Archive for February, 2013

All vs. All Of

February 22, 2013

I got a question from the Peanut Gallery. Joe “HHBL” in Houston asks:
Should it be “… known each other all of their lives” or “… known each other all their lives”?

There are a few general Rules of Thumb for this topic:

Rule #:1
If the next phrase is a singular noun, especially if it describes a quantity, keep the word “of.”

All of the candy
All of the Girl Scout cookies
All of the ice cream

Rule #2:
If the next phrase is a plural noun, don’t use the word “of.”

All the lonely people! Where DO they all come from?
Where have all the flowers gone?

Rule #3:
If the next word is a subject or object pronoun, keep the word “of.”

All of you
All of it
All of us

Rule #4:
If the next word is a possessive pronoun, don’t use the word “of.”

All my trials
All his accomplishments

In Joe’s case, Rule #4 applies, so “all their lives” would work.
He could also say “… known each other their whole lives” or “their entire lives.”

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
– Henry David Thoreau, American Author, 1817-1862

TMI Tirade

February 14, 2013

When writing big reports, you just don’t need to include every single piece of data you have. There is such a thing as Too Much Information = TMI.

For example, when writing a field development plan, the readers want to know what the plans are to develop the field. You may have done a year’s worth of geological study, with core descriptions, sedimentological reconstructions, and examinations of the fossils and burrows left behind by prehistoric itty-bitty critters with Latin names (in italics).

But you simply do not have to include all 109 pages of geology in the field development plan!

For one thing, nobody is going to have time to read 109 pages of geology. Not even fellow geologists.

And for another thing, there are no plans for the field geology. Trust me, the geology is not going to change during the next 25 years of the field life, and even if it did, it would be totally unplanned. Mother Nature is going to do what Mother Nature is going to do, and it won’t change the current plans for the field in any way, shape or form.

So why do you have to put 109 pages of geology in the main document? Surely a 10-page summary describing the sort of rock one might encounter at the different depths will suffice, putting the other 99 pages as a separate appendix document.

Already, Microsoft Word is balking, choking on the 124 megabytes of pictures, sending me “not enough memory” error messages – and I haven’t even gotten into the number of wells they plan to drill and whatever facilities and money they will need to flange up those plans.

I think I’m going to have to do some serious chopping if I’m going to be able to fit the actual field development plans into a document that’s of a manageable size.
It’s already way too fat to fly.

Hilarious Typo of the Day:
Instead of “steam generator” they had “seam generator.”
We used to call that a sewing machine, back in the day in Home Ec. class.

Profound Quote of the Day:

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
– Hans Hofmann, German artist, 1880-1966


Trackable vs. Traceable

February 12, 2013

Today’s tip comes from Ted, a member of the Peanut Gallery in Oman.

I came across one bad example today which drew my attention between the use of the words “trackable” and “traceable.”

Trackable, as in: “The wounded animal was trackable because he left a trail of blood behind.”
This was used in the context of:  “To be able to be hunted down until captured.”

The word “traceable” could be used in such a sentence as: “A small amount of heroin was traceable in the drug addict’s bloodstream.”
This was used in the context of a small amount of a substance was detectable within another substance.
Also, one’s family history is “traceable” back through time due to good record keeping.

I hope this gives you food for thought and a potential future topic.
I also note that the word “Trackable” gets underlined in red as a spelling mistake by Microsoft Office Spell Checker.

Ted said this was all off the top of his head.
(Hey, that rhymes!)
So of course I had to go look it up.

According to
Traceable – (usually followed by “to”) able to be traced to; synonym of attributable
Example: a failure traceable to corrosion
Traceable – capable of being traced or tracked; synonym of trackable
Example: a traceable riverbed

So it would appear that the two words might be interchangeable. However, in the package delivery industry, “track and trace” are used as two separate ideas. Tracking means determining the current location, and tracing means determining past locations of an item being delivered, generally using barcodes or RFID technology. Thus, tracing means following the footsteps or a continuous line of something with the goal of finding the route (the journey), whereas tracking means finding a spot here and there where intermittent tracks have been left with the goal of finding the item or animal (the destination).

And these definitions seem to work with Ted’s top-of-head ones.

Funny Traceable Quote of the Day:

“The really good idea is always traceable back quite a long way, often to a not very good idea, which sparked off another idea that was only slightly better, which somebody else misunderstood in such a way that they then said something which was really rather interesting.”
– John Cleese, English comedian and actor, b. 1939

Past vs. Present Perfect

February 9, 2013

It is becoming more common to use the simple past tense instead of the present perfect tense, which is more correct.

