Don’t Use a Preposition After the Word “Including”

Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Killers of the Flower Moon all scored multiple Oscar nominations, including for best picture.

Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Killers of the Flower Moon all scored Oscar nominations in multiple categories, including best picture.

Paul Strevegsky

graceful. gracious

Ballerinas are graceful; tactful people are gracious.

Paul Stregevsky

’tis. ‘tis

The grammar geeks at the Wall Street Journal clarify an issue I’ve long wondered about:

The word ’tis takes an apostrophe, not an open single-quote, because the apostrophe replaces a “missing” letter. In other words, ’tis is a shortened form of “it is.”

This is why rock ’n’ roll is properly spelled with two apostrophes, though writers often stumble and use an open-quote mark before the “n.” The two apostrophes replace the missing letters in “and.”

Problem is, unlike in the typewriter era, today’s writers are at the mercy of their editing software with such keyboard characters. We can think we’re typing in an apostrophe, but chances are that an open quote will appear instead if it’s before a letter. The writer has to go back and hit the key again to get the proper character to appear.

And note the spelling ’N Sync for the band (the apostrophe replaces the “I” in what could be read as In Sync), as well as the ’Ndrangheta, Italy’s most powerful and richest crime syndicate. Both names properly start with an apostrophe.

elder. eldest

Use elder when comparing two people.

Use eldest when comparing three or more.

Lianna always admired her elder brother.

The eldest person at the reunion will receive a plaque.

moved. touched.

Which is better?

1. Your letter moved me.

2. I was touched by your letter.

#1 is preferable, since #2 puts the focus on me, whereas #1 puts the focus where it belongs: On you!

Is a Comma Necessary in Spelling Out Locations?

Which sentence is correct?

1. She graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 2020.

2. She graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2020.


3. We visited their Arlington, Virginia, home.

4. We visited their Arlington, Virginia home.

According to Merriam-Webster's Guide to Punctuation and Style, #1 is correct, while #3 is preferred.

Should You Use a Comma After a Job Title?

Which sentence is correct?

1. Tom Jones, PhD, specializes in oncology.

2. Tom Jones, PhD specializes in oncology.

I think that #1 is better, since the symmetry of the commas — both before and after “PhD” — provides visual clarity.

e-newsletter. newsletter

According to Google, “newsletter” (8.4 billion results) is more common than “e-newsletter” (5.7 billion results).

Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster doesn’t even list “e-newsletter” in its standard-setting dictionary.

chance. chances.

Is it your “chance,” or your “chances”?

Here’s the answer from Colleen Newvine, the product manager of the A.P. Stylebook:

Generally plural, as is the case with “odd” vs. “odds.”

1 Out of 2 “Are,” or 1 Out of 2 “Is”?

Which is correct: “1 out of 2 people are,” or “1 out of 2 people is”?

Here’s the answer from Colleen Newvine, the product manager of the A.P. Stylebook:

There often are gray areas with no absolute right or wrong (or at least, strongly divided opinions on what’s right and what’s wrong). These fall in that category.

Either can be OK. Some very formal approaches to grammar argue that “1” is the subject and thus the verb should be singular. But many grammar experts emphasize what’s called notional agreement: When the agreement between a subject and a verb is determined by meaning rather than formal grammatical rules.

In this example, I’d say that clearly the meaning is plural. I’d write “1 out of 2 people are.”

On a side note, see the entry for “ratios.” It has an example of using the numeral 1, rather than one, in this construction.

command attention. demand attention.

In writing a recent article, I couldn’t decide whether to say that something “commands” attention or “demands” attention.

In my mind, “commanding” seems more emphatic — attention must be paid!

Indeed, Merriam-Webster defines “command” as “to direct authoritatively: order,” whereas it defines “demand” as “to call for as useful or necessary.”

However, in Googling this distinction, I came across a blog post that seems to suggest the opposite: That “demanding” attention is negative; it entails interrupting someone rudely.

By contrast, according to the blogger, “commanding” attention is positive; it means you’ve drawn someone in with subtlety, without waving your hands or shouting.

Who’s right? As always, I turned to my trusty colleague Paul Stregevsky. Here’s what Paul wrote back:

Something commands attention by being attention-worthy. It’s appealing, intriguing, or both. All in a good, unfaultable way.

