Archive for the ‘word usage’ Category

CAPITOL or CAPITAL? Easy tip for choosing correctly.

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Driving back up I-65 from beautiful Gulf Shores on Monday, I spotted a billboard that read simply, "85 Years of Bringing Capital to the Capitol." We passed by so quickly I didn't see whose ad it was, but it makes a great usage point. CAPITAL is money poured into an investment. CAPITOL is the building where a legislature meets–NOT the city that is the seat of government. (A spell checker will not catch it if you confuse these two.)

Here is an easy way to remember the difference and never confuse these two words again:

capitol buildingCAPITOL (with an O) has only one meaning: the building (state or national) where a legislature meets.

Everything else is CAPITAL (with an A):

  • money poured into an investment
  • an upper case letter (A or B as opposed to a or b)
  • calling for the death penalty (capital crime, capital punishment)
  • a town or city that is the official location of government for a state or a nation
  • excellent or first-rate, usually British (a capital fellow, a capital good time)

If you simply remember that CAPITOL has only one   meaning, you will never confuse these two again! 


NOTE: The next post will offer an easy tip for choosing PRINCIPLE or PRINCIPAL correctly.

Even cartoonists need to proofread.

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

From time to time, one of my readers (who goes by the nickname "Bob the Bookworm") spots and shares useful Grammar Glitches. This week he focused on the funnies and sent me two glitches from "Blondie."

Here is the first one:

After noticing that his neighbor is selling a house bought just six months earlier, Dagwood says to Blondie, "Just once, I'd like to be the first one to get new information about the economy on this block!"

Whoops! Dagwood doesn't want information about the economy on HIS block. He wants to be the first on his block to get information about the economy in general. It should read this way:

"Just once I'd like to be the first one on this block to get new information about the economy!"


Here is the second one:

Dagwood is sitting at the lunch counter and tells his favorite cook about a newspaper article he is reading. "Scientists say they'll be able to replicate a synthetic meat in the laboratory."

Whoops! REPLICATE means to copy or make a duplicate of. SYNTHETIC refers to an artificial version of something natural, like meat. The scientists are not going to copy the synthetic meat. They are going to create a synthetic version of real meat. The sentence should read this way:

"Scientists say they'll be able to CREATE a synthetic meat in the laboratory."


Bob the BookwormThanks, Bob!  Keep up the good work!



Three errors in one sentence. Too many?

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

crack the whipAs newspapers evolve in these fast-changing times, it appears to me that they are placing less and less emphasis on careful copyediting. Frequent errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage not only detract from the quality of the journalism, they also distract the reader. Too often lately, I read a sentence and then ask myself, "What was that? What is this reporter trying to say?"

Apparently, I am not alone in my frustration with this. My friend Mark, an excellent copyeditor in New York, sent me an email string recently that contained the following dialogue, which occurred after his friend Stephen came across the following sentence in a New York Times article:

More than 2200 flights for Friday had been cancelled, according to the Web site FlightAware, the majority originiting or departing from the areas affected by the storm.

Stephen sent this email to the Executive Editor of The New York Times:

Doesn't the copy desk edit copy anymore? The number 2,200 requires a comma; the American spelling of "canceled" has only one l; and "originiting" requires no comment.

The Executive Editor replied:

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We all make errors, but you're absolutely right–three in one sentence is far too many. We'll get this fixed soon.

Stephen then emailed Mark:

In my opinion, three errors in the entire newspaper is far too many.

Mark responded with this:

Well dun, Steven. (Just kidding.) At least he didn't reply, "Your absolutely write…" On "cancelled," it is acceptable, not an outright error, but not the spelling preferred by Merriam-Webster. You and I as copyeditors would strike that second ell.

Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip.

 I wonder what Mark and Stephen would think about a recent article (not an isolated example) in The Birmingham News that contained no fewer than SEVEN errors–in one article! In my next post, I will share those errors and their corrections.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from any readers who have also noticed an increase in copy errors in local newspapers. Examples are always welcome, along with your comments, at Grammar Glitch Central. Mark asked me to encourage you to write to the editor(s) of your newspaper if you see examples of particularly careless writing or editing. He also said (and I agree) that it's good to write in and compliment the writers and editors when you see especially well-written pieces.

If your paper does not make it easy for readers to give feedback (say, with an email address at the end of an article or on the editorial page), contact the paper and ask them to open up for reader comments.

Like Mark, I would like to say, "Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip." crack the whip

Typos Tarnish a Good Article

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

We all create typos and grammar errors when writing. Sometimes a writer creates them with a slip of the finger on the keyboard. Other times they occur when the author decides to rewrite an awkward sentence and doesn't follow through with all of the necessary changes. And sometimes, the writer just plain does not know the correct usage. Most of the time, a good writer can catch and correct errors simply by taking time to proofread before hitting the Send button.

