Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is When to Omit the Word of

When I grew up, it was considered acceptable to say, "Half of all the people in the room seemed to be asleep." Nowadays, we streamline language. We have removed the "s" from words like towards, backwards, and afterwards. We’ve shortened the word amidst to amid. And we are removing the term of in many phrases.

Get off of my lawn!
All of my children are studious.
Half of the profits are yours.

All those sentences – note that I didn’t say all of those! – can be rewritten without the word of.

This is a hard rule to remember. What I do is write whatever comes into my head and then when I’m rereading and revising my material, I go back and look for the number of times that I used of.

Of course, sometimes of is essential. Here are sentences that wouldn't make any sense without it: "The floor is made of pine wood." "The dog is tired of his regular biscuits." "I'm writing a book composed of grammar tips." Those sentences all require the preposition of. So, use your good judgment and double-check your work to remove filler words like of.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including the Amazon bestseller Be Your Own Editor, available on Kindle as well as in print.  She is also the winner of’s Best Grammar Writing Tips Blog of 2011.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is the Plural of Flu

Talking about the flu is different from talking about having a cold. One person can have a cold but the whole family may have an immunity to colds in general. That is to say, the plural of cold is colds just as the plural of virus is viruses. But the plural of flu is not flus.

Flu is short for influenza and for some inexplicable reason, the plural and singular form of this word are the same –

"I had the flu in October."
"I like to avoid people with colds and flu."

You’re safe to use the word flu in the plural or you can say influenzas. This is one of those odd grammar rules that we just need to commit to memory, much like the Advil rule. I used to say that I took two Advil but once again the singular and the plural of that word are identical – whether you take one or 100 Advil, you don't want to add that “s” but I wouldn't suggest taking that many no matter how bad your flu is!

Sigrid Macdonald is a manuscript editor and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor. Buy now on Amazon Kindle for $2.99.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is When to Use I Think and I Feel

People often use the term "I feel" when it's inappropriate. Feelings relate to emotions, such as sorrow, rage, or jubilation. "I feel excited" or "I feel worried" is correct. Feelings can also relate to body temperature. "I'm freezing. I feel so cold!"

Thoughts are part of our internal dialogue. "I think, therefore, I am," the great philosopher Descartes said. You can use the word think when you're talking about anything mental. Here's an example: "I think the snowstorm that just bombarded the north-eastern US may be on its way to Canada." You don't want to say, "I feel the snowstorm in the US may be on its way to Canada."

Using "I think" and "I feel" correctly is just a matter of paying attention. When you're aware that you have a tendency, as many of us do, to write "I feel" rather than "I think," you'll be more apt to be on the lookout for this construction.

Meanwhile, I hope that none of my readers were affected by that storm!

Sigrid Macdonald is a manuscript editor and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, currently available on Amazon Kindle.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is When to Use Male and When to Use Man

Sometimes it's hard to know when the word male or man would be a better choice. Generally, male is better used as an adjective and man as a noun. Here are some examples:  

The male soccer team performed well last year.


At the party, the men stood on one side of the room and the women stood on the other.

Can you say that the males stood on one side of the room? Yes, because male is also a noun, but Grammar Girl recommends using men for people and males for scientific purposes or when referring to animals. In that case, you can say, “The giraffes couldn't reproduce because the zoo only had males.”

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor available on Amazon Kindle: .

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Today’s Writing Tip Is on Misplaced Modifiers

I’m a big fan of Christopher Hitchens, a controversial British writer who happens to have fourth degree esophageal cancer. In his last book, which served as his autobiography, he gave a tip to writers: he said, “Don’t say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you unless she really was a boy at the time, in which case I think you have thrown away a much better intro.”

So, how do we rewrite that sentence? We don’t want the phrase “as a boy” to be qualified by the term “grandmother.” Let’s try this – “When I was a boy, my grandmother used to read to me.” That works. The phrase “when I was a boy” is followed immediately by “my,” the proper pronoun for boy instead of grandmother.

Thanks for this, Chris. And I’ve appreciated all your other messages, political and otherwise, over the years. I hope you have several more books in you.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is on Realistic Dialogue

Some of you may know that I was raised in New Jersey, and when I get very tired or sloppy, I revert to Jersey speak. The other day I said to my mother, "Why you gotta get so upset?" This is a great sentence for many reasons.

