GrammarPhile Blog

Sara Richmond

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How to Correct Grammar Without Being a Jerk: A Genteel Person’s Guide

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jun 10, 2021 7:30:00 AM

Telling people that they’re wrong is one of the most exquisite joys life has to offer. The fly in this highbrow soup is determining how to do so without causing offense to your more grammar-bereft counterparts.

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Topics: correcting grammar, grammar errors

Easy Grammar Tips for B2B & B2C Writers - Part 2

Posted by Sara Richmond   May 27, 2021 7:30:00 AM

Looking for an easy, incredible return on investment for your business writing? You don’t need exhaustive grammar lessons or online courses to up your game and capture your audience. You need 5 minutes. We’ve gathered our top writing tips, based on the errors we most commonly correct for our clients.

First, check out Part 1, here.

  • Homographs and Easily Confused Words

Words that are spelled differently, sound similar/identical, and have different meanings are called homographs. We often see one used in place of another.

Examples include accept and except, insure and ensure, compliment and complement, piece and peace, principal and principle.

However, there are other words with such similar spellings that they’re easily confused, like contact and contract, form and from, casual and causal.

Speedy typing is usually the culprit. Keep an eye out for homographs that trip you up or commonly used words in your industry that, with a letter or two switched, take on a whole new meaning.

  • Which vs. That

Use “that” when what follows is necessary to understand the sentence/context. Use “which” when what follows could be removed without affecting the meaning of the sentence.

For example: The file that I need is saved on the cloud. The white paper, which I wrote in a hammock on the beach in about 25 minutes, failed to impress my boss.

See how you could take the parenthetical out of the second sentence and still have the same meaning (with fewer details)?

Need it: that. Could do without: which.

Note: This explanation applies to North American English; in the U.K., there is greater flexibility in these usages.

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Easy Grammar Tips for B2B & B2C Writers -  Part 1

Posted by Sara Richmond   May 13, 2021 7:30:00 AM

You need fast. You need easy. With your busy schedule, slowing down to learn the ins and outs of grammar minutiae isn’t just unappealing, it’s inconceivable. The five minutes it will take you to read this will save you exponentially more time in the future. These quick and simple grammar tips for business writing are based on some of the most common errors we correct:

  • Subject-Verb Agreement

For the most part, this is obvious. You don’t write: I are the CEO. The return on investment am bad.

But there’s the less obvious: Nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning usually take singular verbs. Nouns that name a group of people or things take singular verbs.

For example: News travels fast; bad news travels faster. Economics is a fascinating subject, said no one, ever. The company is supplying ergonomic chairs made entirely of pillows. A flock of seagulls does all of our accounting.

  • Capitalization in Heads

If you’re unsure when/what to capitalize in titles and headings, here’s a summary. Capitalize everything but:

    • Articles (a, an, the)
    • Conjunctions (connecting words like for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
    • Prepositions (words that often show direction, time, and location, such as of, with, to, on, before, into, over, about).

If an article, conjunction, or preposition begins or ends a title, capitalize it.

Some style guides, like AP, call for capitalizing conjunctions and prepositions of four or more letters, phrasal verbs (e.g., Turn Off, Look For) and verbs in an infinitive (e.g., To Be, To Analyze).

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Topics: proofreading for business, professional proofreading, grammar tips

Consistency: We Lied…It’s Terrible - Part 2

Posted by Sara Richmond   Apr 22, 2021 7:30:00 AM

If you hadn’t realized, the basis of this blog post is inconsistency in that we originally declared consistency a virtue and necessary component of excellent writing, and subsequently retracted that statement in the title, forward. Yes, we take it back…without remorse.

In earnest, we seek to gently qualify our original statement. Consistency is only helpful in certain contexts. It’s easy to rely on what’s natural while writing, but what’s natural is really another word for “bad habits.” Take, for example, this paragraph:

I ate my peanut butter sandwich slowly. I wiped my mouth with my napkin, paying extra attention to my upper cheeks. I always got peanut butter all over my face. I never knew why. I guessed it was because I had a tiny mouth and ate big sandwiches. I laughed at how much peanut butter was stuck to my cheeks.

See the issue? No, not the outrageous table manners or the rather silly topic. Every sentence begins with “I.” I mentally shouted that sentence as I wrote it. I can’t stand reading an entire paragraph of sentences that begin with the same word. I don’t care whether the first word is one of my favorites (“guffaw”) or most hated (“phlegm”) — it’s always terrible.

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Consistency: The Steaks Are High…and Delicious - Part 1

Posted by Sara Richmond   Apr 8, 2021 7:30:00 AM


I’d be lying if I said I didn’t admire the heck out of Mr. Gardner’s panache, provided he wasn’t completely delusional. Few of us have that sort of confidence in our writing, dancing, or ability to cook eggs over easy.

If you, unlike Mr. Gardner, stink at writing and you’re painfully aware of that fact, tighten your suspenders. I’m going to change your life with one word:


If you toppled backward out of your chair in surprise and disbelief, please collect yourself. Consistency will upgrade your writing like nothing else.