Usually, something demands attention by being intrusive. A flashing sign or a slogan chanted over a bullhorn come to mind.

But sometimes, something demands attention by being urgent. For example, an email message marked “URGENT.”

And sometimes, yes, something demands attention by being excellent.

Beyond the difference in their degree of good to bad, the two terms differ more fundamentally:

When we say something commands attention, we mean, “People are paying attention to it.”

When we say something demands attention, we mean, “People ought to pay attention to it.”

A third phrase comes to mind: “Attention must be paid.” We say that about something that stands out for its excellence, or perhaps for its novelty.

On a scale of 1 to 100, where 100 is perfectly safe/benign/positive, I would rank the three phrases as follows:

95: Attention must be paid.

80: Commands attention.

50: Demands attentions. (Too many meanings, too many connotations to use reliably.)

timetable. timeline. time frame.

In my proposals, I include a section called either “timeline” or “timetable.” This section identifies how long the project at hand will take. Pretty standard stuff.

The problem: Neither “timeline ”nor “timetable” seems to mean precisely what I just said — that I can accomplish this project within, say, 3-6 weeks. Here are the definitions of these words from Merriam-Webster:

timeline: a schedule of events and procedures

timetable: a schedule showing a planned order or sequence

I suppose “duration” would be the technically correct word, but it doesn’t sound right. If I wanted to be conversational, I could call the section, “How Long?”

Yet after a little Googling, I was reminded of “time frame,” which means “a period of time especially with respect to some action or project.”

That’s the mot juste!

Going forward, my proposals will no longer mention “timelines” or “timetables.” Instead, they’ll cite “time frames.”


Which sentence is correct?

1. Many ghostwriters (including me) have experience as a journalist.

2. Many ghostwriters (including myself) have experience as a journalist.

#1 is correct. As Bryan Garner explains in Garner’s Modern English Usage,

Myself is best used either reflexively (‘I’ve decided to exclude myself from consideration’) or intensively (‘I myself have seen that’; ‘I’ve done that myself’). The word shouldn’t appear as a substitute for I or me (‘My wife and myself were delighted to see you’).”

“Me,” or “I”?

Which is correct?

1. Join Daria and me for lunch.

2. Join Daria and I for lunch.

#1 is correct.

How do I know? Because if I omit the other person (“Daria and”), then #2 (“Join I for”) makes no sense. By contrast, #1 (“Join me for”) is perfectly grammatical.

Variety: A Deceptively Plural Noun

▶️ A variety of words are found in religious services.

▶️ A variety of equipment is attached.

Thank you, Bryan Garner.

“The Most-Degrading Sequence of 5 Words in the English Language”

Thank you, Frank Bruni!

I’m certain I said “no worries” quite recently, and I cringed, though with only a small fraction of the self-loathing that I feel when I do the following face plant: “It is what it is.”

That may be the most degrading sequence of five words in the English language. It serves no essential purpose. It says nothing at all. It’s syllables for the sake of syllables, a waste of cognition and breath, the kind of tautology that an absurdist playwright might put in a character’s mouth as a commentary on the pretentiousness and pointlessness of some human communication.

I bet I heard it three times yesterday. And will hear it twice tomorrow. And, God forgive me, will say it once the day after that.

Why? Because that’s how such expressions work: They go from quirky to commonplace to overexposed to ambient. Soon you’re repeating them without intention or awareness. And that’s fine — even a blessing — with a reflexive courtesy like “please excuse me” or “my pleasure.”

But not with “it is what it is,” which marks an intellectual and moral surrender. “It’s an excuse not to better define whatever you’re trying hard not to further discuss,” Nathan Mitchell of Milwaukee wrote to me, joining a chorus of other readers, including Nancy Betz of Columbus, Ohio, and Gabe Yankowitz of Manlius, N.Y., who urged its banishment.

It relieves you of coming to a conclusion, forming an opinion, developing an action plan — and even worse, tries to be cute about it. As William Safire observed in an essay about “it is what it is” more than a decade and a half ago, “The trick to assertive deflection is in the ducking of a question in a way that sounds forthright.”

“Will the vogue use of ‘it is what it is’ become fixed in the farrago of unresponsive responses?” Safire asked. We now have the exasperating answer.

Commas Are Tricky

Which sentence is correct?

1. Join us, and go beyond a typical workday.

2. Join us and go beyond a typical workday.

It’s a trick question; both are valid, since they each convey a different sense.

