GrammarPhile Blog

Sara Richmond

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When You Can’t See the Trees Because You Planted a Forest

Posted by Sara Richmond   Apr 11, 2024 12:00:00 PM

I used to proofread my text messages. I’d use proper punctuation, fix all autocorrect atrocities, and even insert paragraph breaks.

Those days are long past.

Now, some of my friends and closest family members get texts along the lines of “Need graspy straws. Blogget can’t find tham. Good nigbt.” with a follow-up text of “Interpret as needed. ‘Talk to text’ is a dum-dum.’” (I’ve converted the swear words for the sake of propriety.)

Why do I tell text recipients to “ignore typos” almost as often as I create a typo? Because I text a lot more often. I write a lot more often. My fingers and mouth are steady streams of words.

And when you write a lot of words—especially when you have to do so quickly—errors are inevitable.

But I have a dirty little confession (one that’s in your dingy back pocket too if you’d let anybody see it): While volume and speed are rife with error-prone possibilities, the truth is that proofing your own writing is like trying to pinpoint your character flaws while gossiping about your trainwreck of a neighbor.

It don’t work good.

When you plant a whole forest, picking your way through the trees produces blindness—to the roots, the diseases, the limbs akimbo—to all the details. And the more times you pick through those woods, the hazier the view.

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Topics: proofreading, proofreading quality

Their, There, and They're: The Difference

Posted by Sara Richmond   Mar 6, 2024 11:11:18 AM

If you’ve wondered whether someone created these often-confused words just to torture English-speaking people, you’re not alone.

“Their,” “there,” and “they’re” are:

  • Pronounced the same.
  • Spelled similarly (the first three letters are identical).
  • Confused by Spell Check—four times as I wrote this blog post, for example.
  • Used incorrectly in the wild all the time. (If you read a mistake often enough, or only ever hear/see a grammar mistake, you may just think it’s correct. This happened to me while growing up with home vs. hone, towards vs. toward, and chomping vs. champing.)

To sum up: We’re screwed.

I’m kidding. Let’s take about three minutes to rewire your brain so you never struggle with using “their,” “there,” and “they’re” correctly again.

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Topics: they're, their, there

Did You Ace Our Spelling Quiz?

Posted by Sara Richmond   Feb 15, 2024 9:15:00 AM


(Most People Couldn’t)

If you took our most recent spelling quiz and were disappointed with your score or confused by the answers, this post is for you.

Keep reading for a full breakdown of the right answers, the wrong answers, and definitions/examples of both.


A Breakdown of the Spelling Quiz That Tripped Up a Bunch of Smart Professionals

  1. Anchors away/aweigh, my boys!

WRONG – away: The captain isn’t telling sailors to put the anchor in their pocket.

✔️RIGHT – aweigh: To “weigh anchor” means to lift an anchor in preparation for sailing (and in doing so, you find out how much the anchor weighs, hence the saying). In other words, “Let’s go!”

  1. She has a flair/flare for impressing juries.

WRONG – flare: That thing you light when your ship is headed to Davey Jones’ locker or your car is disabled. Please don’t use them in court.

              ✔️  RIGHT – flair: A unique talent or style.

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Topics: word quiz, vocabulary quiz

What Proofreaders Can’t Do

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jan 11, 2024 7:30:00 AM

Proofreading Doesn’t Fix All the Boo-Boos

If you hire a person to paint your kitchen cabinets, you wouldn’t expect them to renovate your entire kitchen for free. If you go to the dentist for a semiannual cleaning, you wouldn’t blame them for your cavities and expect them to drill them at no cost. If you take a driver’s ed course, you wouldn’t be ticked your instructor didn’t offer to become your complimentary chauffeur.

If we’re wrong, we suggest you read this or this instead.

In the same way, proofreading can do a lot to improve your writing, but some tasks are simply beyond its scope. This isn’t due to a lack of motivation—most proofreaders are overeager to provide great value and exceed your expectations. This limitation is simply a matter of definition—what proofreading is and what it isn’t.

What Proofreading Doesn’t Address

Formatting and Layout

Proofreaders work with the text, not the packaging—that’s a job better suited to a graphic designer. Your software or platform or final file type may have different formatting anyway. And trust us when we say you don’t want people with bubkes in graphic design experience fiddling with your darlings.

Web or Copy Design

We aren’t programmers or web designers, so we won’t make changes directly to your website. This is for your protection and sanity. In addition to being outside the scope of a proofreader’s duties, that sort of arrangement can create security concerns and bring ruin to your day. Your IT department will second that emotion (loudly and angrily).

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Topics: proofreader, professional proofreading

How to Write Your Family Name on a Christmas or Greeting Card

Posted by Sara Richmond   Dec 20, 2023 11:23:45 AM

According to urban legend, plural words were invented by Grog, a caveman, in 12,000 B.C., to help him ask for more than one donut at his local coffee shop.

He added an “s” to emphasize his strong desire for a baker’s dozen, and the rest is history.

For those of you who weren’t alive during that time, here are the rules for pluralizing family names, beginning with the rules for pluralizing English nouns and proper nouns.

(If you’re an “I don’t care why, just tell me how” sort of person, then skip to the “Plural Family Names” section below. If you’re an “I want to know why so that I’ll always know how” sort of person, then read the whole shebang over the next four minutes of your life.)

Regular Plural Words

  • Add “s”: For most words, the plural form is made by adding an “s.”
    • Examples: horse – horses, dog – dogs, tree – trees, ladder – ladders, paper – papers, gnome – gnomes.
  • Add “es”: For plural words ending in the sound /iz/, add “es.”
    • Examples: dish – dishes, fox – foxes, match – matches, crash – crashes, pass – passes, bus – buses, quiz – quizzes.
    • Notice that we double the final consonant to protect the short vowel in some words (ex: fuse – fuses but fuss – fusses).
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Topics: possessives of proper nouns

Gettysburg Revisited

Posted by Sara Richmond   Nov 30, 2023 7:30:00 AM

A Case for Useless Degrees

“You have a degree in English. You’re not going to be able to find another job,” the CEO said.

