Grammar Guide quiz returns

A new quiz (No. 78) is up. The questions include a hodgepodge of usage issues, and I’ve experimented with question formats.

Give it a try. Please leave feedback if you are inclined.

A new quiz lies waiting for you

I have a new Grammar Guide quiz (No. 77). This one is all about the tricky verbs lay and lie. An image from a TV news website shared on social media prompted me to finish a quiz that I had started some weeks ago. The nonstandard use of “laid” and “lays” in this image distracted me from the heartbreaking story that was being promoted. I shared it on Instagram.

I think it's time for a quiz on lay and lie. #grammar

A photo posted by @pnelson1954 on


Give Grammar Guide Quiz No. 77 a try.

Edit: A reader told me of a typo in my first question (as of 1:30 p.m. ET Monday, Oct. 26). I am not able to fix that right away (doing my day job and don’t have access), but I will correct it when I can. Thanks to readers who help me find and fix typos!

Second edit: The typo in the first question has been fixed! (as of 7 p.m. ET Monday, Oct. 26)


Language debate and sensible advice

Anne Curzan at Lingua Franca has a spot-on blog post about the descriptive-prescriptive debate. Her post is pegged to a Wall Street Journal essay headlined “There Is No ‘Proper’ English.” Curzan, an English professor and a linguist, explains that the usage beliefs that some label “superstitions” could be called “conventions.” She writes about the value of conventional, standard English.

As a copy editor, I hew to those conventions but avoid the discredited “rules.” For example, I would never edit a sentence to avoid a so-called split infinitive, and I know that writers are perfectly free to begin sentences with “and” or “but.” I do, however, edit to avoid an unintentional double negative or a dangling modifier. My goal is not to blindly obey rules, but to make published writing clearer and more readable. I am also trying to avoid distracting a reader from the writer’s point. A double negative in informational pieces, such as the ones I edit for a living, would be a distraction.

If thoughtful copy editors ever need an expert opinion to support their efforts to improve writing, they could turn to Professor Curzan’s essay.

By the way, Lingua Franca is worth checking regularly for language and writing advice.

I wrote earlier about the tone of the descriptive-prescriptive debate, too.

Just a little guidance: 10 years of blogging about grammar, usage, and copy editing

“But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good.
Oh, lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”
—Nina Simone*

Facebook friends sometimes share with me memes that refer to “Grammar Police” or “Grammar Nazis.” I never take offense at such posts. But the truth is that I hope I don’t come off as anything that could be construed as a Nazi (let’s use that term only for actual Nazis) or even as a police officer.

The tone on both sides of the prescriptive-descriptive debate bothers me quite a bit. Even if some folks cling to “rules” that are myths (split infinitives, sentences ending in prepositions), we needn’t be nasty or dismissive (even if we think the beliefs those people hold are baseless peeves). I say we practice the Precious Metal Rule of Facebook in all casual matters: When someone posts a silly meme that you think is vacuous and possibly even erroneous, just scroll on past (or hide it if it really gets under your skin) and don’t respond unless you’re asked directly to express an opinion. If you do respond in writing, be respectful of the people, even as you rebut their views. And those who hold those beliefs instilled long ago in a classroom or on a copy desk should take the opportunity to question whether a reasoned argument based on linguistic evidence might be valid. Don’t be rude, and don’t be priggish. We would all do well to remember that language changes and standards evolve. I learn a great deal from reading what linguists and lexicographers write about English.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tweets and teases need a second look (new Grammar Guide quiz)

I have a new Grammar Guide quiz (No. 76) for you to try. This one uses images of online tweets and posts. If you try the quiz, be sure to click on the images to enlarge (or, to use a word from The Simpsons, to embiggen) them. This quiz uses mostly fill-in-the-blank questions, and I hope I have anticipated different versions of the correct answers in spots. Click here to begin the quiz.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions, either in the comments section for this post or by email.