Addendum (11/15/2022): Here’s a helpful explanation from Merriam-Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style:

“Commas are not normally used to separate the parts of a compound predicate. However, they are often used if the predicate is long and complicated, if one part is being stressed, or the absence of a comma could cause a momentary misreading.”

In other words: Commas can be subjective.

The Relative Length of Your Words Matters

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence:

“The Taiwan Relations Act set out America’s commitment to a democratic Taiwan, providing the framework for an economic and diplomatic relationship that would quickly flourish into a key partnership.”

However, it’s an example of a nuance that many people ignore: The relative length of your words matters.

Specifically, since the author uses so many big words, it’s important that she also use a small one here and there.

Why? Because big words in succession are hard to digest. By contrast, variety gives your reader a mental break.

who. that

Consider this sentence from the New York Times — specifically, the text that comes after the colon (I added the emphasis):

“The fact that the bill could slightly add to the federal deficit did not dissuade House Democrats from voting for it, in part because the analysis boiled down to a dispute over a single line item: how much the I.R.S. would collect by cracking down on people and companies that dodge large tax bills.”

Now, if I use the word “people” (or refer to a person), then grammar demands that the word “who” follow. By contrast, inanimate objects (basically, everything else, including companies) get “that” or “which.”

But what happens, as in the above example, when a sentence contains both “people” and “companies”? Does “people” always predominate? Or is the last pronoun (in this case, “companies”) the deciding factor?

In other words: Is it “companies and people who” or “companies and people that”?

My understanding is that the inflected word that must apply to each element is governed by the element listed last. Thus:

“companies and people who”


“people and companies that”

A colleague disagrees. He says that we must stick to whichever pronoun works for both antecedents. Thus:

“companies and people that”


“people and companies that”

But not:

“companies and people who”


“people and companies who”

As for who’s right, I’m sorry to say that Bryan Garner, the leading voice on parsing precise usage, has not responded.

The Vocabulary of Grants and Proposals

In describing their work, grant writers can sometimes be imprecise. For example, sometimes they use the word “grant” to refer both to the document from the donor and their own response to it.

That’s confusing.

So, in the interest of clarity, I’d like to define a few key terms.

Donors (usually foundations) issue R.F.P.s, or “requests for proposals.”

Organizations respond to these R.F.P.s by filling out an application. In other words: You write a proposal.

A team of reviewers evaluates your proposal. If your proposal scores highly, you get a grant.

The Case for and Against Elegant Variation

In a new article in the New Yorker, Naaman Zhou runs down the pros and cons of what writers call “elegant variation.”

The Case Against
The Fowlers, whose early attempts to codify English are still followed by many sticklers, coined “elegant variation” sarcastically and described it as “false elegance” and “cheap ornament.” On Wikipedia, you’ll find an instructive essay titled “The Problem With Elegant Variation.” “Elegant variation distracts the reader, removes clarity, and can introduce inadvertent humor or muddled metaphors,” it says. Or, as the Fowler brothers put it, in 1906, “These elephantine shifts distract our attention from the matter in hand.”

The Case For
According to Kristen Syrett, a professor of linguistics at Rutgers University, people are instinctively drawn to elegant variation, or “second mentions,” because of a well-documented concept called the repeated-name penalty. This is a cognitive phenomenon, part of the way human minds process language. “If I say to you, ‘Jane walked into the living room, Jane picked up a book, Jane started to read the book’... that causes a delay in reading time,” Syrett said. Indeed, psycholinguists have conducted experiments with eye-tracking technology, where they watch the eyes of their subjects stumbling over these names and scanning back. The body stutters. This response, Syrett said, is “encoded in our brain” — it applies as much to Japanese as it does to Spanish.

Do You Make This Mistake in English?

I certainly do!

Here’s the scenario: Which sentence is correct?

1. I appreciate you taking the time.

2. I appreciate your timing the time.

#2 is correct, even if many well-educated people say #1.

The issue is what H.W. Fowler called the “fused participle,” which means a participle that is (1) used as a noun (i.e., a gerund), and (2) preceded by a noun or pronoun not in the possessive case.

Here are two more examples:

1. Shareholders worried about the company reorganizing.

2. Shareholders worried about the company’s reorganizing.

Again: #2 is correct.

