3 Errors Involving Correlative Conjunctions

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By Mark Nichol

A correlative conjunction is a word that correlates with, or is complementary to, another such construction, establishing a connection or a comparison in a sentence. Each of the sentences below erroneously employs a pair of correlative conjunctions in a faulty syntactical structure, and the discussion that follows each describes the problem, while a revision demonstrates the solution.

1. A well-designed approach not only can play a key role in a company’s business processes, but also in its broader strategy.

Sentences that present a “not only . . . but also” point-counterpoint relationship often do so incorrectly. This occurs when the writer syntactically organizes the sentence so that words representing various parts of speech are not placed correctly to serve their functions. In this case, because the verb phrase “can play a key role” pertains to both choices (“a company’s business processes” and “its broader strategy), that phrase must precede “not only”: “A well-designed approach can play a key role not only in a company’s business processes but also in its broader strategy.”

2. This publication is neither intended to be a legal analysis nor a detailed cookbook of steps to take in every situation.

The same type of error occurs in a sentence that includes the correlative conjunctions neither and norintended applies to both choices, so it must precede the entire correlative construction: “This publication is intended to be neither a legal analysis nor a detailed cookbook of steps to take in every situation.” (Alternatively, the sentence can be written “This publication is not intended to be a legal analysis or a detailed cookbook of steps to take in every situation.”)

3. A skilled architect can produce a stunning blueprint, but an experienced contractor will tell you whether or not the structure in that blueprint can be produced, and at what cost.

Errors involving the correlative conjunction whether and or are rarely errors of incorrect syntax; generally, the error is including “or not” after whether when the phrase is extraneous: “A skilled architect can produce a stunning blueprint, but an experienced contractor will tell you whether the structure in that blueprint can be produced, and at what cost.”


3 Cases of Improving Writing Through Combination

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By Mark Nichol

In each of the following pairs of clauses, an ineffectual presentation of information is strengthened by altering sentence structure through combination. Discussion and revision follow each example.

1. Only about 7,500 fans attended the game, and about two-thirds of them had not paid for their tickets.

What is intended to be a modestly dramatic admission seems to be attached offhandedly to the end of this sentence. The revelation of the means by which the game’s attendance was boosted would be better presented by inserting it parenthetically into the main clause: “Only about 7,500 fans, about two-thirds of whom had not paid for their tickets, attended the game.”

It can be argued that this revision weakens the impact of the sentence, which in the context from which it was excised emphasized that a sports team had to give away most of the tickets for a game to ensure even a half-full basketball arena. To successfully punch up the end of the sentence with this admission, it would be better to revise the sentence to be more emphatic: “Only about 7,500 fans attended the game—and two-thirds of them had to be lured in with free tickets.”

2. This strategy can also be one of the more difficult to scope and plan. This is due to the challenges that can come with the reporting process.

This sentence benefits from the approach employed in the previous example: “This strategy can also, because of the challenges that can come with the reporting process, be one of the more difficult to scope and plan.” This revision also eliminates the weak expletive “this is” at the head of the second sentence.

3. The executive team and the board of directors should ensure that there is a passionate focus on improving stakeholder experiences. Stakeholder experiences are the accumulation of day-to-day interactions.

Here, an awkward immediate reiteration, at the head of the second sentence, of the phrase that ends the first sentence is easily avoided by subsuming the second sentence into the first as a subordinate clause: “The executive team and the board of directors should ensure that there is a passionate focus on improving stakeholder experiences, which are the accumulation of day-to-day interactions.”

Sentences with Interrogative Elements Are Not Questions

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By Mark Nichol

Writers sometimes erroneously assume that when a statement includes a phrase beginning with who, what, when, where, why, or how (or what or which), it should be treated as an interrogative, or question. However, whether the sentence should be punctuated with a question mark depends on how a verb is juxtaposed with the interrogative word and how the sentence is otherwise structured. Each of the sentences below is incorrectly treated as a question. Discussion after each example describes the problem, and a revision solves it.