Bad Examples: (Compliments of The Grammar Logs #477)
I never made a mistake in my life. (Howard Cosell)
I retired several times. (Fred Astaire)
They found 12 bodies so far. (CBC News)
We built several prisons already. (BBC News)

The simple past tense is used to describe an action or actions completed in the past, not something that started at some time in the past and is continuing to the present and perhaps beyond. For the latter, you need the present perfect tense, which is made up of has/have plus the past participle (–ed).

Thus, the word “have” was left out of all of those sentences above. Sometimes the contraction ‘ve is used, particularly when speaking.

Corrected Examples:
I’ve never made a mistake in my life.
I have retired several times.
They’ve found 12 bodies so far.
We have built several prisons already.

In all these cases, there is some assumption that the activity is still continuing or may continue.

It’s not simple past tense until it’s over. So don’t use past tense when present perfect is needed.

Just because it is becoming more common doesn’t make it right.
(BTW, that’s a great line to use with your kids when they claim “Everybody’s doing it.”)

Profound Quotes of the Day:

“The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.”

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”

– Henry Ward Beecher, American clergyman and social reformer, 1813-1887

In the Fold

February 9, 2013

What is wrong with the following sentence?

Bad Example:
The new technique increases production by six fold.

Actually, there are two things wrong.
1)      Sixfold should be a single word, not two words, not hyphenated (–fold is a joined suffix).
2)      In this sentence, “sixfold” is an adverb that tells “how” production increases, so you don’t need the word “by.”

Corrected Example:
The new technique increases production sixfold.

If you use “sixfold” as an adjective, the sentence would then be:
The new technique results in a sixfold increase in production.

I think that sentence sounds better.  But engineers would probably understand it even better if it read:
The new technique increases production by a factor of six.

Very Interesting Proofreading Tidbit:
I was sitting in my Mama Bear Easy Chair reading Family Circle magazine, and I ran
across the following tip and had to share it with the Peanut Gallery.
“By drinking a cup more coffee than usual, people in a Tufts University study increased their ability to spot grammatical errors.”
So the next time you are proofreading your report prior to handing it to the boss, grab a cup of joe first!

Profound Quotes of the Day:

“Truth never yet fell dead in the streets; it has such affinity with the soul of man, the seed however broadcast will catch somewhere and produce its hundredfold.”

“Wealth and want equally harden the human heart.”

– Theodore Parker, American theologian at Harvard Divinity School, 1810-1860

More About Hyphens

February 6, 2013

Today I’m going to share two situations, one of which uses a hyphen, and one of which does not.

Rule of Thumb #1:
Use a hyphen before the word “type” when describing a type of item with a two-word adjective.

LED-type level gauges
Venturi-type flow meter
Hassler-type permeameter

Rule of Thumb #2:
Do not use a hyphen when describing the identification number of an item.

Row 27
Version 2
Phase 3
Rig 94
Model 7

Rule of Thumb #3:
Capitalize the noun that precedes the number in the above examples for Rule #2. Consider it a proper name for that row or version or phase or rig or model, and all proper names are capitalized.

Famous Quote of the Day:

“As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.”
– Benjamin Disraeli, British statesman, 1804-1881

Bare Infinitives Revisited

February 5, 2013

In many languages, the first of two consecutive verbs is conjugated (to match the subject) and the second verb is an infinitive.

Remember to pick up a gallon of milk at the store on the way home from work.

Here, “remember” is an imperative verb with the subject “you” being understood, and “to pick up” is the infinitive.

Yet, in many cases, particularly in spoken English, we leave off the word “to” from the infinitive, resulting in what is called a “bare infinitive.”

Go get a gallon of milk from the store. I told you before you left work….

Here again is the imperative, “go,” but the word “to” has been left off the infinitive “to get.”

Sometimes people will substitute “and” for “to,” which makes it a compound verb, not an infinitive.

Go and get a gallon of milk from the store. I need it for the macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Another way this can be written is:
Go, get a gallon of milk from the store now. No, I can’t fix something else. I already opened the box. The noodles are boiling. See?

The first sentence is a compound sentence, with the first complete sentence being “go.”

Personal Anecdote:
My family used to go through a gallon of milk a day when I had three teenage boys
in the house. All that calcium built strong bones all right, because they are 6 ft 4 in. tall. I gotta stand on tiptoe to kiss ’em.

So, how shall we remember what a bare infinitive is?
Let’s let the Walt Disney movie Jungle Book run through our minds:

Look for those BARE Infinitives,
Those simple bare infinitives,
Forget about the preposition “to,”
Just use those bare infinitives.
It something that’s definitive,
It’s just the bare necessities for you.

