Free ebook Monday, July 29th and Tuesday, July 30th: Vocabulary Rules!

Jul 28


You know those tricky words that you’ve seen but you’ve never been quite sure of their meanings?

My ebook Vocabulary Rules! gives simple definitions for 500 tricky words. It’s free in the Kindle store Monday and Tuesday. You don’t even need a Kindle to read it — it works on any computer, device or smart phone. Just click on the book cover image and grab your free download.

Free today and tomorrow: Grammar Rules!

Jul 09

My  book Grammar Rules! is available for FREE download on Kindle on Tuesday, July 9th and Wednesday, July 10th.

Grammar Rules!: Avoiding the Most Common Grammar Mistakes


You don’t even need a Kindle to read it! Please download, share and if you like, leave a review on Amazon!

If You Don’t Have Sophophobia, Read This Post

Oct 31


Sophophobia is not the fear of your 15-year-old daughter’s Halloween costume, although that could be frightening for a lot of reasons.


Sophophobia is the fear of learning.


Personally, I might have a fear of  learning what the ladies in the photo are doing near that large (freshly dug?) pit, and why the dog is so freaked out that he is hiding behind the mom. As long as you’re not afraid to possibly learn something new, read on for 20 more definitions.


  1.  opulent: rich and superior in quality
  2. rancorous: bitter, long-lasting resentment, deep-seated ill will
  3. spurious: plausible but false
  4.  venerable: respected because of age, wisdom or character
  5. plethora: an excess of
  6. sacrosanct: regarded as too important or valuable to be interfered with
  7. bellicose: demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight
  8. erudite: having or showing great knowledge or learning
  9. extol: to praise highly
  10. maxim: a common saying expressing a principle of conduct
  11. modicum: a small amount of something
  12. bon vivant: a person who lives luxuriously and enjoys good food and drink
  13. de rigueur: strictly required, as by etiquette, usage, or fashion
  14. schadenfreude: pleasure at someone else’s misfortunes
  15. zeitgeist: the thought or sensibility characteristic of a particular period of time
  16. adroit: having skill, cleverness or resourcefulness; adept
  17. wheedle: to use coaxing or flattery to gain some desired end
  18. emulate: to imitate with the intent of equaling or surpassing the model
  19. carping: tending to find fault, especially in a petty, nasty, or hairsplitting way
  20. harping: talking or writing persistently and tediously on a particular topic



One of Your Biggest Grammar Mistakes

Jan 03

Hi again, bloggers. We need to talk, and I’m really not kidding this time.

Internet marketers and money-making gurus, I’m talking to you, too.

Even some of the best writers are making this mistake. I see it all over the internet, from the small mommy blogs to the millionaire marketers who claim to teach us all how to make thousands each day.


Incorrect Use of the Apostrophe

Even though the apostrophe is used to indicate possession,  when you use a pronoun like her, you do not use an apostrophe.

For example, Sharon’s new car is red.

HOWEVER, when you are using a pronoun like her, you do not use an apostrophe.

Whose red car is that?

The red car is hers. (NOT her’s)

You NEVER use an apostrophe with hers.

Hint: Have you ever seen matching bath towel sets embroidered with “HIS” and “HERS” on them? When you are writing, remember that the words HIS and HERS also come as a matched set. You would never even think of using an apostrophe with “His.” So knowing that they are a matched set, you can always know that neither one ever takes an apostrophe.

Take a look at these other examples to clarify other similar (and very common) mistakes:

Is that dog your neighbor’s?

The dog is ours.  (NOT our’s)

Did I win the prize?

The prize is yours.  (NOT your’s)

Which house belongs to the Andersons?

The brick house is theirs.  (NOT their’s)


Bonus Tip

When you have a word like guru, and you want to make it plural, you just add an s. Yes, I realize that you already know this, but some people have the instinct to use an  apostrophe and turn it into “guru’s” as a plural. Is it possible that some people think that a word like “gurus” looks funny and it’s more clear to add the apostrophe? Don’t do it!

In Conclusion

If you can avoid making these mistakes in your blog posts, emails, and especially in your headlines, you’ll be avoiding some of the most common and most obvious errors that I see online.

Hyphenation Frustration

Oct 17


When do you use a hyphen?

The following rules cover the most common uses of hyphenation.

1. Use a hyphen to connect two or more words used together as an adjective before a noun.

  • Eliza Norman is not yet a well-known candidate.


2. Do not use a hyphen when the compound adjective comes after the noun.

  •  After our television campaign, Eliza Norman will be well known.


3. Do not use a hyphen to connect -ly adverbs to the words they modify.

This is Associated Press (AP) style, which is used for all online writing. (This one contradicts the artwork at the top of this post. Follow the rule, not the cartoon.)

