Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Posts Tagged ‘English language

Available now: Wordwatch for Kindle

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Wordwatch for KindleWell, the cover looks good… (that bit wasn’t me).

Here’s the blurb:

This is a basic guide to writing well. Aspects of grammar and punctuation that commonly cause confusion are demystified in plain English. You’ll find clear instructions on the correct use of possessive apostrophes, commas, speech marks, hyphens and semicolons.

Other topics include the subjunctive, split infinitives, and the difference between ‘fewer’ and ‘less’. You can also learn more about active and passive sentences; commonly used foreign words and phrases; and word classes, including nouns, adjectives and verbs.

Also included is a brief, no-nonsense guide to politically correct language.

Coming soon: a paperback version.

Available on Amazon.com and Amazon UK.





headerWelcome to Wordwatch Towers where you’ll find lots of stuff about how to write well.

Please scroll down for the latest posts or explore the Wordwatch Towers vaults for more information about punctuation, grammar and how to use the English language.

You can also try the lucky dip on the right — you never know what you might learn! Plus, one lucky winner will hit the jackpot and walk away with £1 million.*Wordwatch for Kindle

Please ask a question about any aspect of the English language here. Alternatively, I can be contacted using the form on the About page (but not about the jackpot).

*Important legal disclaimer: Not really.

A woman without her man…

Good grammar and punctuation aren’t optional extras:

A woman without her man is nothing.

With the correct punctuation all becomes clear:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Pens (poisoned), knives, shadows and footprints

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Jennifer Aniston at the 2008 Toronto Internati...
Image via Wikipedia

You can always tell when journalists are getting over-excited (and the sub-editor has gone for a tea break): their metaphors become a little, er, stretched. (To put it kindly.)

Writing about the less than spectacular box office performance of Jennifer Aniston’s latest film, Guy Adam opines in The Independent:

Six years after the show’s 238th and last episode, the cultural footprint of Friends remains so vast that every one of its stars remains firmly in its shadow.

Now, I’d quite like to witness the shadow of a footprint, but I’m guessing that the laws of physics (or some other more relevant science) mean that’s not going to happen any time soon.

The following, in the same article, is also suspect (if you want to be picky, and I do):

Little wonder, then, that followers of this most cut-throat of industries are currently unsheathing their poisoned pens.

The main definition of a ‘sheath’ is ‘a close-fitting cover for the blade of a knife or sword’. No mention is made in the Oxford Dictionary of English of it also meaning ‘the cap of a pen’. The definition of ‘unsheathe’ is to ‘draw or pull out a knife, sword or similar weapon from its sheath’.

I think the writer, having used the description ‘cut-throat’ must have been unconsciously thinking of the phrase ‘the knives are out for’ meaning ‘there is hostility towards’. But by the time the knives were being unsheathed they had become poisoned pens. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but that doesn’t make its cap a sheath.

I wouldn’t have got away with this kind of stuff when I was a jobbing journo. That’s all I’m saying.


Bought or brought?

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Currier Shoe Shop, about 1890

Currier Shoe Shop, about 1890

I have been inundated with literally one request to provide a tip to remember the difference between ‘bought’ and ‘brought’.

I went to the shops and ‘brought’ some shoes, or ‘bought’ some shoes?

Just remember that ‘bought’ is the past tense of ‘buy’: neither word has an ‘r’.

And ‘brought’ is the past tense of ‘bring’: both words have an ‘r’.

Now you can spot the glaring error in this example from an interview with a BBC safety advisor published on the BBC website:

So then Stuart, what first bought you in to the wonderful world of Health and Safety?

Unless some unnamed object paid money for him, that should be ‘brought’. (I’m also not sure why ‘health’ and ‘safety’ is capitalised there, but that’s another subject.)

‘Buy’ and ‘bring’ are of Germanic origin. ‘Buy’ is from the Old English word ‘bycgan’, and bring is from the Old English ‘bringan’.

Spelling tips and tricks

Commonly confused words and phrases


Photo: ellenm1

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