Grammar Hammer: Is It “It’s” or “Its”?

It’s just three letters (with or without an apostrophe). It’s one way of saying “it is.” “Its” is a simple possessive of a pronoun. It’s also one of the biggest grammar errors according to the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. To quickly check which word you should use, replace your version of the three…

Grammar Hammer: Apostrophes After “-S”

My boss and I recently debated the proper use of the apostrophe when the word you’re adding it to ends in “-s” or “-es” (for the record, his last name ends in -es). To my surprise, I was unable to find a single resource willing to make a definitive statement on this. As we touched…

Grammar Hammer: Incent, Incentive, Incentivize?

A classic sales tactic is to create a promotion that gives potential customers an incentive to buy. Almost every advertisement for a new car includes incentives for trading in your old one, or having the dealership do your taxes and double your refund to use as your down payment. One highly-publicized example of “incentive marketing” was…

Grammar Hammer: Each and Every One

Which is correct? To say that I write a blog post for Grammar Hammer each week or to say that I write a post for Grammar Hammer every week? “Every” is used to talk about how often something happens.  If I say I write something on a weekly basis, I’m saying I write something “every…

Grammar Hammer: Shinny vs. Shimmy

Months ago, I received a Grammar Hammer suggestion to look at the difference between the words “shinny” and “shimmy.” The person who suggested this topic to me said she’d never heard the word “shinny.” I’ll confess, I hadn’t heard of it either. I wondered if shinny was an eggcorn (a word or phrase that results…

Grammar Hammer: Is That Adverb Necessary?

If you were a child of the 70s and 80s, ABC’s animated series Schoolhouse Rock  left an indelible mark. Many of us can trace a love for history, mathematics, science and – of course – grammar to the show’s clever, musical episodes. In honor of the back to school season, ABC aired a tv special last month ranking the…

Grammar Hammer: Elicit vs. Illicit

Elicit and illicit might sound similar, but technically they are not homophones and their meanings are vastly different.  The words are occasionally confused due to their similar pronunciation and spelling, which is why they are the focus of today’s Grammar Hammer. “Elicit” is a verb that means “to obtain.” It can also mean “to draw out, to extract,…

Grammar Hammer: Whiling Away the Hours

I often see “wile away the hours” used interchangeably with “while away the hours,” so which is correct? Technically, they both are, but there are some subtle differences one should consider. “To while away the hours” means to “pass time idly” or to “pass time, especially in some leisurely or pleasant manner.” For example, “I spent hours…

Grammar Hammer: Then vs. Than

I have a tendency to overthink certain grammar rules. Then vs. than is one of those grammar rules that I think I’ve nailed down, but always end up double checking after overthinking it for 10 minutes. To save you time and confusion, here are a few ways to remember the correct usage. “Then” is used to describe…

Grammar Hammer: Punctuation Saves Lives, Part II

Part one of our “Punctuation Saves Lives” series covered the heavy hitters of periods, commas, question marks, exclamation points, colons, semicolons, dashes, and hyphens. Part two wraps up with brackets, parentheses, braces, ellipses, quotation marks, and apostrophes. Groups – brackets, parentheses, and braces Use parentheses ( ) to contain additional thoughts or qualifying remarks (I consider…

Grammar Hammer: Punctuation Saves Lives, Part I

In English grammar, there are 14 different punctuation marks that I think of as the “primary” punctuation marks – the period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, parentheses, brackets, braces, ellipses, quotation marks, and apostrophes. These are the marks that help us with sentence structure, help us clarify meaning, and distinguish between…

Grammar Hammer: It’s the Principle of the Thing

“The principal is your PAL!” With apologies to Ferris Bueller, that’s how I learned the difference between “principle” and “principal.” Here again, we have two words that sound the same, but have two completely different meanings. “Principle” refers to a fundamental law, doctrine, or tenet. It can only be used as a noun. “Principal” actually…

Grammar Hammer: A Flair for Flare?

Flair/Flare  is one of my favorite homophones. Even though these words sound the same, their meanings are very different and these words are not interchangeable. FLAIR: A natural talent or aptitude; distinctive elegance or style Example: She had a real flair for soufflé. Example: He wore that hat with a lot of flair. FLARE: A fire or a…