terms, the opposite of a dilemma would be the New York Yankees trading their expensive yet ineffective left-hander A.J. Burnett and nearly $20 million to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two minor leaguers. This action not only cleared space in the Yankees’ starting pitching rotation for better alternatives, but also allowed the Bronx Bombers enough payroll space to sign two-time Seattle Mariner Raul Ibanez, a mainstay of the Philadelphia Phillies’ championship season, as their primary designated hitter. Dump a chump, sign a champ. That’s what’s known as a win-win proposition.

Home of the Washington Natinals.

Back to dilemma.  According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “Although some commentators insist that dilemma be restricted to instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory, their concern is misplaced; the unsatisfactoriness of the options is usually a matter of how the author presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make.

“The use of such adjectives as terrible, painful and irreconcilable suggests that dilemma is losing some of its unpleasant force. There also seems to be a tendency toward applying the word to less weighty problems (the New York Rangers solved their goaltending dilemma).

When you can’t sort out your own writing dilemma, perhaps a professional editor can help. When it comes to predicting baseball’s pennant races, however, you’re on your own.

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How to Use Adverbs Correctly

The other day on the radio I heard a football coach deride his own game plan: “We played too cautious,” he admitted. My ears recoiled instinctively, knowing the adverb “cautiously” would be the correct way to phrase that sentence.

Most of the time, adding an “ly” to the end of a modifier changes an adjective (which modifies a noun) to an adverb (which can modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb). In some cases, however, that “ly” can cause trouble.

“More important,” the coach added, ” was our inability to execute on offense or defense.”

Or should he have said, “More importantly?”

The correct phrase is “more important,” and the same goes for “most important.”  They are often, if not always, shortened versions of “what’s more important” or “what’s most important.”

Using the full phrase “what’s more importantly” in a sentence illustrates the error: “What’s most importantly is that we get good line play,” the coach said. That sentence doesn’t make sense. (Of course, the full version would start, “What’s most important is that…).

Another online source says “more important” and “more importantly” are used interchangeably in all kinds of text and by reputable writers, which means that there’s no reason not to use “importantly.” Except one: It’s wrong. Writers aren’t necessarily grammarians, which is why even writers of high repute can use an editor.

Here’s a cute video from School House Rock about adverbs and what they do.

[youtube+http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7wnT8iiR8w&rel=0]

When you can’t be your own best editor, try another trained set of eyes.

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