1. It is essential to ask why organizations have vendors, and how organizations get those vendors set up?

This sentence is declarative, not interrogative, so a period should replace the question mark. However, the two key phrases in it can be converted to questions by inserting a verb after each of the interrogative words and posing the resultant questions as if they were being quoted: “It is essential to ask, ‘Why do organizations have vendors?” and ‘How can organizations get those vendors set up?’”

2. One has to question how is any award that includes the words “Best Female” still a thing?

To convert the sentence to a declarative statement, is must be relocated to precede “still a thing”: “One has to question how any award that includes the words ‘Best Female’ is still a thing.” To enable it to function as a question, the sentence must be restructured so that the interrogative core is established as a conjectural quotation within a declarative statement: “One has to ask the question ‘How is any award that includes the words “Best Female” still a thing?’”

3. We must prioritize and clearly identify what are these top infrastructure issues and make a meaningful decision about where do we spend the money as it relates to infrastructure?

Just as with the previous example, the form of the verb “to be” must be moved: “We must prioritize and clearly identify what these top infrastructure issues are and make a meaningful decision about where we spend the money as it relates to infrastructure.” To enable the questions embedded in this sentence to function as interrogatives, the statement must be heavily revised and subdivided to isolate them: “What are these top infrastructure issues? Where do we spend the money as it relates to infrastructure? We must prioritize and clearly identify problems to answer the first question and make a meaningful decision about the second one.”

The Diversity of Over- and Under- Compounds

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By Mark Nichol

Becoming familiar (or more familiar) with words beginning with over– and under– must include taking into account that these compounds can be both literal and figurative (or only figurative but rarely only literal) and can serve as various parts of speech. This post discusses some examples.

Overboard has a literal meaning, referring to someone or something falling or being thrown from a ship or boat. (Board alludes to the wooden deck of a ship.) However, it also has the figurative sense of discarding an idea as if it were being thrown from a ship and of excessive enthusiasm; remarking that someone has gone overboard implies that the person is not on the firm footing of reality or sensibility. Similar, overthrow can be literal, as when describing an athlete throwing a ball too far, causing a teammate to be unable to catch it, as well as figurative, as with the sense of “defeat,” “depose,” or “upset.”

Overhead originally meant, literally, what was above one’s head, but it also serves as a noun with several meanings: It can refer to a stroke that a player in a game of tennis or a similar sport makes over his or her head, to a ceiling in a marine vessel, or to basic business expenses that do not fall under the budget for a specific project.

Overtime is the extra time after the regulated period of play in a competition (as to provide contestants with the opportunity to break a tie) or the standard workday or workweek (or, by extension, the pay for additional time spent working), but it can also refer, more casually, to when participants in a project work extra hours to complete it.

Many words beginning with over-, such as overlook (which can mean both “provide a view from above” and “fail to see”) and overtake (“catch up to and pass”) are verbs, and some in which over is the second element of the compound are nouns transformed from verb phrases, including handover (“transfer”) “and takeover (“forced or otherwise hostile transfer of power”).

Likewise, words beginning with under– serve various grammatical functions. Underhand is an adjective referring to an action undertaken to avoid detection or to a motion made with the hand moving up from below the shoulder (and underhanded means “deceitful”), and as an adverb, it means “secretly” or “with an underhand motion.” Underline and underscore both denote a line inserted beneath one or more words to emphasize them but also serve as verbs with that literal meaning and with the figurative sense of emphasis.

Understand is an outlier, in that it has only a figurative meaning; one does not use the word to refer to posing beneath something. (The Old English word for that action is undergestandan.) The sense is of standing close to or in the midst of something and thus being familiar with it, although under may stem not from the Old English preposition under but from the homonym related to the Latin word inter, meaning “between” (though the homonyms may be directly related). And though underworld once referred to Hades (as well as, occasionally, the earth, as being located beneath heaven), it came to refer to the lowest level in the social ladder and, by extension, the figurative collective of criminals, especially those in organized crime.

