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Grammar and Orthography

Bad grammar can thwart communication. It's especially important in today's world where we don't have the chance to have in person interactions or when your words might reach a wide audience. The quality of your text will impact how your message reaches people.

This article is an effort to gather all my common pitfalls.

Use of z or s in some words

It looks like American english uses z while British uses s, some examples:

Both forms are correct, so choose the one that suits your liking.

Stop saying "I know"

Using "I know" may not be the best way to show the other person that you've received the information. You can take the chance to use other words that additionally gives more context on how you stand with the information you've received, thus improving the communication and creating a bond. Each of the next words carries a different nuance:

  • Recognize: You acknowledge the truth, existence or validity of the information.

  • From my perspective: You're showing that given the information, you see the person's point and state that you have a different one.

  • Appreciate: You recognize the implications and true value of the subject and are being thankful for the information.

  • Understand: You show that you've perceived the underlying meaning of the information. It implies a deeper level of information processing.

  • I see: You show that you understand and that you're paying all your attention.

Besides showing where you stand or how you feel, you can use other phrases that make connection at the visual, audio and kinesthetic levels to improve the communication.

  • I hear what you're saying: Shows auditory connection.
  • I get the picture or I see what you mean: Shows visual connection.
  • I catch your drift: Shows kinesthetic connection.

You can also add information when saying that you don't know. For example you can use:

  • Misread: You give the idea that you perceived the information wrong.
  • Misunderstood: You perceived the information well, but formed the wrong idea in your head.
  • Mixed up: You had the correct information and idea, but you ended up saying or doing the wrong answer.
  • Confused: You have the correct information but you can't form a clear idea.

Use collocations

Collocation refers to a natural combination of words that are closely affiliated with each other. They make it easier to avoid overused or ambiguous words like "very", "nice", or "beautiful", by using a pair of words that fit the context better and that have a more precise meaning. Skilled users of the language can produce effects such as humor by varying the normal patterns of collocation.

Stop saying "very"

wrong collocation
Very full stuffed
Very risky perilous
Very thin slender
Very long extensive
Very interesting intriguing
Very happy jubilant, delighted, joyful, overjoyed
Very worried anxious
Very Thirsty parched
Very dirty squalid
Very clean spotless
Very rude vulgar
Very short brief
Very boring dull
Very good superb, marvelous, excellent, extraordinary, splendid, spectacular
Very hot scalding / scorching
Very cold freezing
Very hungry ravenous
Very slow sluggish
Very fast rapid
Very tired exhausted
Very poor destitute
Very rich wealthy
Very hard challenging
Very smart bright
Very beautiful mesmerizing, stunning, astonishing, charming, magnificent
Very sad depressing
Very funny hilarious, absurd
Very scared petrified / frightened / fearful
Very sleepy drowsy
Very full crowded
Very ugly hideous
Very wicked villainous
Very quiet silent
Very accurate exact
Very large huge
Very powerful compelling
Very lazy indolent
Very fat obese
Very often frequently
Very smooth sleek
Very long term enduring
Very strong unyelding
Very tasty delicious
Very valuable precious
Very creative innovative
Very light luminous
Very wet soaked
Very bright blinding
Very strange abnormal. bizarre, outlandish
Very small tiny
Very big giant, immense, massive
Very bad horrendous, atrocious, horrible
Very important essential
Very exciting engaging
Very calm peaceful
Very painful agonizing
Very expensive priceless
Very drunk intoxicated
Very humble polite
Very smart intelligent

I'm good or I'm well


Use I'm well when referring to being ill, use I'm good for the rest.

Good is an adjective. Well is usually an adverb, but it can also act as an adjective.

Adjectives modify nouns. When you say you're having a good day, the adjective good modifies the noun day.

When people say I'm good, they're using good to modify I. Because I is a noun, this use of good is correct. The confusion comes when using the verb am, which makes people think we need an adverb. For example, you might say, I play the piano poorly. The adverb poorly is modifying the verb play, so that sentence is correct.

But the sentence I'm good', good is modifying I, it's not modifying am, so good is correct, and well is not.

Well is an adverb, they are here to modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. You might say I play the piano well. Here well changes the verb play. However, well can also be an adjective, usually to describe someone who is in good health. So when some one says I'm well, they're using well as an adjective modifying I.

Won't vs Wont

  • Won't is the correct way to contract will not.
  • Wont is a synonym of "a habit". For example, "He went for a morning jog, as was his wont".

How to use the singular they

The singular “they” is a generic third-person pronoun used in English.

When readers see a gendered pronoun, such as he or she, they make assumptions about the gender of the person being described. It's better to use the singular “they” because it is inclusive of all people and helps writers avoid making assumptions about gender.

You should use it in these cases:

  • When referring to a generic person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context and
  • When referring to a specific, known person who uses “they” as their pronoun.

