Nope. Whom’st and whomst’d aren’t really words, but they are a good way to get a chuckle. Often, people think “whom” is a snooty, pretentious word that is some academic form of “who.” Well, it’s not; it’s actually a necessary word and used differently than “who.”
You can impress your colleagues when you use them correctly! Here’s how:
- Use “who” to refer to the subject of the sentence.
- Use “whom” to refer to the object of a verb or preposition.
See, there we go again, we need to know our parts of speech and how they function in the sentence in order to select the correct word. If you’re old enough, you might remember when they taught grammar in second grade and we had to diagram sentences (shudder).
And, here’s a little cheat sheet! If you can substitute he/she for the word, use “who.” If you can substitute him/her for the word, use “whom.”
- Who or whom wrote the novel?
- He/she wrote the novel, not him/her wrote the novel.
- Correct answer: Who wrote the novel?
- Who/whom should I go with?
- Should I go with him, not should I go with he?
- Correct answer: Whom should I go with?
- We wondered who/whom she was talking about.
- She was talking about him, not she was talking about he.
- Correct answer: Whom was she talking about?
What’s wrong with these sentences that we commonly hear?
- I got no money.
- I seen Game of Thrones on Sunday.
If you answered “the verb,” you’re right.
How would we correct them?
Well, in the first sentence, the verb is formed from “get.” This verb can be conjugated:
- Present: I get
- Preterite/past: I got
- Present continuous: I am getting
- Present perfect: I have gotten or (informally) I have got
- Future: I will get
- Future perfect: I will have gotten
- Past continuous: I was getting
- Past perfect: I had got
- Future continuous: I will be getting
- Present perfect continuous: I have been getting
- Past perfect continuous: I had been getting
- Future perfect continuous: I will have been getting
You might say, well, the preterite shows “I got;” so, what’s the problem? Well, “got” is past tense, as in “I got no money from Mary.” It might be better to choose a different verb and say, “I received no money from Mary.” But if you are trying to say that you’re broke and don’t have any money, “got” alone doesn’t suffice. You could say, “I have no money.” If you really want to be colloquial and informal, “I have got no money” has become a correct usage. It’s a case of picking the wrong verb or using the wrong tense.
In the second sentence, the verb is formed from “see.” This verb can be conjugated:
- Present: I see
- Preterite/past: I saw
- Present continuous: I am seeing
- Present perfect: I have seen
- Future: I will see
- Future perfect: I will have seen
- Past continuous: I was seeing
- Past perfect: I have seen
- Future continuous: I will be seeing
- Present perfect continuous: I have been seeing
- Past perfect continuous: I had been seeing
- Future perfect continuous: I will have been seeing
There’s no “I seen” as an option. You can say: I saw Game of Thrones on Sunday or I have seen Game of Thrones on Sunday. In the example “have” was dropped from the sentence. Often, we do that when we speak because we keep abbreviating. “I have seen Game of Thrones” becomes “I’ve seen Game of Thrones” becomes “I seen Game of Thrones.”
“Run-ons, comma, splices, and fused sentences,” according to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, “are all names given to compound sentences [two independent sentences joined together] that are not punctuated correctly.”
For instance: They shopped in Aisle 1 and filled their cart, they paid the salesperson immediately. Two independent sentences were “spliced” incorrectly with a comma.
There are three ways to correctly punctuate this sentence.
- You can separate them with a period and make them independent sentences: They shopped in Aisle 1 and filled their cart. They paid the salesperson immediately.
- You can make them into a compound sentence by using a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet): They shopped in Aisle 1 and filled their cart, and they paid the salesperson immediately.
- You can use a semicolon with a connecting word other than one of the coordinating conjunctions, or you can use a semicolon if you do not have a connecting word (notice that the previous sentence is a compound sentence punctuated correctly using a coordinating conjunction and a comma): They shopped in Aisle 1 and filled their cart; then, they paid the salesperson immediately. OR They shopped in Aisle 1 and filled their cart; they paid the salesperson immediately.
