Weekly Excerpt From: GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson

Dangling Modifiers:
Confusing to Downright Silly

I know, I know … I’ve heard all the jokes about dangling modifiers. But when it comes to grammar, they are no laughing matter.

A dangling modifier is a phrase that either is in the wrong place or modifies the wrong thing. These misplaced or poorly worded phrases can create confusion, or they can totally change the meaning of what you intend to say.

Or they can sound darned silly.

Having finished eating dinner, the dishes were loaded into the dishwasher.
problem: The dishes did not eat dinner; people ate dinner.
better: Having finished eating dinner, we loaded the dishes into the dishwasher.

Without knowing her phone number, it was impossible to contact her.
problem: Who didn’t know her number? It?
better: Without knowing her phone number, I found it impossible to contact her.

At age 7, Josh’s father entered the Army.
problem: No one’s father could enter the Army at age 7.
better: When Josh was 7, his father entered the Army.

Buried in an old cedar chest, Kia found her cheerleading sweater.
problem: Kia wasn’t buried in the old cedar chest, her sweater was.
better: Buried in an old cedar chest was the cheerleading sweater Kia had worn.
better yet: Kia found her cheerleading sweater buried in an old cedar chest.

Walking home last night, the porch light was visible a block away.
problem: The porch light was not walking home last night.
better: As I walked home last night, I saw the porch light from a block away.

To avoid dangling modifiers, pay attention to the order of your words and to the doer of the action.

√ Killer Quote: “Miscommunication lies at the heart
of most unhappy situations.” — George Davies


Writing and grammar expert Kathleen Watson, fondly known as The Ruthless Editor, has nearly three decades of experience in both corporate and academic worlds. She has taught business people how to fine-tune their communication style, college students how to strengthen their writing, and Ph.D. candidates how to polish their dissertations. Kathy also has experience as a fiction and nonfiction book copy editor, working with a mix of new and experienced authors.

In addition to writing her own book on grammar, she blogs at RuthlessEditor.com, sharing weekly tips on how to write to get the job you want, earn the promotion you’ve worked hard for, and artfully explain your best ideas.

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Weekly Excerpt From: GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson

[This chapter seemed appropriate for this special day!]

Honor Parents, But do it Right

Every spring, we’re bookended by holidays that honor parenthood: Mother’s Day, which is the second Sunday in May, and Father’s Day, which is the third Sunday in June.

Some people, wanting to show respect for parents, always capitalize any form of mom or dad.

Regardless of our desire to demonstrate that we respect and cherish our parents, there are times to capitalize and times to use lowercase. Here is a simple guideline to help you choose:

If a parent’s name could replace your mom or dad
in your phrasing, use capitals. If not, use lowercase:

  • I told Mom (Jean) I’d be home by midnight.
  • I told my mom (my Jean) I’d be home by midnight.

In the second example, you of course would not say, “I told my Jean I’d be home by midnight.”

Here are two more examples:

  • Dad (Frank) is going to coach the soccer team.
  • My dad (My Frank) is going to coach the soccer team.

Again, you wouldn’t say, “My Frank is going to coach the soccer team.”

Expressing gratitude and honoring your mom and dad is always appropriate and appreciated, regardless of the time of year.

Killer Tip: For grandparents, aunts and uncles, follow these examples:

  • My grandma and grandpa just arrived.
  • Grandma and Grandpa just arrived. (You could substitute their names.)
  • Grandma Joyce and Grandpa Jim just arrived. (Capitalize these terms when they are used as a title before a name.)
  • His aunt and uncle live nearby.
  • Aunt Becky and Uncle Josh live nearby. (Aunt and Uncle here are titles.)

Writing and grammar expert Kathleen Watson, fondly known as The Ruthless Editor, has nearly three decades of experience in both corporate and academic worlds. She has taught business people how to fine-tune their communication style, college students how to strengthen their writing, and Ph.D. candidates how to polish their dissertations. Kathy also has experience as a fiction and nonfiction book copy editor, working with a mix of new and experienced authors.

In addition to writing her own book on grammar, she blogs at RuthlessEditor.com, sharing weekly tips on how to write to get the job you want, earn the promotion you’ve worked hard for, and artfully explain your best ideas.

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Weekly Excerpt From: GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson

Don’t Leave As far as Hanging:
Anchor It With a Verb

Lots of today’s communication is abbreviated, but here’s usage I hear daily that is so shortened, it’s grammatically incorrect:

  • As far as dogs, collies are my favorite.
  • As far as weather, we’re expecting a great weekend.
  • As far as movies, I’d rather watch them in a theater than at home.
  • As far as a house, we’re looking for a two-story.

As far as is a prepositional phrase; it requires something further — a verb in these examples — to help it make sense:

  • As far as dogs go, collies are my favorite.
  • As far as weather is concerned, we’re expecting a great weekend.
  • As far as movies are concerned, I’d rather watch them in a theater than at home.
  • As far as our house choices go, we’re looking for a two-story.

You also could correct the first set of examples by substituting the prepositional phrase with regard to:

  • With regard to dogs, collies are my favorite.
  • With regard to weather, we’re expecting a great weekend.