When “they” is the subject of a sentence, “they” takes a plural verb regardless of whether “they” is meant to be singular or plural. For example, write “they are” not “they is”. The singular “they” works similarly to the singular “you”, even though “you” may refer to one person or multiple people. However, if the noun in one sentence is a word like “individual” or a person’s name, use a singular verb.

Where to add your pronouns

The correct place to add your pronouns is after you present yourself, such as:

Hi, I’m Lyz (he/him), I'm writing to tell you…

When to capitalize after a question mark


If the sentence ends after the question mark you should capitalize, if it doesn't end, you shouldn't have used the question mark, since it ends a sentence.

The capitalization rule that we care about here is that the first word of a sentence starts with a capital letter, so the question is really about what ends a sentence. The answer to that is easy: terminal punctuation, i.e. a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark. There's a visual clue in that ? and ! are decorated full stops; you just have to remember that a colon (:) isn't really a decorated full stop, not that you'd ever know by looking at it. Colons, semicolons and commas aren't terminal punctuation, so they don't end a sentence and so don't force the next letter to be a capital. It may be a capital letter for some other reason such as being the start of a proper name, but not because it is starting a sentence.

There are exceptions to this rule, occasions when ? and ! become non terminal punctuation. The most obvious is in quoted speech: if the speaker asks a question or makes an exclamation, the ? or ! doesn't have to be terminal if the sentence carries on after the quote.

"Should I write it like this?" he asked. "Or perhaps like this?"

The other class of exception is for what are probably really parenthetical comments. If you have a short phrase that you could have put aside in parentheses or dashes, then a question mark or exclamation mark can be used at the end of that phrase without ending the sentence. Be sparing with this. It looks wrong at a first read.

Should I write it like this, or abracadabra! like this?

When joining many questions you might may have the doubt of which of the following is correct:

Should I write it like this? Or perhaps like this? Should I write it like this? or perhaps like this? Should I write it like this, or perhaps like that? "Should I write it like this?" he asked, "or perhaps like that?"

The second with the lowercase or is just plain wrong.

Crusty old grammarians who disapprove of starting sentences with conjunctions may frown at example 1 all they like, but it's a perfectly acceptable fragmentary sentence. Whether it's the right answer or not is another question entirely. Example 1 makes the point that the questions are distinct, though they are strongly linked otherwise the whole structure wouldn't work.

Example 3 on the other hand emphasizes that the two questions are options in a common situation, as well as reflecting a different way of saying them. That is clear in this case because the two questions are tightly coupled alternatives. However, consider the following:

Are the lights green? Or is the switch up? Are the lights green, or is the switch up?

Both of these examples imply that the state of the lights and the state of the switch are related somehow. Version 2 couples them more tightly; I would usually assume (without more context) that either this is the same question being asked in two different ways (i.e. that the switch being up should cause the lights to be green), or that they are an exhaustive list of possibilities (either the switch is up or the lights are green, but not both or neither). This isn't an absolute rule, but it's quite strongly implied.

Example 4 is also wrong, though it has a better disguise. If you unwrap the quotes, what you get is:

Should I write it like this? or perhaps like this?

Which is example 2 back again. What you actually want is one of:

"Should I write it like this?" he asked. "Or perhaps like this?" (i.e. example 1) "Should I write it like this," he asked, "or perhaps like that? (i.e. example 3)

Exclamation marks work like question marks for this purpose. Semicolons don't; they end a clause, not a sentence.

When to write Apostrophes before an s

  • For most singular nouns, add apostrophe + s: The writer's desk.
  • For most plural nouns, add apostrophe: The writers' desk (multiple writers).
  • For plural nouns that do not end in s, add apostrophe + s: The geese's migration route.
  • For singular proper nouns both apostrophe and apostrophe + s is accepted, but as the plural proper nouns ending in s, the correct form is apostrophe I'd use that for both, so: Charles Dickens' novels and The Smiths' vacation.

The personal pronouns, do not have apostrophes to form possessives, such as your, yours, hers, its, ours, their, whose, and theirs. In fact, for some of these pronouns, adding an apostrophe forms a contraction instead of a possessive.

Who vs Whom

If you can replace the word with she or he, use who. If you can replace it with her or him, use whom.

  • Who: Should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence.
  • Whom: Should be used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition.

A vs An

We were all taught that a precedes a word starting with a consonant and that an precedes a word starting with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y). But what matters is the sound of the letter beginning the word, not just the letter itself. The way we say the word will determine whether or not we use a or an.

If the word begins with a vowel sound, you must use an. If it begins with a consonant sound, you must use a.

Comma before and

There are two cases:

  • It's required to put a comma before and when it’s connecting two independent clauses.
  • It’s almost always optional the use of comma before and in lists. This case is also known as serial commas or Oxford commas.

Since in some cases is useful, I'm going to use them to reduce the mental load.


Last update: 2021-08-04