Here are two frequently confused words.
To HOME (in), a verb, means to head for home, like a passenger pigeon, or to focus on something:
“Elliot cut short the chatter at the meeting and homed in on the topic everyone had come to discuss.”
To HONE means to sharpen, either literally or figuratively:
“Karen honed her skills as a designer by finding a mentor in the fashion industry.”
“Robin honed her favorite whittling knife before entering the wood-carving competition.”
The following words often cause problems with subject-verb agreement: EVERYBODY, EVERYONE, EVERYTHING. However, if you look at the end of each word, you’ll see that each one is singular. Therefore, you’ll need a singular verb to go with one of these words if it is your subject. The same rule applies for the ANY— words and the NO— words. (“No one” is always spelled as two words.)
Everyone in the meetings is coming with a laptop.
Anything you’ve heard about his children is likely to be true.
Nobody at the hotel has heard about the robbery on the second floor.
The rule has always been that the pronoun associated with these words needs to be singular as well: “Everyone attending the meeting needs to bring (his, her, his or her) laptop.” All of those choices are either awkward or exclusionary. For that reason, we most often hear “Everyone needs to bring their laptop.” It’s only a matter of time until that becomes standard English. However, an easy fix is to skip that pronoun entirely and just have the people bring “a laptop.” Problem solved.
Here are crazy examples that struck me the other day. Look at these two sets of words:
Adding just one letter at the beginning of the first words entirely changes the expected pronunciation of the second.
Don’t blame me. I don’t make the rules; I just comment on them.
Wait! Please don’t stop reading. I have a couple of good tips for you to help you remember which form is which.
1. They’re=They are. If you can’t substitute “they are,” you want a different form of this homophone.
They’re arriving an hour early to make sure to get good seats at the concert.
2. Their=Possession. It indicates ownership. The word “heir” is contained within this word, so you can remember that an heir will inherit possessions.
The campers retrieved their food bags from the pine tree and cooked their dinner, hoping not to be threatened by bears.
3. There=Location. It is similar in spelling to “where” and “here,” words that also indicate location.
I love visiting New York, but I haven’t lived there for a very long time.
Be sure to proofread your writing to make sure you have the correct form.
Here’s a bit of Latin accepted in everyday English without translation. For the record, a non sequitur means “it does not follow.”
It shouldn’t have to be stated that one thought in your writing should logically follow the preceding idea (but I just stated that). However, we often are struck by words that raise our eyebrows and elicit a “Huh?”
Here’s an example from the New York Times:
“Slim, of medium height and with sharp features, Mr. Smith’s technical skills are combined with strong leadership qualities.”
Surely you are asking yourself what Smith’s technical skills and leadership qualities have to do with his physical description. This is a glaring example of a non sequitur and, as a bonus feature, it is also a misplaced, or dangling, modifier: a grammatical twofer. As the sentences are written, Smith’s technical skills and leadership qualities are slim, of medium height and possess sharp features. Huh?
When you begin a sentence with a description such as the one above, what follows immediately has to be the person or object that possesses those traits. Then your modifier will be undangled.
A friend sent me this snippet that raised her eyebrows: “There was little advanced warning 79 years ago….”
Advanced warning? Was the warning ahead in development, or did it come in advance of something?
It’s common to see errors in which people use —ed for a suffix or else leave it off, as in “ice tea.” Is the tea made of ice or is it iced?
If you’re debating whether to use the —ed form or to leave that d off, ask yourself some logical questions. The answers should be obvious to you and help you decide which form you want.