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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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« Dear Manager, Please Stop Doing This! | Main | Cut Unnecessary Prepositions--But Not These »

December 31, 2015


Jim Talerico

Hi Lynn, I don't want to sound boastful, but I got a 10 out of 10 on this. I teach college English and will let my students try this test as well, giving you credit for it, if that's okay. I always enjoy your columns.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Jim,

I am very glad you got a perfect score. I love it when instructors are masters of their material.

Please do use the test in your class.


Maria Fernanda

Hello Lynn! I am brazilian and I'm always trying to learn a little bit more about English writing. I have a question about item number 10: I know I should write it "January 11", but how should I read it out loud? I've always been taught to use ordinal number endings so this is very tricky for me. Thank you very much! PS: I love your website. It helps me a lot with work.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Maria,

That's a smart question. When speaking the dates, you pronounce them with ordinal endings:

January eleventh
December twelfth
March fifth

I would also like you to know that nationalities are always capitalized in English. Therefore, you are Brazilian.

Thank you for the positive feedback. I am happy to be helpful.


Maria Fernanda

Thank you so much for answering me, Lynn! I really appreciate it.

Kim K.

This was such a great column, and a lot of fun too! Grammar and punctuation is a great interest to me.

I was wondering, in question 2, could a semicolon also be used like in question 1, or a dash?
Thanks for your time; I appreciate it.
Thanks for your time - I appreciate it.

As I was typing my question, it brought up another question. When referring to one of the numbers in your column, how do I write it:
#1 ?
number 1 ?
other ?

I was trying to find out if seasons should be capitalized such as, Spring Semester or spring semester? I found conflicting answers and was wondering what you say.

Do you have a book or publication that covers the items in this column and more? I find that you are a very clear and concise teacher :) I have taken one of your workshops and found it very helpful. Thank you so much!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Kim,

I'm glad you liked the test. Here are answers to your questions:

In Question 2, a semicolon would be too fussy--not wrong but an example of overpunctuation. A dash in that example would be fine though informal, but a dash is two hyphens:

-- Thanks for your time--I appreciate it.

Regarding referring to an item, "The Gregg Reference Manual" recommends spelling out the word "number" at the beginning of a sentence but using "No." in other places, like this:

-- Number 1 is correct.
-- I believe No. 1 is correct.

"Gregg" says using the symbol # is acceptable on forms and in technical materials.

Seasons are not capitalized in English:

-- I will see you next spring.

However, if an institution capitalizes the names of semesters, "Spring Semester" would be correct.

I haven't written a book that covers these kinds of questions. I recommend "The Gregg Reference Manual." And keep reading this blog!



Hi Lynn,

I have just come across your blog and absolutely love it! I wish I would have found it years ago. I am a teacher and pride myself on my writing. However, I know I have a lot more to learn. I have been visiting your past posts and have already (embarrassingly) recognized mistakes I have been making. I use semicolons too often, and am guilty of always using ordinal numbers when giving dates. Thank you for the clarification. I look forward to reading your future posts!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Amanda, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am delighted that you found the blog.



Hi Lynn,
The number one grammar mistake I see is the overuse of capitalization. I am curious about your use of capitalization in a post to this article, specifically in these examples: a capital Q "In Question 2", and a capital N in "No. 1". Thank you for this blog and your response.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Leslie,

I see too much capitalization as well. Regarding your question, I follow the rule for nouns with numbers or letters from "The Gregg Reference Manual." It states:

"Capitalize a noun followed by a number or a letter that indicates sequence. Exceptions: Do not capitalize the nouns line, note, page, sentence, paragraph, size, step, and verse."

It lists nearly 50 examples, among them Account, Chapter, Column, Diagram, Exhibit, Exercise, Item, Lesson, and Section. It also capitalizes Number but points out that the word can often be deleted. I should have deleted it in the post above.

I'm glad you asked. I have been capitalizing "step," but "Gregg" sees it as an exception.

If you follow a different style manual, you may find that it recommends a different approach.


Allan toyle

Neec help, which is correct?

May we know the activities of the workshop?

May we know the activities for the workshop?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello Allan,

Prepositions are subtle and tricky. Both of your options are correct. I would also add "in the workshop," which I would probably use.

To avoid prepositions, I suggest this: May we know the workshop activities?


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