In our business writing classes, people often want an answer to this burning question: Is it acceptable to begin a sentence with the word and or but? The answer is yes. It is perfectly acceptable to start sentences with the conjunctions and and but. However, it is slightly informal. If formality...
Here's a test. Which forms of the word pair principal/principle fit in these examples? This dollar figure covers just interest--not interest plus ______. The ______ reason for our visit is to meet the new director. Which ______ did you follow to solve this problem? Easy? Here's the rule--that is, here's the...
How many spaces should be included after end punctuation such as a period (full stop), exclamation point, and question mark? One. It's true. Believe me. Despite what your teachers taught and typewriters required in decades past, the number of spaces after end punctuation--and after a colon--is one. Wanting to be...
In a writing class last week, a participant was surprised to learn of the existence of the word complement. Like many professionals, she had thought compliment was the only form. But often the word we want is complement. Details: Complement and complementary relate to completing. When people or things...
A client wrote recently asking me to explain the difference between lie and lay. The question brought back fond memories. Although those fearsome verbs used to come up often in classes, no one asks about lie and lay anymore. In fact, my client was asking months after the class...
Driving from Portland to Seattle today, I heard an on-air radio apology about--of all things--grammar. Steve Scher, host of KUOW's Weekday, had said something like this on air: "Call in with your questions for Carl or I." A listener then emailed Steve a strongly worded correction, letting him know it...
Dear Reader: I'm not sure whether it's gender-based or not, but it certainly seems that more men than women have trouble opening a business letter with the salutation "Dear _____." In a recent writing class in Bellevue, Washington, several men admitted they couldn't force themselves to use "Dear" to...
In a meeting yesterday, a potential new client said, "It drives me nuts when I see a sentence that ends with a preposition." It was another case of anxiety brought on by a misunderstood grammar rule, with the damage no doubt done by an excellent, well-meaning, beautiful elementary school...
Last night I flew home from teaching in South Carolina, and this morning I had an email from one of my new Carolina friends: "I just thought of a question about something we didn't cover: when to use who vs. whom. . . . Any quick tips?" The quick tip is...
The other day our graphic designer, Debbie Esposito, emailed a common question: Which heading is punctuated correctly?    Heading 1: What Is "Computers for Kids"?    Heading 2: What Is "Computers for Kids?" To recognize the correct heading, follow this rule: If the entire sentence (or heading) is a question, the question...