First, often writers create stilted dialogue in their novels. Characters say things that they would never say in real life, such as "I am going out now. I will call you later. Thank you for understanding." Someone is much more likely to say, "Going out now. Call later. Bye." Note that credible dialogue often has sentence fragments; it's not composed of whole sentences or whole thoughts.

In my Jersey sentence, I make at least three grammatical mistakes, but they are believable in dialogue. You can create a character who talks that way, especially if it sounds right for him or her. Tony Soprano might say that; Tom Brokaw would not.

So, look carefully at the conversations you've created in print. Make sure that a grandmother's vocabulary sounds age-appropriate and a teenager sounds like a kid. And don't forget to add contractions. Say I am or I've instead of I am or I have. The best way to write plausible dialogue is to listen to people when they talk. And it's the polite thing to do anyway!

Happy writing

Monday, September 19, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is on When to Use He, His or Him

Most of the time it's a no-brainer as to when to use he or his. "He opened the car door to get his groceries." Simple. But what about this?

"Mark and his wife were excited about their evening; the president of the college provided theater tickets for he and his family."

Right or wrong? Wrong.

The president provided tickets for him and his family. Whenever you're confused about using a pronoun because of a second pronoun, just omit the second clause – “the president provided tickets for he” sounds bad. If you're still unsure, say it out loud. What throws people off balance in this example is the combination of referring to two different people.

Read more about punctuation in my third book, Be Your Own Editor, available in print ( and now a bestseller on Kindle ( Or get 20% off the regular price by writing directly to me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

If you're interested in expanding your vocabulary, understanding homonyms, and learning a word a day,check out Grammar Net. It's a fantastic resource. Don't forget to subscribe to their grammar newsletter.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Number 2 in Editing, Grammar, and Journalism

Be Your Own Editor is now rated #2 on Amazon Kindle in the editing, grammar, and journalism department. Download your copy for $2.99 now:

The Best Grammar Blog of 2011 nomiee

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is on Grammar-Free Zones

Writing properly can be exhausting. There are times when we don’t want to check for every typo, misplaced modifier or dangling participle. Sometimes we’re just plain off duty.

I usually consider myself to be off duty in social e-mail, in text messages, and on Facebook, but that’s because I don’t use Facebook for work. If you use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter to promote your business or products, including books, by all means take time to write properly. By definition, LinkedIn is a professional networking group and you want to present yourself well there. And if you have a blog that you use to promote your most recent book, or a product or service, and you have followers, you’re still on duty.

But if you are chatting back and forth with your friends in e-mail or on Facebook, you don’t always have to take the time to proof everything. Discussion threads on Facebook can be long, and the forum itself may interfere with productivity. That’s why some workplaces have completely blocked access.

When it comes to proofreading and writing well, use your own judgment. And it doesn’t hurt to automatically configure your spell-check to proof every e-mail before it goes out, so that people aren’t scratching their heads wondering what you meant by the word “hur” (her, hurt, hurry?).

Happy writing, and take some time off from the grammar world


Author of Be Your Own Editor

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is Take a Listen

Over the last year or two, I’ve heard a number of newscasters use the expression, "take a listen." I don't know where that came from. Why do we need two verbs? Why not just say, "Listen"?

There are other instances where people routinely use two or even three verbs. "Alejandro was going to go see his mother." A cleaner version of that sentence would be: "Alejandro was going to see his mother.”

Be aware when you're using more words than necessary. Simplicity allows your message to come through clearly without any distractions.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Art and the Gift of the Review by Nanci Arvizu

Guest post for Sigrid Macdonald

Page Readers
Nanci Arvizu
The Art and the Gift of the Review.

Writers and Reviewers

As a reviewer at Page Readers, I am open to reading just about any kind of genre. Of course I have some that I like more than others, and some I shy away from completely, but if a title catches my eye and the description of the book sounds good I will read it regardless of the genre.

But what happens when a book I’ve agreed to read and write a review for turns out, in my opinion, to be less than “breathtaking,” “mesmerizing,” or “one I couldn’t put down?” Do I only share the positives that I can find in the work to create my review? Or do I put it all out there, the good, the bad and even the ugly for the world to see?

Tough questions. When I’ve received a book from an author, especially when they’ve gone to the trouble and expense of sending me a print book, I feel as though I owe them my honest opinion. If the work turns out to be something that totally saddles my horse, I post it everywhere knowing the author will appreciate the accolades. When the saddle doesn’t fit, am I required to lie and say it’s fine? Ever ridden in a saddle that doesn’t fit you or your horse? Let’s just say it doesn’t work. Your hide will be chapped for days.