Poetry Quote of the Day:

“The cow is of the bovine ilk;
one end is moo, the other milk.”
– Ogden Nash, American poet, 1902-1971

Three-Dog Night

February 3, 2013

Some folks think that an adjective formed by a number + a hyphen + a noun should be plural.

Bad Example:
15-components equation of state

Yes, the EOS has 15 components, and that’s plural, but if you make a hyphenated adjective out of it, you leave the “S” off. I don’t know why; that’s just how it is.

Corrected Example:
15-component equation of state

Other Good Examples:
12-step program
Six-cylinder engine
Texas two-step dance
Two-piece bathing suit
Two-ply paper towels
Three-piece suit
Three-legged dog

Which brings me to Three Dog Night, the singing group famous for “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog / Joy to the World.”

According to the official account  included in the CD set Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, 1965–1975, a band member’s girlfriend suggested the name after reading a magazine article about indigenous Australians who on cold nights would sleep in a hole in the ground embracing a dingo, a native wild dog. On colder nights they would sleep with two dogs, and if the night were freezing, it was called a “three dog night.”

Well, it should have been hyphenated, but at least they left the “S” off of “dog.”

Profound Quote of the Day:

“I’ve always said money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make it wag its tail.”
– Kinky Friedman, Texas musician and humorist and perennial candidate for Governor, b. 1944

Distributive Property

February 3, 2013

I had a follow-up question about yesterday’s tip on “not only … but also.”
Khalaf from Oman writes:
“Small question: is it correct to add the word “he” in the second sentence or delete the word “it” in the first sentence?”

1)  This technique not only increases the oil production rate, but it also increases ultimate recovery.

2)  He is not only a great swimmer, but he is also a great musician.

Thanks for asking, Khalaf.
Let me answer in mathematical terms, specifically the “distributive property.”
X (Y + Z) = XY + XZ

Without the word “it” added, the first sentence has the subject “this technique” distributed over the predicates “increases the oil production rate” and “increases ultimate recovery.” In English teacher parlance, this is a single subject with a compound predicate.

By including the word “it” you are giving the second predicate its own subject, which equals and takes the place of “technique.”  In math parlance, X = technique = it. In English teacher parlance, you have a compound sentence with two subjects each with its own predicate.

In math-speak, the second sentence has X = “He is” and Y = “great swimmer” and Z = “great musician.”

Both the distributed and non-distributed sentences are equivalent in meaning, but because “less is more” is the rule in writing, therefore the X(Y+Z) form would be preferred – even though “less is more” makes no mathematical sense!

I hope this explains things clearly.

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.”
– Albert Einstein, German physicist, 1879-1955

Not Only

February 3, 2013

There is a certain sentence construction using the phrase “not only” that tries to show that there are two effects that result.

This technique not only increases the oil production rate, but it also increases ultimate recovery.

Two for the price of one!  Yea!

There are times when I prefer to use “both” instead of “not only … but also.”

This technique increases both the oil production rate and the ultimate recovery.
Short and sweet; very clear and direct.

So when would you use the two different methods?
If you want to stress the additional benefit as lagniappe on top of something that’s already good, then use the “not only … but also” construction. If space is at a premium (keep the abstract under 300 words), or if you want to be very clear and direct, use the “both” construction.

If you choose the “not only … but also” construction, be sure to do it correctly with parallel phrases.

According to Grammar Girl (,
if you use this kind of sentence construction, “it’s considered good form to make sure the parts that follow each set of words are formatted the same way.”

Good Example:
He is not only a great swimmer, but also a great musician.  (two noun clauses)
Bad Example:
He is not only a great swimmer, but also plays amazing music.  (a noun clause and a verb clause)
Corrected Example:
He not only swims fast, but also plays amazing music.  (two verb clauses)

This parallel structure is reminiscent of the rule of thumb about having all of your bullet points start with the same part of speech, e.g., a verb.

The objectives of this study are:

•       To develop a new method,
•       To test the method in the lab,
•       To conduct a field pilot test, and
•       To roll out the new technique worldwide.

If you put the “to” part of the verb infinitive in the introduction right before the semicolon, you get:

The objectives of this study are to:
•       Develop a new method,
•       Test the method in the lab,
•       Conduct a field pilot test, and
•       Roll out the new technique worldwide.

This is shorter and more powerful. If you can put a repeated word in the warm-up, the pitch is delivered so much faster and harder.
(When will baseball season ever get here?)

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.”
– Norman Vincent Peale, American clergyman, 1898-1993