Monthly Archives: November 2015

A Few More Unfortunate Typos


What would I do without Drummond Moir’s book, Just My Typo? Here are a few more goodies.

From The Parting, by Millicent Hemming:
I am certain of one thing. Whatever may come between us—and wherever he may be on earth—Arthur will always remember that I love ham.

From an anonymous short story:
He was disfigured. As long as I can remember, he has had a car on his face.

From The Price of Love, by Rosemary Jeans:
Ted could not raise the cash necessary to purchase a house, and eventually in desperation he had to burrow.

From Life in Barnsthorpe, by Patricia Cox:
Later that same evening after a vain search all around the village, Mary found the dog dead in the garden. She curried the body indoors.

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Three Times to Use the Colon


Today I’ll tackle when to use colons. (Semicolons and colons are not interchangeable. They serve entirely different functions.)

I recently gave you the three semicolon rules. Colons are completely different. The colon is like the blare of a trumpet, alerting you to what’s coming. It comes after a complete sentence and introduces one of three things:

An example: We needed only one thing: a large piece of wood.

A list: Before we went camping we stocked up on the following:  bread, chocolate, marshmallows and beer.

A quotation: The doctor’s words were encouraging: “You do not need to lose weight and can stop exercising and eat as much pasta as you want.”

Yes, it’s that simple.


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Out of Order?


One of the most common phrases I see and hear is “in order to”:

• In order to vote, you have to be registered by a stated date.
• We will take a poll in order to see who the two most popular candidates are.
• We will book our trip next Tuesday in order to get the best airfare.

In all those sentences, the words “in order” are extraneous; they add no information. They are saying the equivalent of “so that,” but that idea is implied by the word “to” alone. When words don’t do any work, chop them out.

You probably should proofread several times: once for obvious typos and grammatical errors, again for punctuation problems, and one more time to make certain your writing is as clear and concise as possible. If you proofread out loud (barely audibly is fine) and very slowly, you will catch many errors you won’t find when you read silently and at your usual speed. Unless we slow down and speak out, we all tend to see what we think we wrote, not what we actually wrote.

People used to think proofreading backwards was helpful; I do not recommend this technique. It will pick up typos, but since you are not understanding the meaning of your writing, you will miss just about everything else.


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Up, Up and Away!


Are you aware that most “up” phrases clutter (up) your writing? Do you really need to type (up) your report, start (up) the copier, hunt (up) paper clips, fold (up) the newspaper or free (up) your staff?

TIP: When you proofread, look for superfluous words that do no work.


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More punctuation questions (and answers)


This is my 500th post since I started my blog exactly three years ago. I wondered back then how long I could find good topics, but the Goddess of Language seems to be presenting me with endless subjects. The Goddess, along with your suggestions, has been generous. Please keep them coming!

A very smart, loyal reader wrote to me wanting to know about the following situations. He wants to know when to use

Semicolons vs. periods
Semicolons vs. colons
Semicolons vs. parentheses
Semicolons vs. dashes
Commas vs. semicolons

Obviously, this is too much for one post. Let me take a few small pieces of it and get to the rest in the following weeks.

Commas. A week ago I gave you four comma rules. Stick with those and you will be prepared for just about any situation you will encounter.

Semicolons vs. periods and vs. commas. You know to put a period at the end of a declarative sentence.

(1) Use a semicolon at the end of a complete sentence that is closely related to the sentence that follows it: That dishwasher is much too expensive; besides, the one we have still works well. You could use a period between those two sentences. But a semicolon works as well and does link the two ideas more closely than a period would.

(2) Use a semicolon at the end of a complete sentence and before introductory words such as However, Therefore, Furthermore, and Besides. See the previous example sentence about the dishwasher. Those introductory words will be followed by commas.

(3) If you have a complicated list, use semicolons between the items instead of commas: The diplomat was sent to Lima, Peru; Rome, Italy; Osaka, Japan; and Rio de Janiero, Brazil. You can see how confusing that list would be if you used commas instead of semicolons between each country and city.

That’s enough for today. We’ll go over the rest next week.

Questions? As always, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to try to help.

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Life and Death

Some interesting goofs found in Drummond Moir’s book Just My Typo:

The man blew out his brains after bidding his wife goodbye with a shotgun. (Connecticut newspaper)

Passengers must stay with their luggage at all times or they will be taken away and destroyed. (Sign at Paddington Station, London)

George had charge of the entertainment during the past year. His birth-provoking antics were always the life of the party and he will be greatly missed. (Willard Times, Ohio)

Police in Hawick yesterday called off a search for a 20-year-old man who is believed to have frowned. (The Scotsman)

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Four Comma Rules


Some grammar and punctuation books may list 50 comma rules. Here are the four comma rules that will serve you in just about any situation.

1. A comma separates items in a series of three or more:

I went to the store and bought anchovies, feta cheese(,) and cereal.

2. A comma separates independent clauses (complete sentences) when they are joined by a conjunction such as and, but, or, nor, for or yet:

I wanted to go to the party, but I wasn’t invited.

3. A comma is used after an introductory dependent clause such as a prepositional phrase:

During our meeting yesterday, John left the room to meet with a client.

4. A comma sets off any non-essential information:

Our annual retreat, held every January, will be in Aspen this year.

Insert commas where necessary. Which comma rule applies?

1. Her internship is ending so she’s starting grad school in August.

2. Running through the hall he tripped over a plant stand.

3. The new boss in a departure from tradition gave all employees his home phone number.

4. She is active in the Charity Mentoring and Birthday Committees.

5. Bill Gates one of the world’s richest people is very charitable.

6. I would organize the meeting but I am too busy to take on another obligation.

7. Where are you going for your vacation Carlos?

8. Brian is taking the Bar Exam next week but he hasn’t had a job offer yet.

9. California’s Bar Exam perhaps the most difficult in the nation has a pass rate of only 30%.

10. His evaluations which are among the best in his department still did not result in a promotion or a raise.

Copyright  2007 Judith R. Birnberg/Write It Right All rights reserved.

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A Few More Typos to Get You to the Weekend



From Just My Typo, compiled by Drummond Moir:

It is proposed to use this donation to purchase new wenches for our park as the present old ones are in a very dilapidated state.
(From the Carrolton Ohio Chronicle)

The Chicago investors put the land up for sale for $22 million in 2008, but got no takers. The Trust for Public Land made a deal with the group to buy it for close to $12, if it could come up with the money by this April.
(New York Times)

All work cheaply and nearly done.
(Perthshire Advertiser)

Save regularly in your bank. You’ll never reget it.

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Flounder vs. Founder


Given the endless political campaign and how often I hear and see these two words misused, I thought it was time to reprise them. Here for your consideration are founder and flounder. Both are used here as verbs.

FOUNDER means to sink. For instance, if a candidate starts out with seemingly enormous support and then makes a mistake, that support may evaporate. He or she may go from 83% popularity to 27% popularity. You would say the candidate’s campaign founders.

FLOUNDER means to act confused and struggle mentally. Think of a flounder flopping around on the deck of a boat, flopping from side to side. That behavior suggests a candidate floundering, not answering questions clearly and contradicting previous positions.

OK, let the endless presidential campaign continue. Only one year to go.

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