There has been much buzz lately about a certain author (who shall remain nameless) who badmouthed a reviewer on the reviewers’ blog, because he stated a fact: the book was filled with editing errors. He admitted to enjoying the story. The author accused the reviewer for not downloading the correct version of her book from her sales site on Smashwords. The comment thread was probably one of the longest I’ve ever seen - and I read every comment right up to where the owner of the blog stopped allowing comments altogether.

The author blamed the reviewer not downloading an updated version of her work. Since when is it the readers’ responsibility to make sure they have a final draft of a book?

As a writer myself, of course I want the words I put down on paper to mean something. Will they mean the same thing to every person who reads them? Wouldn’t it be something if every time I shared a story, an article or opinion about anything that the world clamored to read it and shot from roof tops screaming, “this was the best thing I’ve ever read!”

When we put pen to paper weaving our imaginations into tales, or even retell a much-repeated tale in our own words, not everyone is going to “get it.” Authors need to have a thick skin and understand their work will not appeal to every single person -- even if only a single person reads it.

Be brave. Write it anyway. Get feedback. Know that with honest input (you don’t even have to call it criticism) your skills as an author will only improve. Believe in yourself.

But never ever lose your temper over a bad review of your work. If you can’t handle the ride, don’t get the horse out of the barn.

Nanci Arvizu
Host of Page Readers on Blog Talk Radio
Reviewer at Page Readers blog
V.P. Promotion a la Carte

Submit your Apocalypse 2012 Short Story for this exciting PAC Contest.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is on Clichés

One day at a time.

A heart of gold.

Slow and steady wins the race.

He just got a slap on the wrist.

These are all clichés that you don't want to use in your writing because they’re trite and overused.

I always recommend writing the first draft of your story, article, essay, blog post or manuscript in a loose style. Get those thoughts out of your head and down on paper. Don't worry about grammar, facts, or details that may slow you down. Having a completed work is such a great feeling; it makes it much easier to return to refine your material. That’s when you want to go through it with a fine tooth comb—just testing you. That's a cliché! Let's paraphrase that: that’s when you want to assess your material to remove too many adverbs, adjectives, and stale or outdated expressions.

By trimming your work and using crisp and unique terms, you’ll take a good piece of writing and make it brilliant.

Read more about punctuation in my third book, Be Your Own Editor, available in print ( and now a bestseller on Kindle ( Or get 20% off the regular price by writing directly to me.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Polish your Writing and Produce Professional Copy

Be Your Own Editor is a best-selling reference manual, rated #25 in the editing category on the Amazon Kindle Store and among the Top 100 Paid Books on Kindle. It's an informal crash course on grammar and writing basics, written by a combination author and editor. BYOE is meant as a guidebook for students and writers of all ages and stages, and incorporates humor as well as pop quizzes to help you learn in the least painful manner possible. The book is available on for $14.00. [ ] The Kindle version is only $3.99. [ ]

The print book is $9.99 by ordering directly through me, not including shipping and handling, and the e-book is $3.99. If you're a student, let me know and I'll give you a 10% discount -- no questions asked.

Sigrid (sigridmac at

P. S. Check out my editing website, too, at


In today's high-tech world, we're all writers. Long gone are the days of Mad Men when executives dictated letters to their secretaries. Nowadays, we're all connected 24/7 through our BlackBerrys, laptops, and notebooks. We're on e-mail, social networking sites, blogs, ad infinitum. If you write directly to an administrator or exec, you may very well hear back from that person, which would have been unheard of 20 years ago.

We write in order to sell on the Internet, to keep in touch with our children who are away at college, or to discuss issues on message boards. Professional writers develop manuscripts, write short stories, and devise query letters and book proposals. Students, much to their dismay, write essays on a deadline. The end result is that everyone is a writer.

Writing is like breathing, eating or sleeping in the sense that we all do it, but how well do we do it? In that respect, it's more like driving a car. Some people drive very well. They were taught the basics, took the responsibility seriously, studied the rules, and have driven for so many years that it's become second nature. Others learned by the seat of their pants. They accepted the recommendations that seemed most critical at the time (e.g., always stop at a red light!), and have been driving for so many years that they've forgotten some of the essentials. Ditto for English grammar and composition.