  •  A slowly moving truck tied up traffic.


4. In a series, hyphens are suspended.

  • Do you want to buy  first-, second-, or third-row tickets?
  • The third- and fourth-graders performed a play.


5. Hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine.

  • The teacher had twenty-eight students in her classroom.
  • Only twenty-one of the children passed the test.


6. Hyphenate all spelled-out fractions.

  • You need one-third of a cup of sugar for the cake recipe.
  • More than one-half of the city council voted for the new law.


7. Use a hyphen with the prefixes all-, ex-, and self- and with the suffix -elect.

  • The author has sold thousands of  self-help books.
  • Anne King is our club’s president-elect.


8. Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity.

Without the hyphen, there would be no way to distinguish between words such as re-creation and recreation.

  • Tennis is her favorite form of recreation.
  • The film was praised for its accurate re-creation of nineteenth-century Paris.


Note: Generally do not hyphenate compounds formed from the superlatives “most” and “least.” But “best” and “worst” tend to use a hyphen.

Remember that there are exceptions to every rule, and you can find out which rules can be broken. Remember that your goal is to express yourself as clearly as possible.

Advanced Vocabulary: Would You Get an A on This Test?

Oct 10


Don’t worry, it’s not really a test. You’d probably get 100 percent on this one, anyway.

However, if you’ve heard or read these words over the years, but were never quite sure of the definitions, this is your chance to move up to the advanced class.

  1. Anachronism: An error in chronology; a person or thing which seems to belong to a different period of time.
  2. Quixotic: Refers to the fictional character Don Quixote.  An impulsive dreamer, foolishly idealistic.
  3. Hubris: Arrogance resulting from excessive pride or passion.
  4. Exacerbate: To make worse; increase the severity; aggravate.
  5. Insidious: Causing harm in a stealthy, gradual manner; sneaky, treacherous.
  6. Ubiquitous: Seeming to be everywhere at the same time; omnipresent.
  7. Truculent: Fierce, cruel, harsh, mean, scathing.
  8. Eponymous: Relating to a person whose name becomes synonymous with a thing. Eponym refers to a real or imaginary person, after whom something has been named, as well as to the name itself. Proprietary eponyms are brand names that have come into general use (for example, Kleenex, Frisbee and Jello). An eponymous hero is the main character after whom a book was named. Don Quixote is the eponymous hero of Cervantes’ novel (see #2 above).
  9. Taciturn: Almost always quiet, not talkative, uncommunicative.
  10. Caveat: A warning.
  11. Conundrum: A puzzle or riddle, often with a pun as an answer.
  12. Minion: One who follows or serves a leader.
  13. Ephemeral: Short-lived, transient, something with a short life cycle. Lasting only one day (as some types of blooming flowers).
  14. Plethora: Excess, overabundance.
  15. Quintessential: Representing the perfect example of something. He was the considered the quintessential New Yorker.
  16. Mettle: A quality of good spirit, temperament, courage.
  17. Vociferous: Loud, noisy.
  18. Aberrant: Deviating from the ordinary; exceptional, abnormal.
  19. Venerable: Worthy of respect or reverence.
  20. Obsequious: Showing too much willingness to serve; fawning.

Grammar School: There, Their and They’re

Oct 02


Many people get the words there, their and they’re mixed up. Like other commonly misused words, they sound the same. As long as the words are spelled properly, mistakes would never be caught by a spell-check program.

  • There is an adverb, answering the question “Where?”
  • Their is a possessive pronoun, indicating something that “they” own.
  • They’re is a contraction of “they” and “are.”

They’re being told by the police officer to stay there
while they wait for their favorite singer to arrive.

The fraternity brothers have been in there for a long time,
and they’re beginning to lose feeling in their toes.

They’re sitting there in the theater wearing their
3D glasses, hoping the movie will end soon.

They’re singing their hearts out in a
too-small car right there on stage.

Hint: The spelling of their does not follow that familiar saying, “i before e, except after c.” If you have trouble remembering that the e comes before the i in their, just remember that there, their, and they’re all begin with “the.”

Note: The use of their can be confusing for another reason. It is common for people to say, “Someone has lost their wallet.” The correct way to say it is, “Someone has lost his or her wallet.” Their is plural. Multiple people did not lose one wallet. One person lost his or her wallet. This common use has become somewhat accepted, but it is still grammatically incorrect.

If it feels too awkward to say, “someone has lost his or her wallet,” you can always just say “someone has lost a wallet. I think I’ll see how much money he or she left in it.”

