Tag Archive - grammar

Whom Shall I Say?

If you’re like me, you get who and whom  mixed up. I often have to stop and reword the sentence in my head to check which one I need. We’ve been told that who is the subject of a clause and whom takes an objective position. In other words, we use whom when he or she is the object of a sentence, as in for whom, to whom, with whom.

I like how Amy Einsohn explains this in her great book The Copy Editor’s Handbook, which I’m happy to plug here. These are the (correct) examples she gives:

  • Joseph is the candidate whom we hope to elect. [We hope to elect him—object, not subject, of the sentence]
  • Smith is the candidate who we think will win. [We think he will win—he being in the nominal, not objective, form]
  • This book offers advice to whoever will accept it. [Who will accept it? He will, not him will—so you use the nominal form]

Amy’s book is really terrific at explaining everything you need to know about writing correctly, and you can get her book here:

The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, Second Edition

Hyphenation–Not-So-Easy-to-Understand Rules

I think the most errors I see when editing manuscripts have to do with hyphenation. In an earlier post, I gave a link to the latest CMOS Hyphenation Chart, and you can download it again here. I refer to it a lot since there are so many diverse rules! Many of the rules deal with modifying a noun (putting an adjective or compound adjective before the noun), as shown in some examples below.

Here are some basic and common usages of hyphenated style:

  • My sixteen-year-old is taking ballet classes from a seventy-year-old woman.
  • He’s wearing a dark-green coat and a blue-gray sweater. [But you would say, “His coat is dark green.”]
  • It’s a black-and-white photo. [But you would say, “The truth is black and white.”]
  • I’m taking a fiction-writing workshop.
  • This is cutting-edge technology. [But you would say, “This tech is cutting edge.”]
  • I’m working a twelve-hour-a-day schedule. [But you would say, “I’m working a twelve-hour day.”]
  • This book is a nineteenth-century romance with twenty-first-century dialog.

A lot of words we tend to hyphenate should be one closed-up word, so check both the handy hyphenation chart and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (which is the secondary authority below CMOS).

What Time Is It?

I see a lot of confusion about when to spell out the time of day and when to show it as numerals. The rules are pretty simple. You want to spell out times of day if they are in even, half, or quarter hours: “She left at seven o’clock and returned at seven fifteen.” If you want to stipulate a time of day that doesn’t follow this rule, use the numerals: “He looked at the clock and it read 6:18.”

Now, if you really want to emphasize an exact time, you can use numerals even with times that normally would be spelled out: “The store opens at exactly 8:30.”

As far as dates go, just use the numeral and don’t make it an ordinal: “He’s coming on December 5” (not December 5th). Or spell out “fifth.” If you are not mentioning the month with the day, you spell out the day: “She should be here on the sixteenth.”

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