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Grammar and style

NEWS

How to choose between 'that' and 'which' in your writing

The rules of grammar can seem complicated and rigid, but they will help you keep your writing clear and tell a story effectively. When the language is muddled, readers may get confused and quit reading. Here are guidelines for choosing between that and which in a sentence. The rule: Use which for clauses that offer incidental information; use that for … Read More
NEWS

Which is best? Who or whom?

The rules of grammar can seem complicated and rigid, but they will help you keep your writing clear and tell a story effectively. When the language is muddled, readers may get confused and have trouble understanding your story. Even worse, they may quit reading. Here's some help when you are unsure whether to use who or whom in a sentence. Read More
NEWS

Fear not the long sentence

A year ago I wrote an essay for the New York Times titled “The Short Sentence as Gospel Truth.” It argued that authors express their most important ideas or dramatic moments in the shortest sentences. This turned out to be a popular piece, the most emailed of the day. Teachers and editors anointed the short sentence as the solution … Read More
NEWS

Why AP style doesn't use ISIL or ISIS anymore

Just two weeks after the Associated Press explained why it referred to the Islamic militant group laying siege to Iraq as "ISIL" rather than "ISIS," the rebels complicated matters by declaring a new "Islamic caliphate" and changing their name to "the Islamic State." The English translation for the group's former name previously used by the AP was the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. News organizations like The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, referred to it as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Now the question for news organizations is whether to go along with the group's rebranding efforts and potentially grant it undeserved legitimacy, or to keep using an acronym that's familiar to readers but is arguably out-of-date. Read More
NEWS

AP Style should adopt the Oxford comma

It's great to see that Nate Silver's 538 is finally hitting its stride. Stepping aside from the conflicts of politics and sports, the data site has decided to weigh in on a controversy that truly ignites the passion of partisans. Forget Red States versus Blue States, campers. Forget Brazil vs. Argentina in the World Cup. Want to see the … Read More
NEWS

The 'cinematic slow-motion effect' of Laura Hillenbrand’s 'Seabiscuit'

[What we all need leading up to a Triple Crown horse race is an essay about the rhetoric of punctuation. So here it is, adapted from a chapter in my book The Glamour of Grammar. Don’t worry, there is an actual connection to horse racing. I have chosen to analyze a special passage from a special book, Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand. A close reading of her prose will reveal how a champion among writers uses every trick in the book to create special literary effects.] Whenever we concentrate on the rules of grammar and punctuation, we run the risk of veiling the creativity and flexibility available to authors who think of them as tools of meaning and effect. Let’s take as an example a splendid passage from Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book Seabiscuit, a stirring narrative history of one of America’s legendary racehorses. In this scene, Hillenbrand describes the mystical glory of Seabiscuit’s last great stretch run in the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap: Read More
NEWS

AP Stylebook update: A sign of our times

People are freaking out over an update to the AP Stylebook, the equivalent of canon law for journalists. AP Style now tells us that "more than" and "over" are interchangeable. It’s as if Big Brother has just suggested that what was true yesterday, is no longer true today. Not all people are freaking out, of course. But a … Read More
NEWS

Let grammar know who’s boss

So Tuesday is National Grammar Day. The first time I heard of that celebration, I thought that Poynter's Vicki Krueger had said “National Grandma Day.”  I’m not sure it’s a good thing that grammar – especially in New England – sounds something like grandma. I prefer to remember that at one time in the history of the English language the … Read More
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