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.


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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Today’s topic is whether—not rain or snow, but whether w-h-e-t-h-e-r, as in whether you like it or not, it’s the topic. First, let’s figure out when to use whether and when to use if. If  Versus Whether Although in informal writing and speech the two words are often used interchangeably, in formal writing, such as in technical writing at work, it’s a good idea to make a distinction between them because the meaning can sometimes be different depending on which word you use. The formal rule is to use if when you have a conditional sentence and whether when…

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Because it’s graduation season, my inbox is filling up again with complaints about people who say things such as “We’re so proud of Jimmy; he graduated high school this year.” For example, Bill T. wrote, “Do you graduate high school, or do you graduate FROM high school?  I don’t think one can actually graduate a high school.  Some trick to do that! This has really bugged me — please advise.” I covered the topic a few years ago, but I have had a bit of of a change of heart since then. First, if you held a gun to my…

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Dawn wants to know how to write that someone was awarded a degree. Is it “bachelor’s degree,” “bachelors degree,” or “bachelor degree”? A bachelor is not just a guy who eats out a lot, but also a person of either sex who has earned a type of degree from a university or college. Think of the degree as the property of the bachelor, with the apostrophe-s indicating possession: It is a bachelor’s degree. The same is true for a master: He or she earns a master’s degree. You don’t use capital letters, unless you’re writing the formal name of a particular degree: Aardvark…

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It sounds like a joke, but it’s actually a legitimate question: How do you spell “blond”? ‘Blond’ Versus ‘Blonde’ The word originally came into English from Old French, where it has masculine and feminine forms. As an English noun, it kept those two forms; thus, a blond is a fair-haired male, and a blonde is a fair-haired female. When you’re using the word as an adjective, “blond” is the more common spelling and can be used for men or women, especially in the United States; however, “blonde” can also be used to describe a woman with fair hair, as in…

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