It was 2007. I’d graduated from college and hadn’t immediately become a best-selling author with minimal effort. After taking a few minutes to recover from that shock, I applied for a job at a financial services company in their auto insurance line.

I worked there for two months before my then-husband received a sudden, permanent change of duty station, out of state. (Military spouses have notoriously abysmal unemployment rates, and this is a perfect example of why.)

After several months of searching, I landed a temp job at a beauty manufacturer as an executive assistant. The pay was as depressing as the atmosphere. You know the vocational honeymoon season followed by a slow-growing awareness that you’re being boiled alive? The honeymoon was approximately 30 seconds long. I felt a strong impulse to plow into a ditch every morning as I drove to work.

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Topics: effective writing, creative writing

How to Use Semicolons Correctly

Posted by Sara Richmond   Nov 9, 2023 8:00:00 AM

“How hideous is the semicolon,” Samuel Beckett said.

If we had to guess, we’d say Sam received a particularly excruciating rejection letter from his first crush, complete with multiple semicolons.

We bear no such resentment. In fact, we think semicolons are incredibly useful. But let’s start at the beginning so everyone can join in the fun.

What Is a Semicolon?

A semicolon is a little punctuation person about to dance.

See here ➡️ ; ⬅️. Such incredible form! Such armless fluidity!

A semicolon is more forceful than a comma, but weaker than a period. It’s a way to separate two full sentences without breaking them apart, or a way to clarify a long sentence with two or more sections.

To be more specific, there are five common instances when you should use a semicolon.

5 Times to Use a Semicolon

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Topics: commas, semicolon

I Hate Grammar

Posted by Sara Richmond   Oct 26, 2023 10:13:46 AM

It doesn’t take repeated run-ins with the grammar police to make people hate grammar. It seems more like an inevitability. An innate disgust. “We all hate port-a-potties, nails on a chalkboard, and grammar.”

But if it’s not a unanimous, inborn hatred, then why do people hate grammar? I’ve consolidated the five most common explanations for your joyful commiseration.

5 Reasons People Hate Grammar

  1. Grammar is confusing. There are a million complicated rules. In the ungrammatical but apt words of a much-memed Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
  2. Grammar is boring. The only people who nerd out on grammar are just as insufferable as the grammar they proclaim to love (and they have to be lying, right?).
  3. Grammar is elitist. You know who created grammar? People in power. You want to know which people struggle with mainstream grammar and have been excluded from society, opportunities, respect, and countless other benefits of speaking “acceptably” and “correctly”? Marginalized people. Grammar is, in short, “the man.”
  4. Grammar is pointless. What’s the big deal, anyway? When you turn on the news, correct grammar pales in comparison to all the horrifying things happening—the stuff that does matter. You’ve “got 99 problems,” and grammar ain’t one of them.
  5. Grammar is poorly taught. If you’re like me, your primary/secondary grammar education could be summarized by a random smattering of the definitions for words such as “subject,” “verb,” “adjective,” and “predicate.” And even those you aren’t too sure about.
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Topics: grammar

How to Use Find and Replace in Microsoft Word and Google Docs

Posted by Sara Richmond   Oct 12, 2023 7:30:00 AM

(Without Breaking Everything)

There are a few things that should terrify everyone: clowns, sharks, a clown-shark-tornado, and using Find and Replace with unintended consequences.

To quell your nightmares, we’ve outlined the basics of using Find and Replace in Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

No matter which word processing software you prefer, don’t miss the final “Pitfalls” section—a list of the most common ways people break everything with Find and Replace and how to avoid them.

Using Find and Replace in Microsoft Word

If you’re new to the Find and Find and Replace tools, the best approach is using it on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, instead of trying to find and highlight every instance of your search en masse, look through them one by one, ensuring the initial search reflects your intent. If you were searching for instances of “corn” and realize all four instances of “unicorn” were also highlighted, you can correct your search (see Pitfalls section below). When you’re replacing text or punctuation marks, you can do so one at a time as well, confirming that each one is being replaced exactly as you intended.

This may sound cumbersome, but you’ll still save time versus skimming and manually deleting and retyping. Once you’re more confident in the mechanics of this tool, finding and replacing all instances will be less terrifying and error-prone.

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Topics: Find and replace

Did You Ace Part 2 of Our Spelling Quiz?

Posted by Sara Richmond   Sep 29, 2023 10:00:00 AM

(Most People Couldn’t)

If you took part 2 of our most recent spelling quiz and were embarrassed by your score or confused by the answers, this post is for you.

Keep reading for a full breakdown of the right answers, the wrong answers, and definitions/examples of both.

A Breakdown of the Spelling Quiz That Tripped Up a Bunch of Smart Professionals

  1. The sad testimony will definitely test one’s medal/metal/mettle/meddle.

WRONG – medal: What Olympians get if they’re in the top three — bronze, silver, and gold. Medals are sometimes made of metal (see directly below).

WRONG – metal: Steel, copper, nickel, bronze, iron, gold, and silver, for example.

WRONG – meddle: This is what the town gossip or your nosy family does. “Meddle” in your affairs. Get all up in your business. Butt in. Ugh!

✔️RIGHT – mettle: This is the stuff you’re made of: your stamina, grit, temperament, and strength of spirit. Warriors prove their mettle in battle. Parents of toddlers prove their mettle at bed and meal times.

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Topics: quiz answers

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