Archive for July, 2011

Hyphenated Adjectives

July 9, 2011

Q: If there are two words before a noun that act like an adjective to describe it, do you hyphenate those two words?

Standard Answer: That depends. Specifically, that depends on the parts of speech involved.

If the two words are an adverb followed by an adjective, do not hyphenate.


A much needed vacation

A very challenging problem

A sometimes difficult task

The nearly completed project

The ever increasing regulation

The once popular diner

The already full separator

The now defunct agency

The purpose of the hyphen is to indicate that the two words should be understood as a single concept even though they are different parts of speech.


Ten-story building

Fine-grained sandstone

Some expressions of two words are already recognized as a single concept, in which case no hyphen is needed.


High school teacher

Income tax return

Monday morning meeting

Social Security benefits

Compound adjectives formed by a noun and a verb participle are hyphenated. Examples:





Also hyphenated are compound adjectives formed by an adjective preceding a noun. Examples:

High-pressure separator

Round-table discussion

Comparatives and superlatives in compound adjectives also take hyphens.


The highest-bidding contractor

A shorter-term contract

If in doubt, look it up in the dictionary, or ask your friendly neighborhood Grammar Geek. I love to get fan mail from the Peanut Gallery.


Fun Fact of the Day:

The earth’s North Pole is actually a magnetic south pole, where the magnetic field points straight down. Conversely, the earth’s South Pole is actually a magnetic north pole, where the magnetic field points straight up. The north pole of a magnet should actually be called the north-seeking pole. (Note the hyphen.)

Another Fun Fact:

If you draw a straight line between the earth’s North Magnetic Pole and South Magnetic Pole, the line does not pass through the center of the earth, but misses it by 330 miles (530 km).


Either/Or and Neither/Nor

July 8, 2011

We have discussed how compound subjects take a plural verb.

Example: Both Ted and Fred need to be invited to that meeting.

Q: But what about either/or and neither/nor sentence constructions?

Standard Answer: That depends.

With neither/nor and either/or, the verb tense depends on the noun closest to the verb.


Neither the pump nor the valves meet specifications. (plural)

Neither the valves nor the pump meets specifications. (singular)

Either the compressor or the drill bits are going to have to be moved from this area. Either the drill bits or the compressor is going to have to be moved from this area.

Be careful not to use a double negative when using neither/nor after the verb.

Bad Example:

He did not order neither the core barrels nor the core catcher. (double negative.)

Corrected Example:

He ordered neither the core barrels nor the core catcher.

Another way to correct that double negative would be to use the “not A or B” construction.

Another Corrected Example:

He did not order the core barrels or the core catcher.

Make sure that both halves of the either/or and neither/nor constructions have the same part of speech immediately following. We editors call this a “parallel construction.”

Bad Example:

The company man said he wanted us to either drill a sidetrack or lateral.

In this example, a verb follows “either” while a noun follows “or.” Nix, nix.

This can be corrected two ways:

The company man said he wanted us to drill either a sidetrack or a lateral. (both nouns)

The company man said he wanted us to either drill a sidetrack or turn it into a lateral. (both verbs)

Either way, the parallel construction works.


Profound Quote of the Day:

“The community which has neither poverty nor riches will always have the noblest principles.”

– Plato, Greek philosopher, 427 BC – 347 BC

Three Little Things

July 7, 2011

On my running list of topic ideas for the Tip of the Day, I have three little items. None of them merits a whole diatribe on its own, so I’m going to combine them into a single tip.

Little Thing #1:
I ran across the phrase “1.5 km square” in one of the major reports I’ve been editing.
Now, most expressions for area in technical publications are given in units of
km2. If the author meant that the area was a square with one side equal to 1.5
km, then it should have been written 2.25 km2.

Little Thing #2:
Here’s  another sentence that needed correction.

Bad Example:
Electric or alternatively gas-driven compressors will be provided to boost pressure.

“Or alternatively” seemed repetitively redundant to me. I would word it this way:

Corrected Example:
Either electric or gas-driven compressors will be provided to boost pressure.

Little Thing #3:
Some things just don’t need abbreviating. Example: B62 for Block 62
When I was reading it, I wasn’t sure if I was reading about an airplane or possibly playing Bingo.

Rule of Thumb:
If it’s a single syllable, don’t abbreviate it.

Well, that takes care of every last idea I had on my list of potential Tip of the Day topics.I sure hope somebody out there in the Peanut Gallery asks me a question or sends me something to edit that makes me hop up on my soapbox to spout off.


Profound Quote of the Day:
“Little things console us because little things afflict us.”
– Blaise Pascal, French philosopher, 1623-1662

Make or Take a Decision?

July 6, 2011

I’ve been seeing more and more people using “take a decision” instead of “make a decision.” I instinctively change “take” to “make” each time, mainly because I’ve heard of decision-making ability, but I’ve never heard of decision-taking ability.

So I opened up my trusty Webster’s dictionary to see what it had to say.

Decision is defined as “a determination arrived at after consideration; a conclusion.”

Q: Would you take a determination, or make a determination?
A: Make.
Q: Would you make a conclusion, or take a conclusion?
A: Make.

Webster defines “take” as “to get into one’s hands or into one’s possession, power or control.” Other definitions include:
•       To bind oneself by – Example: take an oath of office
•       To impose upon oneself – Example: take the trouble to do it right
•       To adopt as one’s own – Example: take a stand on the issue
•       To undertake, make, do or perform – Example: take a walk, take legal action
All of these would fit semantically with “take a decision.” However, of all the hundreds of expressions Webster used in the definition of the word “take,” not one of them was “take a decision.”

“Make,” on the other hand, was defined as “to cause to happen, exist, or occur.” Other
definitions that seemed to fit with the word “decision” include:
•       To frame or formulate in the mind – Example: to make plans
•       To enact or establish – Example: to make laws
Webster did not include “make a decision” in the many expressions listed here, either.

So, I contacted one of the FOJs (Friends of Jeanne), Dr. Errol Wirasinghe, who just so happened to write the book on the subject: “The Art of Making Decisions.”

His take on the subject (pun intended) was:
You “make a decision” and then you “take action” when you implement that decision.
One can “make a decision” and never have any action if one does not implement that decision.

Errol said he spent 11 years in the UK, where they often “take decisions,” though
notalways. (I’m sure that was a double entendre.) He added that in Spanish the expression is “tomar decisiones,” which literally means “to take decisions.”

Therefore, I have decided that we’ll be “making” decisions from now on – preferably good ones!

Profound Quote of the Day:
High office teaches decision making, not substance. It consumes intellectual capital; it does not create it. Most high officials leave office with the perceptions and insights with which they entered; they learn how to make decisions but not what decisions to make.
– Henry A. Kissinger, former US Secretary of State