Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Then / Than

I haven't posted in a long while as I've been busy with several proofing projects.  Now I'm back, and here's a simple one to get back in the swing of things. 

Then is an adverb related to time:  First I catch up on my blogging friends, then I clean my house.  After you finish that, then you can play.

Than is a conjunction, and is used in comparisons:  I like reading blogs more than I like cleaning.  As in this example, than often follows a comparison word such as better than, more than, other than.

I don't believe I've ever seen than used when then is appropriate, but let's not substitute then when the correct word is than.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spring Snow

You may have seen the picture of my snow-covered lilacs on my niece's blog, Auntie Cake's.  My son gave me a ride in his newest car for Mother's Day, and going through the woods I was surprised by how many trees had fallen due to the weight of the snow.  We only got about four inches, but it was wet and heavy -- and gone within 24 hours.

Did you know a spring snow like that is called poor man's fertilizer?  Partly because the moisture helps things "green up," and partly because it really does add nutrients like nitrogen to the soil.  I was so pleased to hear this because...

...we're supposed to get more on Tuesday!!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Awhile / A While

Another short one today, starting with a confession.  This one took me the longest time to learn, and I'm not sure why.  It's really fairly simple!

Awhile means "for a while."

A while is two words, usually used after the word for.

So, if you say for awhile, you're really saying for for a while --  which is just wrong.

I'm going to stay at my sister's house for a while.
I'm going to stay at my sister's house awhile.

I'll be leaving in a while.

Remember, if I left in awhile, that would be the same as saying I'm leaving in for a while.

The trick I finally came up with to get it right is to remember to use either one word (awhile) or three words (for a while) -- no two words about it.

Hope you all are enjoying better weather than we are in northern Minnesota, where it snowed all dayMy tulips are done, my rhubarb is trying to go to seed, and my lilacs are ready to pop open...and it's snowing like crazy.  There's something wrong here!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Insure / Ensure / Assure

A short lesson today, focusing on the difference between insure, ensure and assure.  Let me start by saying that some sources insist there is no difference between insure and ensure. Most, however, agree with me that in standard American English there is a huge difference.  If you follow these guidelines, no one will ever say you're wrong.  Why take the chance?

To insure means to guarantee payment if something happens.  Money nearly always changes hands. If you're actually buying insurance, you are insuring something:  He insured the old jalopy for much more than I thought it was worth.

If you are acting to make sure something happens, you are ensuring that it will:  If you can substitute be sure or make sure, the word you're looking for is ensure.  I will put up a gate to ensure my grandson doesn't fall down the steps. 

If you are trying to instill confidence in a person or animal, you will assure them.  Assure applies to a living being.  In fact, it's nearly always followed by a noun referring to a person (you, him, her, etc.):  I assured him that his child would be safe near the steps. 

Remember:  Insure -- money changes hands. Assure relates to something alive.  Ensure is to be sure or to make sure.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


(Miscellany - a miscellaneous collection or group of various or somewhat unrelated items.  Dictionary.com, Unabridged)

Let’s look at words that aren’t really words at all.  We hear or read them often, but I want you to remove them from your vocabulary.  Some are real words but -- I don’t mean to sound rude here -- are considered “nonstandard” or "substandard" English, and none of us want to sound substandard!  So here we go, in no particular order. 

Anyways, I’m not going anywheres.  Anyways and anywheres are not plural, say anyway or anywhere.

We headed towards town.  Same thing, just say toward.

She was a long ways from homea is singular, ways is plural.  Please don’t use them together.  She was a long way from home.

Something’s got ahold of me.  This one is in a gray territory.  Ahold not considered “good” English but is used so commonly it’s nearly there.  Most dictionaries now include it, but call it informal or colloquial.  Better to say something’s got a hold of me.

There is alot going on this weekend.  Alot is not a word in any dictionary. Please use a lot.  (Don't confuse  with allot, which means to divide or to set aside.)

The reason why is because I said so.  Please just give the reason, you don’t need to add why or because.  The reason is I said so.

I borrowed ten dollars to my friend; she borrowed me twenty last week.  We borrow from, we loan to, so I loaned her ten after she loaned me twenty is correct.  (Well, it would be correct if either of us had actually asked.)

He got that for free.  No, he got it free.  The for is unnecessary.

The box was two feet in length, width and heighth.   Length and width are correct, but the last word should be height.

