Tag Archive - usage

When “Where” Should Be “In Which”

Writers are so used to using the word where in a general sense that I imagine many don’t stop to think just what they are really saying. I’m speaking specifically in sentences like these:

  • The Bible contains many verses where people can find hope.
  • I heard a lecture where the instructor quoted Shakespeare excessively.
  • I saw a movie where the bad guy fell out of a plane.

The word where pertains to a physical location, and none of the subjects in the above sentences are locations. While a lecture is given at a certain location, the sentence is speaking about the content of the lecture. In sentences like these, it is best to use in which. See how much more accurate these read:

  • The Bible contains many verses in which people can find hope.
  • I heard a lecture in which the instructor quoted Shakespeare excessively.
  • I saw a movie in which the bad guy fell out of a plane.

It might be easier to remember to use where only when referring to a place. For example: “I went to the market, where I ran into Jim.” And, in all other cases, you might want to use the “more formal” (but more correct) which: “I read a book in which is contained all the mysteries of the ancient world.”

I’m all for keeping things simple, so you might reword this last sentence this way: “I read a book that contained all the mysteries . . .” But if you really can’t simplify the sentence without losing the gist of what you are trying to say, be sure to check first to see if you are speaking about a location or not.

Each Writer Should Correct Their Own Grammar

Dreading to deal with the ubiquitous “their,” let’s just get it over with. It’s become so common for us to say things like “Do you know someone who lives alone and worries for their life?” or “Everyone in the audience blew their nose.” How about “No one knew what their assignment was.” And so on.

We have gotten into the habit of using “their” as a catch-all word in sentences that really call for a singular pronoun. And often, the best way around these glaring pitfalls is to rewrite.

It is clunky to always say “his” or “her”: “Each person in the room scratched his or her head.” But although it’s easier to defer to “Each person scratched their head,” why not rewrite into a stronger sentence? Or if it the information is not necessary, just take it out. Do you really need to tell the reader that everyone scratched their head? Just what are you trying to say? Continue Reading…

Learning about Proper Adjectives in a New York Minute

A “proper adjective” does not refer to a correct adjective in a sentence (because there often isn’t just one correct adjective). It  is one that, being or deriving from a proper name, always begins with a capital letter. Here are some examples of a proper adjective:

  • a New York minute
  • a Cuban cigar
  • a Canadian dollar

The proper name used attributively (meaning the adjective is describing the noun, essentially)  is still capitalized, but it does not cause the noun it modifies to be capitalized. A place-name containing a comma—such as Toronto, Ontario, or New Delhi, India—should generally not be used as an adjective because a second comma may be deemed obligatory. For example if you say “We ate dinner in a Chicago, Illinois, restaurant,” the comma after Illinois is somewhat awkward. Better to reword to something like “We ate dinner in a restaurant in Chicago, Illinois.” Or ‘We ate dinner in a Chicago restaurant.”

Page 1 of 612345»...Last »