1. Me going home made her sad.

2. My going home made her sad.

Yet again, only #2 is correct.

Why the Wall Street Journal Embraces the Compound Hyphen

As readers of Sprachgefuhl know, I favor the compound hyphen. It turns out that I’m not alone. The great Paul R. Martin, a longtime editor at the Wall Street Journal who served as the paper’s final authority on language, was also a big fan. Here’s how William Safire, who wrote the “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine, described Martin’s meticulousness:


“Who is it in the press that calls on me?” asks Julius Caesar in the second scene of the first act of Shakespeare’s play.

It is Paul R. Martin, assistant managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, known to his colleagues as the Great Hyphenator. He commends me for defending the use of the hyphen in kitchen-table issue “as befits a compound adjective modifying the noun issue,” but then takes me to task for using health care reform with the compound adjective health care naked of hyphenation.

All Americans deserve health care, but does all adjectival health care deserve a hyphen? Usagists disagree.

Mr. Martin does a sprightly flier on usage for the Journal, called Style & Substance, along the lines of the occasional Winners & Sinners that used to be put out by usageers at the New York Times. (I’m just trying out usageer, as an alternative to usagist; it has a three-musketeers quality, and usage diktats take courage and loyalty to a tight little band.)

In it, he asks us which of the following compound-modifier constructions (thereby using compound-modifier as a compound modifier for the first time in the history of grammar) should be hyphenated.

Mr. Martin’s brain-teasing list: “mutual fund manager; hard line faction; health care program [we know that one]; fast food chain; drug price increases; credit card operations; page one article; variable annuity buyers; tax deferred annuities [you can tell what paper he works for]; real estate agent; high school student; natural gas pipeline.”

His answer: “All of the above.”

He’s a hyphenation purist; I’m not. With health care reform, I’ll go along with New York Times style that calls for no hyphens, as in sales tax bill, when the meaning is clear without them. I disagree with the tendency of many Times editors to forgo the hyphen whenever nouns are used together as a compound modifier. Use no hyphen in health care reform, but because it adds to clarity, put a hyphen in kitchen-table issue. A hyphen is a tool. We own the tools; the tools don’t own us.

But what about Mr. Martin’s title, assistant managing editor? Should that have a hyphen? He says no: “I assist the managing editor; I don’t assistant-manage the editor.”

burglary. robbery

Do you know the difference between a “robbery” and a “burglary”?

Both are acts of thefts, but they’re not interchangeable.

In a “robbery,” something is taken from another person.

In a “burglary,” someone enters a building or other space.

So, you can rob your neighbor, but you can only burglarize his house.

[Vol. 35, No. 1: Paul Martin Sr.]

me. I.

I’m stealing this excellent answer from Grammarly:

Is it me or I?

Remove the other noun and say the sentence aloud. If it sounds wrong, then switch the pronoun.

Correct: “Did you invite Billy and me?”

Explanation: “Did you invite Billy?” “Did you invite me?“” They both sound correct, so me is correct.

Correct: “Should Billy and I go to the store?”

Explanation: “Should Billy go to the store?” “Should I go to the store?” Again, they both sound correct, so I is correct.

Incorrect: “Sally and me sent gifts.”

Explanation: “Sally sent gifts.” “Me sent gifts.” “Me sent gifts” doesn’t sound right, so substitute I:

“Sally and I sent gifts.”

fewer. less.

I’m stealing this excellent answer from Grammarly:

What’s the difference between fewer and less?

Can you count the items? Use fewer.

Otherwise, use less.


1. We interview fewer than 20 applicants per year.

2. I have less time to read this year than I’d like.

a half dozen. half a dozen

Here’s a question I posed this morning to Paul Stregevsky:

Q: Which phrase do you prefer?

1. a half dozen

2. half a dozen

For what it’s worth, “a half dozen” returns 1,580,000,000 results, while “half a dozen” returns 204,000,000.

A: Garner's Modern English partly supports Google::

Half a dozen and a half dozen. For this noun phrase, either half a dozen or a half dozen is good form. The predominant form in print sources has always been half a dozen.

So: To follow tradition, use half a dozen. To embrace the vernacular present and the printed future, use a half dozen.

