Author: Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

Researching the word “funnest” and its close relation “funner” turned out to be a lot less fun than I had hoped. The opinions are so varied that I became completely engrossed and frustrated and forgot to call my mother on her birthday. Sorry, Mom. ‘Fun,’ the Noun First, the easy part. Everyone agrees that “fun” was originally just a noun. For example, you could say, “We had fun,” which is the grammatical equivalent of “We had cake.” Fun is more of an abstract thing than cake, but they’re both nouns. People at the same party may disagree about whether they…

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Today’s topic is the difference between abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms. It’s kind of an extension of the last episode, because I want to clarify the difference between abbreviations and acronyms. Abbreviations and Acronyms Any shortened form of a word is an abbreviation, for example, etc. for etcetera and Oct. for October; but acronyms are special kinds of abbreviations, such as ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), that can be pronounced as words. This makes them a subset of abbreviations. All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. Initialisms Initialisms are another…

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Here’s a listener: Hi, Grammar Girl. This is Patti from Houston… Patti and her friends are debating about the serial comma—the comma that comes before the final conjunction in a list. Here’s a sentence that uses a serial comma: According to the website Box Office Mojo, the top-grossing movies of all time in the United States are currently Avatar, Titanic, and The Dark Knight. Whether to use the serial comma is a style issue, which is why Patti and her friends ended up in a debate. Do You Always Have to Use Serial Commas? Although the British are less likely to…

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This is shaping up to be a nasty flu season, which prompted a listener named Marc to bring up a regionalism I had forgotten about. He said, “My [girlfriend] and I have a bit of a contention…with the bug going on and people getting sick. When they call work, do they call ‘in sick’ or call ‘out sick’?” Back in 2009, I posed this question to my followers on social media and made a map of their responses. red=call in sick. yellow=call out sick. green=call off sick. blue=mixed. I noticed a few interesting things while I was going through the…

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Here’s an interesting question from Lynn. “Hi, my name is Lynn, and I’m calling with a question about the use of an apostrophe. I’m wondering if there’s a special term for the usage where an apostrophe can indicate either a contraction or a possessive form, and I have two examples of that from my own small town. A hardware store which has been there for over 50 years has a wooden sign that hangs on the front porch that says ‘Today’s special,’ and below that is another wooden sign that says ‘So is tomorrow.’ And the other example is a…

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Dave J. asked, “What’s the appropriate phrase—’beckon call’ or ‘beck and call’?” The correct phrase is “beck and call.” If you are at someone’s beck and call, you respond immediately whether he or she beckons or calls; it implies complete subservience. It’s an old phrase, originating in the late 1800s, during a time when “beck” was used to mean “beckon.” The problem is that the “on” in “beckon” sounds a lot like how we sometimes slur the word “and” in “beck and call.” Kind of like “rock ’n’ roll,”—we often say “beck ’n’ call.” The word “beck” goes all the way…

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THE QUICK AND DIRTY If you follow Chicago style, spell it “dos and don’ts.” If you follow AP style, spell it “do’s and don’ts.” Here’s a small problem we can address today: The spelling of the phrase “do’s and don’ts” is inconsistent because that apostrophe in the word “don’t” makes it tricky. Generally, you don’t use apostrophes to make words or abbreviations plural. For example, you don’t use an apostrophe in “CDs” (the plural of “compact discs” or “certificates of deposit”), you don’t use an apostrophe in “1970s” (all the years from 1970 to 1979), and you don’t use an apostrophe in…

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Today’s topic is how to use the word however in a sentence. It’s probably more complicated than you think it is. Can You Start a Sentence with the Word ‘However’? The question I get asked most frequently about however is whether it is OK to use however at the beginning of a sentence, and the answer is yes: it is fine to start a sentence with however. You just need to know when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon. ‘However’ Without a Comma: Modifier The comma is important because however is a conjunctive adverb that can be…

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When I jotted some ideas down on a napkin in a coffee shop called The Kind Grind on the beach in Santa Cruz, California, I never thought I’d be doing it this long or even that Grammar Girl would become my full-time job. I am so grateful to all of you because the fact that you listen makes everything I do possible. To celebrate, I’m going to take you on a quick tour of some of my favorite stories from over the years and some of the best tips—the ones I use myself in real-life when I’m writing. Harbinger One…

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The noun “fish” has two different, completely acceptable plurals—”fish” and “fishes”—but “fish” is by far the most common plural. It’s what you usually use to refer to a group or collection of fish. For example, if Squiggly brought home a big bag of goldfish from the pet store, Aardvark might ask, “Do you have a bowl for those fish? Do you have food for those fish? What were you thinking buying all those fish?” “Fishes” tends to be used in more specialized areas and in some well-known sayings. Scientists use ‘fishes’ For example, scientists who study fish (they’re called “ichthyologists”)—…

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