Now that you understand how to use all three words correctly, our lesson is over. Have fun out there!

What Is a Dangling Participle?

Sep 20

What’s wrong with these sentences?

  • Hanging upside down from the tightrope, I ate a hot dog and enjoyed the circus performers.
  • Walking down the street, the bakery smelled delicious.
  • Being run-down and cheap, I was able to buy the van right away.
  • Sitting on the porch swing, we watched the birds playing cards.
  • Plummeting hundreds of feet down, we were quite impressed by Niagara Falls.

Dangling participles make your sentences unintentionally confusing, amusing, or even embarrassing.


A participle is word or phrase (often ending in -ing or -ed) that modifies (describes) the subject of a sentence.

A dangling participle is a misplaced word or phrase that seems to describe or modify the wrong part of the sentence.

Here’s an example:

  • Walking around the zoo, the lion roared majestically.

Here’s a corrected version:

  • Walking around the zoo, we heard the lion roar majestically.

You can fix a dangling participle by simply rewriting the sentence so that it makes sense. You can also split the awkward sentence into two sentences if that works better.

When you’re proofreading your own work, don’t just check for typos. Make sure that every sentence says what you meant it to say.

If you’re going to make your readers laugh, make sure it’s intentional. Don’t leave your participles dangling.

Grammar Tips: 12 Confusing Word Pairs

Sep 05

Sorry, Lorraine, you have to actually READ the dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for over 250,000 words. Is it any wonder that we get confused by a few of them? Here are twelve tricky word pairs that even a Rhodes Scholar could get wrong.


1. assent vs. ascent


Assent means agreement or approval. Ascent means a climbing or rising.


There was assent among the hikers as they agreed to start their ascent at sunrise.


2. dissent vs. descent


Dissent is disagreement. Descent means going to a lower level; ancestral lineage.


There was dissent among the hikers about when to begin their descent.


3. desert vs. dessert


To desert means to leave without intending to return.


A desert is also a dry region without water.


Dessert is the good stuff after dinner.


Hint: You can remember how to spell dessert by thinking of the following phrase:Dessert is so sweet. “So” and “Sweet” both start with “s” and there are two of them, get it?  (Please get it. Don’t make me write two Ss, esses or s’s, which would be wrong anyway.)


4. council vs. counsel


council is a group of people, as on a board of directors or government committee.


Counsel is advice, or anyone whose advice is sought.


Lawyers are often called counselors. Guidance counselors give college advice to high school students.


5.  farther vs. further 


Although these two are nearly interchangeable,  farther refers to distance;  and further refers to quality or time.


You can drive farther than you did yesterday.


You can pursue an argument further.


6.  insight vs. incite


Insight refers to understanding or perception, intuition or awareness.


To incite is to move to action, urge, set in motion.


7.  palette vs. palate 


palette is a group of color choices, or a selection of paints on an artist’s board.


Your palate refers to your sense of taste.


8.  amoral vs. immoral


People are amoral if they show no sense of right or wrong. Refers to a person.


Immoral refers to an act or behavior done without concern for right or wrong.


9. adverse vs. averse


Adverse means unfavorable, harmful contrary, opposite.


Averse means opposed or not inclined.


10.  compose vs. comprise 


Compose means to make up or be a part of.


To comprise is to include or enclose.


Grammar Girl gives a clear explanation here of how the parts compose the whole, but the whole comprises the parts.


Many ethnic groups compose our nation.


Notice in this sentence that the parts come before the whole. If you wanted to start the sentence with the words “our nation,” guess which verb you’d have to use instead? Our friend “comprise”:


Our nation comprises many ethnic groups.


11. tortuous vs. torturous


Both words are related to “twist.”


Tortuous means full of twists and turns, winding, convoluted.


Torturous means inflicting of severe pain, causing torture.


A winding road is tortuous. A visit to the emergency room can be torturous. If you have a broken collarbone and six fractured ribs, a tortuous ride to the hospital is torturous.


12.  eminent vs. imminent


Eminent describes a person who is famous and respected in an area or profession.


Imminent means something is about to happen; impending, forthcoming.


The eminent blogger’s wealth was imminent.




I hope that all these confusing word pairs are now much clearer to you. If not, you could go with Lorraine (pictured above with the dictionary hat) and ask her friend Helena for help. She looks like a lady who answers a lot of questions.


I’d Read This Grammar Tip if I Were You

Aug 24


Have you ever wondered whether to use if I was versus if I were? Either of these can be correct, depending on the situation.


  • The expression if I was refers to reality.
  • The expression if I were is supposing something that is hypothetical, impossible or untrue.

Jennie Ruby makes it all clear in the following explanation.