Derek Thompson Shows How to Contextualize a Statistic

One of my favorite writers, Derek Thompson, of the Atlantic, does a superb job of bringing clarity to a statistic that most readers would otherwise skip right over. Here’s Derek:

“In June, researchers from N.Y.U., Stanford, and Microsoft published a paper with a title that made their position on the matter unambiguous: ‘Digital Addiction.’ In closing, they reported that ‘self-control problems cause 31% of social media use.’ Think about that: About one in three minutes spent on social media is time we neither hoped to use beforehand nor feel good about in retrospect.”

There’s a lot to like here:

1. The transition, “Think about that.” (Most of us would use a cliché such as “in others words.”)

2. The conversion of a percentage (31%) into a fraction (one in three). (This is one of the tips I teach in my workshop on humanizing big numbers.)

3. The vivid and concrete translation from “self-control problems” to “time we neither hoped to use beforehand nor feel good about in retrospect.”

Finally, Derek packed all these tricks into a single sentence. Well-done!

who. that.

Q: Consider this sentence from the New York Times — specifically, the text that comes after the colon (I added the emphasis):

“The fact that the bill could slightly add to the federal deficit did not dissuade House Democrats from voting for it, in part because the analysis boiled down to a dispute over a single line item: How much the I.R.S. would collect by cracking down on people and companies that dodge large tax bills.”

Now, if I use the word “people” (or refer to a person), then grammar demands that the word “who” follow. By contrast, inanimate objects (basically, everything else, including companies) get “that” or “which.”

But what happens, as in the above example, when a sentence contains both “people” and “companies”? Does “people” always predominate? Or is the last pronoun (in this case, “companies”) the deciding factor?

A: In many “either/or” constructions, the inflected word that must apply to each element is governed by the element listed last. Thus:

“companies and people who...”


“people and companies that...”

This is true, for example, when the associated verb must be governed by the subject’s grammatical person (“If either he or I am chosen, the other will concede”) or grammatical number (“If either they or he shows up, I’m leaving”).

Admittedly, a construction like these can strike the ear as awkward, and a careful writer might avoid it by adding a “modal auxiliary,” or “helping verb,” like this:

“If either they or he should show up, I’m leaving.”

each other. one another

each other: two entities

one another: three or more entities

farther. further

farther: physical distances

further: figurative distances

have to. need to.

Here’s a question I posed this morning to Paul Stregevsky:

Q: Do you take issue with the colloquial phrase “have to” (instead of “need to”)?

A: No, I don’t. Technically, they denote the same thing. But as you suggest, they have different connotations.

In most contexts, “have to” sounds a bit less harsh; it connotes, “This is what you gotta do, but hey — don’t blame me. Blame the system.”

yet again. again

When should you use “yet again” and when should you use “again”? (The same question applies to “once again” and “again.”)

Until recently, I didn’t see a difference. But thanks to the eagle eye of Paul Stregevsky, I now appreciate that “once again” and “yet again” work better on second repetition.

Consider the following sentences:

1. I send an email. Three weeks pass. No reply. I follow-up. Again, no reply. I follow-up once more. Again, no reply.

2. I send an email. Three weeks pass. No reply. I follow-up. Again, no reply. I follow-up once more. Yet again, no reply.

Why is #2 better? Because by adding the word “yet,” I stretch out the key phrase, “No reply,” and make it linger. That additional moment before the beat creates emphasis.

Why We Shouldn’t Substitute “Their” for “Its”

Consider the following sentence:

“Here are 10 ways Apple persuades readers with their words.”

Does “their” refer to “Apple,” or to “readers”?

Probably “Apple,” since if “their” meant “readers,” we’d expect to see “their own words.” But we don’t know for sure, and that’s a problem.

By contrast, if you change “their” to “its,” the answer is immediately clear:

“Here are 10 ways Apple persuades readers with its words.”

Never leave your antecedents vague.

continuous. continual

I'm reprinting the below blog post from the Magic Show, a subscription-based website from my good friend and colleague Mike Long. The Magic Show provides daily tips and inspiration about how to perfect your writing.

“Continuous” means “without ceasing.”

“Continual” means “stopping and starting” or “regularly.”

You’ve been breathing continuously since you were born. You’ve been complaining about your college loans continually since 2007.

On a hot day in July, your air conditioner runs continuously, but the bill for the electricity arrives continually, and all summer long.

Politics provides continuous embarrassment. Political campaigns, mercifully, evoke such a feeling only continually.