For fun and practice, you can take a little quiz here, courtesy of Capital Community College. How did you do?
We’ve all seen it and done it in email: gone capitalization crazy. Often, people make many words proper nouns and capitalize things that shouldn’t be. Job titles, for example. WHAT, you say, shouldn’t my job title always be capitalized? Nope. If you’re curious about why, read on. If not, just keep on capitalizing whatever looks good.
When to capitalize
- The first word of a sentence: She can’t remember people’s names very well.
- Proper nouns and proper adjectives that go with them: Grand Canyon, Golden Gate Bridge
- THIS IS A BIG ONE IN WORK EMAIL: Job titles, or any title, when used BEFORE a name, but not an occupation or a job title used after a name:
- Head Chef Barry Butterball or Barry Butterball, head chef, makes great appetizers.
- My Aunt Mary always brings good gifts or Mary, my aunt, buys gifts.
- Everyone supported Governor Smith or Everyone supports Joe Smith, governor of Ohio.
- Marketing Manager Angela Bowen or Angela Bowen, marketing manager
- Jackie works as a videographer.
- The governor attended the conference.
- The marketing manager updated the website.
- Relatives’ names when used in place of a person’s name: My Mom likes the beach.
- Nicknames that serve as a name: I took Junior to the fair.
- Geographical regions but not the points of the compass: We live in the Northeast, which is north of Tennessee.
- The first word in a quotation: Joey said, “The repairman is always late.”
- Course titles but not subjects:
- He took Drawing 101 because he is majoring in art.
- He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
- Names of gods, religious figures and holy books: Buddha, Moses, the Koran
- Seasons if used in a title but not when used generally: He took a course Spring semester but he plans to take a break during winter.
- The first, last and important words in a title. Articles, short prepositions and coordinating conjunctions (an, to, and) are not important words: HGR Is Having a Sale
- And other things you probably have figured out: book titles (Moby Dick), places (Brazil, Cleveland, Eiffel Tower, Kent State University), nationalities (German), historical periods and events (the Renaissance, World War I), names of groups and sports teams (the Kiwanis, Cleveland Indians), companies (Nike, Apple), the word “I,” names of planets (the Moon, Earth), street names (Euclid Avenue), days/months/holidays (Friday, July, Christmas), abbreviations (FBI, HGR)
One rule of thumb is to capitalize proper nouns, which are the names of specific people, places, organizations and sometimes things.
Even worse than commas and apostrophes, hyphens are a punctuation mark that most people forget to use. You do need to use them in some numbers, between some adjectives and nouns, and after prefixes. Here’s the low down on when!
- When a number modifies or describes a noun or shows a range
- The five-story house or The house has five stories.
- An eight-hour work day or He works eight hours per day.
- The 10-year-old boy rode his bicycle or The bicycle rider is 10 years old.
- Exception: Do not hyphenate percentages or money: 4 percent raise or $30 office copay
- You can find the information that you need on pages 5-8.
- When two adjectives that proceed a noun form a compound adjective that modifies that noun, especially when leaving the hyphen out can cause a change in meaning
- He is a long-term employee or He has worked here long term.
- She has a much-admired work ethic.
- She was worried about the violent-weather alert. (It’s alerting you to violent weather. But without the hyphen, you would be saying the alert is violent. It’s a violent weather alert. It might beat you up.)
- Exception: When a modifying word is an adverb (happily married man, individually packaged donuts)
- Exception: When some words, over time, become compound (e-mail to email or coffee-house to coffeehouse)
- With prefixes that need hyphens
- I want to re-read the book.
- Her ex-landlord returned the deposit.
- He had a mullet in the mid-1980s.
- I’m enjoying this spring-like weather.
- And in other rules, including fractions (one-third of the runners), proper nouns (Golden Globe nominee), numbers 21 to 99 (eighty-eight)
- When in doubt, look it up. Sometimes, it’s just a judgment call or a stylistic requirement, like with Rolls-Royce or Spider-Man
A comma is often the most misused punctuation mark. When we don’t know where they belong, we tend to leave them out or stick them in sentences where they shouldn’t go.
