Which choice is correct? Check your answers at the end of the quiz.
- (a) Smith referred to her as, “that useless cow.” (b) Smith referred to her as “that useless cow.”
- Eyewitnesses fled the scene in (a) a brown, 2002 Ford (b) a brown 2002 Ford.
- (a) Dr. Allen told her to: do whatever it takes to get the consent signed. (b) Dr. Allen told her to do whatever it takes to get the consent signed.
- Exxon is a (a) publicly traded company (b) publicly-traded company.
- The defendants seek to (a) run out the clock (b) run-out the clock.
Answers: 1. (b) 2. (b) 3. (b) 4. (a) 5. (a)
How did you do?
This quiz is modified from Bryan Garner’s Law Prose lessons. He is a consultant who leads continuing legal education seminars. The answers are correct whether you are a lawyer or a third grader.
If a person has a nickname commonly associated with the given name, don’t use quotation marks around the nickname. For example, just write James (Jim) Cooper. But when the nickname is unexpected, use the quotes: James “Hotshot” Cooper.
Yogi Berra’s given name was Lorenzo Pietro, later anglicized to Lawrence Peter. At some point he acquired the nickname “Yogi,” but before long no one remembered the Lawrence Peter part and he became Yogi without the quotation marks.
Sometimes we write a document in which we use a word in a way that differs from its more usual meaning. If you write that a location is filled with bugs, you need to put that word in quotation marks. Otherwise, people will be rushing to call an exterminator.
However, after the first use of bugs, omit the quotes for that word and for all other forms of it (bugged, bugging, etc.). You’ve already clued your readers in to the fact that you are referring to listening devices. No need to call an exterminator.
Apparently, Steve Coogan has never seen himself as a paragon of good writing, either.
Have you ever heard another person say or write something similar to the following sentence? I myself personally am opposed to the senator’s proposal.
I myself personally find that sentence exceedingly painful. It contains a triple redundancy. Get rid of the clutter. Say what you mean. Get in, get out.
Personal and its relative personally are often redundant. Why say you have close personal friends? If they’re close friends, obviously they are people you know well. When you state, “Personally, I enjoy skiing,” that’s the way you feel. Personally adds nothing but redundant clutter.
- Proofreading involves more than looking for typos. Proofread for spelling errors, grammar and punctuation problems, content, awkward phrasing, redundancies, clichés, parallelism, jargon and slang. If that seems too much to look for on one go-through, proofread more than once, looking for just a few problems (or even one) at a time. Your readers will thank you, and your writing will show you to be a professional.
Are you aware that almost every day you see one or more signs using quotation marks improperly?
“In business since 1979”
“Apple pie like your mom used to make”
“Call us for affordable repairs!”
No one ever said these things. They were made up to call attention to what the advertisers want you to remember.
Legitimate uses of quotation marks are when you are quoting the actual words someone else either said or wrote, or when you use a word knowing that your readers are aware you are being facetious or sarcastic.
For instance, if you write that your Aunt Edna is on a “strict” diet and then you go on to write that she eats strictly high-calorie foods, your readers understand your sarcasm. But in the last sign listed above, putting quotation marks around “free” seems to indicate that the delivery is, in fact, not free. It’s as if the company is poking you in the ribs and saying, “Ha! Not really.”
If you want to call attention to certain words, instead of quotation marks, you can use italics or boldface type. But please do this very sparingly.
© Judi Birnberg
I have written previously about the error of putting apostrophes into words that end in S but are not possessive: My cat’s chase each other through the house at high speed’s. Cats and speeds are merely plurals and do not take apostrophes since no ownership is shown.
Here are three other instances when an apostrophe is not needed:
1. When referring to decades: the 1990s
2. When referring to temperatures: highs in the mid-70s
3. When using abbreviations that are plural: 12 CPAs, two BMWs
Every time you want to use an apostrophe, take a good look and see if it really is in a possessive word or in a contraction. If not, delete it.
Direct address is when you use a person’s name or another word to indicate that person (lady, man, dude, jerk, Mom, Dad, pal, dear, darling, etc.). That direct address should be set off with commas:
Sweetheart, I miss you so much.
I’m telling you, Dad, you need to stop working so hard.
Cut it out, idiot!
Yes, Virgina, there is a Santa Claus.