Author: Bonnie Mills

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.

Today we’re going to see if we are allowed to “drive slow” instead of “slowly.” May we “jump high” or “sit up straight”? What about the advertising slogan “Eat fresh”? Yes, today is adverb day, with a sprinkling of adjectives. What Are Adjectives and Adverbs? An adjective modifies a noun or pronoun. For example, in the sentence “That is a real diamond,” “real” is an adjective that modifies the noun “diamond.” Other examples of adjectives are “happy” and “equal.” Squiggly threw the girl a happy smile. Aardvark hoped for equal time to charm her. An adverb, on the other hand,…

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Today we’ll be looking at two constructions that are correct, but which one you choose depends on your audience. “In Which” Versus “Where” The expressions that concern us today are “which” and “where.” We’ll be comparing sentences like these: “This is the store at which I met my friend” and “This is the store where I met my friend.” As you can probably guess, “which” is more formal than “where.” Relative Pronouns In the two sentences about the store, the words “which” and “where” both function as relative pronouns. Relative pronouns, such as “who” and “that,” introduce dependent clauses (1).…

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When you use a string of adjectives, you often separate the adjectives with commas, as in “He is tall, dark, and handsome.” Sometimes, though, you don’t use a comma between two adjectives. Coordinate Adjectives Versus Cumulative Adjectives The comma rule comes down to the difference between two kinds of adjectives: coordinate adjectives and cumulative adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are adjectives in a row that each separately modify the noun that follows (1), as in “heavy, bulky box.” Both “heavy” and “bulky” modify “box.” You can even rearrange the adjectives and say, “bulky, heavy box.” Cumulative adjectives, on the other hand, don’t…

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Long Sentences My dad has a memorable poster in his bathroom: a diagram of a ridiculously long sentence by Marcel Proust. It’s from his masterpiece, “À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past,” also translated as “In Search of Lost Time”), and it starts thus: “Their honor precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable….” Blah, blah, blah. I’ve examined it numerous times over the last two decades, but I’ve yet to finish wading through all 958 words. At 150 words longer than this entire column, the sentence is just unreadable.…

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Today we’re going to get a bit negative by looking at the various times you can use the word “nor.” ‘Nor’ with ‘Neither’ Everybody knows that “neither” and “nor” are bosom buddies. They require balance. A “nor” usually follows a “neither” when they’re used in the same sentence (1). For example, you might say, “I like neither hot dogs nor mustard.” You may also use “nor” if you’re talking about more than two items, but you must repeat “nor” after each element (2). So if you want to add ketchup to your list of dislikes, you have to say, “I…

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If you’re at all like me, you could live on desserts. That’s with two S’s in the middle. The downside to eating this way for chocoholics and sugar addicts is that we tend to get big middles. The question is, are we getting our just deserts or just desserts as a result of our eating habits? What ‘getting your just deserts’ means We’ve all used the phrase “just deserts/just desserts.” Notice that the words “deserts,” spelled with one S in the middle, and “desserts,” with two S’s, sound the same. When you’re speaking, it doesn’t matter so much how many…

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Pronouns and Their Antecedents Today we’re going to talk about pronouns that don’t clearly match up with the nouns they are supposed to replace. Readers become unhappy when they have to guess what noun a writer is talking about, or readers may even chuckle if a pronoun seems to match up with the wrong noun. Later, you’ll see some sentences that are funny all because of little pronouns. Quick Pronoun Review If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember about subject and object pronouns. Pronouns take the place of nouns. For example, “I” and “we” are pronouns that appear in the…

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Today’s topic is irregular plural nouns, odd nouns such as “ox” and “oxen.” Robbie from Keene, New Hampshire, called in with this question: One of my friends knows that I’m kind of geeky and into grammar and was asking me about adding the “-s” onto words to make the plural but in the same question came up with the question about words like “moose” and “mice” and “ox” and a “goose”—how all of those aren’t formed into the plural by adding the “-s.” And I was wondering if you can give any insight? Is there any rhyme or reason into…

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Bonjour! Today we're discussing some historical and linguistic connections between French and English, covering topics as varied as the Bastille, frogs’ legs, and roast beef. We'll also learn why we say "pardon my French," but in order to do that, we first need to take a closer look at the historic connection between England and France. [block:qdt_book=qdt_book] Bastille Day What is a bastille, you may ask? For those who don’t know much French or who haven’t studied European history lately, here’s a mini-lesson. “Bastille” is the French word for “fortress” or “castle.” [1] It’s also the name of the famous…

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How can words that native English speakers say every day not be real words in most dictionaries? Forms like “hafta,” “kinda,” and “whatcha” tend not to be entries in dictionaries, but native speakers know what they mean. In fact, it would be a challenge to find an American who doesn’t pronounce “have to,” “kind of,” and “what are you” in this way daily. If you’re learning English, should you avoid these informal contractions? If you’re a native speaker, are there appropriate and inappropriate times to use such words, if they are in fact real words? What Is a Contraction? First,…

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