Tag Archive - usage

Do Signs Read?

Do you find it a little kooky as I do that we have expressions like “the sign said . . .” or “the notice read . . .”? I mean, signs can’t talk, and notices haven’t gone to school. But what’s implied by these expressions is something along the lines of “the person who wrote the sign said . . . ” Regardless, since signs aren’t people or talking animals, they don’t need speaker tags. If you remember the rule, whenever you use a speaker tag, you put a comma before the speech: George said, “Keep out.”

With something like a sign you don’t need the comma. Just say: The sign said “Keep Out.”

If you are referring to a type of sign or notice, just give it initial caps.


  • Pay attention to the No Smoking sign
  • I ignored the Keep Out sign

The same principle applies to forms:

  • Fill out that Consent to Search form

In your spare time, if you’re bored, you could try to teach your signs to read. Good luck.


Which to Use—Which or That?

These two words are often used incorrectly, and it’s not too hard to understand when you want that instead of which. The word that is used with what’s called a restrictive clause—meaning the phrase that’s following this word is necessary to the meaning of the sentence. For example:

  • All the books that are about dogs are on that shelf. [This means every book about dogs is on the shelf.]
  • I went to see the movie that had a lot of singing. [This means you specifically chose a movie with singing as opposed to another movie without singing.]
  • He liked my novel that reminded him of home. [This means this novel reminded him of home as opposed to others that didn’t.] Continue Reading…

The Reason Why Is Because

This is something I really didn’t learn until years into my writing, but now I’m keenly aware of it. Because of the way we often talk, we make this mistake in our writing regarding reason and why. The word reason means an explanation. The word why is defined in Merriam-Webster’s as “cause, reason, or purpose.” Maybe you already see where I’m going with this.

If you say, “The reason why I ate that . . . ” you are saying, “The reason reason I ate that.” Now, the word because means . . . you guessed it: why. So now, if you say, “The reason why I ate that is because . . .” you are saying, “The reason reason I ate that is the reason . . .” (or something close to that). Most Word options can be set to detect the reason-why combination and it will flag it, but try to watch out for it. That sentence, by the way, should just be “The reason I ate that sandwich is I was hungry.” Or you could use two sentences: “Why did I eat that sandwich? Because I was hungry.”

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