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The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Category: Effective Writing

What Is Hyperbole?

Posted on Wednesday, January 13, 2021, at 12:00 am

We had at least a thousand interruptions today. Theo ran the race with winged feet. This crème brûlée is to die for. We all at some point exaggerate to emphasize our thoughts or feelings. When doing so, we are often using what is known as hyperbole. Originating from the Greek huperbolḗ (hupér "above, beyond" and …

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Are Euphemisms Useful?

Posted on Tuesday, December 1, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Governments, businesses, and private people alike often look to soften an idea they think may hurt, offend, or dishearten another. For that reason, they develop and use alternate phrasing intended to sugarcoat certain connotations. For example, a company reducing staff is not "firing people"; it is "downsizing." People aren't "poor"; they are "economically disadvantaged." We …

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Restoring the Meanings of Misused Words

Posted on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Words give us an array of ways to express what we're thinking or feeling with boldness or nuance. The more we use them in the proper context according to their definitions, the more settled they become in our eloquence. Within American English, some words continue to operate as people wearing another's attire. One can ponder …

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Dangling Phrases and Clauses

Posted on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, at 7:00 am

When phrases or clauses are misplaced in a sentence, such that they don't agree with the subject, sometimes funny or even embarrassing meanings and images will result. Danglers are difficult for us to spot when we write them because we can't always see that what we have written is not what we meant to express. Example: While walking …

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We the People, or…?

Posted on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, at 7:00 am

For much of the last two months, we have been analyzing why the subject pronouns I, he, she, we, they and the object pronouns me, him, her, us, them are chronically misused and confused. In this final installment, we'll deal with flawed sentences like Politicians should respect we the people and It's a happy outcome …

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Expressing Possession of Gerunds

Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, at 11:00 pm

A gerund is the present participle (-ing) form of a verb functioning as a noun in a sentence. Example: He responded by laughing. (The gerund "laughing" is the noun object of the preposition "by.") A gerund phrase is a gerund plus another element such as an adverb, an adjective, or a noun. Example: Saving money …

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Two More Reasons Pronouns Plague Us

Posted on Tuesday, October 6, 2020, at 7:00 am

For several weeks now, we’ve been counting the ways that pronouns give us nightmares. Today we’ll look at two more culprits: infinitives and verbs that end in -ing (known technically as participles and gerunds). To form an infinitive, precede a verb with the word to. The infinitive of look is to look. Constructions like to …

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I Subject, Your Honor

Posted on Tuesday, August 25, 2020, at 7:00 am

In past discussions of who-whom and whoever-whomever, we passed along a handy memory aid: who (and whoever) = they; whom (and whomever) = them.* That's fine as far as it goes, but it goes nowhere unless we can tell a subject (they) from an object (them). One reason that distinguishing between subjects and objects is …

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The Subjunctive Mood

Posted on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, at 7:00 am

An e-newsletter fan came across this sentence: If I were very lucky, I would get the chance to go. She asked, “Shouldn’t I be followed by was, not were, since I is singular?” Let us answer that by asking you a question: Are you old enough to remember the ad jingle that began, “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener …”? …

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Idiom: The DNA of Cliché

Posted on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, at 11:00 pm

We recently revisited the subject of the cliché, which dictionary.com defines as "a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse." All clichés begin as idioms, which are "expressions whose meanings are not predictable from the usual …

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