Grammar

Is it E-mail or Email?

Everywhere I turn I see "email" (or is it "e-mail"?) punctuated differently. Can you tell me which is correct? —Kate T. WD online guru Brian A. Klems says that punctuating "e-mail" with or without a hyphen is ...

Are Serial Commas Necessary?

Q: When writing a sentence that contains a series of something (e.g., a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker), do I need a comma before the “and” connecting the final two elements? I’ve seen it with and without. Please help. —Anonymous A: The reason you’ve seen it both ways is...

Plethora Doesn’t Mean “A Lot”

Q: Can you use “plethora” to mean “a lot,” as in, I own a plethora of baseball hats? A: The misuse of “plethora” is a pet peeve of mine. The word “plethora” doesn’t mean “a lot,” it means “too many or an overabundance.” In the example, Many voters feel that there...

Is "None" Singular or Plural?

Q: The word “none” should always be singular, right? —Anonymous A: This is a major misconception. “None” can be a singular pronoun if it’s referring to “not one” or “no part,” but it also can be plural when referring to “not any.” None of the apple was eaten. Apple is a...

Isle vs. Aisle

Q: It drives me crazy when my friends mistake “isle” for “aisle.” Can you set the record straight so I prove to them once and for all there is a difference? —Elizabeth W. A: It’s true that these two words sound alike, but you’re right—they have completely different meanings. Here’s an...

More Than vs. Over: Which is Correct?

Q: I have an editor that’s always changing “over” to “more than” in my articles. For example, if I write “The baseball player received an endorsement deal for over $10 million,” she changes it to “more than $10 million.” I’ve always thought both were acceptable. Am I wrong? –Anonymous A: Throughout...

I Could Care Less or I Couldn't Care Less?

Q: Every time I say, “I could care less,” my husband stops me and says, “It’s ‘I couldn’t care less.'” But everyone I know says it the same way I do. Which is correct?—Anonymous A: For years, my grandma beat “I couldn’t care less” into my head just as often as...

Is it "Can I" or "May I"?

Q: I still occasionally have to stop and think about the “can” and “may” conundrum. Could you explain the differences once and for all?  —Marcus W. A: This question takes me back to my elementary school days, where my fourth-grade teacher wouldn’t let me be excused to use the restroom unless...

Question Mark Placement in Dialogue

Q: When writing dialog where one character poses a question to another, where do you place the question mark? Does it go inside the quote mark or at the end of the entire sentence? –Tamara T. A: The question mark should always appear at the end of the question—whether that’s the...

May vs. Might

Q: “I may go to the store.” “I might go to the store.” Is there a difference between these two sentences? I’ve always been confused as to when to use “may” and when to use “might”? —Joe A. A: Both “may” and “might” have the same overall meaning, yes, but both...

Can You "Graduate College"? (Grammar Lesson)

Q: I love the English language and hope to master it some day, but I need help with the word “graduate.” I hear people say (and see them write) “I graduated high school.” This doesn’t sound right to me. Would it be more appropriate to say “I graduated from high school”?–Brent...

How to Handle Animal Pronouns: He, She or It?

Q: When I write stories that include horses, is it grammatically correct for me to say “he” or “she” when I write about a horse? Also when referring to a horse in context, can I write “who” and “whom”; e.g., “Whom shall I ride today?” —Hans C. A: It’s not often...

Reign vs. Rein

Q: I’ve seen many top publications (I won’t name names) using the words “reigns” and “reins” as if they are the same word. I always thought they had different meanings. Can you please clarify this?  —Sherry C. A: These two words trip up a lot of writers who tend to use...

Can You Capitalize Nouns that Aren't Proper?

Q: Is it acceptable to capitalize key words in a spiritual book, i.e., Source, Soul, Spirit, Consciousness and Oneness when sprinkled throughout the manuscript? –Mary C. A: Yes, it’s OK to capitalize those terms as long as you do it consistently throughout your manuscript. If it’s an issue, your editor will...

Is "Ahold" a Word?

Q: I see people use “ahold” and “a hold,” but I’ve been told that “ahold” isn’t a word.  Can you clear this up for me once and for all? –Nina J. A: Unlike “alot” which isn’t a word, “ahold” is a word recognized by Merriam-Webster, Garner’s Modern American Usage and most...

How Do You Style a Character's Thoughts in Writing?

Q: Writing from the third person, what are the acceptable ways to indicate a character’s thoughts? I’m not excited about italics. Can thoughts be enclosed in quotes or can parentheses work? —Frank A. A: While you’re not excited about italics (and truth be told, I don’t exactly break out the sparklers,...

Is "Alot" a Word?

Q: Why are so many people using “alot” instead of “a lot”? There’s no such word as “alot,” right? I can’t find any source that says it’s an acceptable word, yet it’s in constant use. Can you help me? —Lynn B. A: You are correct: “alot” is not a legitimate word...

Eminent vs. Imminent

Q: I’ve seen a word spelled two ways and was wondering which way is correct: “eminent” or “imminent”?—Phillip M. A: Actually, both are correct spellings because both are words in the English language. But they aren’t synonymous with each other and, in fact, have completely unrelated meanings. “Eminent” is used to...

Leave Alone vs. Let Alone

Q: Can you differentiate let and leave (as in, “Let me alone” and “Leave me alone”)? I get confused as to when each should be used. –Jan I.       A: There is a pretty simple difference between let and leave when used in this context, and it’s quite easy to explain. “Leave...

Pronoun Problems: "He/She," "He or She," or Just Plain "He"?

Q: Is there a special rule regarding which pronoun to use when talking about a non-specific gender (“he/she,” “he or she,” “he”) or is it completely the writer’s choice? —Jarrett Z. A: For years, the masculine pronouns (he, his, him) graced most literary work when referring to a non-specific gender. It...

Dashes vs. Parentheses

Q: My friend’s professor says that using dashes to set off something to be emphasized is no longer appropriate. Instead, you should use parentheses to set off words. Is this true? —Mike D. A: Dashes and parentheses play similar roles in sentences, but it’s actually the latter that’s unfashionable—dashes are all...