Will knowing this distinction make a big difference in your writing? Not much — by itself. But as you accumulate this kind of thing, your writing will become more confident and precise, and therefore more persuasive.

The best reason to learn this stuff? It improves not just the way you write. It sharpens the way you think.

compare with. compare to.

The difference between compared with and compared to is nuanced, and while many have tried to explain it, the best explanation I’ve found comes from the Daily Writing Tips website:

If the differences are important — if you want to emphasize the differences — then say compared with.


When you compare Trump with Mussolini, you’re emphasizing the differences between them. You’re saying that Trump and Mussolini are different.

When you compare Trump to Mussolini, you’re emphasizing the similarities between them. You’re saying that Trump and Mussolini are similar.

Use compare “with” when comparing such similar data.

Use “compare “to” when the purpose is to liken dissimilar things, often fancifully. For example: He compared the stock market to a hockey game.

Does the Lack of Parallel Structure Bother You?

The following sentence appeared recently in the New York Times:

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, are also involved in the selection process.”

As an editor, I’m bothered by the lack of consistency here: Whereas Blanken’s title precedes his name, Sullivan’s title comes after his name. Thus, I would tweak the wording as follows:

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan are also involved in the selection process.”

Yet when presented with this edit, my colleague Paul Stregevsky raised an interesting point that never occurred to me:

“When a major publication like the New York Times goes out of its way to avoid an easy parallel structure, we should ask ourselves, What were they thinking? What they were thinking, I think, is this: It’s obvious that there’s only one Secretary of State. But it’s not as obvious that there’s only one national security advisor. That’s why they needed to flip the sequence — so they could say ‘the’ national security advisor. I could be wrong, but I’ve made the same decision for very similar reasons.”

In response, I offered the following middle ground:

“The National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken are also involved in the selection process.”

Paul’s response is again worth quoting:

“That would satisfy the concern that I attributed to their editors. Of course, it risks making the Secretary of State seem like the second fiddle. As the saying goes, there are no solutions; only trade-offs.”

So there you have it: Two word nerds discussing the possible motives behind not editing a single, seemingly unobjectionable sentence.

If you’re as semantically enthralled as we are, let us know what the editor in you would do.👇

This Is How to Write With Energy and Specificity

“Netflix currently functions, by any measure, at a world-class level. As the year of the pandemic upends entertainment companies—Disney’s crippled theme parks, Warner Bros.’ furloughed blockbusters, AMC’s shuttered theaters—Netflix is having a moment. A moment of prestige, with a record 160 Emmy Award nominations, eclipsing the long-dominant HBO, and more Oscar nods than any other media company. A moment of influence, adding almost as many customers in the first six months of the year as in all of 2019, extending its reach to nearly 200 million subscribers in 190 countries. And a moment of profits, with sales up 25% year over year, earnings more than doubled and its stock up 50%, as most of the market gyrates wildly just to scratch back to even. Recent market cap: $213.3 billion.”

Plexiglas. plexiglass

Plexiglas is the trademark product (uppercase, one s).

plexiglass is the generic (lowercase, a second s).

Thanks, Wall Street Journal!

Do You Make These Mistakes in English?

1. Two Cents 
Here’s my two sense.

Here’s my two cents.

2. Faze
The bird didn’t phase me.

The bird didn’t faze me. 

3. Once in a While
I think once and a while.

I think once in a while.

4. Home in On
Let’s hone in on that issue.

Let’s home in on that issue.

5. Beck and Call
She served at his beckon call.

She served at his beck and call.

6. Could Have
I could of done the job.

I could have done the job.

7. All Right
The kids are alright.

The kids are all right.

8. Flaunt
I flaunted the norms.

I flouted the norms.

font. typeface

A “typeface” and a “font” are not synonyms.

A “typeface” is a broad family, like Arial.

A “font” is a specific style, like Arial in italics.

Addendum (1/20/2023): As Daniel Victor, a New York Times reporter, puts it: “Though often used interchangeably, fonts and typefaces are not the same thing. Calibri is a typeface, while fonts include other factors, like size or bolding. A 12-point Arial is a different font than a 14-point Arial, but they use the same typeface of Arial.”

Which Headline Is Better?

Here’s how most scientists are trained to write headlines:

The Effect of Alcohol on Renal Functions

What’s wrong with this? It’s straightforward and simple, right?

It is. The problem is, it’s also static and forgettable.