Here are eleven of virtually innumerable examples of how consistency makes a huge, positive difference:

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Let’s Not Scribble Over Seaman Ticks

Posted by Sara Richmond   Mar 11, 2021 7:30:00 AM

We were studying “stranger danger.” This is a difficult subject in any context, made only more so by language and cultural differences. I assumed my ESL students would struggle the most with the simplistic and potentially contradictory application for social interactions: Kind strangers = bad strangers. Mean strangers = bad strangers. Candy is good but don’t take the candy. Dogs are nice but don’t pet the puppy! Ride the bus home but don’t get in the white van with no windows! Run away, screaming!

“Ella, can you please read our story for today?” I asked. As the brightest six-year-old I’d ever taught, she had a strong chance of grasping the nuances of our text. A man, who was obviously pretending to have been in a car accident, was attempting to gain access to a young girl’s home, where she was alone.

“‘Help!’ the man yelled through the door. ‘I was in a bad car accident and I need to call an am-bu-lance.’ Ella sounded out the syllables of that sneaky borrowed word.

I nodded inwardly. We were on a Jack-and-Jill-down-the-hill roll. We might even have time to talk about some supplementary vocabulary words, like “paranoia.”

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Topics: English language, proofreading, clarity proofreading

A Question for the Ages: Style or Clarity (Part 2)

Posted by Sara Richmond   Feb 25, 2021 7:30:00 AM

I assume when the author wrote the summary, he’d already finished the book content. Ripe with excitement, in a flurry of dopamine, he bashed out the synopsis on his keyboard, saved it with a flourish, then ate a donut to celebrate.

Despite this jovial possibility (or perhaps because of it), I cringed as I perused the outline on the back cover. There were twenty-five errors at first glance. I felt like I had happened upon a naked mannequin in a clothing store and wanted to fashion a quick cover-up for its embarrassing predicament.

Make no mistake, the author didn’t lack education or experience, as evidenced by his various academic degrees, business savvy, and multi-industry knowledge, including this self-published book on stock market investing. It was full of useful, well-founded information. The fly (flaw) in his soup:

He had not used an editor.

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Topics: proofreading, clarity proofreading, style copyediting

A Question for the Ages: Style or Clarity (Part 1)

Posted by Sara Richmond   Feb 11, 2021 7:30:00 AM

Sometimes you sit in front of your stone tablet, chisel and hammer in hand, and the inspiration pterodactyl fails to pass by your cave. You hem and haw, you stew and soup, you moan and whine for the muse. Nothing happens. Deadlines are deadlines, Triassic Period or otherwise, so you knock out the report in spite of your mental doldrums. And by that, I mean you chisel a few hundred half-hearted words, read them, and fling the tablet out your window in disgust. Except, you have no window and tablets are expensive and single use, all of which effectively ruin your tantrum. It’s back to square one, also known as “writing hopscotch purgatory.”

Eventually, you sit back on your callused heels and wipe the dust off the last letter, sigh, eat a hearty meal of cactus and hardboiled ornithopod, and call it a night.

The next morning, you rejoice in the recollection: The blasted report is done, and based on your effort, it’s a ringer. You grab the tablet, bounce out to your favorite rock, and bask in the morning glow as you read through your masterpiece, expecting to be dazzled by your writing acumen and talent.

It’s gibberish.

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Topics: proofreading, clarity proofreading, style copyediting, copyediting

Proofreading Road Signs: The Good, the Bad, and the Humerus

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jan 28, 2021 7:30:00 AM

Don’t risk the heartache and indigestion bad proofreaders can bring. Read this highly scientific and casually vetted list to educate yourself on the obvious signals that indicate you’re dealing with proofreading duds or winners.

Signs of a Bad Proofreader:

1. They don’t own a monocle or a long-stemmed pipe. As everyone who is anyone within the proofreading community knows, at least one of these is absolutely necessary for the dual purpose of looking debonair and snooty while correcting someone’s grammar in a nasal tone. Though this deficit can be partially assuaged with a false accent (specifically one in which the “r” sound is absent), it takes a concerted effort to garner the same level of authority automatically endowed by a high-class monocle or classic meerschaum.

Which raises the question, if a proofreader lacks dedication in this area, what else are they letting slip? My opinion: probably a lot. And another question: What is a meerschaum?

2. Should you mention a style guide, they’ll wonder why people would be reading during a fashion show.

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Topics: proofreading

Falling into a Common Grammar Pit

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jan 14, 2021 10:12:18 AM

Pete Linforth from Pixabay" width="300" style="width: 300px; float: left; margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px;">“A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day. ‘In English,’ he said, ‘a double negative forms a positive. In some languages though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative.’

‘However,’ he pointed out, ‘there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.’

A voice from the back of the room piped up, ‘Yeah, right.’”1

If you consider the primary meaning of pitfall, a pit flimsily covered or camouflaged and used to capture and hold animals or men,2 and you continually commit grammatical faux pas (or fox paws as I like to call them), you may arrive at the conclusion that English is out to get you. It’s a cynical but understandable assumption, one shared by many.

After all, we speak and write a language in which “farmer” could be spelled, among many alternatives, “pharrembar.” Given the fact that “ph” makes an “f” sound, “arre” can make a pirate sound, the phonogram “mb” has a silent “b,” and “ar” sounds like “er” in words like “collar” (or “ur,” depending on your dialect or idiolect), this is a reasonable and logical conclusion. It’s also enough to drive people crazy.

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Topics: grammar, grammar errors, grammar rules

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