Seasons and Directions

Winter, spring, summer, and fall (or autumn) and north, south, east, and west should not be capped (unless they start a sentence or are part of a proper name, such as the Spring Fling or South Africa).

Adverbs

An adverb modifies a verb and commonly ends in -ly. When you say, “How did you do that?” the response is an adverb. When you bid your party guests good-bye, you want to say, “Drive carefully” or “Drive safely,” not “Drive careful” or “Drive safe,” because you want to indicate how they should drive.

“Between” vs. “Among”

Use between when you’re talking about two things and among when you’re talking about more than two. For example, “Let’s keep this between you and me,” and “Talk among yourselves.”

“Loose” vs. “Lose”

I’ve heard people say “loose” when they mean “lose.” I’ve seen this in print too. First let’s talk about pronunciation. “Loose” has an “s” sound (loos) and “lose” has a “z” sound (looz). Now let’s talk about the definitions. “Loose” can be an adjective (loose tooth), an adverb (tie it loose, although “loosely” is preferred), […]

“Then” vs. “Than”

Justin Barba mentioned people confusing then and than, which is funny because I’m editing a manuscript right now where the writer used than in every instance of both these words. Here’s a rule of thumb: Than is used most often for comparison (e.g., “My sister is older than I.”) Then is used for almost everything […]

Set off Names with Commas

People’s names (or words used in place of names) should be set off with commas in direct address. Here are some examples: “I told you, Mom, that I have homework.” “Jim, I can’t wait to see you.” “Come here, boy.” “Hey, scumbag, I’m talking to you.”

Possessives with “S” and “Z”

Corry Lee requested instruction on forming possessives with words ending in “s” or “z.” The rule of thumb is if you say the second “s,” you include it (e.g., Chris’s, the Wiz’s). The second part of that rule is if the word ends in an “eez” sound, it doesn’t get the second “s” (e.g., Sophocles’, […]

Quotation Marks with New Paragraphs

If you’re writing dialogue and have a paragraph break in the middle of a quote, the first paragraph gets no closed quotation mark and the next paragraph starts with an open quotation mark.

“Over” vs. “More Than”

“The waste we collect helps power over one million homes.” I saw this on the side of a Waste Management truck. I didn’t realize power needed to jump over so many houses. Note that over is about position, not number (e.g., “I helped the old lady over the fence”). In this case, I think they […]

Began Doing Something

Can you think of a reason, besides interruption of the action, to use “began” before a verb (e.g., “He began striding to the door”) instead of just using the verb by itself (e.g., “He strode to the door”)? If you don’t need it, don’t use it. It just increases your word count with no movement […]

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