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Any Question From Iran


Have you ever been asked a question and thought, “Oh, that’s an easy question! It’s simple.” Questions like that might make me feel smart, but they aren’t very interesting. They don’t make me think and scratch my head. I don’t learn anything from them.

Our friend from afar sent a real poser of a question. Not easy to answer, but much more interesting.

The Question

I have a question. Which choice is correct? Please explain your reasons.

“Mr. Johnson is a very knowledgeable English teacher. He can answer any ………….. about grammar.”

a) question
b) questions

My Answer 

Another tricky question. This question isn’t about grammar; it’s about context. A and B are both possible solutions, but the most likely correct answer is B, “questions.”

“Any” can indicate one or more than one. For example, “Go get any book” means the same as “Go get any one book” and “Go get a book.” However, “Go get any books” means the same as “Go get some books.” In your question below, as with many issues regarding grammar and word choice, we have to look not only at the specific problem but also at the message being conveyed. We have to understand the context in which the problem occurs.

Now, why is B the most likely correct answer?

The answer is in the context. If Mr. Johnson is a very knowledgeable English teacher, he can answer more than one question, which means he can answer questions.

Let’s think about the message being conveyed here. If you think of any (one) question about grammar, Mr. Johnson can answer it. However, if you think of a different question, Mr. Johnson can answer that question, too. Thus, Mr. Johnson has the ability to answer more than one question. Again, this means Mr. Johnson can answer questions.

“Mr. Johnson can answer any question about grammar” is most appropriate in one particular instance. Let’s say that Mr. Johnson has just given a presentation and that people have questions about grammar. Although he has the knowledge to answer all their questions (any questions), he only has time to answer one question. Knowing this, someone says, “Mr. Johnson can answer any question,” meaning Mr. Johnson, because of his time constraints, is only able at this time to answer one.

Let’s look at similar case.

If a teacher asks students “Do you have any question?” then the teacher expects the students to have one question. This is the same as asking “Do you have a question?” (In this situation, “a” is more common than “any.”) On the other hand, if the teacher asks students “Do you have any questions?” then the teacher understands that the students may have more than one question. In this case, as with Mr. Johnson, “any questions” is more appropriate because it allows the possibility for more than one.

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Use concluding words to state your main point.


When you are writing a document to persuade your reader about an idea, you present your supporting ideas or evidence leading up to the main point. If you do this well, your reader will come to the same conclusion that you are trying to make.

To show that you have finished making your argument (i.e., completed writing about the reasons for your idea) and are about to state the main idea, you use a concluding word. A concluding word tells the reader, “Based on this information, I conclude that . . . .” Sample concluding words and phrases are thus, therefore, in conclusion, and as a consequence.

These concluding words provide a signpost for the reader. They say, “I’m done giving the evidence, and now I’m going to tell you the idea that I want you to believe.”

You may be able to make your main point without them. However, they are very effective for helping the reader identify what it is you want them to understand.


This is the strategy for day 81 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.

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Irony and Poetic Justice


Situational irony – A picnic gone terribly wrong

Is It Ironic? Case 1. You’re walking down the street with a friend. Ahead of you, you see a man stumble on a crack in the sidewalk. Your friend laughs at the man. A moment later, your friend trips on the same crack. “Oh,” you say, “that’s so ironic!” No, it isn’t. That’s not ironic.

Case 2. Later, you go home and turn on the television. You see a news story about a politician getting hauled into court for lying under oath. That same politician had recently accused fellow politicians of being deceitful. “Oh, that’s ironic,” you say, laughing. No, that isn’t irony either.

Case 3. Finally, just before going to bed, you walk through your house, turning off the lights and complaining about your family members who left them on. However, when you turn off the last light, you realize that you have to walk back through the house in the dark. While doing so, you knock your shins on a chair. You rub your shins and say “It’s so ironic that I turned off the lights and made myself walk in the dark!” No, that isn’t ironic either.

In fact, the only thing ironic about these three events is the fact that you thought they were ironic!  Continue reading

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12 Major Comma Uses Explained


Commas are confusing because they are used in many ways. However, the basic principle to using commas is simple: Use commas to separate clauses and phrases within sentences that have their own meaning.

The “rules” for commas below are broadly, but not universally, accepted. However, a careful writer considers two central issues:

  • Reader understanding and
  • Consistency.

