300 Days of Better Writing

June 20, 2014

Use subject pronouns in comparisons with implied verbs.


This is easier to demonstrate than explain in technical terms. Consider this sentence:

“I am taller than she/her.”

Which pronoun do you use, “she” or “her”? I often hear people use “her” in cases like this, but this is incorrect. This sentence implies the final verb is, as in “I am taller than she is.” Since the pronoun in question is serving as the subject to the implied verb is, you need a subject pronoun: “she.”

Here are two more examples.

“That man is smarter than I.” [“That man is smarter than I am.”]

“Who knows better than he?” [“Who knows better than he knows?”]


This is the strategy for day 177 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.

June 18, 2014

Interject and isolate statements for impact.


One way to emphasize a point is to interject it into a sentence and isolate it with punctuation. Consider this sentence.

“The modern poet, thriving on his own perceived cleverness, will break the conventions of language use.”

We could have used “thriving on his own perceived cleverness” to make a separate sentence. However, by interjecting it into this sentence, and then isolating it with commas, we force the reader to pay close attention to the idea it communicates.

First, the reader will pause before the phrase (due to the first comma). This alone creates emphasis. Then, when the reader realizes that we are stopping the main idea of the sentence to express some idea, the reader will pay close attention to what we are stating. After all, if we are willing to interrupt ourselves, we must think that the idea is very important. The reader, as a result, will pay close attention. This is impact.


This is the strategy for day 297 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.

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.)


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