Here’s the down and dirty on commas and some quick tips to help you out. With examples, of course!
Did you know the presence or absence of a comma can change the meaning of the sentence?
- Let’s eat Grandma should be Let’s eat, Grandma. (What, or who, is for dinner?)
- Most of the time travelers worry about their luggage should be Most of the time, travelers worry about their luggage. (Who’s worrying about the luggage?)
- We’re going to learn to cut and paste kids should be We’re going to learn to cut and paste, kids.
- I love my parents, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie should be I love my parents, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie. (Are celebrities my parents?)
- We order merchandise and sell products OR We order, merchandise and sell products.
When should (and shouldn’t) we use commas?
- In numbers (other than years, addresses and page numbers)
- YES: He owns 2,800 baseball cards.
- YES: The machine weighs 13, 567 pounds.
- In direct address
- YES: Mary, you really helped me today.
- Dates with a day listed
- YES: On June 19, 2017, HGR had an Aisle 1 flash sale.
- But, NOT between the month and year with no day: In June 2017, HGR had a flash sale.
- When listing places
- YES: He is from Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when he graduated from high school.
- In lists containing three or more items, unless there are commas used within the list and not before the last item in the list unless it needs the comma to be understood
- Simple series: He likes welding, machining and woodworking.
- Comma needed before last item since it all belongs together: For lunch she likes to eat salad, soup, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
- Semicolons needed because there are commas within some items in the series: On weekends, I do my chores; sleep in; read books, the newspaper and Facebook posts; and go shopping.
- With multiple adjectives that modify the same noun
- YES: It was a hot, frustrating, dangerous trip. (All adjectives modify “trip.”)
- NO: He bought the boy a bright red balloon. (The balloon isn’t smart/bright. The balloon is bright red.)
- With adjectives where the order is interchangeable
- YES: He is a smart, kind child OR He is a kind, smart child.
- NO: We stayed at an expensive summer resort because you couldn’t say, We stayed at a summer expensive resort.
- Setting off nonessential information
- NO: Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers was one of my favorites. (No commas since Dumas wrote more than one novel. We need the information in the sentence to tell us which one.)
- YES: Dumas’ first novel, Captain Paul, does not interest me. (Since he only had one first novel, the name is not essential.)
- YES: Gina, marketing communications specialist, writes great grammar tips. (My title doesn’t matter to understanding the sentence.
- YES: Your work has been, quite honestly, outstanding. (The interrupting words aren’t necessary to the meaning of the sentence.)
- In compound sentences joining two independent sentences together with and, but, or, nor, yet, so and for when they are used as coordinating conjunctions. (See, you need to know your parts of speech and how they function in a sentence!)
- YES: She came to work, but she went home sick.
- YES: Are you going to the party, or are you staying home?
- YES: The dog wanted all my attention, and the cat was jealous.
- NOT in simple sentence that do not combine two independent sentences:
- She purchased the car but did not get it rustproofed.
- Are you mowing the lawn or painting the window frames this weekend?
- In complex sentences that have an independent clause (or sentence) and a dependent clause that is not a complete sentence, if it comes before the independent clause:
- If you are tired, you should take a nap OR You should take a nap if you are tired.
- Because of the power outage, we went home early OR We went home early because of the power outage.
- In a compound-complex sentence: Because of the power outage, I went home early, and, because I was tired, I took a nap.
- To set off a quote
- He said, “She is an asset to the company.”
- “Please,” Mary asked, “could you pick up lunch for me?”
If you prefer learning by video, here’s a good one on YouTube about “How to use commas correctly.”
