Been to "Oddities and Entities" already and just navigating your
way around? Then select the following and head straight to the
complete menu of other Grammar Grabbers Pages . . .
Go to Links.
. . . An entity .
. . possibly an oddity.
Definitely an oddity . . .
Actually, this Page consists of variations of "Helpful Hints". "OK, Bill, so why didn't you put this stuff in the Helpful Hints
Page?" Well, for one thing, most of these points justify lengthier explanations. (If you're writing for a Web site, the longer you make each Page, the longer it takes to load on screen.) In addition, asking readers to scroll through endless text to reach the end of a single Page is not a good idea. Internet readers are particularly notorious for their lack of patience. For a few more ideas, visit my Web Design Tips Page by selecting the appropriate link at the end of this document. (OK, Beaker, you can stop flicking the light switch on and off ... and stop whining, will you!)
Dr. Ment's Modem
This section is particularly for people who prepare on-line
manuals or documents, but some suggestions also apply to those who
send e-mail or otherwise write for screen readers. It consists of
snippets of wisdom modem-transmitted to Grammar Grabbers by
world-renowned computer guru Ulysses Ment (alias "Doc" U. Ment):
- keep it as short as possible . . . the small screen is very
unforgiving of lengthy elaborations . . . remember, you'll have to
"flip" more PC "pages" if you write as verbosely as I speak to people
- use "clipped" English to save space . . .instead of
"Complete form 865 in its entirety with the exception of fields
C and D", write "Complete form 865. Leave fields C and D
- keep upper-case text to a minimum and only where it serves a specific purpose, especially if you're using boldface or on-line highlighting . . . capital letters use more
space, are difficult to read and draw attention away from everything else . . . IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT THAT EVERYONE FOLLOWS THIS ADVICE AND NOT USE CAPS, ON AND ON AND ON WITHOUT ANY END IN SIGHT AND REPEATING THEMSELVES AND WRITING THE SAME THING IN MORE THAN ONE WAY. OK?
- computer technology can be intimidating for some people . . .
don't make it worse by trying to impress them with your knowledge
of the latest terminology . . . don't get fancy (say "select
an option" instead of "input an option choice",
"printer" instead of
- if a block of information must continue to another screen,
break text at the end of a paragraph. Don't hold a reader's train
of thought in limbo or risk a critical misreading because a prefix
and the word to which it is hyphenated appear on different
- as Elvis would say, "don't be cruel" . . . phrases like
"invalid value entered" attach blame (and are vague). Words like
"illegal" or "fatal" give some people that glazed-eye
look or scare them into making more mistakes
- don't use alphanumeric codes by themselves for error and other
messages; say what the problem is. If you must use codes, put them
in brackets after an understandable phrase
- if you're working in hypertext, keep in mind you still have to
develop and organize text and topics in a logical fashion; without
a manageable trail, many users will get lost in a screen maze of
poorly organized topics and information
- don't give your program messages a personality, e.g., "Hey,
pal, you made a mistake" . . . it may give the impression the
system can think like a human
- be consistent in your choice of terms . . . don't interchange
words like "exit", "log
off" or "quit" merely for the sake of variety
- avoid "as shown above (below)"; use "preceding"
or "following" or refer to specific heading/caption. On a
small screen, what you're referring to could be on the previous
Say Goodbye To "bi-"
Question: if you get paid twice a month, are you paid bi-monthly
or bi-weekly (or does it matter these days, as long as you're
getting paid?). Bi-weekly . . . bi-monthly . . . they
don't mean the same thing to everybody. When you get to "years",
bi- pops up at least three times:
bi-annual, biennial and bicentennial.
Fowler's Modern English Usage describes this confusion as
"desperate circumstances" and goes as far as to say "there is no
reason why all bi- hybrids . . . should not be allowed to
So what are we supposed to do? Use semi-, twice a and
every second . . . " instead. You could use
fortnightly (short for fourteen-nightly) for every two
weeks, but you would not be understood by most people in North
America. You would, however, be "veddy" British.
