Take it slow.

Not “slowly.”


That’s a flat adverb. There’s no -ly on the end of it. There can be, sure, as “slowly,” but “slow” is used adverbially and there’s not a thing wrong with it under the right circumstances.

You’ll not find it in academic writing, or formal business writing, or legal writing. Those use a register sometimes called “frozen,” meaning there are certain expected phrasings that are ┬ánever changed. Think about the language of a church ritual (the more rigid the denomination, the more likely you’ll hear that frozen register). It’s always said this way, never that way. It’s tradition. It’s frozen in time. Part of the hubbub about Vatican II was over the loss of the frozen register, changing from Latin to English (or whatever the local language was). “It’s not said the same now!” Nope, it’s not. But it means the same thing, right? (That’s really a different topic, so I’ll stop with the digression.)

As much as I love flat adverbs, I don’t push them where they’re neither wanted nor needed. If a client uses them, I do my best to leave them alone unless, as happens in some cases, they just don’t work well. If a client doesn’t use them, far be it from me to suggest them; it’s not my voice in their work. It’s their voice. Their work. My task is to provide clarity, and changing “slow” to “slowly” is unlikely to help. Ditto for changing “slowly” to “slow” unless, maybe, it’s in dialogue and I’ve got a handle on the character’s style and it makes sense to suggest the change. Not make it. Suggest it.

Here’s a well-written article about flat adverbs, over at Daily Writing Tips. I see no reason to write another one. I’m just putting it out there for folks that I’m a proponent of them in cases where they make good sense and sound natural. Note that not all adverbs can be flat, and not all flat adverbs mean the same thing as their -ly counterparts. Here’s one example from the linked article: You can dress sharp, or you can dress sharply, but you arrive at five o’clock sharp.

Commas: plain-language explanation #1

I expect this to become a series, so I’m numbering this post. If I’m wrong, well … I’ll come back later, in a year or two, and edit the title.

Aaaaanyway, let’s get to it.

This is about commas and adjectives. When you have a string of adjectives before a noun, how do you know if you need commas between them? (In grammar-speak, these are called coordinate or coordinating modifiers. No one remembers┬áthat, though, except for grammar geeks. Hence my choice to use plain language.) Continue reading “Commas: plain-language explanation #1”

Well, actually … (thoughts on an Oxford comma)

First, here’s a link to the story I’m about to discuss. Read that and come back when you’re finished. I’ll be here.

::goes to get coffee::

Ready? Okay. Here’s the thing. The court claims that without a comma before the coordinating conjunction “or,” the meaning of the wording is ambiguous.

I beg to differ. There’s absolutely no reason to put a comma there, and doing so doesn’t help clarify anything (because it doesn’t belong there in the first place). Continue reading “Well, actually … (thoughts on an Oxford comma)”

It’s like squares and rectangles.

You know: all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

(That’s about the extent of what I remember from higher mathematics classes.)

Similarly, all dangling participles (danglers) are misplaced modifiers, but not all misplaced modifiers are danglers. I’ll provide some examples and links. As I’ve said before, I’m very bad at creating poor writing on purpose; when it goes from my brain to my fingers through the keyboard onto the screen, it’s grammatically correct but not necessarily the cleanest copy on the planet. I have a very difficult time purposely making mistakes like these. (Perhaps I should work on that …) Lucky for me (and you), they’ve been corralled elsewhere. I’ll write a couple of my own, and link to more. Continue reading “It’s like squares and rectangles.”

Hang onto or hang on to? Well …

I’ve been asked this a few times by writers and editors alike, so I’ll see if I can answer it here. Keep in mind, this is my opinion. While it’s grounded in my research, it’s still mine. Yours might differ. That guy over there might have another idea entirely. This is how I handle the situation. Continue reading “Hang onto or hang on to? Well …”

REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon

Any grammar text that makes me literally laugh aloud is a winner on at least one level. Making grammar fun is one of my personal goals, so I always enjoy seeing others succeed at doing so. I laughed a lot during my read-through of Lisa McLendon’s workbook. This is a very good thing.

Not only does she know her grammar (she’s the one who teaches the Deep Grammar classes at various editing conferences), she explains it in plain language. No small feat, that. Lisa won me over right off the bat with her statement that she’s not a “grammar cop,” but rather a “grammar cheerleader.” I don’t know as I’m bubbly enough to be one of those, but I appreciate the imagery, that’s for sure. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon”

What do you mean by “careful?”

Last week I saw a post from Grammarly that asked the question “Have you become more or less careful with your writing?” (That’s the gist. I don’t recall if there was a time span mentioned, nor does it really matter.) My first thought was: That all depends on what you mean by “careful.” Continue reading “What do you mean by “careful?””