A vs. An Before an Acronym: The Pesky Rule Meant to Confuse

OK, Copy Bitch, I’ve got one for you: Is it proper to use “a” or “an” before the acronym LGBTQ? I am a firm believer that “an” should only be used before vowels, so “a” should be used prior to LGBTQ.  But everywhere I look, people are writing “an LGBTQ.” What say you?

–Rob F, NYC

It’s the vowel or consonant sound that’s critical, not necessarily what the actual letter is itself. So, because you’d say “el” for the letter “L” (which is a vowel sound), “an” is appropriate.

Grammar Girl explains it quite well in this post.

I’ve been encountering this issue lately with the word “urogynecologist” and “urologist.” (I do copywriting work for a urology practice.) Those words don’t use a vowel sound as in “undercoat.” So I’d say, “I bought an undercoat today. But now I need to find a urologist.”

Hey, we’ll work on having sentences make SENSE in another issue, OK?

Hope this helps!

Grammar & Punctuation Rules: Joint Possession (we’re not talking pot laws)

Dear Copy Bitch: Which one is correct:

  1. Erik and Anne’s clients are neighbors and friends.
  2. Erik’s and Anne’s clients are neighbors and friends.

I think it’s the latter, but wanted to check.

—Michelle D., Connecticut

Answer: It all depends on your intended meaning. The first sentence shows joint possession, meaning that Erik and Anne have the same clients who also happen to be neighbors and friends. What makes it joint possession? The fact that the last noun only (i.e. “Anne”) has an apostrophe and an “s.”

In the second sentence (which shows individual possession since both names have an apostrophe and “s”), Erik and Anne have their own clients. Erik’s clients happen to be neighbors and friends, and Anne’s clients happen to be neighbors and friends.

I’m thinking an argument could be made to interpret the second sentence like this: Erik’s clients are friends and neighbors with Anne’s clients. The key, though, is that we’re talking about two separate client lists based on the use of that stinky apostrophe. I’d be curious to hear what other grammar geeks think on this one.

Hope this helps.

Confounding the Copy Bitch: You Can Die Happy Now

I may be The Copy Bitch, but that doesn’t mean I know everything (I don’t). I often turn to my fellow scribes and editors (many of whom lurk on Facebook) and ask for their help. As you’ll see from the following transcript, not even we “experts” always agree. I was going to create a post about how to use “lay/lie” based on the following conversation that took place on my Facebook today, but I realized that the transcript was pretty amusing as is and I couldn’t improve upon it. So I’m including it below. (I’ve only removed the last names to protect the innocent.) And yes, you should learn something from it.

The Copy Bitch, as posted to her status update on 11/16/09: Grammar Geeks: when “hand picked” is used as a verb, is it one word or two…and if two, do you need a hyphen? “…but rather one that had been hand picked by a professional.”

Tracey: Isn’t it two words? Isn’t picked the verb and hand is one of those thingies that modifies a verb? Clearly I’m not a grammar geek, but for the most part speak goodly.

Christine: Yes, I would hyphenate it. The words are going together as a phrase, with Hand modifying picked.

Steve: Tough one. If homemade is one word then handpicked should be, too. However, store-bought is hyphenated. I’d go with one word. Sounds like the AP would agree.

Linda: Ask @FakeAPStylebook on Twitter… you might get a really great answer. 🙂

The Copy Bitch: well if my grammar geeks can’t agree, the general public probably won’t get caught up in it 🙂 I had it as “hand-picked” but was doubting myself.

Linda: I would put “hand-picked” also.

Steve: Dictionary.com and webtser.com list it as one word. But then who am I but just another “grammar geek” no one listens to.

Tracy (without an “e”): I would hyphenate. I also think the copy bitch should do one on “lay” versus “lie.” It drives me crazy when my yoga teachers say to ‘lay’ down on my mat. It’s LIE, people, LIE, LIE, LIE.

The Copy Bitch: Steve, did you say something? 😉 Seriously, I value your opinion and we do SO listen to you. Tracy (without an “e”): I suck at the lie/lay/lain thing (hey, we all have our weaknesses) and need to consult a dictionary whenever I have to write the word and then usually find a different word, just to avoid making mistake. I also avoid making left-hand turns whenever possible. 🙂

Tracy (without an “e”): Well, if you ever want a guest blogger, I’m there with the lie/lay/lain thing.

The Copy Bitch: Do you have any tricks for keeping them straight? I’m not above admitting my weakness in writing and quoting your tricks for keeping them straight. Would make for a funny post. And I’d learn something.

