300 Days of Better Writing

June 11, 2014

Use one apostrophe-S for each thing or group of things to show ownership.


Most people are familiar with using an apostrophe-S to show possession. Consider this sentence.

“Bob’s dog is old.”

In this sentence, Bob owns or possesses the dog. Simple.

Where this gets tricky, however, is when you have multiple owners of multiple things. Let’s say that Bob and Mary each have one cat and that those cats are fighting. Where would you put the apostrophe-S?

“Bob’s and Mary’s cats are fighting.”

Since Bob and Mary each have an apostrophe, we know that they each own a cat individually. Bob has a cat, and Mary has a different cat. We’re using one apostrophe-S for each individual owner.

Now let’s say that they own the cats together and that the cats are still fighting. How would you punctuate that?

“Bob and Mary’s cats are fighting.”

We have used only ONE apostrophe-S to show that Bob and Mary are a group and that they own the cats together.

Here’s the point: Use only one apostrophe-S for each owner, whether an individual or a group.

Just for fun: What would this mean?

“Bob and Mary’s cat is fighting again.”

Here, Bob and Mary own a cat, and that cat is fighting something. Now, how about this?

“Bob and Mary’s cat are fighting again.”

There is only one cat. At first, it seems that the cat is owned by Bob and Mary together, but then the sentence has the verb “are.” The conclusion is that Bob is fighting with Mary’s cat! (Poor Bob)


This is the strategy for day 45 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, iBook,  and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

June 5, 2014

Use quotes around words to draw special attention or when using them in a new or ironic way.


When you are using a word in a new way or you want to create ironic emphasis, you can place the word in quotes. This is the same as using “air quotes” while speaking. Generally, you do this to indicate that the meaning you are communicating is different than the usual meaning of a word. Consider this sentence.

“He tried to be ‘friendly’ with the woman seated next to him at the opera.”

The quotes around “friendly” indicate that you are communicating something other than normal friendliness. (Perhaps he tried to put his arm around her while pretending to stretch.)


Free E-book to Improve Your Writing Skills

Top writing strategies and expert instruction from
each of Precise Edit’s writing guides

  • 1 critical article from
    Precise Edit Training Manual
  • 8 days of instruction from
    300 Days of Better Writing
  • 5 top strategies from
    Bang! Writing with Impact
  • 2 essential word choices from Which Word Do I Use?
  • 1 major comma use from Zen Comma
  • 1 section on main verbs from Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing

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Purchase the Kindle version ($0.99).

June 2, 2014

Use object pronouns as objects, not subject pronouns.


When you need a pronoun for an object, use an object pronoun. Your choices are me, you, him, her, it, us, them, and whom.

Applying this tip is pretty simple, but many people make mistakes when the object contains two or more things. They may use a subject pronoun instead: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, and who. These subject pronouns cannot be used as objects, except for you and it, which are both types of pronouns.

Consider this sentence.

“Mary drove Tom and I to the house.”

This sentence is incorrect. “I” is not an object pronoun; it is a subject pronoun. The correct pronoun is me. The sentence should read as follows.

“Mary drove Tom and me to the house.”

Because most people won’t make this mistake when the sentence only has one object pronoun, you can use this trick: remove one object, say the sentence aloud, and determine if it still sounds right. Then do it with the other one.

For example, you would say “Mary drove Tom to the house. Mary drove I to the house.” The first one sounds right, but the second doesn’t. You would say “Mary drove me,” so you know the complete sentence should be “Mary drove Tom and me to the house.”


This is the strategy for day 56 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

May 30, 2014

Lead the reader to your conclusion.


In classical argumentation, you build a case for some idea. You present facts, theories, and assumptions. Then, you reveal the conclusion. If you have done your job well, the conclusion will be the inevitable result of the discussion.

If you start with the idea, you either confuse your reader (because he or she won’t have the necessary information for understanding) or you will create an antagonistic relationship with the reader (because he or she disagrees with you).

Here’s what this means. If you have a new idea about which you want to convince your reader, or if your idea is controversial, lead your reader to it. Your reader will have the necessary information to understand and believe the idea—before you present it.


Free E-book to Improve Your Writing Skills

Top writing strategies and expert instruction from
each of Precise Edit’s writing guides

  • 1 critical article from
    Precise Edit Training Manual
  • 8 days of instruction from
    300 Days of Better Writing
  • 5 top strategies from
    Bang! Writing with Impact
  • 2 essential word choices from Which Word Do I Use?
  • 1 major comma use from Zen Comma
  • 1 section on main verbs from Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing

Get the free e-book (PDF) OR

Purchase the Kindle version ($0.99).

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