Archive for April, 2010

When NOT to Use Hyphens

April 30, 2010

Hyphens (-) are not used to express a range of values.

Bad Example: from 30-50%

Good Example: from 30 to 50%

(Note that it’s not: from 30% to 50%.)

Of course there are exceptions, as in the case of dates and page numbers:

Good Example: April 29-30, 2010.

Good Example: SPE Reservoir Engineering, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 57-63.

Another situation in which we do not use hyphens is a compound modifier when the first word is an adverb that ends in -ly.

Good Example: A well-known man married a full-time employee in an extravagantly decorated hotel ballroom with very rich people attending.

Note that the first two compound modifiers, well-known and full-time, are hyphenated, but the compound modifier with the -ly adverb, extravagantly decorated, is not hyphenated. The same rule applies to the word “very,” as used above.


Avoid Repetitive Reduncancy

April 29, 2010

I saw a sign on the way to work this morning:

Bad Example: “Mandatory attendance required.” Good writers are careful to include a particular thought only once in a sentence or paragraph. Many times have I seen “further” and “additional” used in the same sentence.

This is something that the Spelling and Grammar tool in Word cannot catch for you. I just tried it, and it ignored all three instances of redundancy in this tip.

And the worst part is, the sign I saw this morning was at a high school encouraging students to show up for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. I sure hope the students do better on their grammar today than the staff did!

Capitalization of Acronyms and Initialisms

April 28, 2010

Our industry is rife with TLAs and DFLAs (three-letter acronyms and dang four-letter acronyms), from way up in the realm of the CEO to way down in the realm of the ROV and the BHP.

Generally, initialisms are abbreviations made up of the first letter of several words, such as EU, UK, USA, UAE or SPE. These do not have periods after each initial.

Acronyms are initialisms that form a word or are pronounced as a word, such as NATO or OPEC. These “true acronyms,” where each letter stands for a separate word, are written in all capital letters.

“False acronyms” are made up of parts of words, rather than just the initials, such as Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company), Capex (capital expenditure) and Opex (operating expense). These false acronyms capitalize the first letter and use lower case for the rest.

Of course, there are exceptions to the false acronyms rule, mainly in the trademarked software names, such as COBOL, FORTRAN, BASIC, UNIX, dBASE, STARS, and MS-DOS. In that case, go with the trademarked capitalization.

The Semicolon

April 27, 2010

The semicolon (;) has three main uses:

1) It can act as a hybrid of a comma and a period – just the way it looks! In this usage it connects two related but separate sentences without a conjunction.

Example: The rain came down; the rivers rose toward their banks.

2) A semicolon is also used before a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, moreover, otherwise, thus, nevertheless). An exception is “whereas,” which is always preceded by a comma.

Example: It was raining very hard; consequently, I did not take my dog for his usual walk.

Note that there is no space before the semicolon, a single space after it, and the first letter of the next word is not capitalized unless it is a proper name.

3) A third usage of the semicolon is as a “super comma” to help organize a compound list of elements.

Example: The authors were John White, Arco; Jill Black, Texaco; and Roy Green, Vastar.

Here is a classic example of semicolon usage, which combines two of these three usages:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.” – Charles Dickens

Going Under

April 26, 2010

Many compound words starting with “under” are single words:













 and Underwear

However, there is an exception. (Are you not surprised?)

Under way


This enormous project is now under way.

Subject to Approval

April 21, 2010

Got another question from the Peanut Gallery:

Is it appropriate to use “The offer is accepted subjected to management approval,” or “The offer is accepted subject to management approval”? What if the same sentence is used in past tense: “The offer was accepted ……..”?

This kind of sentence / usage is common in official writing. To answer this question, let’s get the official definitions of the phrases:

1) To be “subjected to” something means to be on the receiving end of something unpleasant that you must endure. This phrase is a transitive verb.

Example: The employees were subjected to constant verbal abuse from the boss.

2) “Subject to” means depending on or contingent on later action. It is an adjective.

Example: The merger is subject to regulatory agency approval.

 So, in your query example, “subject to” would be the correct usage for either case of past or present tense of the verb “accepted” — unless approval by management would be something unpleasant to endure!