Creating A System For Editing & Proofreading

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Writers Digest Article

Joseph Bates, author of The Nighttime Novelist, shares tips for editing and proofreading a novel or book.

Creating A System For Editing & Proofreading
Revision is really about seeing your book as a whole–recognizing patterns you didn’t notice before, and reconciling any disparate parts into a unified whole. The best way to accomplish this is to be systematic in your approach to editing by clarifying what works, what doesn’t, and what you need to keep an eye out for so that your goals in rewriting will be clear.

Whatever system makes sense to you is, of course, the best. Nevertheless, here are some tips that should make the process easier:

1. Print a copy of the novel and mark it up.
Having a hard copy in front of you allows you not only to make line-by-line edits as you need but to jot down questions for later, make comments on consistency or style, find and mark (with paperclips or tabs) any scenes or moments you need to look at for comparison, and in general, to have a conversation with the draft. You’ll want your printout to be double-spaced so you have plenty of room to make comments and edits. (Also don’t forget to number your pages first, to help as a reference and in case your dog decides to arrange the novel for you.)

2. Be consistent in your marks.
A question mark might indeed convey the appropriate emotion when you find passages that don’t make sense, or where the pacing drags, or where there’s a glaring plot hole or a character who seems to act out of character. But a question mark doesn’t really help you recognize one problem from the next when looking back over your notes. Be specific and consistent in your marginalia, coming up with a clear method for identifying and distinguishing types of problems you encounter. You’ll of course want to keep a legend of some sort to help you keep the marks straight. Or, you might want to include these in the master document you make below.

3. Make a style guide.
Publishers always create a style guide in which they make clear the stylistic, structural, and occasionally substantive needs for the project. You might want to make a master guide of your own, divided into different sections and categories to allow you to keep your notes straight: one on redundant or overused language to avoid, for example; another on timeline; another on characters and their particulars (so you don’t forget that the secondary character with the fast car is named Bob Miller, not Bill Miller, as you sometimes call him); another on settings and the characters associated with them … anything at all that will help you keep track of your fictional world and the line-by-line rules you’ve set.

4. Keep track of problems as they occur to you.
If you realize some problem or inconsistency in the novel, though it’s not part of the problem you’re currently working on, don’t file it away in your head and promise to come back later; find an appropriate place on your style guide to note the problem immediately, while you still recognize and understand what the problem is.

It’s important to keep a sharp mind during the editing, proofing and rewriting stages, but it’s also important to keep a good attitude. Revision isn’t drudge work, punishment for having written a novel, but an opportunity to see your work in new ways and learn about it, so that the rewritten draft will be even stronger and closer to your vision for the story.


When to Use “That,” “Which,” and “Who”

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When to Use “That,” “Which,” and “Who” – DailyWritingTips



When to Use “That,” “Which,” and “Who”




The proper use of the relative pronouns who, that, and which relate the subject of a sentence to its object, hence the name. The question of which of the three words to use in a given context vexes some writers; here’s an explanation of their relative roles.

Who, Whom, and Whose


Who and whom refer only to people, and whose almost always does so:


“I have a friend who can help.”


“Whom you associate with is your concern.”


“The person whose jacket was left behind is the likely culprit.”


(Whose is sometimes used to refer to an object, as in “Notice the car whose headlights are off.” This awkward usage should be replaced by, for example, “Notice the car that has its headlights off” or, better, “Notice the car with its headlights off.”)



That refers mostly to things, though a class or type of person is also sometimes referred to by this pronoun:


“He has the key that fits in this door.”


“This is a team that is going places.”


“He’s the kind of doctor that volunteers at a clinic on his day off.”


Even though the previous sentence is technically correct, it’s usually best to maintain a distinction between people and not-people by using who in reference to a type of person: “He’s the kind of doctor who volunteers at a clinic on his day off.” (The use of that in association with people itself, however, is well attested, as in “I don’t like the kind of people that she hangs out with.”) But a class of people is always considered a thing, not a person, so a sentence like “This is a team who is going places” is never correct.