E-mail has become pretty relaxed. We understand that people are in a hurry and they deal with dozens, if not hundreds, of e-mails every day, so we cut them some slack. Not so of websites. Selling something? One or more typos on your site can seriously undermine your customers' faith in your intelligence, and consequently your product or service, even if both are stellar. And if you're submitting articles for publication or circulating your CV in the hope of obtaining a job, you had better have clean copy.

I've always been a writer, starting back in my teens. And I was fairly confident about my grammatical skills until I became a copy editor. Then I began to take grammar seriously and realized how much I didn't know. So, I went back to the beginning to teach myself the core concepts. It sounded like a real yawner and I wasn't excited about it at all. But, guess what? It turned out to be a lot of fun, because grammar has certain rules that will always remain the same, much like math.

Be Your Own Editor provides the crash course in writing basics that I wish I’d had at my disposal. It lists the most common mistakes I've encountered while editing 60 full-length fiction and nonfiction books. Run-on sentences, misuse of apostrophes, word confusion — should you use effect or affect? Loath or loathe? Like or as if? When should you use a colon and when should you use a semicolon? Are serial commas preferred to regular commas? Find out.

In addition to being a copy editor, I also act as a book coach. I help people create their stories, thus, I've devoted part of Be Your Own Editor to discussing character development, credible dialogue, plot resolution, and how to write captivating background details for fiction. For nonfiction, I've discussed organization, content, clarity, the importance of up-to-date references and how to avoid overkill.

What about your spell-check? Why do you need a book on editing when you can just push F7? The spell-check is a phenomenal device; I couldn't live without it. However, it's far from perfect. And it doesn't work like a calculator. If you hit all the right buttons on a calculator, and ask it to perform the correct function, it's 100% accurate. Not so with your spell-check. The English language has too many homonyms, such as "they're, there and their." Any one of those words could be spelled correctly in your document but misused, and the spell-check may tell you it’s okay. If you say that you "through" the ball out the "widow," there is no way for your program to tell you that that's wrong. Typos are easy to make and after we've spent hours, if not months (or even years, in the case of books), pouring over the same material, sometimes our brain just takes a vacation and we can't spot our own mistakes. The spell-check won't help in this case but the recommendations in Be Your Own Editor will.

Still afraid that you can't edit your own copy? That you'll miss something? I make a number of suggestions about how to find qualified people to review your final draft for very little money or for free.

All these and more are covered in 156 reader-friendly pages. This is not a stuffy English textbook. Far from it. I try to make you laugh from time to time, and have included three pop quizzes, so you can test your knowledge of punctuation or word usage at the end of certain chapters.

Anyone can benefit from the tools in this book because we're all writers. But professional writers in particular—writers who want to submit their material to agents and publishers—and students will find helpful tools to improve their current skills, along with recommendations about which books constitute the best reference material.

In fact, I'm so convinced that Be Your Own Editor will be useful to you that I'm offering a money-back guarantee. If you don't learn anything whatsoever in this book, write to me and I'll be happy to refund your purchase.

Meanwhile, happy writing.

Buy Be Your Own Editor directly through me by hitting the Contact Me button or sending an e-mail to sigridmac at Or simplifiy your life and get it on PayPal.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Book Review: Be Your Own Editor by Patricia Fry

Patricia Fry, author of an astonishing 31 books, and the director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) gave Be Your Own Editor a great review in the February 2011 SPAWN newsletter!
Book Review: Be Your Own Editor, A Writer’s Guide to Perfect Prose
by Patricia Fry

Lulu Enterprises (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-557-31219-1

Paperback 160 pages, $17.99; e-book $4.99

Sigrid Macdonald is an author and an editor. She wrote this book in order to help authors better prepare their manuscripts for publication, whether the author does the final edit himself or he hands it over to a qualified editor before seeking publication. The more the author can fine-tune his manuscript, the better chance he will have at landing a publisher. If he decides to hire an editor to add the final editorial touches, the editor’s fee will be lower than if the author hadn’t done the fine-tuning. So learning to self-edit is a win-win situation.

I found this book to be easy to follow, substantial in content and concept, and even a tad humorous at times. Macdonald demonstrates editing techniques and rules in both fiction and nonfiction. She covers common spelling and grammar mistakes, punctuation, and word usage. I especially like her tips for catching typos. Did it ever occur to you to magnify the type in order to more easily spot typos? What about spellcheck? Should you use it? Should you rely on it? Macdonald has an interesting view on this.