When you use indicative statements, you are talking about facts or asking about facts, like this:

  • Stating a fact: I was home yesterday morning.
  • Asking about a fact: Was I there when you called?

In both of these sentences, you use the verb was with I. They are both singular.

When you are supposing the impossible, however, you use a plural verb, were, with the singular I, like this:

If I were you, I’d order the steak. (I am supposing the impossible–I can’t be you.)

  • If I were home today, I’d take a nap after lunch. (I am supposing something that is known to be untrue–I am not home today. I know for a fact that I am not, and to suppose it is to suppose something that is not true.)

All this gets a little more difficult when you are supposing something and you don’t know or remember whether it was true or not. In this case, the thing you are supposing might have been true, you just can’t remember:

  • If I was home when you called yesterday, I did not hear the phone.

This statement is not impossible or known to be untrue. Instead, it might well have been true–I might have been home when you called.

Casablanca, 1942

Rick: I wouldn’t bring up Paris if I were you. It’s bad salesmanship.

The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957

Colonel Saito: Do you know what will happen to me if the bridge is not built on time?
Colonel Nicholson: I haven’t the foggiest.
Colonel Saito: I’ll have to kill myself. What would you do if you were me?
Colonel Nicholson: I suppose if I were you, I’d have to kill myself.
Colonel Nicholson: (raising the glass of scotch he previously declined) Cheers!

The Awful Truth, 1937

Lucy Warriner: I wouldn’t go on living with you if you were dipped in platinum! So go on, divorce me. Go on, divorce me! It’ll be a pleasure.


Duck Soup, 1933

Mrs. Teasdale: Closer. . . closer . . . closer . . . .
Rufus T. Firefly: If I were any closer, I’d be in the back of you.

Casablanca, 1942

Captain Renault: Mademoiselle, you are in Rick’s.
Ilsa Lund: Rick is what?
Captain Renault: Mademoiselle, he’s the kind of man that, well, if I were a woman and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick. But what a fool I am talking to a beautiful woman about another man.

In Conclusion
Now that you’ve learned how to properly use if I were and if I was, I have a little gift for you. Take a quick look at a scene from Casablanca, showing Rick and Ilsa’s happier days in Paris, presented for your viewing pleasure.

Grammar School: Advise or Advice

Aug 13

I Advise You to Take My Advice

Today we’re going to discuss another pair of words that writers often get mixed up.

Advice is a noun meaning an opinion or recommendation.
Advise is a verb meaning to give advice.

Loretta advised me to come back soon to color my
gray hair. I wonder why she would give me that advice.

Joyce advised Gerald to keep his hands
where she could see them, or he might end

up needing the advice of a lawyer.

In her advice column in the daily newspaper,
“Dear Amelia” advised the blogger
(known as “Blogging in Baltimore”) to use
keywords and links to increase blog traffic.

My Advice to You

One tip for remembering the difference between advice and advise: If you aren’t too young to know what an advice column is, you can make the connection that in the phrase “advice column,” remember that advice has the c in it, and column starts with a c.

If that little hint (which I just thought of) can help even one blogger, I will have done my job today.


Do You Get These Words Mixed Up?

Aug 11

If you ever needed proof that English is a confusing language, this list of words should do it. Each of these variations has its roots in either forfour or fore.

For (I’m quite aware that you know this) is a preposition that indicates purpose.

Four refers to the number, of course. (Insert your own game show joke here.)

Fore means at or near the front; at an earlier time.

Forth means ahead in time, place or order; onward.

Fourth is the position between third and fifth; one quarter. 

Forward means moving toward a place, point or time in advance; onward; ahead; in front.

Foreword is a preface or introductory note at the beginning of a book, usually written by someone other than the author.

Frank Sinatra sang, “So make it one for my baby, and one more for the road.”

In 1958,  four guys known as Danny and the Juniors had a 

huge hit with “At the Hop.” The singers from Philadelphia

were originally called The Juvenairs.

Perhaps Babe Didrikson Zaharias should have yelled “Fore!” before telling a group of women golfers,”You know when there’s a star, like in show business, the star has her name in lights on the marquee? Well, I’m the star, and all of you are in the chorus.”

      Elvis once said, “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers,and some people sway back and forthI just sorta do ’em all together, I guess.” 

James Cagney sang, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, a Yankee Doodle, 

do or die; a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s, born on the Fourth of July.”


From this day forward, maybe the groom should be forewarned 

when his wife will be swinging a golf club at

him right in front of a clergyman.

If a book has a foreword, then is there an afterword? 

Yes, the afterword comes afterward. It’s 

concluding section or epilogue.

That’s all for now, folks!

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