Punctuation reminder: When an -ly adverb is part of a compound modifier

Should you hyphenate “socially responsible” in the following phrase?

“Socially responsible funds are…”

“Hyphens should never be used with compound modifiers that include an adverb ending in -ly,” as my colleague Hilda Brucker reminds me occasionally. Yes, I make punctuation mistakes, too. This is one of my weaknesses.


How can I brush up my grammar?

Grammar, punctuation, and word usage questions puzzle many of my readers. If you’d like to brush up on the basics, I’ve got some tips for you.

1.  Buy and read Edit Yourself  by Bruce Ross-Larson.

This slim paperback offers tips in an easy-to-read style in its first 11 chapters. For example, “Long sentences−those of more than, say, twenty words−often are hard to read. Short sentences usually are not.” The second half of the book is an alphabetical, reader-friendly reference.

When you have questions beyond the book’s scope, check out the books listed in “My five favorite reference books for writers” and the online resources I discuss in “Poll: What’s your favorite online resource for grammar, punctuation, and word usage questions?

2. Take GrammarBook.com quizzes.

GrammarBook.com offers interactive quizzes. What I liked about the one quiz I took was that the answers explained the rules clearly. Plus, it taught me some fine points of grammar, so it’s good for advanced students as well as writers who are brushing up.

Some of the GrammarBook quizzes are free. If you like the freebies enough, you can buy an annual subscription to access the rest.

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Introducing “Mistake Monday” on the Investment Writing Facebook page

Every writer makes mistakes. The best writers learn from mistakes. In the interest of furthering your learning, I’ve introduced Mistake Monday on the Investment Writing Facebook page. My goal is to share examples of writing mistakes every Monday. I also welcome your contributions.

For Mistake Monday, can you suggest a replacement for "mitigate"? You may not think of "mitigate" as a mistake, but I'd prefer a simpler word.

Why you should visit the Mistake Monday posts

Mistake Monday offers you a chance to test your knowledge of the fine points of writing. I’ll post writing samples, but I won’t correct them. At least not right away. I’d like to give you room for friendly discussions about the mistakes on the page.

Reading the comments on the Mistake Monday conversations will help you to refine your understanding of good writing. I expect to learn things, too.

Please contribute to Mistake Monday

I welcome your posts of writing mistakes on any Monday, but only on Mondays. Please keep the content clean and your comments civil. I look forward to learning from you!

How do you make Degas possessive?

I learned in high school English to form the possessive of a word ending in the letter s by adding only an apostrophe. According to this rule, the workers of Degas should become Degas’ workers.

But times have changed. Today many people and organizations don’t observe the apostrophe-only rule. Not even The New York Times, where I spotted “Degas’s.”

Leave off the s for the possessive

Grammar Girl says opinions are divided, but she prefers to leave off the s.

Here’s what my old AP style guide says about the possessive and singular common nouns ending in s:

Add ‘s unless the next work begins with s: the hostess’s invitation,the hostess’ seat; the witness’s answer, the witness’ story.

In another complication, the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) says:

add ‘s to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in -s)

OWL’s rule means that you’d write about “General Mills’s divisions.”

I think the AP and OWL recommendations are too complicated. Let’s keep things simple! However, if you prefer different rules, it’s okay as long as you apply them consistently. Consistency will make it easier for your readers to process what you write.


Note: I updated this post on Dec.  27, 2015 by adding links.

“Atrocious apostrophe’s”

Writers abuse apostrophes. If you find this amusing, you can see many examples in the Atrocious Apostrophe’s Flickr stream.

Do you understand what’s wrong in the photo to the right? I’ve explained it in “Bloggers’ top two punctuation mistakes.”

If you have questions about apostrophes, please post them as comments on this blog post.

JUNE 6 UPDATE: I apologize if you clicked on the broken link to “Atrocious Apostrophe’s.” I’ve corrected it to http://www.flickr.com/groups/apostrophes/

What’s your favorite online resource for grammar, punctuation, and word usage questions?

Grammar, punctuation, and word usage questions come up every day–even for someone like me who prides herself on being a good writer.

We can all benefit from online resources that help us figure out answers to our writing challenges.

My three favorites: GrammarGirl, OWL, and Google

I often Google my writing questions.

But sometimes Google’s results aren’t on target or the sources don’t seem reliable. This is when I turn to GrammarGirl and Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL). Both are trustworthy sources that explain things clearly.


Jane Straus’ GrammarBook website was brought to my attention by Jill Brogan of Martingale Asset Management after I originally drafted this post. I plan to visit this site more often. Although founder Jane Straus  passed away, her husband plans to continue her work.

Subscription-based resources

I use the hard-copy versions of the following two resources, so I imagine they’re worthwhile for organizations with budgets.

Your favorite online resource?

What’s YOUR opinion on the best online resource? Have you discovered new resources? Please share your new discoveries.


Note: This post has been updated since it originally appeared on Feb. 27, 2011.


My May blog posts by category: Blogging, economy/investments/wealth management, marketing, social media, writing

Did you notice that I went wild in May, posting every day as part of the Word Count Blogathon? For your convenience, I’m listing my May posts by category.


Economy, investments, and wealth management


Social media


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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Guest post: "Correct Grammar Errors in Your Writing Quickly and Easily "

Adults often struggle to improve their writing skills. That’s why I’ve become a fan of the teaching techniques of @LindaAragoni. In this article, Linda shares a technique for cutting the number of grammar errors in your written communications.