Here’s how a writer who cares as much about science as he does about impact would edit the headline:

How Alcohol Affects Renal Functions

Why is headline #2 better? Because it has a verb. And sentences with verbs tend to be more emphatic.


calendarize (v): to add to a calendar

ticking time bomb vs. ticking bomb

I just wrote the phrase, “Ticking time bomb,” then I stopped. Isn’t the word “time” redundant? What other thing could “ticking” refer to?

“Finance Professional” vs. “Financial Professional”

I recently delivered a writing workshop to a group of bankers. As is my wont, I tweaked the title of my presentation to include the phrase, “For Financial Professionals.” My host changed this to, “For Finance Professionals.”

Which phrase is better?

On the basis of grammar, both are fine. Lest you think “finance” isn’t a noun, English allows a noun to be pressed into service as an adjective. For example, we say a “woman president.” In that case, “woman” is an “attributive” noun. Ditto for “finance” in the phrase “finance professional.”

For the basis of usage, I turned to Google Trends, which catalogs keyword searches around the world. It turns out that “financial professional” is significantly more common than “finance professional.”

On the other hand, to complicate matters, I can’t think of a country that has a “financial minister”; everyone has a “finance minister.”

So, which phrase is better?

Either is fine.

Commas Are Tricky

The program evaluates your computer system, and then copies the files.

1. The program evaluates your computer system and then copies the files.

2. The program evaluates your computer system, and then it copies the files.

3. The program evaluates your computer system, then copies the files.

4. The program evaluates your computer system; then it copies the files.

How a 6-Word Rewrite From Mister Rogers Can Make You a Better Writer

Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers) employed an in-house writer named Hedda Sharapan. At one point, Rogers enlisted Sharapan to write a manual to teach doctors how to talk to children. The journalist Tom Junod recounts what happened next:

“She worked hard on it, using all her education and experience in the field of child development, but when she handed him her opening, he crossed out what she’d written and replaced it with six words: ‘You were a child once too.’”

Those six small words contain three big lessons for writers:

1. Make Things Personal
The first word a reader sees? It’s “you.” Writing is an intimate transaction between two people; you’ll succeed to the extent that you address your reader directly.

2. Befriend Brevity
No doubt, the rewrite is a fraction of the original word count. Yet the rewrite is also no doubt more emphatic and more vigorous. As every writing guide anywhere has always advised: Shorter is usually stronger. (And more memorable.)

3. Use Familiar Examples
Specialists often get tunnel vision. They get so absorbed by research or statistics that they forget to make their work relatable. But as Rogers knew, one of the best ways to draw a reader in is to draw a connection between your point and his life. You can make even the densest concept resonate if you analogize it to something that’s immediately familiar.

Mass Nouns vs. Count Nouns

Here’s a sentence I wrote:

“Don’t confuse attention for alliance.”

What’s wrong with this? Nothing as far as I can tell. Of course, that’s why I use an editor — thank you, Paul Stregevsky! Paul has sharpened my language and taught me more about writing with vigor than anyone else.

Paul’s eagle eye spotted that I had compared a “mass” noun (attention) with a “count” noun (alliance). I didn’t even know there were different types of nouns! Paul explained the difference as follows:

“A mass noun is a noun that can’t be preceded by an article (a or an). Applesauce is a mass noun; apple is a count noun.”

Thus, I changed the sentence as follows:

“Don’t confuse attention for agreement.”

That’s much better (even if you never knew why).

Is the Phrase “Critically Important” Redundant?

“Critical” and “important” mean the same thing.

Therefore, to use the two terms together — “critically important,” as many people do — seems redundant.

Why not just say “critical” or “vital”?

I suspect the answer is because “critically important” is emphatic in a way that “critical” by itself is not. “Critically important” sounds more urgent and more serious than “critical.”

coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2. Covid-19

Thanks to Marco Arment for clarifying this:

1. “Coronavirus” is a category of many viruses, not just this one.

2. This virus is “SARS-CoV-2.”

3. The disease it causes in humans is “Covid-19.”

4. Before “SARS-CoV-2” was standardized, the virus was provisionally named “2019 novel coronavirus,” or “2019-nCov.”

The Wall Street Journal adds:

Coronavirus refers to the virus, not the illness. We have started using Covid-19 more to refer to the disease, as the term has become more familiar.”