I notice that she covers mistakes that I see frequently in my clients’ manuscripts—mixing present and past tense, confusing first and third person, using repeated words, and using inconsistent capitalization, spelling of proper names, etc.

Are you still confused about using commas, certain words and terms (lose/loose, fewer/less, who/whom, its/it’s), for example? This book will help. I suggest keeping it right next to your Chicago Manual of Style as a quick reference when you have an editorial question. Macdonald’s index will assist you in quickly locating the problem you need help with.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is Thank You, Elizabeth

I can't tell you how many times I’ve seen people thanking each other on Facebook for having posted a link or making a comment. And nine times out of 10, they forget to put in the comma between the word thanks and the person's name.

If I say that Elizabeth Taylor will be greatly missed because she was a terrific activist, you can agree with me or disagree; however, no matter how you phrase your statement, when you put my name at the end of it, you want to insert a comma.

"Elizabeth Taylor worked tirelessly for AIDS even before Rock Hudson was diagnosed, Sigrid."

"Maybe if Larry King and Liz Taylor had gotten married once, they wouldn't have had to marry seven people afterwards, Siggy."

"Thanks for this info, Sigrid."

"Thanks for nothing, Sig!"

The same is technically true for words like hi, hello, and goodbye, but it's not true for dear. You can say, “Dear Liz,” (no comma) or you can say, “Hello, Liz” (comma). Because Elizabeth Taylor was a beautiful, talented and dedicated human being, I will use this forum to say, “Goodbye, Elizabeth. You did your share. RIP."

Learn more about word usage in my third book, Be Your Own Editor. When should you use between or among, further and farther, or complement and compliment? Find out in BYOE, available on in print and now a bestseller on Kindle. (

Monday, March 28, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is about Expanding Your Vocabulary

Indefatigable… pristine… eviscerate… antithetical… arduous… enervating. What do these words have in common? We don't see them that often.

An excellent way to improve your vocabulary and your writing is to read, read, and read some more. That way you'll learn new words and you will also see how certain things look in print; this is particularly good for writing dialogue and punctuation.

Choose things that interest you. If you don't like fiction, read nonfiction. If books take too much time, pick up a magazine or follow a blog dealing with a topic you really like. Or listen to a book on audio on your iPod or on CD in your car.

Don't turn it into homework, but do find a way to incorporate new words into your daily or weekly routine.

Learn more about word usage in my third book, Be Your Own Editor. When should you use between or among, further and farther, or complement and compliment? Find out in BYOE, available on in print and now a bestseller on Kindle. (

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is on Comma Placement

Lynne Truss said it best with the title of her blockbuster hit Eats, Shoots & Leaves. That sentence can have two meanings depending on where we place the comma. If we omit the comma after the word Eats, we may think that someone eats bamboo shoots and takes off. But if we keep the comma, we know that a person ate, shot something and left. (Sarah Palin targeting moose in Alaska?)

Likewise with the following example: my aunt believed the babysitter and John and I were unfairly punished. What happens if I change the comma to this: My aunt believed the babysitter, and John and I were unfairly punished.

The first sentence could mean that the aunt thought that three people were unfairly punished -- the babysitter, John and the writer of the sentence. But it could also mean that the aunt believed a story that the babysitter relayed, thus, the aunt thought John and the writer were unfairly punished. The first sentence is ambiguous. If the writer wants to say that he and John were wrongly accused and reprimanded, the best way to write that would be: “My aunt believed the babysitter, and John and I were unfairly punished.”

Read more about punctuation in my third book, Be Your Own Editor, available in print ( and now a bestseller on Kindle ( Or get 20% off the regular price by writing directly to me at sigridmac at

*Please note that writing tips are nonpartisan and I already made fun of a Democrat last time!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Book promotion for authors

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is on the Difference between Contrary and Contradiction

When should you use the word contrary and when should you use contradiction?

Contrary means argumentative. “You say yes, I say no. You say stop and I say go, go, go, oh no. You say goodbye and I say hello, hello, hello.” Hard to imagine someone being contrary to the Beatles, but there you go. When people are contrary, they disagree.

When people are contradictory, they may say one thing but do another. Their actions or words are inconsistent or incongruous. John Lennon was a man of contradictions; he advocated peace in his music, but wreaked havoc in his personal life, particularly in his first marriage. Contradictory is the adjective and contradiction is a noun. A contradiction is something that we find difficult to understand, like when Rev. Jesse Jackson ministered to Bill Clinton after Clinton confessed to having an affair, yet later the public discovered that Jackson, a married man, was the father of a love child (I promised I would give equal time to teasing Democrats in today's writing tip).