David Holloway writes energetic food articles for the new version of The Birmingham News. Although his information is always interesting and useful, his articles often contain careless typos and other mistakes that distract the reader. Here are some examples from one article that appeared during the holiday season:

We are not immune to a crackling fire, even though for many of that means  turning on the air conditioner. 

Whoops #1: The word US is missing from the sentence. It should read this way:

We are not immune to a crackling fire, even though for many of us that means  turning on the air conditioner. 


The second error involves typing one word when he meant to type another (and not going back to notice):

So in the coming weeks we will endeavor to offer you a guide to entertaining, only our party with  have a Southern accent. 

Whoops #2: The word WITH should be the word WILL:

So in the coming weeks we will endeavor to offer you a guide to entertaining, only our party will have a Southern accent.


The third error again involves the wrong word choice, but I am not sure exactly which correct word should replace it–GOER or HOST. See what you think:

…your working boy and professional party goes  has a few ideas about how not to overdo it. 


It is easy to type AND when you mean AN, and a spell checker doesn't know the difference, but a good writer proofreads and catches such things:

…you just aren't sure if you can eat and entire steamship round of beef.


Whoops #4–AND is a conjunction. What David wants here is the article AN in front of the noun phrase ENTIRE STEAMSHIP ROUND. It should read:

…you just aren't sure if you can eat an entire steamship round of beef.


The final error in this otherwise interesting article is a full-blown grammar glitch. If you read this blog often, you know it is one I point out frequently–subject/verb agreement. There is also a verb choice error:

And   if  you  attempt it you will only antagonize your host or hostess who aren't amused by your legendary eating skills.


 Whoops #5 and Whoops #6: It would be best to antagonize only one person–either the HOST or the HOSTESS, rather than both. Using the verb AREN'T (plural) doesn't work with the OR reference. Also, using the word WILL after IF suggests a possible outcome in the future, so the verb AREN'T does not work. The sentence should read this way:

And if you attempt it, you will only antagonize your host or hostess who will not be amused by your legendary eating skills.







AP headline grammar does not “add” up.

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Here is a headline that appeared in an online list of headlines this week.  It also appeared this way at the top of the actual story:


Whoops! The word AD is short for advertisement. It is a noun, not a verb, and cannot refer to Ashland putting an ADDITIONAL person on its board.  The word needed here is the verb ADD, as in "Her company plans to ADD ten additional employees next month."

This Associated Press headline should read as follows:


Ashland adds former Avon exec Janice Teal to board

To count or not to count? That is the issue with AMOUNT and NUMBER.

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

First, today is 9/11, a calendar date that will strike us all for the rest of our lives. Let us remember the thousands of citizens who were going about their lives that morning when evil touched them in New York and Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Let us remember, too, the hundreds of first responders who rushed to help, so many also losing their lives or their health in the effort. I wish I could say that that evil no longer lurks in our world, but it does, and we are still seeking effective and viable ways to deal with it.

There were flags everywhere that September–in front yards, on car fenders and bumpers, on lapels, and in shop windows. We wanted to connect with each other in our love of country as well as our shock and sorrow. Early this morning, my husband set our flag in its holder on the garage–our simple way of saying to those who pass by that we remember and hope for our country. Later in the morning, I found an email from our homeowners' association, asking everyone to fly a flag on this day, and many have.  I hope many of my American readers will as well.

My Grammar Glitch for today comes from a sub headline to an article in last Saturday's newspaper that dealt with the distribution of 9/11 money to try to compensate, at least monetarily, for the losses so many suffered. Since the article appeared, a court has ruled that first responders who develop any of 58 types of cancer will be covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. A step in the right direction.

Here is the headline:

9/11 money distributor in struggle: Amount of eligible people not yet known


As I have pointed out before, our English language recognizes a distinction between "lump sum" items like money, laundry, grass, or population and items that can be counted like nickels or dimes, shirts or towels, blades of zoysia, and people. 

You cannot count MONEY because MONEY is a lump sum concept, as in "The  amount of  money (not nickels, dimes, and dollars) for the new hospital was raised in less than three months."

You can, however, count PEOPLE, as in "The number of people involved has not yet been announced."

The simple rule is that AMOUNT should be used for lump sum items and NUMBER should be used for items that can be counted. The headline should have read:

9/11 money distributor in struggle: Number of eligible people not yet known

Maybe? Or may be? That is the question.

