By Judy Vorfeld
Are you a grammar expert?
The word “expert” makes me nervous. Pedestals can be very unstable. I know where to find most answers to grammar and style problems and I love — and have a natural affinity for — language. I’m skilled at editing everyday American English from a number of perspectives because I’ve had experience in business, community service, music, drama, art, writing, photography, and education.
I’ve worked in banking, construction, insurance, a church office, business travel, shipping, and fleet management. And I’m active in human and social services in my community as a volunteer.
My strongest gifts lie in my ability to spot creativity, talent, and potential in others…in analyzing the works, writing, and ideas of others…and in troubleshooting the problems and challenges other people and businesses face.
Because of my love of words and the need to express myself I began taking writing lessons in the 1980s. I used everything I learned to be better — in terms of writing — at every job I had.
In the years following my writing lessons, I had about 15 articles published, mostly nonfiction. But I learned that I liked editing even more than writing.
Once I started my own business, everything came together. I had to draw out people in order to write good resumes. Same for brochures and press releases, etc. I got more and more involved in editing as time went by. I apparently have the ability to get a good sense of my clients. I take their words and edit and organize them into what it is that they really want to say.
I said all that to say this: I may not have a degree in English, but I have the ear and the experience to tell when language sounds “right” and when it doesn’t. I can spot a dangling participle as well as the next person. But my real skill is in editing business documents, manuscripts, academic papers, and website text. I look at text as the writer’s audience would, then try to make sure it speaks to the readers in the clearest possible way.
When writing a letter, what form do I use to address a woman?
When writing to a married woman, follow her preference for first and last names if you know it. She may prefer to be addressed by her original name (Ms. Joan L. Conroy). If you do know that she is using her husband’s last name, continue to use her own first name and middle initial (Mrs. Joan L. Noonan).
The form that uses her husband’s first name and middle initial as well (Mrs. James W. Noonan) is acceptable only for social purposes. It should never be used when addressing a business letter to a married woman, and it should not be used when a married woman becomes a widow unless she indicates that this is her preference.
In selecting Ms., Mrs., or Miss, always respect the woman’s preference. If it is not known, use the title “Ms” or omit the courtesy title altogether. Kelly, the examples Gregg gives are “Dear Ms. Noonan” or “Dear Joan Noonan.” I vote for “Ms.” if you don’t know her preference, and it’s business-related.
In the strictest sense of the word, socially, says long-dead and dearly beloved Emily Post, use Mrs. James W. Noonan.
When do I use “who” and “whom” in sentences?
Find a good description of usage, including many examples, at
Professor Darling’s site.
When do you use an extra apostrophe “s” following a last name ending with the letter “s”?
Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition, 6.24 – 30 says:
The general rule for the possessive of nouns covers most proper nouns, including most names ending in sibilants (but see exceptions in 6.26 – 27 and alternatives in 6.30). Kansas’s; Burns’s poems; Marx’s theories; Dickens’s novels.…For names ending in silent s, z, or x the possessive, unlike the plural, can generally be formed in the usual way without suggesting an incorrect pronunciation: Margaux’s bouquet; Descartes’s works.
Traditional exceptions to the general rule for forming the possessive are the names Jesus and Moses: in Jesus’ name; Moses’ leadership…“How to form the possessive of polysyllabic personal names ending with the sound of s or z,” says CMS, “probably occasions more dissension among writes and editors than any other orthographic matter open to disagreement.”
Gregg Reference Manual, 7th Edition, Sabin, 631 says: To form the possessive of a singular noun that ends in an “s” sound, be guided by the way you pronounce the word: (a) if a new syllable is formed in the pronunciation of the possessive, add an apostrophe plus “s,” e.g., Mr. Morris’s eyeglasses; Miss Knox’s hairdo; Mrs. Lopez’s term paper…(b) If the addition of an extra syllable would make a word ending in an “s” hard to pronounce, add the apostrophe only, e.g., Mrs. Phillips’ comment; Mr. Hastings’ bike…
There will always be controversy on this “style” issue, since some style guides call for only an apostrophe followed by the letter “s.” Some are more concerned with the way a word looks in print, others with the way it sounds when spoken.
