Over the last few months, I have received many questions about grammar and writing. I’m including some of the questions in this week’s grammar checkup.
From Nicki, a fifth grade teacher: I have a question regarding using apostrophes in cursive handwriting. For example, when writing the word can’t, do the students need to leave a space between the n and the t, or do they connect them?
Nicki, I don’t know if I’m the ultimate authority on this, but given that we don’t put a space there when we type the word, I think we should be consistent. No space. Of course, I’m thrilled that they’re learning that the apostrophe needs to be there at all, and that you’re still teaching cursive writing!
From David: In the following sentence, “The current $24,000 Section 179 expense deduction for property increases for qualifying property used in the Zone,” is qualifying correct instead of qualified and why/why not?
Well, David, grammatically speaking, you could use either word. Property could be considered as qualifying now or in the future, or as already qualified. It’s also possible that the context would suggest which word is correct. But since I know absolutely nothing about any legal implication concerning the choice of those words, perhaps we could hear from someone more knowledgeable in this area?
From FJ: In the following example, does the comma go inside or outside the parentheses? “When we last talked (unless I’m mistaken,) we agreed that we’ll meet on March 10.”
FJ, the comma goes outside/after. Punctuation only goes inside parentheses when we write a complete sentence inside them. Otherwise, the punctuation will follow the parentheses, so it stays with the original sentence.
And one more note: We don’t put a comma, a semicolon, a colon, or a dash BEFORE an opening parenthesis, either.
From Stanley: I know something’s wrong with this sentence, which recently came in an e-mail, but I don’t know what! Can you help?
“My name is Caryl Smith and I would like to invite you to join ABC2016.com the nations leading online community of small and large businesses.”
Well, other than the unusual spelling of the first name (which may be correct), the need for a couple of commas, and a missing apostrophe, it’s the wording: It promises something without quite delivering it.
Saying “I would like to invite you” is not the same as “I invite you” or “I am inviting you.” I almost expect the next word to be “but.” It leaves me thinking, “so, are you going to actually invite me?” While this is a conventional expression, it can leave a reader or listener wondering what exactly was meant. For me, the simplest way is always to say (or write): “Please join us at the reception.” “Welcome to Boston.”
From Kim: Why are so many people saying, “I need to hone in on that”? Isn’t the word hone wrong in that context?
Yes, Kim, it is. Many people confuse hone and home. The correct usage is, “I need to home in on that.” Hone means to sharpen, as in skills: “I need to hone my writing skills.” Home in means to point directly at something (think homing pigeon).
From Charlotte: Susan, here’s the copy from an ad in the newspaper. It’s wrong, isn’t it? “Up to 50% off, and more!”
Here’s how common sense can collide with advertising. It really should be one or the other — either up to a certain amount or more than that. It could be “At least 50%!” “50% or more!”
From Charles: Susan, I was trying to share one of your articles that mentioned the oft-confused homophones lead and led. I thought you wrote one that included that. If so, what was the title of the post?
Charles, before you wrote to ask, I hadn’t yet written a Wednesday’s Words & Woes on “lead” and “led”; now that you mentioned them, I did just that! It’ll appear this Wednesday, and I hope it helps.