Tracy (without an “e”): Yes. “Lay” as a present tense always takes a direct object (as in “now I lay me down to sleep” or “Lay your mat down on the floor” or even “lay yourself down on your mat.” But if you are just telling people to lie down on their mats (not to lay themselves down), then you use ‘to lie’ because it doesn’t take a direct object. And the past tense of “lie” is “lay”, so I think that’s where people get confused, e.g. Last night at eight, I lay down in front of the tv and fell asleep.

Tracy (without an “e”): I think the technical way of putting it is that “to lay” is transitive.

Josh: Copy Bitch, you’ll never land Clooney if u admit you stink at the “lay thing” 🙂

Tracy (without an “e”): Quoting Josh would make for a much funnier post.

[Editor’s note: Agreed.]

Word Confusion: Compliment vs. Complement

Dear Copy Bitch: Any tricks for keeping compliment and complement straight in my thick skull?

—Confused in Colorado

Answer: Dear Confused: Think “complete” when thinking “complement,” which means “to go with or complete” (when used as a verb) or “something that completes” (when used as a noun). As a trick, just think of the “e”–there are two in complete and two in complement. Think of flattery when thinking of “compliment” as in “I love receiving compliments.”

Examples:

1. “I love it when George compliments me on my fashion sense and sassiness.”

2. “I think a George Clooney Love Nest would complement my lifestyle quite nicely.”

Proofreading Strategies: 4 Ways to Do It Online

Dear Copy Bitch: My eyes hurt! I stare at my computer all day and make mistakes left and right–stupid mistakes, too. Do you have any tips for proofreading on a computer monitor?

–Grumpy Proofreader

Answer: Yes, Grumpy, never fear! The Copy Bitch feels your pain and has proofreading strategies when reviewing stuff on the ol’ monitor:

1. Increase/decrease the zoom level on your monitor. When you’ve been staring at a document for hours on end, this one little change is enough to give your precious eyeballs (and brain) a fresh perspective on the words staring back at you. When I’m in Word on my PC, the zoom toggle is in the lower right-hand corner.

2. Highlight the text in yellow. This works especially well for shorter pieces. In Word, the highlight option is usually in the same area as the font face and size options.

3. Read backwards. Start with the last sentence of your document and work your way to the beginning (note: don’t read the sentences themselves backwards). Reading things out of context is a great way to catch mistakes.

4. Do a “find” on your crutch words and problem areas. Do you write “your” when you really mean “you’re”? Do a “find” on “your” and double-check yourself. Do you tend to use fillers like “just,” “very,” “really” or “George Clooney is a god”? Do a search on those words/phrases. Do you type too fast and always use “manger” instead of “manager”? Ditto.

Would love to hear about some other proofreading strategies. Leave yours in the comments thread.

Is It OK to End Sentences with Prepositions? Short Answer: Yes.

Q: Dear Copy Bitch: Is it okay to end sentences with prepositions?

A: The Copy Bitch says yes, especially if it sounds too clunky to rewrite it “correctly,” but grammar purists hate me for it. That’s when I pull out a quote (often attributed to Winston Churchill) to make my point: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

Word Confusion: Using “Then” & “Than” Correctly

Q: Dear Copy Bitch: I always misuse “then” and “than.” Do you have any tips for using these correctly?

A: I learned a great tip a couple of years ago from a writing magazine (I don’t remember which one, which is why I’m not naming names). Think of it like this: than has to do with comparisons. Then has to do with time. There’s an “a” in comparisons as there is in than. There’s an “e” in time as there is in then.

Examples:

  • I think George Clooney is hotter than Brad Pitt. (comparing George to Brad)
  • First, I’m going to eat ice cream, and then I’ll work out. (giving the timing of my eating and exercising)

The Difference Between “Hone” & to “Home in on Something”

Question: I think you made a mistake in my copy because you used the word “home,” and I think it should be “hone”: She knew exactly what area of the artwork to home in on.

Answer: The Copy Bitch is not above admitting to mistakes, but this isn’t one. The word hone is often misused in print and electronic media. When you “hone” your skills, you improve them. When you “home in on something,” you aim your attention to a direct target (think of a homing device). In this example, “she” knew what area of the artwork to direct her attention to. (And, yeah, it’s okay to end sentences with prepositions, too.)

Antecedent Question

Dear Copy Bitch: Does this make sense and do the words in red refer to the client? They’re supposed to: “The first of the 2 or 3 sessions with the trainer is used to develop custom training plans, which are designed to show clients when they’re scheduled to train on their own during each 4-week cycle of their plan.”

—Todd, Boston

A: Yes, it does make sense, and the pronouns are correctly referring to the antecedent (“clients”).