When writing “internet company,” should these two words be capitalized?
The word “Internet” is a proper noun, so you always capitalize it. The word “company” is not always a proper noun. Capitalize it if the business is called The Incredible Internet Company. Do not capitalize it if you say, “It’s an incredible Internet company.”
Which sentence is correct: 1) There is nothing to comment on, or 2) There is nothing to comment upon.
According to Gregg Reference Manual, the prepositions “on” and “upon” are interchangeable. Gregg further says that deciding on whether or not to end a sentence with a preposition depends on the emphasis and desired effect. If your statement is informal, then why not end it in a preposition?
Strunk and White says, “The proper place in the sentence for the word or group of words that the writer desires to make most prominent is usually the end.” Webgrammar offers the following options in order to avoid conflict:
- If speaking to a reporter, say, “No comment.“
- If speaking to a colleague on a debatable issue, say, “I see no reason to comment. It’s not an issue. Let’s do lunch.“
- If speaking to a spouse, say, “I need time to think about this. Let me get back with you.” Plan on getting back to the subject sometime in the next five years.
- If speaking to a person who has been rude, say, “I see no reason to comment. Excuse me.” Then turn and walk away.
- If speaking to an English teacher, say, “I see nothing substantive on which to make a comment.”
We have a running debate at work. When using quotes at the end of a sentence, is it: He said, “I wish I could go home.” OR He said, “I wish I could go home”.
According to Gregg Reference Manual, 7th Ed., Sabin, #247, periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation mark. This is the preferred American style. The Elements of Grammar by Shertzer gives the same direction (page 102.8).
Is it correct to say “speak to” someone or “speak with” someone?
When you speak “to” someone, it’s like giving a speech or presentation, even if the someone is only one person. When you speak “with” someone, it means you are having a two-way conversation.
What’s the standard for using Websites in sentences? For example, when do we not use punctuation immediately after typing out a Web address?
There is no single standard. Much depends if you have a house style guide or specific style guide (APA, Turabian, CMS, etc.) for your publication. If not, the best style guides for many Web-related questions are:
- Free online dictionary of computing
- Glossary of Internet Terms: Matisse Enzer
What’s the difference between proverbs and idioms?
A proverb is a complete maxim or saying that Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary* says is “often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation.”
Conversely, it says this about idioms: “It is the language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class; the syntactical, grammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language; an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically (as no, it wasn’t me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (as Monday week for “the Monday a week after next Monday”)”. Traditionally, most people think of idioms as expressions … phrases.
What’s the difference between i.e. and e.g.?
You use i.e. when you mean “that is.” The origin of i.e. is “id est.” You use i.e. when you’re restating the idea (to be more explicit) or expanding upon it. Example: We provide all retailers with the standard discount, i.e., 10%.
You use e.g. when you mean “for example.” The origin of e.g. is “exempli gratia.” Example: Shertzer’s book has a number of elements, e.g., punctuation, capitalization, parts of a sentence, and confusing words.
In American English, generally follow i.e. and e.g. with a comma.
Use abbreviated forms like these only in informal or technical documents, or documents where space is at a premium (catalogs, forms, etc.).
What books do you use for reference and editing?
- The Associated Press Stylebook
- American Medical Association Manual of Style 9th Edition
- Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms
- Cambridge International Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs
- The Chambers Dictionary, New Ninth Edition
- The Copyeditor’s Handbook: Amy Einsohn
- The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition
- The Elements of Grammar: Margaret Shertzer
- The Elements of Style, Third Edition: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
- The Gregg Reference Manual, Tenth Edition: William A. Sabin
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
- Oxford Concise English Dictionary (1999)
- Prentice Hall Reference Guide to Grammar and Usage, Fifth Edition: Muriel Harris
- Visual Thesaurus (CD)
- The Web Content Style Guide: McGovern, Norton, and O’Dowd
- Webster’s New World College Dictionary: Macmillan
- Words into Type, Third Edition: Prentice-Hall
- Numerous online links