Homophones comes from the Greek words “homo” meaning “same” and “phone” meaning “voice or utterance.” They’re words that sound the same but mean something completely different. You know them well – aloud and allowed, compliment and complement, threw and through, paws and pause, pale and pail, ate and eight, knew and new, rode/rowed/road, scent/sent/cent, flew/flue/flu, buy/by/bye, their/there/they’re, your and you’re, it’s and its, two/to/too, and very similar words that are not quite homophones, such as loose and lose, then and than, effect and affect, ensure and insure, and definitely and defiantly. Some homophones are also homographs because they are spelled the same: rose (the flower) and rose (got up or ascended) or bear (the animal) and bear (to tolerate).
Now, we’re getting somewhere. That was fun, wasn’t it? You could keep going with that list. Some others probably came to mind right away.
I bet you might say, “Nah, I don’t have that problem. I use spell check in Word.” Guess again. There are about 25 homophones that most spell checkers won’t catch, according to grammarly.com. Nothing beats knowing the meaning of words or using a dictionary when in doubt. Sometimes, it’s about what part of speech the word is as it’s used in the sentence.
Here’s a small list of common homophones so that you can avoid sounding silly and impress your friends on Facebook and your coworkers in email:
- Than (making a comparison) or then (sequence of events)
- You ran faster today than you did yesterday.
- You ran fast then you took a rest.
- Two (the number), too (also) and to (toward)
- I gave two dollars to Sarah, too.
- Your (possessive) and you’re (you are)
- You’re very protective of your new car.
- There (place), their (possession) and they’re (they are)
- Their home is something they’re proud of. We enjoy going there.
- A while (noun phrase)or awhile (adverb)
- It’s been a while since they hung out but they didn’t mind waiting awhile until the next time.
- Everyday (adjective meaning common or routine) or every day (means each day)
- He wore his green everyday shirt every day of the week.
- Accept (to receive) or except (to exclude)
- Everyone except Jim could accept that the fishing trip was cancelled.
- Affect (to influence) or effect (something that was influenced)
- They didn’t realize how the scary special effects would affect the kids.
- Compliment (noun) or complement (verb)
- The winemaker received a compliment on the red wine that seemed to complement each dish on the menu.
- Ensure (make certain), insure (protect financially) or assure (everything’s okay)
- I want to assure you that my priority is to ensure that my kids stay healthy; so, I insure them on my medical plan.
Did you know that Aug. 16 is International Apostrophe Day? We’re celebrating early because we all could use a little grammar refresher to dust off the cobwebs that have accumulated since grade school.
HGR’s Marketing Department decided to create a regular grammar tip for our employees on common grammar errors that we see in written and email communications. As the resident writer/blogger, I decided, “Why not share that info with our customers and help everyone become more effective communicators?”
Let’s get to it! Apostrophes are a lot like commas and hyphens in the sense that they are a mark of punctuation that many people do not know how to use properly; so, we throw them in where they don’t belong and leave them out where they do belong. Usually, this happens when forming plural words or when showing possession, but I see it with contractions.
Here are some examples:
- We are implementing managements new goals. (need an apostrophe in management’s to show it is possessive; whose goal is it? It’s management’s goal.)
- We are one of the best company’s to work for. (companies not company’s since this word is plural not possessive; you would say, “We follow the company’s employee handbook.”)
- Who’s goal is it? (wrong word; should be whose since “who’s” means who is)
- Having perfect attendance deserves it’s own reward or Spring is on it’s way. (its not it’s since it’s is a contraction meaning “it is.”)
- You’re valuables are safe in the locker. (wrong word; “you’re is a contraction meaning “you are” while “your” is a possessive pronoun showing who the valuables belong to)
- Lets clock out for break. (apostrophe needed in the contraction for “let us” to form “let’s”)
You get the idea! You may think these examples are obvious, but they are actual examples that I have seen in the past. To avoid these mistakes and sound more professional in your (not you’re) writing, here are some rules of thumb when NOT to use an apostrophe:
- In possessive pronouns (whose, ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs)
- In nouns that are plural but not possessive (CDs, 100s, 1960s)
- In verbs that end in –s (marks, sees, finds)
Another tip: Make sure that you’re using the correct word in your writing because often they’re misused when you confuse their with they’re and you’re with your or it’s with its.