Or you could use in terms of:

  • In terms of movies, I’d rather watch them in a theater than at home.
  • In terms of house styles, we’re looking for a two-story.
  • Killer Tip: Don’t cut as far as or similar prepositional phrases to a point that leaves your statement grammatically incomplete. As far as grammar is concerned, you’ll sound better educated if you include an appropriate verb form that links this common prepositional phrase to the rest of your sentence.

Writing and grammar expert Kathleen Watson, fondly known as The Ruthless Editor, has nearly three decades of experience in both corporate and academic worlds. She has taught business people how to fine-tune their communication style, college students how to strengthen their writing, and Ph.D. candidates how to polish their dissertations. Kathy also has experience as a fiction and nonfiction book copy editor, working with a mix of new and experienced authors.

In addition to writing her own book on grammar, she blogs at RuthlessEditor.com, sharing weekly tips on how to write to get the job you want, earn the promotion you’ve worked hard for, and artfully explain your best ideas.

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TRANSMUTED Sales Update!

I couldn’t be happier with the sales of TRANSMUTED so far (well, obviously I could be happier: Stephen King, John Scalzi, Andy Weir), but I’m pretty happy. I ♥ Kindle Press.

I now have two full months of ebook stats, February and March (the Feb. figures include one day in Jan. since TRANSMUTED launched Jan. 31):

February – Sold 571 books @ $3.49, and earned the lion’s share of my royalty advance. My average Best Seller Rank was 7209, with average sales per day of 24.

March – Sold 594 books @ $3.49 (3/1-3/19) and $0.99 (3/20-3/31) and earned the balance of my royalty advance in the first ten days. My average Best Seller Rank was 12444, with average sales per day of 20.

April Estimate – Kindle Press initially told me the $0.99 promotion would end 3/31, but they continued it through April. I couldn’t decide at first if this was good or bad. It turned out to be great. I’m averaging 38 units a day with an average Best Seller Rank of 5,058. For the three month period, I’ve sold well over 2,000 books and counting. This bodes well for book 2 (about 3/4 complete).

To estimate my daily sales, I’ve been using the free Amazon Sales Rank Calculator on Kindlepreneur.com (just know you’ll get tons of promo emails). For the month of February, the estimated total sales figure was over by 15%, so I adjusted for that % in my March estimated daily sales. But the Kindlepreneur estimate vs. actual sales for March was only over by 3%, so I had to readjust my adjustment. The only difference I could see between the two months was that my Best Seller Rank was substantially better in February than March. So maybe the calculator is more accurate the worse your sales rank. Yuk! By the end of the year, I’ll have enough data to calculate the variance based on average Best Seller Rank instead of daily rank. I hope that makes sense. If you have questions about my calculations or sales results, or my experience with Kindle Press, feel free to ask here, or contact me directly at robinpraytor@post-to-print.com.

So, in summary, I’d be an idiot to complain and I’m loving being an author! Oh, and my reviews are building nicely (about 2/wk), all 4-5 stars (except for that one, single star review–sigh.).

Ad: If you haven’t purchased TRANSMUTED, what are you waiting for? $0.99 for two more days at least, then whatever Kindle Press does. I have no control over price.

Ad: I hope you’re enjoying the weekly excerpts from GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson. You’re welcome. BUY the book and keep it at your right hand (unless you’re left-handed then . . . you know).

If there are more ads following this post, blame WordPress, not me.

Robin Praytor, Author, out . . . .

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Weekly Excerpt From: GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson

Active vs. Passive Voice:
Keep Your Writing Lively and Readable

Active voice is more lively and easier to read. It makes clear who has done — or should do — something. It prevents wordy, convoluted sentences.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence clearly is the doer of the action. In passive voice, the doer of the action is identified in an indirect way.

active: I am holding the baby.
passive: The baby is being held by me.

active: Rob tromped on the gas as his car sped away.
passive: The gas was tromped on by Rob as his car sped away.

active: Jim is considering what action to take.
passive: What action to take is being considered by Jim.

Passive voice isn’t always wrong. It’s used appropriately in scientific writing, which should sound objective and where the action is more important than who does it, and in crime reports, when authorities don’t know the doer.

Scientific passive:

  • The subjects of the study were interviewed by each interviewer.
  • The results have been replicated by a new group of researchers.

Crime report passive:

  • The branch bank was robbed sometime between 3 and 4:40 a.m.
  • The woman was stabbed as she approached her car.

Note the presence of some form of the verb to be in all passive examples (is, am, are, was, were, have/has been): … baby is being held … gas pedal was tromped on … action is being considered … subjects were interviewed by … results have been replicated … branch bank was robbed … woman was stabbed …

Government documents can get wordy, and passive voice sometimes is the culprit.

passive: The following information must be included in the application for it to be considered complete.
active: You must include the following information in your application.

passive: Regulations have been proposed by the EPA.
active: The EPA has proposed regulations.

  • Killer Tip: Convert the twisted, dull-sounding construction of passive voice to active by using a subject-verb-object sequence and avoiding forms
    of the verb to be.

