Tag Archive - grammar tips

You Don’t Know the Half of It

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The word half can sometimes cause half a mess. Here are some basic rules to keep in mind with the word half.

  • Omit the preposition of when you can; it’s often unnecessary: “Nearly half the people in this town saw the murder on TV.”
  • When the noun or pronoun following half is singular, you should use “half of it is . . .” For example: “Half of my sandwich is soggy.” But if the noun or pronoun is plural, make half a plural noun: “Half of my French fries are soggy too” (If you’re British, this goes for chips as well!)
  • It’s perfectly fine to stick the little a in a phrase like “I brought you half a dozen roses.” You can leave it out if you like, but avoid doubling up on that little letter by saying “I brought you a half a dozen ” Or say “a half-dozen roses” if you prefer the hyphen (phrasal adjective).
  • And last but not least: it’s redundant to say two halves. Halves means two parts. So just say “I cut the apple into halves.” Or “two pieces” if they’re not fairly equal. Although I know your half is always bigger than mine.

I hope this exploration of the word half was at least half as much fun for you as it was for me.

Hone What You’re Homing In On

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Occasionally the misappropriation of a word or term becomes so common that most people don’t even know it’s used in error. Such may be the case with home in and hone in.

After all, if you’re not listening carefully, the m and n sounds may be hard to distinguish.

Home in originated in the nineteenth century with the use of homing pigeons—a variety of pigeon bred to find its way home after traveling long distance. It’s that homing instinct from which the term home in takes it meaning that finds a target.

Today the term applies more to modern weaponry than bird, but the concept of zeroing in on a target remains the same. Continue Reading…

Decent, Dissent, and Descent

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In an article about a recent mountain hike, the author said this about his return trip: “The decent was more challenging than the ascent.”

A proofreading error, I’ll wager. But it presents a teachable moment.

Decent (DEE-sint) means acceptable, presentable, polite, socially acceptable. It can also mean clothed.

  • “If everyone is decent we’ll come in,” the coach hollered as he charged through the locker room door.

Or it can mean good, but not necessarily excellent.

  • His grades were decent, but not good enough to get into an Ivy League school.

Continue Reading…

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