Irregardless of advice from others, he (insert whatever he did now.  We know there’s something! LOL).  Irregardless amounts to a double negative, just say regardless.

Could of, would of, should of – It’s could have, would have, and should have.  Or, less formally, use the contractions could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve.

Use to, suppose to – This gets into passive voices and past participles, so save yourself a headache and just take my word for it.  Write supposed to and used to.

Had enough for one day?  Have a blessed Easter and I'll catch you next week!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I'm sorry it's been so long since my last post -- I've been locked out of my blog :-( and have just now gotten back in

A question from a follower (thank you, dear!):

"Whenever I type 'children's' with an apostrophe to show possession, my spell check underlines it. When I click it to get the right spelling they only give the word children or other child-words.  So when there is a plural word like children and you wish to show possession like The Children's Library, are we right to add the apostrophe s or not? I'm thinking of men's club or women's society."

You are exactly right.  When s is used with any word that changes its form when plural (children, women, mice, feet) it changes to the possessive form and must be used with an apostrophe: children's, women's, and so on -- even though your spell checker may not like it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Farther / Further

This is a distinction you may find yourself coming back here to review.

Farther refers to physical distance:  Los Angeles is farther from New York than from Chicago.  I walked farther today than I did yesterday.

Further refers to time, degree or metaphorical distance:  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Let's look into this further. The harder I try, the further behind I seem to get.

The same rules apply to farthest and furthest:  Five miles is the farthest I can run in one session.   That's the furthest thing from my mind.

Occasionally, it isn't quite so easy to decide which word to use:  I read further into my new book today.  Did I get through more pages, so it's a physical distance?  Or did I get further into the story, which is a figurative distance?  The good news is that when the distinction isn't clear, most authorities say it's okay to use either. 

Most of the time, however, you can tell pretty easily if you're writing about an actual distance or not.  You'll sound like a grammar pro if you use these two words correctly!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Affect / Effect

This is a tough one for many people, including some professional writers.  Generally, affect is a verb and effect is a noun.  When you affect something, you have an effect on it.  The mistake most often made is writing affect instead of effect.  Stick with me here and refer back when needed -- once you set your mind to it, you'll see it's really not too hard.

Affect means to act upon or to move -- the photos affected me so much I cried.   It also can mean to pretend -- on her first day of high school, she affected a calm she did not feel.

An effect is a result, a consequence.  The well-written blog had quite an effect on me.

More examples of the correct use of effect:  Movies are full of sound effects and other special effects.  Your house is full of your personal effects.  When things become effective, they go into effect or they take effect.  I strongly disagreed and wrote her to that effect.  On Halloween, I turned down the lights and put on spooky music, but it was all for effect.  Cause and effect.

Of course, to throw a monkey wrench into the works, effect can (rarely) be a verb, most often when talking about change -- President Obama's administration seems to be finding it tough to effect true change.  In this sense, it means to make happen, to create.

Psychologists may speak of a person's affect, with the accent on the first syllable (AFF-ect).  This refers to a person's emotional response.  I've never used it this way in my lifetime, and I'm guessing you probably won't either.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Could / Couldn't Care Less

How often have you read or heard something like "I could care less how many people..."?  What they are trying to say is they don't care, not even a little bit.  But if you think about it, if you could care less, that means you do care.

What is meant is "I couldn't care less..."  This implies that you don't care at all.

If I say I could care less if anyone learns anything from this blog, that's true, but an understatement.  I care very much!

But I couldn't care less about the winter temperatures here in northern Minnesota -- at least now that we're close enough to spring that they shouldn't dip into the -20's again.  I dress warmly and prepare for cold weather.  I do, however, mind the snow!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

-ly / -ally

Confused about how to properly spell an adverbial use of a word?  Here's another simple trick -- so simple you won't care whether it's an adverb or an adjective!

If there is a form of the word ending in -al, then the proper use is -ally.  If not, use -ly.  That still sounds confusing, so let's look at some examples.

Incident -- incidental is a perfectly good word, so its correct adverb form is incidentally rather than incidently.  Same for coincidentally, correct because coincidental is indeed a word.

Accidental makes accidentally your choice rather than accidently

A couple more examples I'm sure you already know: 

Personally, not personly.

Independently, rather than independentally.

See?  Using the correct terminology isn't hard at all!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Commas, Periods and Quotation Marks

Do these seem, oh, so easy?  That's great!  But hang in there, you may learn something yet!

