Author: Neal Whitman

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, school board. You can find him at literalminded.wordpress.com.


Today’s topic is whether it’s OK to begin a sentence with and, but, or or. The short answer is yes, and just about all modern grammar books and style guides agree! So who is it that keeps saying it’s wrong to do it? It’s Fine to Start a Sentence with a Coordinating Conjunction And, but, and or are the three most common members of a group of words known as coordinating conjunctions. The question about whether it’s grammatical to begin a sentence with and, but, or or is actually the question of whether it’s grammatical to begin a sentence with…

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Grammar Girl here, and today I’m going to tell you where it’s at! ‘Where It’s At’ Just kidding. I used the phrase “Where it’s at” in an episode a few years ago, and a listener called me on it. How embarrassing, given that I always give the same advice about phrases like “Where it’s at” or “Where are you at?”: Whether it’s in a radio interview, in a podcast episode, or in a book, I always say that because phrases like “Where are you at?” and “Where are you?” mean the same thing, you should omit the “at.” I’m standing…

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In the movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the slacker protagonists Bill and Ted offer this advice to the world: “Be excellent to each other,” and “Party on, dudes!” But are Bill and Ted running afoul of a rule regarding reciprocal pronouns? ‘Each Other’ Is a Reciprocal Pronoun The phrase “each other” is known as a reciprocal pronoun because it shows a bidirectional action. For example, if Bill and Ted are being excellent to each other, that means Bill is being excellent to Ted, and Ted is being excellent to Bill. They’re practicing what you might call excellence reciprocity. ‘One…

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I was thinking about the consonant sound /ʒ/ recently. You know, it’s the sound that begins the final syllable in words such as “vision,” “fusion,” and “measure.” We also have it in words such as “usual” or “casual.” But English doesn’t like using this sound at the ends of words. I can think of a few, like “garage,” “mirage,” and “prestige.” Then we start getting into words that are used less frequently, such as “beige” (that tannish color), “rouge” (a kind of reddish makeup for your cheeks), “luge” (the winter Olympic sport), and “loge” (a special section of seats in…

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A few episodes ago, I talked about why the T sound sometimes seems to be missing from words like “kitten” or “button.” The answer was that in those words, many speakers use a sound known as a glottal stop. If you listened to that episode, you might remember that a glottal stop is also the sound we make to separate the syllables in the word “uh-oh.” I compared this sound with “aspirated T,” which you get in words like “toy.” After you touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth, and then let it…

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Today’s question comes from Matt Mullan, a teacher I met a few years ago at the National Council for Teachers of English convention. He writes, “I struggle to provide students with any explanation for the difference between ‘so’ used as a coordinating conjunction and ‘so’ when it’s really ‘so that’ in disguise.” Two Sentences About Boxes, Pillows, and Cats This really is a tricky ball of twine to unroll. We’ve even touched on the topic of whether “so” is a coordinating conjunction in episode 424, “Weird Coordinating Conjunctions: ‘Yet,’ ‘For,’ and ‘So.’” We didn’t pursue the matter too far in…

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The 1987 movie “The Princess Bride,” directed by Rob Reiner, is the source of more catch phrases and funny lines than almost any other movie I can think of, but one of the silliest comes from a scene on a boat. The swordsman Inigo Montoya and his hulking comrade Fezzik pass the time by playing a rhyming game. Montoya offers a line, such as, “That Vizzini, he can fuss.” He’s talking about their irritable boss named Vizzini. Fezzik responds with, “I think he like to scream at us.” Vizzini is annoyed at the game, and tells them to quit, but…

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What part of “no” don’t you understand? Some of you may remember a song with this title released by Lorrie Morgan in 1992; others of you have probably read it on a T-shirt or two. You may have even said it yourself, or maybe someone has said it to you. It’s funny because the word “no” isn’t made up of smaller parts. Sure, there’s the consonant N and the vowel O, but by themselves, they don’t mean anything. The idea is that “no” is as simple as it gets, and if you can’t understand even that much, there’s no…

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A while ago, I was on a call-in radio program, and one of the callers asked about the words “commentate” and “conversate.” She hadn’t even thought “conversate” was a word until a friend of hers used it, and she laughed, thinking it was a joke, only to realize her friend was using it in all seriousness. She and another caller also brought up the word “orientate.” These three words have something in common, and it’s not just that they all end in “-ate” and people wonder about their legitimacy. They also were all formed by a process called back-formation. Back-formation…

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Today, Neal Whitman will help us understand why the word “troops” can refer to the number of individuals or groups. What Does “Troops” Mean? Memorial Day is next week, when we in the U.S. honor members of the military who have died in the line of duty. So in today’s article I’ll answer a question some readers have had about the word “troops.” Alicia writes I have a question about the use of the word “troops” to mean individual soldiers. For the longest time, when I heard a phrase like, “The president is asking Congress to send 10,000 more troops,”…

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