Pronunciation Guides

A reader, wondering about the pronunciation of caricature, asks if I would consider including the phonetic pronunciation of words I discuss. Many years ago, when I first began writing for DWT, I provided phonetic transcriptions and talked rather a lot about pronunciation. Two considerations led to my dropping the transcriptions and treading carefully on matters …Read more

The Many Uses of “Set”

The OED has nine entries for the ubiquitous word set: an acronym, two nouns, two adjectives, two verbs, an obsolete conjunction, and the combining form that appears in such words as setback. Considering how many ways the word is used, it’s surprising that set isn’t misused more often. Until recently, I’d been aware of only …Read more

When S Says Z and F says V

Browsing the comments attached to a previous post, I came across this lament about two changes in pronunciation that seem to be catching on with younger speakers: I can’t keep track of how many words are being pronounced differently than when I was taught them. To me, the first “s” in “houses” has a “z” …Read more

AP Quiz Top Two Anathemas

On March 4 this year, National Grammar Day, the AP Stylebook editors tweeted a question for their readers: What grammar rule do you find yourself getting wrong no matter how many times you look it up? Tell us your grammar kryptonite. The feed I saw had 72 Quote Tweets. If “Quote Tweets” means “responses,” then …Read more

The Preposition “Amid”

This post was prompted by a headline in the Washington Post: US deports former Nazi guard whose wartime role was noted on card found amid sunken ship The phrase “amid sunken ship” struck me as peculiar usage—not because an article was missing— it is a headline, after all—but because I couldn’t understand why the headline-writer …Read more

Is ’til a Contraction of Until?

A curious request for a post has come across my desk: Please discuss the misuse of “till” for the contraction “’til”. The best place to begin is with the term contraction. As applied to speech, a contraction is the contracting or shortening of a word or a syllable by omitting or combining some elements. For …Read more

3 More Types of Usage Errors

In each of the sentences below, a word has been misused or is ambiguous, affecting the clarity of the statement. Each example is followed by a discussion explaining the problem and a solution to it. 1. His follow-up comment only further inflamed their passions about his perceived sleight against the higher art. The error in …Read more

5 Assorted Usage Errors

Using the right word for the job, or considering whether a word is needed at all, distinguishes careful writing from careless writing. Discussion and revision of the following sentences illustrate various ways in which writing can be improved by word-by-word attention to detail. 1. Here’s a list of several webinars that we have hosted that …Read more

5 Cases of Erroneous Usage

Writers who have misheard words and expressions or remember them imperfectly are prone to misrepresenting them in their prose. The following sentences include examples of such errors, followed by discussion and revision. 1. Trustees—jail inmates selected for jobs like food preparation and garbage collection—were sneaking drugs in on food trays. A trustee is a person …Read more

3 Types of Usage Errors

The term usage in the context of language refers to the employment of the proper word or phrase to convey an idea. Writers often produce usage errors in one of several ways. They misuse a word with a meaning similar to that of a more appropriate term, they employ the wrong homophone—a word that sounds …Read more

Preposition Review #1: Chance of vs. Chance for

The noun chance comes from Latin cadentia: falling. Chance is how events “fall out.” The word chance has several meanings in English. This post is concerned with chance followed by the prepositions of and for: chance noun: opportunity chance noun: possibility or probability When the meaning of chance is opportunity, the preposition that follows is …Read more

Pronoun Review #4: Joint Possession

一位读者写道:我经常听到人们说句子like, “His and I’s property.” “Jimmy and I’s vacation.” I have tried to explain that I’s is not an acceptable genitive pronoun, but I have heard it from many different sources here in Utah. Could you write something about this in your posts? Because the first …Read more