A question of style

A question of style

Because everyone uses language differently, style guides exist to provide some degree of consistency. They are like rule-books, providing a ‘correct’ approach to punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, disputed spellings and so on. They also cover areas such as...
From basket to casket

From basket to casket

Verbal ambiguities are frequently the cause of laughter, sometimes at inappropriate moments. During the state funeral of the 41st President of the United States, for instance, many onlookers were touched by the loyalty of George Bush’s dog, who stayed in close...
A note on apostrophes

A note on apostrophes

  The much-maligned apostrophe is actually an incredibly useful punctuation mark, allowing writers and editors to distinguish in print between plurals and possessive forms of nouns in sentences that may sound identical but mean very different things: My...
Paying one’s dues

Paying one’s dues

A frequent question concerns the correct use of ‘owing to’ and ‘due to’. Both phrases originate in the world of finance and moneylending; and of course the word ‘due’ still has the sense of ‘money owed’ in expressions such as ‘rent...
The dating game

The dating game

Some of the most confusing aspects of English style have nothing to do with sentences, words, or even letters, but numbers; for instance, the thorny question of when it is better to use digits (‘1…9’),  and when to use their written equivalents...
Time for a trim

Time for a trim

‘Without doubt, the ability to summarize is one of the most critical skills in the editor’s toolbox. Writing can be much too wordy and verbose, sentences too lengthy, and paragraphs — frequently stuffed with subordinate clauses and parentheses — just too...

All stressed out

One of the most important lessons for English speakers is understanding how a shift of emphasis from one word to another can alter the meaning of a single sentence. In the following short story, words emphasized like this carry additional stress when spoken. The twins...

English evolution

English should be a relatively easy language to learn and use. After all, it has no genders (masculine or feminine), most plurals are made by the simple addition of ‘s’, and most verbs have a past tense that ends in ‘-ed’. But of course...