Writing and grammar expert Kathleen Watson, fondly known as The Ruthless Editor, has nearly three decades of experience in both corporate and academic worlds. She has taught business people how to fine-tune their communication style, college students how to strengthen their writing, and Ph.D. candidates how to polish their dissertations. Kathy also has experience as a fiction and nonfiction book copy editor, working with a mix of new and experienced authors.

In addition to writing her own book on grammar, she blogs at RuthlessEditor.com, sharing weekly tips on how to write to get the job you want, earn the promotion you’ve worked hard for, and artfully explain your best ideas.

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Weekly Excerpt From: GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson

[This week’s excerpt seems appropriate when you consider the number of factoids currently being reported as fact.

Fact vs. Factoid:
Don’t Confuse the Two

Word meanings and their usage evolve and change. However, here’s one I’ve been keeping my eye on for years: factoid.

I first heard the word in graduate school, assuming it meant a tiny fact. I was wrong.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins let loose
with factoid in her Jan. 2, 2015, column. She wrote:

When Hillary Clinton thinks about running for president, do you think she contemplates the fact that no Democrat has been elected to succeed another Democrat since James Buchanan in 1856? We bring you this factoid in honor of the beginning of the 2016 election season.

Collins obviously chose factoid to convey an accepted historical fact. But consider the term’s history. American writer Norman Mailer coined it in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe.

Mailer described a factoid as “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper.” He created the word by combining fact with oid, meaning similar but not the same.

The Washington Times described Mailer’s new word as referring to “something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact.”

Bottom line: A factoid is something that appears to be a fact but is not accurate or verified.

Other sources define factoid this way:

  • purporting to be factual or a phony statistic
  • seeming to be though not necessarily factual
  • a piece of unverified or inaccurate information that is presented in the press as factual, often as part of a publicity effort, and that is then accepted as true because of frequent repetition

Here’s the problem:

Some sources define factoid as a little-known bit of true information; trivial but interesting data; a brief, somewhat interesting fact.

Something either is or is not a fact. A word with two opposite, contradictory meanings at the least misleads readers, and at the worst misinforms readers. I intend to stick to the original meaning of factoid as Mailer crafted it.

  • Killer Tip: Unless you are certain your reading audience understands the difference between fact and factoid, avoid using factoid.


Writing and grammar expert Kathleen Watson, fondly known as The Ruthless Editor, has nearly three decades of experience in both corporate and academic worlds. She has taught business people how to fine-tune their communication style, college students how to strengthen their writing, and Ph.D. candidates how to polish their dissertations. Kathy also has experience as a fiction and nonfiction book copy editor, working with a mix of new and experienced authors.

In addition to writing her own book on grammar, she blogs at RuthlessEditor.com, sharing weekly tips on how to write to get the job you want, earn the promotion you’ve worked hard for, and artfully explain your best ideas.

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Weekly Excerpt From: GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson

Your English Teacher Was Wrong:
You May Start a Sentence With And, But, So

Should you start a sentence with And? What about But or So?

It depends.

And, but and so serve as conjunctions; they’re joiners. They can be the perfect transition between one thought and another when your writing has an informal tone.

Here are examples that use these informal joiners:

  • Beth grabbed the bucket of water, set out on a dead
    run and reached the gate just as it was swinging shut. And she didn’t spill a drop!
  • Aaron promised he would never take his parents’ car without permission. But can you guess what he did
    last night?
  • The longer thumb-sucking continues, the higher
    the likelihood your child will need orthodontic treatment. So when should you intervene, and
    what should you do?

Here are the same examples with more-formal joiners — a conjunction and two prepositions:

  • Beth grabbed the bucket of water, set out on a dead
    run and reached the gate just as it was swinging shut. However, she didn’t spill a drop!
  • Aaron promised he would never take his parents’ car without permission. Despite that pledge, can you guess what he did last night?
  • The longer thumb-sucking continues, the higher the likelihood your child will need orthodontic treatment. Given the potential for that undesirable outcome, when should you intervene, and what should you do?

Good writers use the fewest and the shortest words. Good writers also consider their audience.

If you’re writing a dissertation, a thesis, a report on research findings or any treatise, you’ll be wise to use conjunctions such as these to convey a formal tone: however, nevertheless, moreover, furthermore, additionally.

But if you’re writing informally, there are many cases where And, But and So — all a single syllable — are acceptable ways to start a sentence.

  • Killer Quote: “There is a widespread belief — one with no historical or grammatical foundation — that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.”

— The Chicago Manual of Style

Writing and grammar expert Kathleen Watson, fondly known as The Ruthless Editor, has nearly three decades of experience in both corporate and academic worlds. She has taught business people how to fine-tune their communication style, college students how to strengthen their writing, and Ph.D. candidates how to polish their dissertations. Kathy also has experience as a fiction and nonfiction book copy editor, working with a mix of new and experienced authors.

In addition to writing her own book on grammar, she blogs at RuthlessEditor.com, sharing weekly tips on how to write to get the job you want, earn the promotion you’ve worked hard for, and artfully explain your best ideas.

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