Archive for March, 2010

Compound Subjects are Romantic

March 31, 2010

Plural nouns take plural verbs.

A singular noun takes a singular verb.

These two sentences are simple examples.

But what happens when it’s a compound noun rather than a simple noun?

Bad Example: “Permeability and porosity is being measured in the lab.”

Here you have two things, permeability and porosity, being measured, so even though each of these nouns is singular, together they take a plural verb.

Corrected Example: “Permeability and porosity are being measured in the laboratory.”

(Yes, we spell  out the word “laboratory” unless it is part of the proper name of a company.)

Consider the word “and” to be a wedding ring. When it binds two nouns into a compound subject, the two singles become a couple and need to take a plural verb — as long as they both shall live.

Ah, how romantic!


Over and Under

March 30, 2010

A lot of people use the word “over” incorrectly.

Bad Example: “Over 50 million people go to bed hungry every day.”

Correct Example: “More than 50 million people go to bed hungry every day.”

Sometimes the words “greater than” fit better, such as “greater than 50%.”

“Over” means “above,” and “under” means “beneath.”  It’s a physical location thing.

Thus, the corollary is to use “less than” or “fewer than” instead of “under” in similar constructions.


“Fewer than 50% of earthlings are males.”

“Try to keep the salinity less than 25,000 ppm.”

Roger. Over and out.

More or Less

March 29, 2010

We all want more. More means the same whether you’re talking about portion size (more of it) or number of plates (more of them).

However, we have to distinguish between less and fewer in such situations: we want less food on fewer plates.

Here, “less” refers to a lower quantity of a mass (less of it), whereas “fewer” refers to a lower number of discrete items (fewer of them).


“Fortunately, we are going to need less inhibitor in the drilling mud — 100 ppm or less.”

“After the major budget cuts, we will simply have to drill fewer wells — 14 or fewer.”

BTW, in my humble opinion, less is not more; more is more.

Don’t Just Spell-Check It, Read It

March 25, 2010

There are certain errors that spell-check tools simply will not catch, and sometimes these can be quite embarrassing.

True Story: When I was on the Alief School Board, we were interviewing candidates to hire as our new Superintendent for the school district, and one of the candidates missed a typo on his resume: the word “public” was misspelled as “pubic.”

OMG, was he mortified when I brought it to his attention!  (No, we didn’t hire him.)

Because they were both actual words, the spell-checker missed this error completely.

Some other embarrassing typos a spell-checker would miss include:

–         asses instead of assess

–         flood plane instead of flood plain

–         faces instead of facies  (facies are plural, by the way)

It really is worth your time to read your paper through one last time – to save face.

Tiptoe Among the Tulips

March 25, 2010

When deciding between two options, such as whether to use “between” or “among,” use the word “between.” When deciding among three or more options, use the word “among.”

Tiny Tim, with his ukulele and falsetto voice, went tiptoeing among the tulips, because there were more than two tulips.

Just between us two, there is an exception. You can use “between” when you are talking about reciprocal relationships shared by two or more.

Example: “The unitization agreement between the four operators was signed today.”

Fun Fact:  The ukulele is a Hawaiian stringed instrument, and according to my Hawaiian friend Lori, it is pronounced “OO-koo-lay-lee,” not “YOU-koo-lay-lee.”

Me, Myself, and I

March 25, 2010

Got another question from the Peanut Gallery:

“Seems to me that a lot of people in Texas use the reflexive pronoun constantly — and incorrectly from what I remember.

Bad Example: ‘Please give a copy to George and myself.’

Do you notice this?”

Yes, people use “me”, “myself”, and “I” incorrectly all the time, especially in songs on the radio.

Corrected Example: “Please give a copy to George and me.”

Here’s the Rule: Use “I” as a subject, “me” as an object, and “myself” when you’ve already used “I” earlier in the same sentence or you’re emphasizing your own role.

Example: “As for myself, I prefer to take all the credit, even though the paper was written by both John and me.”

To help you remember this, here are some songs on the radio that actually did it right:

“You are so beautiful … to ME. Can’t you SEE?”

“All by myself … don’t wanna be … all by myself … anymore.”

“You and I will make a pact … we must bring salvation back … where there is love, I’ll be there.”

Let Thy Words Be Few

March 25, 2010

Why use a bunch of words when just one (or two) will do the proverbial trick?

Here are some substitutions you can use to be less verbose:

As to whether => whether

Whether or not => whether

Due to the fact that => because

In order to => to

For the purpose of => to

In reference to => about

Subsequent to => after

Takes into account => accounts for

When your writing is wordy, long-winded and loquacious, your document will take too much time for your reader to read – and for you to write! Being concise will increase productivity all around.

Minding Your Ps and Qs

March 25, 2010

One use of the letter P is in probability, with P10, P50 and P90 describing the various levels of probability. Again, there is no space between the capital P and the number.

We do not use “p.” as an abbreviation for “page” in the text.

Example: See page 37.

Nor do we use it in the references when listing page numbers in a book or journal.

Example: Peaceman, D.W. 1990. Discussion of Productivity of a Horizontal Well. SPE Res Eng 5 (2): 252-253.

(Don Peaceman died recently. Rest in Peace, man.)

Now for the Qs.

Note that we do not use an apostrophe when we make the plural of a letter (i.e., not P’s and Q’s).

When we are describing which quarter of the year something will be done, we put the Q in front of the number, followed by a space and the four-digit year.

Example: Q4 2009, not 4Q09

So where did this expression “mind your Ps and Qs” come from, you ask?

There are several interesting theories, including not forgetting one’s pea jacket and queue wig when leaving the pub. However, a more likely provenance is a teacher reminding children learning to write not to mix up the lower-case letters p and q.

Which which? That which.

March 25, 2010

Many people switch “that” and “which” in their sentences. I think the schoolmarms in Britain teach something opposite from the US usage, which doesn’t help. (Note that correct usage.)

Here’s how we do it and why:

“That” is a defining or restrictive pronoun.

Example: “The well that is in the middle of the field is producing only gas.”

It defines which well out of a choice of several wells is producing gas.

“Which” is an undefined or unrestricted pronoun.

Example: “The well, which is in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, is producing gas.”

You already know which well is being discussed, and the phrase after the “which” merely adds a little extra information that folks in Louisiana might call “lagniappe.”

Fun Fact: A baker’s dozen = 13, and that extra donut would be lagniappe, which means a little something extra. Some folks call that “gravy.” Folks my age call that “groovy.”

Golden Rule: Always use a comma before “which” and never use a comma before “that.”

Work, Work, Work

March 25, 2010

Apparently we do a lot of work in our industry, and there are many compound words to describe it. And, as with the “well-” words, there is variance as to whether they may be one word or two (but none take a hyphen.)

Single words include:  workforce, and workover when it is used as a noun or adjective.

Example: This well really needs a workover.

Separate words are used for:  work flow, work group, work string, and work over when it is used as a verb.

Example: We really need to work over this well.

Which brings us to a question from the Peanut Gallery about workpack vs. work pack.

I searched the SPE Style Guide and the Schlumberger Glossary, but the term was not to be found. So I did two polls to find the most popular industry and worldwide usage.

1) A search on found 8 hits for workpack and 3 hits for work pack — too small a sample to be statistically significant.

2) A search on found 70,200 hits for workpack and 61,900 hits for work pack — also pretty close.

Now, as a former librarian, I do not condone democracy in grammatical matters, but in this particular case, we shall let the majority rule.

Workpack it is!