Which, like that, refers to things, but a further consideration is that American English usage usually frowns on this word when it appears in a restrictive, or essential, clause, such as “I chose the card which is blank.” This sentence, which specifies a card among one or more others that are not blank, has a meaning distinct from “I chose the card, which is blank,” which refers to a single card and then describes it. (This is an example of a nonrestrictive, or nonessential, clause.)


To further clarify that distinction, the restrictive form is generally illustrated by using that in favor of which, which is reserved for a nonrestrictive function, as in the preceding phrase. (One exception occurs when which is preceded by another usage of that, as in the sentence “What is good is that which is natural.”)


(This form is sometimes called nonessential because the information that follows which is not required. In the first sample sentence, which is better rendered “I chose the card that is blank,” the card’s blank state is essential to the context. In “I chose the card, which is blank,” all we need to know is that the card was chosen; its quality of blankness is incidental.)


Many writers and speakers of American English deplore the artificial distinction of favoring that over which in restrictive usage, but it is practical and well established — two valid criteria for any variation in purely logical grammar.

Three-Point Characterization

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Three-Point Characterization,
or No, We Really Aren’t All Watching the Same Show
by Rachael Sabotini

To me, fanfic characterization revolves around the extrapolation of traits that we see in canon. The behaviors that a character exhibits — what they say, what they do, how they behave with others — are like points on a grid. They cluster together around certain ideas, and those are what we come to think of as a characters core traits. We draw circles and arrows and lines around those, and extrapolate where the end point might be if things continued along in a similar fashion, or we try to break up the pattern by deflecting the line and making it go a different way.

Do a good job of inference or show all your work in deflecting that line and the story will usually be thought of as ‘in character.’

However, there are outliers to those core characteristics; behaviors and thoughts that seem really outside of what the character ‘normally’ does. Some fans go so far as to say those characteristics are OOC — even if they are shown in canon — because they are so far outside of what their expectations are based on how they have graphed the points in the characters past history.

And sometimes, the author will be working from only 3 points of data to draw their lines, or stick only to their ‘preferred behaviors’ even if those happened in only a couple of episodes. (This happens with Duncan and Methos all the time.) An author will take those 3 points and create a completely new behavior chart, extrapolating from that.

And sometimes, occasionally, when the author hasn’t seen much canon, some of those points are crafted from stereotypes and fanon.

So for the people that see those three points as truly describing the character’s core, those stories are recognizably in-character even without a lot of work. They can see the line, the path, where it started and where it goes.

But for those that see those three points as outliers — well, they’re screwed. They aren’t on the same page as the author when the story starts, so there’s no way they can get to the same place when the story ends.

And they are likely to be the ones that say “that story was out-of-character for me.”

katallison’s One for the Road, as is Something Borrowed, Something Blue, the Methos-as-serial-killer story.

Both of these stories are internally consistent and highly recommended. They just don’t have my Methos or Duncan in them.

The Methos-as-serial-killer one is actually easier to discuss, as it fiats in that Methos was not just tempted by Kronos (which he was) but that he has periodically indulged in killing sprees after leaving the horsemen (the non-canonical what if moment.)  The author’s logic is simple: if he has done it in the past, he would do that now.

The bone of contention? Once he turned away from the slaughter, did he ever fall? Author says yes, canon, though, seems to indicate ‘No.’  The theory here being that if he had said ‘yes’ to slaughter in the past, why not say yes to Kronos now, when Kronos is tempting him so?  And if he says no now, why does he say ‘yes’ two weeks from now or why did he say ‘yes’ two years ago?

To write this story, the author has to ignore all of these questions, and go with ‘well, sometimes he says yes.’ Some people see that as a good enough response and the story works for them.  For others, myself included, it’s not a good enough answer and so despite the internal consistency, the story falls flat.

Three points can create a line, or a plane, or a triangles — and sometimes it creates a damn fine story.

And sometimes it’s just …three points.



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