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Grammar Questions for Judy

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.

How do I dia­gram sen­tences?
Here are good sites that have dia­grams to help you understand:

C. O. Burleson: Abraham Lincoln High School
Guide to Grammar and Writing

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:

  1. If speak­ing to a reporter, say, “No comment.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. If speak­ing to a per­son who has been rude, say, “I see no rea­son to com­ment. Excuse me.” Then turn and walk away.
  5. 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:

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 “in other words.” 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

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