Incidentally, biennial and bicentennial are the
least confusing of the bi- hybrids (which probably accounts
for the shedding of their hyphens). The first means "every two
years" and the latter occurs every 200 years.
Can I Quote You on That?
Here's a question of vital importance: just where do you
put the quotation marks when you're reporting what someone said?
This is what I was taught (and I still have my notes carved on
stone tablets to prove it): if you're quoting a complete sentence,
put the marks outside the period; if you're only using a few words
or a phrase, put them inside the period. ("Bill Cutler is one of
the finest writer-editors on the continent." versus Bill
Cutler is described as "one of the finest writer-editors on the
continent". The styles crediting the speaker are: "I must admit,"
he stated, "this Cutler guy is the person to talk to about
quotation marks." (one sentence) and "This Cutler guy
sounds very conceited," he said. "He must be joking." (two
Adverbs . . . They're Close to the Action
Is it worth knowing about adverbs? As Curly of The Three
Stooges would say: "Soytainly".
The majority of adverbs are adjectives with an ly or
ily slapped on the end, sometimes with a slight spelling
change to the adjective. (There are other, sneaky adverbs like
now, quite and also). Basically, you use an adverb
to define an action and an adjective to describe a thing or
condition, e.g., "talk clearly into the telephone" versus
"it's a clear night". Oh, by the way, why did I put "an" in front
of the ly? ("Aren't you supposed to use "a" when it
precedes a consonant like 'l'?") Not always If the following word begins with a letter
that sounds like a vowel, use "an". In this case it sounds
like "an 'el-why' ".
"That's real good of you" is grammatically incorrect.
Good does not require the adjective real. If you're
actually saying "that really is good of you" (to add
emphasis), the correctness of the adverb form becomes apparent.
Some adverbs are used both with and without ly (late, sure,
near, etc.), while others must use the adjective form, e.g.,
first, fast and far.
Using adverbs and adjectives correctly is more than a nicety of
grammar; it can change the meaning of a phrase. Example: "hard hit
by the news" versus hardly (meaning "scarcely") hit by the
Use an adjective in place of an adverb when the verb involves
one of the senses (smell sweet, looks happy, ).
Don't Lapse Into a Comma
Don't use a comma if it interrupts the flow of a thought ("she
believed, in her theory" is wrong). You shouldn't use a comma
before and, unless a separate thought or possible confusion
is involved ("go to the grocery store for milk, break and coffee,
and pick up the dry cleaning" and "the three law firms are
Jones, Jones and Jones, Taylor, Taylor and Taylor, and Anderson,
Anderson and Anderson", to avoid confusion between the Taylors and
Semi-colons . . . Designer Punctuation?
Semi-colons . . . how exciting. When they show up most often as
stops, they work like periods, only between closely related
thoughts. (We'll talk about exceptions later; there are almost
When a comma just doesn't cut it (see previous parenthesis), use
a semi-colon to keep separate but related thoughts from running
together. Also, use it when words like however and
therefore separate complete thoughts, e.g., "I like coffee;
however, it keeps me awake at night."
The exceptions? A semi-colon is not a full stop when it's used
in a word grouping that otherwise would be a jumble of commas ("go
to the mall and buy shirts, ties and socks from the men's shop;
CDs, tapes and videos from the record store; and milk, bread and
coffee from the supermarket"). It's also not a full stop when
followed by and or or, and when it separates items in
a list of many elements, e.g., names with titles and departments or
Don't use semi-colons to introduce a list; use a colon for that
("the advantages are:" not "the advantages are;").
Select one of these topics and fly to the appropriate
"Misused Words and Phrases"
"Noooo! Don't Use THAT Word!"
"Uncategoriza ... Bill?"
Viewing Grammar Grabbers Pages in sequence?
These are the ones you likely have not seen yet:
Page Design Tips"
"Professional Writing / Editing Services"
To go back to the top of the Page, select image . . .