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Spam subject lines often contain grammar errors, and recognizing that can be a good way to spot bogus emails that should be trashed. Here is a good example that appeared in my Inbox last week:


Remove errors that maybe harming your PC

 The single word MAYBE is an adverb that means the same thing as PERHAPS. It would be used in a sentence like this: MAYBE this is an email I should not open.


What this Spam creator should have used is the two verbs MAY and BE, which are separate words. His subject line should have read:


Remove errors that may be harming your PC


  Apparently I am not the only person who recognizes this problem. Please go to to see a long list of examples, using MAYBE and MAY BE correctly.  I don't know who put this together, but I must say: GOOD JOB!  





Correct usage DOES make a difference.

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Some writers I know don't bother much about correct word choice, but taking the time to check and choose the correct word is an important part of the proofreading process. A piece of writing littered with Usage Glitches leaves a bad impression with the reader.  Here is an example from this week's local newspaper:

Vicki Covington's novel about Freedom Writers in Birmingham, "The Last Hotel for Women," has been adapted for the stage by her brother and Birmingham Festival Theater co-founder, Randy Marsh.

Whoops! Vicki Covington's novel is about FREEDOM RIDERS in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Era, not Freedom Writers, whatever those are.

Here are a couple more Usage Glitches I came across this week while editing:

 1. a reference to the steal toe of a work boot (STEEL is the metal; STEAL refers to robbery or theft.)

2. description of a leader as a confidant person (CONFIDANT is the person who keeps your secrets; a leader should be CONFIDENT–sure of self and ideas. 

We all create Usage Glitches, even when we know better.  The trick is to spot them, check them, and correct them after the writing is finished.


Lay what on the couch? PLUS, an agreement error.

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Birmingham News reporter Kent Faulk wrote an interesting article recently about men scheduling vasectomies this Friday.  They must take it easy for a few days after the procedure, so watching the Masters at Augusta this weekend is the perfect way to do so.

Unfortunately, Faulk forgot the difference between LIE and LAY when he wrote the article.  Here are two sentences from the same paragraph:

After the procedure Dr. DeGuenther said he asks the man to go home and lay flat on his back the rest of the day and only get up to go to the bathroom or dinner table.

That first night is the only time they are confined to laying on the couch or the bed, but they still must only have light activity for the next two days after the first day.

Whoops! The word LAY (LAY, LAID, LAID) is used to describe the action of putting or placing something, as in LAYING an egg or LAYING sod for a new lawn. LAY takes an object. The word LIE (LIE, LAY, LAIN)  is used to describe the act of reclining. It does not take an object.  I would also move the word ONLY so that it describes the LIGHT ACTIVITY rather than coming between MUST and HAVE. These two sentences should read as follows:

After the procedure Dr. DeGuenther said he asks the man to go home and lie flat on his back the rest of the day and only get up to go to the bathroom or dinner table.

That first night is the only time they are confined to lying on the couch or the bed, but they still must have only light activity for the next two days after the first day.

Later in the same article, Faulk used this sentence:

Smith, who works for an insurance company that sell annuities to stock brokers, said he and his wife recently had their third child.

Whoops again! The verb SELL (plural) should agree with COMPANY (singular). The sentence should read this way:

Smith, who works for an insurance company that sells annuities to stock brokers, said he and his wife recently had their third child.


 :)A NOTE OF WELCOME to those attending my "Essentials of Business Writing" workshops in Montgomery this week. You have asked great questions and offered many good examples of business writing issues. I hope you will visit Grammar Glitch Central often and continue to share your comments and questions.

Abracadabra! Shooting suspect transforms self into the jail!

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I have one or two posts on Grammar Glitch Central that correct the use of INTO in connection with perpetrators turning themselves into police officers.  Today's suspect did something even more unusual.  He turned himself into the jail!  Consider this sentence from The Birmingham News:

(The man) turned himself into the jail, sheriff's officials said Sunday.

 As I have pointed out before, there is a difference in usage between INTO and IN TO. You can say that you walked INTO the drugstore or you fell INTO a ditch or you transformed yourself INTO a happy person.  In each case, you are creating a prepositional phrase that describes where or what (INTO the drugstore, INTO a ditch, INTO a happy person).

TURN IN, on the other hand, is a verb plus an adverb.  Used together, TURN IN means to give over to someone or something else, as in "The man turned himself IN TO the police." or "Alice WILL TURN IN her keys before she leaves the building."

I am certain that the man arrested in the shooting death at a Forestdale convenience store recently did NOT become the Jefferson County Jail! He simply went there to TURN HIMSELF IN.  This sentence would be much clearer and simpler with this wording:

 (The man) turned himself in at the jail, sheriff's officials said Sunday.