Learn more about word usage in my third book, Be Your Own Editor. When should you use between or among, further and farther, or complement and compliment? Find out in BYOE, available on in print and on Kindle.

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, the author of three books, and a manuscript editor.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This Is a Sort of Writing Tip

Lately I've been seeing the phrases "kind of" and "sort of" in print, and hearing them far too often on podcasts and radio. When is it appropriate to use these terms and when should we leave them at home?

If you have a task at work that is slightly difficult, you can say that it is kind of a pain. What you don't want to say is this: "I have a sort of project that needs to be finished by Friday." The first sentence has “kind of” modifying the word pain, which makes sense. The second sentence has the adjective modifying the word project, which doesn't make any sense, because we’re not going to have a "sort of” project. We either have a project or we don't!

Here's another one. “It's kind of important for me to show up at the party.” That sentence is fine. If I change it to this, it's grammatically incorrect: “It's important for me to kind of be at the party." You either show up or you don't. Kind of and sort of are filler words akin to “like…” (I was, like, so busy.) They seem to be the modern equivalent of saying “um” or “ah,” but you don't want to discard them altogether, because there are a number of instances where they are the best words of choice.

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, a manuscript editor, and the author of three books including Be Your Own Editor. BYOE is available on Amazon in soft cover ( and on Kindle ( Or get 20% off the regular price by writing directly to the author.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is on Famous Versus Infamous

Oftentimes as an editor, I see people confuse the word infamous with famous, but they mean entirely different things.

Fame brings celebrity. It means that someone is well-known, and the connotation is generally, although not always, positive. Natalie Portman is a famous actress.

Infamous means that someone is well-known for an unsavory, contentious or salacious reason. It's synonymous with notorious -- no one has solved the mystery of the murder of the infamous Biggie Smalls.

Some people are famous and infamous -- Madonna, Alec Baldwin, Eminem, Mel Gibson… There is a long list of people who are easily recognizable, but also push other people's buttons because they’ve said or done something controversial. So, it's possible to be both famous and infamous, or just famous, or just infamous. (The Arizona shooter and the Unabomber are simply infamous. Not many people admire them, and they gained fame by doing something heinous.)

Learn more about word usage in my third book, Be Your Own Editor, a manual for students and writers of all ages and stages. Available on Amazon in print and in the Amazon Kindle store [].

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is about Commas

Ah, commas. How can something so small and seemingly benign make a grown man cry? Seriously, commas can be confusing, but there are some rules of thumb that can be useful.

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends using a comma after every coordinating conjunction (words like and, but, or), but not everyone agrees. Standard Deviants’ Grammar Pitfalls suggests using a comma in a sentence that has more than two conjunctions. Here's an example --

Chicago version: I wonder if anyone is reading my writing tips, and I sometimes feel like swearing like a truck driver to test my theory, but I have faith in my readership.

Deviants' version: I wonder if anyone is reading my writing tips and I sometimes feel like swearing like a truck driver to test my theory, but I have faith in my readership.

Unless you're writing for a newspaper, you can choose the comma style that you like best. The only important thing to remember is consistency. Don't insert commas randomly; make sure that you have a system and stick with it.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of Be Your Own Editor, available on in print and on Kindle (

Monday, January 3, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is about Using the Indefinite Article "A" Before Words Starting with "H"

Have a happy holiday. That's an easy sentence to conjugate. We all know that the article to use before the word happy is “a.” It would be unusual to see someone write, "have an happy holiday" and your spell-check is likely to pick that up.

What becomes complicated is when we talk about words like historical or Hispanic. Some people use “an” before historical – “It was an historical occasion” -- and other people don't. What's the deal? According to The Chicago Manual of Style, if your word begins with a silent “h,” you should use the article “an.” If the word begins with a hard ‘h,” use “a.”

Consequently, an historical occasion is only correct if you don't pronounce the “h” in historical. This seems easier to work out verbally because some of us say “herb” and others say “erb.” But to be on the safe side, have a system or use a style guide. I use the Chicago rule even though I know that some people will prefer “an historical holiday” to “a historical holiday.”

To learn how this differs for Americans and Brits, or for people of different age groups, read Tina Blue’s “article on articles” at

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books including Be Your Own Editor, available in print on Amazon or as an e-book on

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