The comma guidelines below will help readers understand your message in many cases. However, even if they are not necessary to improve reader understanding, follow them for consistency. Consistency is a characteristic of professional technical writing.

1. Series

The commas help the reader find each unique item (or group of items) in a series by separating them.

Example: School officials are dismayed by poor grades, low attendance, and high drug use.

2. Joining Sentences

You can join two complete sentences with coordinating conjunctions. (The entire set of coordinating conjunctions is for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Together, these create the acronym FANBOYS.) The comma lets the reader know when one point is complete and the next will begin. This comma use only applies when you have complete sentences on either side of the conjunction.

Example: The screen inverter stopped working, and the motherboard began to smoke.

3. Introductory Descriptions

An introductory description is before the subject and describes the main verb in some way, such as when, where, how, and why. The comma at the end of the description signals the reader that the main point of the sentence is about to begin. For consistency, do this with even short introductory descriptions. In the following example, the introductory description is underlined.

Example: Following the symposium, participants collaborated on projects. Continue reading

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8 Sentence Patterns for Academic and Technical Writing


(From Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing.)

An expert academic or technical writer needs only a few basic sentence patterns to produce easy-to-understand writing. Each of the sentence patterns below will result in clear academic or technical writing. However, do not use any one pattern more than twice in a row to prevent the writing from sounding repetitive and boring. Also, use the more complex sentence patterns less frequently. They are more challenging for the reader and may make the writing overall more complex than necessary.

All effective sentence patterns start with the Subject-Verb-Object (S-V-O) sentence structure. Optional components are additional S-V-O structures and descriptive words, phrases, and clauses (D), which can be placed in various locations.

In the samples below, the subjects are underlined, and the main verbs are in italics.

1. Simple sentence (S-V-O): A simple sentence has one subject–verb pair. It starts with the subject (or an adjective and the subject). The subject is immediately followed by the verb (or an adverb and the verb). A simple sentence may contain an object.

Example 1: The computer desktop provides access to your files. Continue reading

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Three Strategies for Writing to Your Reader


Here are three tips from 300 Days of Better Writing about how to understand your readers and give them what they need.

Day 110: Be prepared to work hard at your writing.

Easy reading is damned hard writing.

(Nathaniel Hawthorne)

(Please excuse the curse word. It may indicate Hawthorne’s
frustration with the work necessary to produce good writing, or it
may indicate the strength with which Hawthorne believes this.)

The point of this quote is that clear, easy-to-read writing is not easy
to produce. Instead, it is the result of writing, analyzing what you
write, and re-writing—perhaps many times.

When you write, you are attempting to communicate. The more work
you put into writing, the better you will be able to communicate.
Hard work by you leads to easy understanding by your reader.

People have told me, “Writing is so easy for you.” This isn’t true. I
have practiced writing, studied writing, and analyzed what makes
writing clear. The documents they read are the result of much work:
writing, criticizing, and rewriting until they are “easy reading.”
That’s what great writers aim for: not easy writing but easy reading. Continue reading

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Commas with Pairs of Adjectives


You have two adjectives together. Do you or don’t you put a comma between them? If they are coordinate adjectives, you do. This follows Zen Comma Rule P.

Comma Rule P: Put a Comma between Coordinate Adjectives.

Definition of Coordinate Adjectives. Adjectives are coordinate if they meet two criteria: (1) You can place and between the two words, and the sentence means the same thing, and (2) You can reverse their order, and the sentence means the same thing.

Sample 1: We had a hot, dry summer.

Sample 1 has the adjectives hot and dry, both used to describe summer. If we write We had a hot and dry summer, the sentence makes sense. It also makes sense if we write We had a dry, hot summer. The adjectives meet both criteria, so we know they are coordinate and put a comma between them.

To native English speakers, the two revised sentences will sound like natural speech, and the two criteria are likely sufficient to identify coordinate adjectives. For a more technical explanation, we can examine the Royal Order of Adjectives.

(If these criteria and revisions make sense to you, skip the next section and go to Rule Q.)

Definition of Royal Order of Adjectives. This is the order in which native English speakers naturally use adjectives in speech and writing. Although exceptions exist, such as to emphasize specific characteristics, this order is generally true. Continue reading

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