Great Quotations

April 20, 2010

Q: Does the comma or period go inside or outside of the quotation marks?

A: “Inside,” she said.

Q: “What about other punctuation, such as question marks or exclamation points?” they asked.

A: Other punctuation marks go inside the quotation marks only if they belong to the material quoted.


Who wrote “Gone With the Wind”? – Question mark doesn’t belong to quote.

“Who wrote that screenplay?” she asked. – Question mark belongs to the quote.

In general, use quotation marks to cite exact verbiage from a person or another source, to set off titles when italics are not used, and to introduce a word or phrase being used in an unusual manner. After defining the new term, quit using the quotes for the duration.

Homonyms and Homophones

April 19, 2010

In the past few hours I have run across a couple of wrong words that were used because they sound the same. These are called homonyms.

There are two kinds of homonyms:

1) Homophones – words that sound the same, but are spelled differently: bough and bow

2) Homographs – words that are spelled the same but have different meanings: the bear (the grizzly) and to bear (a burden)

The two mistakes I spied were homophones:

1) Miner washout – unless the miners lost in West Virginia were washed out of a well, the writer surely meant a minor washout, as opposed to a major washout.

2) Reigned in – unless royalty is involved, the writer surely meant reined in, as in pulling on the reins of a horse to control them.

Spell-check doesn’t catch homonym mistakes. Some of the most common are:

1) To, Too, Two

     To and from; Also; One … Three

2) There, Their, They’re

     Here and there; Belonging to them; They are

Keep an eye out for such homonyms – I sure do!


April 15, 2010

The apostrophe is a punctuation mark used to take the place of eliminated letters in contractions.

Example: “Don’t” is a contraction of the words “do not,” and the apostrophe takes the place of the second “o.”

Apostrophes are also used – and commonly misused – for plurals, possessives and plural possessives.

Here’s a Bad Example I have seen often: Open Saturday’s

The plural of Saturday is Saturdays, so if you are open more than one Saturday and you want to advertise such, please do it without an apostrophe. However, if you are opening Saturday’s mail, the mail belonging to or possessed by Saturday, then the apostrophe to show possession would be correct. The way to show possession is to use: ‘s

Example: Two of their children are Andrew’s, and three are hers. (Note: not her’s)

Exception:  If the word ends in the letters S, X or Z, use just the apostrophe without the S to show possession.

Example: Jesus’ twelve disciples.

The same applies to plural possessives, since most plurals end in S.

Example: Jesus’ twelve disciples’ feet were sore.

Exception: The cobbler’s children’s feet were bare.

(Children is a plural that does not end in S.)

OK, to summarize:

Plurals end in:  s 

Possessives end in:  ‘s  (unless the word already ends in S or X or Z, then just add ‘ )

Plural possessives end in:  s’  (unless the plural does not end in S, then add ‘s )

And if you’re still not sure, ask me.

Try Not to Split Infinitives

April 14, 2010

What is a split infinitive, you ask?

Well, there is an infinitive in the title of this tip: “to split.”

I could have used a split infinitive there: Try to Not Split Infinitives

Here, the word “not” comes between the word “to” and the bare infinitive “split,” thereby splitting the two-word infinitive.

One of the most famous split infinitives of all time comes from the Star Trek TV show:

“… to boldly go where no man has ever gone before.”

Here the word “boldly” splits the infinitive “to go.”

Shakespeare could have split his infinitive in the famous Hamlet line:

“To be, or not to be? That is the question.”

If he had split it, it would have been: “To be, or to not be,” which would have messed up his iambic pentameter completely.

I have read an awful lot of gushy marketing press releases containing gobs of split infinitives.

Bad Example:

“This software gives users the ability to seamlessly integrate with SAP.”

It sounds much better if you say “to integrate seamlessly,” and most split infinitives can be reworded by moving the adverb to immediately after the infinitive – unless you can’t do it without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Sometimes it’s simply OK to use a split infinitive. The Star Trek one is a good example.

Another Good Example:

“We plan to more than double production from that field next year.”