Hanging hyphens

A colleague consulted me about hanging hyphens (also called suspended or floating hyphens). For example: short- and long-term plans I don’t like hanging hyphens, so I would write ‘short and long-term plans’. I think omitting the hanging hyphen is cleaner, but since that is not a justification, I researched the topic. The Australian Commonwealth StyleContinue reading

The subjunctive mood

Detective Sergeant Lewis: All that stonework, must take months to do the pointing. Chief Inspector Morse: You’re not a bloody mason, are you? Detective Sergeant Lewis: No such luck. I might have been a Chief Inspector by now if I was. Chief Inspector Morse: Were, Lewis, if you were. You’ll never get on if youContinue reading

Gerunds and personal pronouns

Gerunds are nouns ending in -ing that are made out of verbs. Fasting is good for you. I like your cooking. When it comes to the possessive, you need to distinguish between gerunds and -ing participles. When a gerund is used possessively, it needs an apostrophe. Tania’s singing scared the children. (gerund) The children neverContinue reading

Homonyms – homophones and homographs

The word homonym is often used to describe all words that look or sound  the same, but have different meanings. In fact, there are two subsets of homonyms – homophones and homographs. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. air ear heir Homographs are words that are spelled the sameContinue reading

Punctuation in lists

There are several different punctuation styles for lists. As always, it’s important to be consistent and use the same style throughout your document. Bullet points, often called dot points, are more commonly used than numbers in lists, but numbers are useful if the order matters or if you want to refer to specific points withinContinue reading

How to use hyphens

The hyphen is often regarded as an unnecessary punctuation mark, but I think it’s quite useful because it can provide clarity and prevent ambiguity. The challenge is to use your commonsense, avoid over-hyphenating and hyphenate consistently. Compare the following words and phrases. re-sign, resign more-important arguments (higher priority), more important arguments (additional) three-monthly tax statementsContinue reading

Books and websites about grammar

I am often asked what books and websites I recommend about grammar. So here are some of my favourite authors and websites. This list excludes more academic writers. Kate Burridge: her books include Blooming English: Observations on the roots, cultivation and hybrids of the English language. What I like about her writing is that she debunks severalContinue reading

Grammar terms

I can remember when I first started reading grammar books that the language was daunting (some of it still is!). So here’s a few terms in case you need to refresh your memory. Active voice: with the active voice, a subject performs the action of the verb, e.g. I kicked the ball. Adjectives: describing words,Continue reading

Singular or plural: news, measles, number of, pair, half, kilometres, dollars?

Many people, particularly non-native English speakers, have difficulty knowing whether to use a singular or plural verb with some nouns. Here are a few trouble spots. A few common nouns that end in s are singular in meaning. The news is good. Measles is a contagious disease. The new series is starting now. A number ofContinue reading

Dog breeds and capital letters

Some names of dog breeds are capitalised and others aren’t. The ones that are capitalised are named after places, nations or peoples. Only the part of the name derived from the proper noun takes an initial capital. Capitalised dog breeds include: Afghan Hound – originated in Afghanistan Airedale Terrier – originated in Airedale, England Great DaneContinue reading


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