This will be a short lesson.

Commas and periods ALWAYS go inside closing quotation marks.  No exceptions.

One of my BFF's said, "You need to always wear bright colors."

I try to do the "right thing," but it isn't always easy.

 See?  I told you it would be short!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Every day / Everyday

Today, a second post to get me rolling! I've done a few workshops on grammar and proofing, and in each of them I get to vent a bit about one of my pet peeves to the very small group of people who generally care.

This one is popping up more and more and more, everywhere from store signs to newspapers to blogs. Have you seen these?

Same low price everyday!

I'm so thankful for everyday my kids are with me.

What's wrong? Every day is still generally two words, though I live in fear of the day its (no apostrophe) misuse makes it eligible to be right. Every so often, a word becomes so commonly misused that it actually gets put in the dictionary that way. Remember ain't? And how it ain't a word and you ain't supposed to use it? Well, ain't has been in the dictionary a long time now.

I sit at my computer for hours every day.

You're going to want to read this blog every day, rain or shine.

I'm so thankful for every day my kids are with me -- every day here stands all by itself so needs to be two words.

To make it harder, everyday is correct as an adjective. When it comes before the word it modifies or works with, use the one-word version.

An everyday low price, but a low price every day.

The everyday view out my window, but my view every day.

An everyday event, my everyday clothes.

I'm so thankful for every day my kids are with me -- every day here stands all by itself so needs to be two words.

Tip -- If each day fits in the sentence instead, use two words, every day.

Its / It's

One of the most common mistakes I see on blogs and elsewhere is the use of it's when the word should be its. It's should be used only when meant as a contraction of the phrase it is. To make it as simple as possible -- my goal here, after all -- if you can replace the word with it is, then use it's. Very often, writers think the apostrophe shows possession, like it does nearly everywhere else, but this is one of the few cases where that's not correct.

Some examples:

It's raining cats and dogs -- it is raining cats and dogs, so it's is correct. Well, the usage is correct, but the sentence is so far off here in northern Minnesota that I'm almost ashamed to use this example. It's (it is!) a balmy 21 degrees and snowing.

The dog chased it's tail -- the dog did not chase it is tail, so use its.

...in all its glory -- in all it is glory? Please, use its.


P roof of BLISS? I’ve spent over half a century being mortified by my middle name. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to come to terms with it, after spending my whole life being thankful it’s my middle name and not my first name, like my mother’s good friend Bliss Gerjets. So now, as I enter this blogging world, I’m going to proudly use my given name.

This blog will be a little different than most. I can’t share with you any crafting or decorating tips because I am hopelessly noncreative. Don’t get me wrong, I can copy with the best of them, but I totally missed out on the inspiration gene. That said, you’re right, that means I’m also not a great writer. But if you'll bear with me, the one skill I can share with you is proofing – correcting simple errors before you post your thoughts.

I started proofreading more than 20 years ago and continue the best love affair of my life, the love of words. (Yes, I realize what that says about the rest of my life is truly pathetic.) Nowadays I spend a good share of my time charmed by your blogs, loving these glimpses into the lives of people who actually have a life and sometimes copying an idea to make a corner of my home a teeny bit like yours. But every once in a while I want to grab a red pen (my only tax deduction) and fix some simple mistakes. Thus, this blog was born. My intent is not to nitpick or make anyone feel foolish about common errors. Rather, it’s to help you feel more confident in your writing. I know how easy it is to agonize over the right word, the right punctuation… Life’s too precious to waste that time!

This blog will cover one or two simple words or rules on each post. I won't be posting more than once or twice a week – after all, there are only so many rules and I don’t want to put myself out of work after just a couple months! I’ll title each post so that the archives are easy to search (How pompous is that; imagine, me having an archive!)

And I’m sure I’ll also let a mistake or two of my own slip through. The hardest thing for me to do is to proof my own work. That makes me just as human as everyone. Maybe I’ll give out an award to the first person who comments on a mistake in my post. That way, you’ll know I left it in there on purpose (um-hmm, sure). Seriously, my subjects will always be well researched and accurate, but occasionally a typo may slip through.

I may also veer slightly off course once in a while, maybe throw out one of my more oddball thoughts occasionally, or a recipe, or...whatever. Here's hoping you'll find Proof of Bliss interesting enough to come back and visit often.