Correct Grammar Errors in Your Writing Quickly and Easily
By Linda Aragoni

Do you have trouble correcting your writing for grammar errors?

I know I do.

I suspect you do, too.

Here is a simple way to make correcting your writing easy.

First, keep a list of the grammar errors you make regularly. Most people make a few errors repeatedly. An error you make once in five years is no big deal, but a grammar error you make once every five sentences is an error you need to eliminate.

Your teachers probably have told you about your habitual errors for years. Errors like sentence fragments, comma splices, and run-together sentences top the list. Subject-verb agreement errors and problems with pronoun-antecedent agreement are not far behind. Chances are you know how to correct those grammar errors if you see them.

To make sure you see grammar errors so you can correct them, read your completed paper looking for just your most frequent error. If your most common error is writing sentence fragments, scrutinize each group of words between terminal punctuation marks to see if it is a true sentence. Do not worry about anything else when you look for fragments. If you see any other kind of error, highlight it to fix later.

After you finish reviewing your paper for your most common mistake, go through it looking for your second most common error.

Keep doing that one-error-at-a time correction until you have examined your paper for each of your habitual errors.

When you correct for a single error at a time, take a break between errors. Do not try to cram the editing into the hour before a paper is due. If you do your editing in 5-10 minute sessions spread over a day or more, you will do a better job and experience much less stress.

Although this single-minded correction strategy sounds as if it would be terribly time-consuming, it can be done quite quickly. And it pays off quickly, too. If you can eliminate from your writing three errors you make habitually, your writing will show a big improvement immediately.

Linda Aragoni’s one-mistake-at-a-time strategy grew out of teaching grammar study skills to first-year college students using their error-riddled papers as practice exercises. Her e-book Grammar Abusers Anonymous teaches mature high school and adult students how to master grammar without paying tuition. Copyright 2010 Linda G. Aragoni. 
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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

10 blogs I can’t live without–Writer’s edition

You’ll learn the names of some useful resources for writers in this post. But first I must tell you why writing this blog post was so hard for me.

Blogs? What blogs?
“10 blogs I can’t live without” is a topic that participants in the WordCount Blogathon are supposed to post about on May 10. When I read the topic I thought “Blogs? What blogs?” I simply don’t consume blogs as blogs. I’m more likely to catch my favorite bloggers on Twitter. 

On the other hand, some of my readers probably don’t think of me as a blogger because they visit my blog through my monthly e-newsletter or my LinkedIn status updates. They might respond to the WordCount Blogathon assignment by saying, “I don’t read any blogs.”

People consume their online information in different ways. This  assignment reminded me that it’s important to make information available to readers in the format they prefer.

Online resources for writers 

Here are some of my favorite online resources for writers. They’re not all blogs. Nor have I limited my list to 10. 

B2B example 
If I were stranded on a desert island with such slow Internet connection speed that I could only read one e-newsletter or blog, I’d choose Michael Katz’s E-Newsletter on E-Newsletters. It has a charming style that sets a good example for business-to-business writers communicating. 

Attracting readers to your blog
Some blogs do a great job of showing how to write copy that captivates readers. When I began blogging I regularly read Brian Clark’s Copyblogger and Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger. More recently, I’ve found some good ideas on Nicholas Cardot’s SiteSketch. They’re worth reading, although I enjoyed them more when their creators wrote more of the content.  

Grammar, punctuation, usage 
When I’ve got a grammar, punctuation or word usage questions, sometimes I’ll just Google it. But I often don’t trust the answers I find. This is when I mosey on over to Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing or the Purdue Online Writing Lab. By the way, remember how I mentioned delivering content the way that readers like to receive it? Fogarty has been podcasting her blog posts for awhile. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook. Plus she has published in old-fashioned print book format.  

Onlinestylebooks lets you search 42 style books at once. It’s a relatively new site, so I haven’t used it much.

For occasional tips, I follow APStylebook on Twitter. They’re the folks who officially changed the spelling from “Web site” to “website” earlier this year. As you may have noticed, I was ahead of them in using “website,” but I still respect them as a style setter.

Some other tweeps with useful style tips include EditorMark, Copyediting, and LawWriting. There are many more worth following. You’ll find them if you’re a Twitter devotee. 

Jon Winokur’s Twitter feed, AdviceToWriters, is great for inspiration. I like his book, also called Advice to Writers. 

For word geek humor–yes, there is such a thing–follow FakeAPStylebook on Twitter.

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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Tweets on talk by Harry Markopolos, Madoff whistleblower

Here are my tweets on today’s talk to the Boston Security Analysts Society by Harry Markopolos, the Madoff whistleblower and author of No One Would Listen.

  • “This case was a global tragedy” said Markopolos. “It was beyond evil.”
  • Madoff case is only in its 2nd innings, said Markopolos. There’ll be more arrests due to cooperating witnesses.
  • CFA# Code of Ethics is important to Markopolos. “It’s about investors and doing the right thing,” he said.
  • CPAs, is this true? CPA code of conduct lacks affirmative duty to report fraud.
  • Lesson #1 for Madoff victims: 0-25% is proper allocation to hedge funds, said Markopolos
  • Lesson #2 for Madoff victims: Never put all of your eggs in one basket, said Markopolos
  • Markopolos book is a good road map for conducting due diligence, said Sam Jones of the CFA Institute’s board of governors.

The next session of “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A Five-Week Teleclass for Financial Advisors” will start in April. For more information, sign up to receive “Information on upcoming classes, workshops, and other events” as well as my free monthly newsletter.
Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved