About Language Tips

(Weekly Language Usage Tips was developed to respond to the needs of fellows, post-docs, and faculty in academic medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. All faults in content and writing are mine alone and not the University’s.)

As most of you know, I spend a lot of time reviewing grant proposals, IRB protocols and other formal writing. Frequently, I see a grammar, spelling, or usage issue that folks get wrong time and time again. Once in a while the mistake is so egregious that I respond pretty vehemently (which accounts for a recent rant about starting a sentence with “as well.”) Since formal writing is so integral to our work (including the receipt of grant awards), I decided to address these issues in a weekly email. The email, Weekly Language Usage Tips, allows me to provide tips on grammar, spelling, usage, and other issues relevant to formal writing.

This blog is designed to be a place where everyone/anyone can comment on the Weekly Language Usage Tips. You can post them anonymously or with your name; it’s up to you. I have been receiving some very interesting comments, and I thought we would all enjoy reading them.

Please note that occasionally, I have seen advertisements on these posts. These have been placed there by WordPress, and I do not endorse them or the companies they represent. It’s the cost of using a free weblog.

One other thing. Some people have wondered why I use single quotation marks instead of double around quotations. The reason is simple. Besides posting here, I also send the posts out as email, and people complained that, for some reason, the double quotation marks messed up their mail programs. So, I changed to single quotation marks. That’s all.

So Welcome to the Language Tips blog! I look forward to hearing from you.

Most commonly used references:

Bryson, B. (2002) Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right. New York, NY: Broadway books.

Fowler, HW. (1965)A Dictionary Modern English Usage, Second Edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Garner, BA.(2009) Garner’s Modern American Usage. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Goodman, NW, Edwards. MB. (2006) Medical Writing; A prescription for Clarity, Third Edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lynch, J. (2008)  The English Language: A user’s guide. Newbury, MA: Focus Publishing.

O’Conner, PT. (2003) Woe is I: the Grammarphobes Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York, NY: Riverhead books.

Walsh, B. (2004) The Elephants of Style. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.


  1. Chu Duy Thuc said,

    I really like your blog. My English is not so good. I read better than I write or speak or listen!!! Hope I can learn how to write in a better way. I am wondering if you’d be kind enough to help me do and explain some of my English exercises? I do and am corrected but now and then don’t understand why this one is better than that one. And there is no one I can ask (for they just dont know). Hope you can help me. I’d be very thankful to you. Plz email me as soon as possible.

    • dlseltzer said,

      I’ll write up a reply to this soon. The quick answer is what you suspect about actually dying vs. metaphorically dying is correct. I’ll try to write later today.

  2. Scott McCormick said,

    This is a marvelous blog! I’ll be coming back in the future. However, this “About” is confusing me, since I don’t actually know what you spend time on … I have no idea who you are! I can only infer that created this for people you know in “real life”, rather than random visitors such as me. But now that you’ve established such a track record of helpfulness, please expect to see us showing up 🙂

  3. dls said,

    You’re right. I will add more info to the ‘About” page. Briefly, the blog was initiated for the faculty researchers in the Schools of the Health Sciences of the University of Pittsburgh. As Director of Research Development in the Center for Research on Health Care (School of Medicine), I work with junior faculty to develop research projects and grant proposals among other things. I review lots and lots of writing, and thus, I decided to start this blog.

  4. Janice Gardner said,

    I’m so happy to have found this goldmine of information, which came to me rather circuitously while looking up the definition of the Calibri font. I work as a medical transcription auditor, and one of our clients has a physician on staff who is requesting we use this particular font. Thank you for hosting this blog. And to think our company is your neighbor–our headquarters is in Pittsburgh.

  5. Mila said,

    I found your blog while trying to help a friend understand the difference between “among” and “between” (… hopefully I used the right term just now). Would you be able to write something about the proper use of “will” and “would?” I live in a country where I see so many people use “will” incorrectly, likewise with “would,” and it bothers me, but I can’t explain the difference very well.
    Many thanks!

  6. Lucie said,

    Thanks for your wonderful blog. It’s very encouraging to see that some people still care about the correct use of language. Your explanations and examples are really helpful.

  7. JC said,

    I love this blog and hope someone can reslove my issue: In addresses (on envelopes or on letters, for example) should the word “floor” be capitalized (e.g. 3rd Floor?) I seem to recall that a helpful hint was to write out the ordinal designation, presumeably to show that capitalization would not be necessary. Is there support for not capitalizing it (as I prefer?)

    • dlseltzer said,

      I would not capitalize it when using the ordinal number (e.g., 21st floor), but I would capitalize it if it is part of the address (e.g., Floor 21). This is consistent with the other rules for capitalizing parts of an address.

  8. ChienminChuang said,

    This is absolutely one of the greatest language websites in the world. I am glad to have the chance to join here. But I am not sure where I should leave my silly question to? So, please base with me for the first time, if it is not allowed to ask a question here. (But please also indicate where I should post, if so)

    The question lying in the deep of heart is:
    What is the difference between ‘to die’ and ‘to death’? Should they be used in different occations?

    Thanks for your help in advance. : )

    • dlseltzer said,

      This is a fine place for your questions. Could you use ‘to die’ and ‘to death’ in a sentence so I better understand what you are looking for. Thanks, and I am glad you like the site.

      • ChienminChuang said,

        Thank you for kindly replying me.

        My question is
        Can both of them show the degree of doing something or
        being treated somehow? Or one of them shows the degree but the other one indicates someone is REALLY going to die (but not dead yet) under some condition? My initial guess is ‘to die’ means someone is REALLY going to die under some condition while ‘to death’ describes how hard the condition is. But I am not really sure about. See the examples below:

        Eg1.The young man is tortured to die/death.
        >> Is there any difference between two usages?
        Eg2.I am starving (or bored) to die/death.

        Thank you for your reply in advance.

  9. Fergus said,

    Just wondering if it’s possible to frame someone “with” a crime, or do we frame them “for” a crime.

    I always thought it was the former, but google only gives me 24 hits for “framed with murder” and about 1.5 million for “framed for murder”.

    Advice much appreciated,


    • dlseltzer said,

      It should be ‘for.’ I’ll write this up and explain it during the next few weeks.

  10. Nicole said,

    Hmm. Wondering if I should email the HR webmaster at webmaster@hr.pitt.edu to explain the correct usage and the incorrect usage of “effect” in several job descriptions under the section “Organizational Impact”…..

    • dlseltzer said,

      By all means, do! That’s embarrassing.

  11. Steve Ford said,

    I am new to this blog. Please forgive me if my request is a well beaten, dead horse. I am unable to warm up to the use of “done” instead of “finished”. I was taught that the food was done and when I had eaten all that I could hold, I was finished. Do I have a valid argument?

  12. Matt said,

    This is a great blog. I would like to receive these posts by email. gingomr@upmc.edu

    • Deb,

      This is a great blog. We discuss your postings in our Data Meetings regularly.
      Keep up the great work and please add my email address to your mailing list.

  13. Leon said,

    Thank you for creating this wonderful blog. It has helped me, and I’m sure countless others to better understand and correct their everyday errors in an easy-to-read and amusing fashion.

    I also have a quick question. What difference do you see between neglect and negligence? I see negligence as mistreatment of inanimate objects, and seems most fitting in a legal context whereas neglect has connotations of prolonged mistreatment and that the mistreatment is directed toward a human (or other creature). What do you think?

    Keep up the great work


    • Leon said,

      P.S. I don’t normally use commas before ands as I repeatedly have above. It must have been the pressure of posting on a language and grammar-themed blog.

  14. Jaclyn said,

    I love your blog! I have sent your web address to everyone in my department. I am in a “not English as a first language” environment and we often have “proper usage” issues. My mother was an English teacher and our speech and writing was always “by the book”. I cannot, however, always remember the rule to apply. When I am correcting someone, my reasoning is usually that “I don’t know why, I just know that that is the correct way.”

    I join you in some of your pet peeves and add one of my own: Chantix, a new stop-smoking aid, advertises that “most Chantix users were quit by week nine.” Yikes! (I am not a frequent !!! user. I find most e-mails with too many !!!!! exhausting to read.)

  15. Deepali Joshi said,

    Thanks for this blog. As a medical journal editor, I owe musch of my language skill to this. Please help me with the use of ‘compared to’ versus ‘compared with’.
    Thanks in advance,

  16. bruce laru said,

    Great tool!

    Please include me on the language tip distribution list.

  17. Steve Ford said,

    One of my pet peeves is “I could care less”. When I hear someone use the phrase, I am prone to ask them just how much less would they be willing to care? “I couldn’t care less” makes perfect sense and conveys the intended message but folks continue to butcher the phrase.

  18. Beanie said,

    do you match something with/to something else?
    is something mismatched with/to something else?

  19. Ted Zuur said,

    Please send me your weekly email. I like your blog, and have used it several times. Also, can I begin a sentence with also? And, (I know I can’t begin a sentence with and!) would you refer me to another source about punctuation marks always preceding footnote numbers? In Latin America both conventions are used. Thanks, Ted

    • dlseltzer said,

      I will add you to the list. Just google “punctuation and footnotes,” and you’ll find many references. It’s fine to start a sentence with AND and ALSO, but only in informal writing, not formal.

  20. Reianna Garner said,

    Thank you so very much for this blog. I am a senior in college, majoring in psychology, so this blog is a blessing when I’m writing those dreaded lab reports. Please add me to your weekly email list.


  21. Carrie Perkins said,

    Thank you for this blog. I just stumbled upon the “Tip 1: Track and tract” entry and was pleased to find an accurate and helpful clarification. I have a degree in English, but still find that I have to check myself–particluarly on these malapropisms that have become so common! I am encouraged to find a source that is both reliable and relevant.

    Please add me to your weekly email list.


  22. Paul Roberts said,

    I would very much like to add my voice to the very deserved praise in this list of comments. Your blog is very addictive reading, and I have learned an awful lot.

    I have one question that you may be able to help with. In a peer-review of an academic paper, I was told I should not use ‘whence’ in, ‘…depends only upon the words, and not on the documents whence they came’. I don’t believe ‘whence’ is too stuffy or archaic, and it seems less neat to use ‘from which they came’. Also, as the word ‘hence’ is still popular there seems no reason to drop ‘whence’.

    I would be very grateful to hear you views.

  23. Joan Britten said,

    You have probably commented on this before, but I couldn’t find it in the archives. Is it Dean Name and the University of Pittsburh School of Something congratulate or congratulates the following individuals?

  24. rich said,

    Great site! Wish more would read it.

  25. Emmie said,

    Thanks for providing a vital service. Your detailed explanations are so informative and useful.

  26. Kerry Heubel said,

    As an English language teacher in Australia, what we teach our students and what they hear on television (their major source of incoming English language) often conflict. We tend to encourage British English though differences arise between levels of acceptance in US and British usage. I am fascinated by these differences, though, I note the closer I get to a linguistic source the fewer those differences. Would you please put me on your email list twice. I am encouraged by reading your missives.

    • dlseltzer said,

      I tried to add you to my email list but your address was rejected. Do you have another email address we can try?

  27. Kaiser said,

    Hi, I have a couple of grammar questions:
    1. When using words like “either”, “neither”, “none”, “any”, etc. in sentences with a second-person subject, is the verb supposed to be in the singular? As in, “If either of you knows…” or “Neither of you has given me…”? With the phrase “any of you”, using a singular verb sounds… just wrong. But I’ve heard people in movies say things like, “Which of you does the cooking?”
    2. I heard this line in a movie once: “Finish your breakfasts.” Two people were eating their breakfast(s?). If this is correct, does the plurality apply to “lunch” and “dinner”, as well?

    Thanks! I’m really glad I found this site.

  28. Natalie said,

    I would LOVE to be on your mailing list!

    Thank you for being such a super resource!

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  32. Anonymous said,

    Can you please explain when to use “arrive in” and when to use “arrive at”

    Thank you!

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  55. Nina Waite said,

    Just found this excellent blog. Mentioned in an Amazon.com review, WLUT pulled me right in. There is nothing more entertaining than the ways that people use the English language! “Change out” was a term that I noticed in radio broadcasts recently, and even–gasp–used it myself just yesterday! My husband was changing out a brake handle on his bicycle. This process involved “innards” so the “out” part of changing out fit perfectly.

  56. Korey Monios said,

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  57. Matthew O'Shea said,

    Hi. Please add me to your mailing list (my email address: go120@yahoo.com). I love what I’ve read thus far! Thanks

  58. lancethruster said,

    Can you provide guidance for nauseous verses nauseated?

    • dlseltzer said,

      will do next week.

  59. The confused student. said,

    I really enjoy reading your blog, and found it very useful. I am wondering if you can discuss ensure and insure. I am reading a research proposal written by professor and he wrote:

    “we intend to pool eight years of data to insure adequate sample size…”

    I always thought “ensure” is used in this context and I googled it. Then I read insure is mostly limiting to financial liability. This got me so confused…

    Thanks 🙂
    The confused student.

    • dlseltzer said,

      I’ll write it up for this week. Check on Thursday.

  60. Oie Lian Yeh said,

    Wonderful blog! Please add me to your weekly list. Thanks!

  61. I just saw this — wonderful! I am Managing Editor at Fitch Ratings in London and write my own “Tip of the Week” for all staff in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Your tips are inspirational. Please add me to your weekly list. Please let me know if you are ok for me to borrow any of your own tips – I would, of course, credit you! Would you like me to add you to my own mailing list? Many of my tips are about process or style at Fitch, so not useful – but some are on word usage that you may enjoy. Regards, Mike

  62. Joe said,

    Great blog, really useful. Thanks for your huge work!
    Would it be possible to discuss “allow to” and “allow for” ? It is a little bit confusing for a non-native English speaker.

    Thank you,
    Best regards

    • dlseltzer said,

      I’ll write this up for next week. I’m glad you like the blog.

  63. I just stumbled on your blog today while trying to write an e-mail to company. I wanted to use correct grammer since it was an offical letter to a large company. I’ve been a stay at home mom for seven years and haven’t had cause for such strict grammer in a while. I know there is always cause for correct grammer, but when I leave a note for my husband/kids I’m not too worried about being lazy. It was fun to look through the subjects and see if I could figure out the difference between the two compared words before opening the article. I learned somethings and found conformation on some I knew. Thanks for providing this imformation.

  64. Joanna Friedland said,

    Hi, I seem to have fallen off your wlut mailing list – could I be added back please, as the weekly emails made an enjoyable start to my working week! Thanks, Joanna

    • dlseltzer said,

      I don’t know why that happened but will happily put you back on the list.

  65. Frankie said,

    I seem to have fallen off the mailing list too (I haven’t received a post since 18 April). Can you add me again please.

  66. Jeff said,


    I’ve been following this blog for a while, and have left a few comments along the way. But I have something here that I can’t seem to find a clear-cut (or consistent) answer for.

    What do you think of using italics for emphasis in the body of text. Granted, I’m writing this for a marketing magazine, but it seems to me that italicizing in this way would be fine, although I don’t recall ever actually seeing it done. Any input on this would be great.



    • dlseltzer said,

      will write something on this soon. I think it’s fine!

  67. Joan Britten said,

    I have always found your newletters and website interesting, entertaining, and informative. I am retiring at the end of the month but will probably continue to write, so I would like to sign up for your “Weekly Language Usage Tips” at my home email. Thank you. Joan Britten.

    • dlseltzer said,

      Of course. Thank you for your kind words.

      • Ruth Gingold said,

        Hi, I haven’t received any e-mail from Language Tips for the past few months, is this normal or have I been deleted from the list? In that case I would like to be added again as I found those tips always interesting to read.Thank you,Ruth

        Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2013 13:46:22 +0000 To: ruth_gingold@hotmail.com

      • dlseltzer said,

        I don’t know what happened, but I will add you back to the list.

  68. Linsey Marr said,

    Great stuff! Very useful when I’m trying to instill good writing practices in my students. Thank you for maintaining this very useful resource.

  69. pashtoonkasi said,

    This is really helpful. I think I know now how to use the word ‘comprise’. “The whole comprises the parts, but the parts DO NOT comprise the whole.” Thank you.

    • dlseltzer said,

      Exactly right! Thanks.

  70. Marie Sonnet said,

    Deb, will you be so kind as to send your wonderful WLUT posts to my new address marie.sonnet@gmail.com. Thanks so much!

  71. el chat said,

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  72. Key said,

    Hello Ms. Seltzer, i would love to receive this newsletter by email. Could you add me to the listserve?

  73. Joanne said,

    I knew that my new boss and I would get along when we discovered that we agreed on the use of “regard” vs. “regards.” After reading your post on this topic, I believe you and I should be friends too!
    Please add me to your email list.

  74. Joanne said,

    Please put me on your newsletter list. I really appreciate your insights.

    • dlseltzer said,

      Will do!

  75. akagc said,

    Please add me to your mailing list. I’m always looking to improve my writing and this site is a real gold mine. Keep up the good work!
    Email: languagetips@goldcoin.ch

    • akagc said,

      There probably should have been a comma before the ‘and’…

  76. Karin said,

    Please add me to your mailing list 🙂

  77. Anonymous said,

    Please add me to your email distribution.
    Thank you.

  78. babble said,

    This site is great! Please add me to your mailing list

  79. Victoria said,

    I’d love to receive your emails, please add me to your list!

    • dlseltzer said,

      done. welcome.

  80. Mary Ann said,

    Dear dlseltzer,

    I am not sure how to address you – Mr, Miss, Mrs or even Ms.

    Thank you so much for your postings. They have helped clarify a number of grammatical puzzlements. Here is another one. Hemi-, demi-, and semi- are prefixes for half. However, how does one know when to use which? For instance, hemisphere not semisphere, demi-god not hemi-god, semi-circle not demi-circle.

    I would be grateful for your clarification.

    Thank you and regards,
    Mary Ann

    • dlseltzer said,

      Stay tuned.

  81. Sonali Amin said,

    Hi. I would like to receive email alerts on the following email ID: sonali.amin@sciformix.com

  82. Marie said,

    Please add me to your email distribution list. Thank you.

    • dlseltzer said,

      Will do.

  83. Anonymous said,

    Please add me to your distribution list. lisa.friendly@gmail.com

    Thanks, Lisa

    • dlseltzer said,

      Will do, Lisa. Welcome.

  84. Sally Clarke said,

    What is the correct usage of the below phrase?

    All of a sudden vs. all the sudden

    I have always used the phrase “all of a sudden” and I believe that is the correct way in which it should be used. However, time & time again, I hear people using the phrase “all the sudden”.
    Can you confirm which way is correct?
    Thank you.

  85. Liz Brown said,

    Please add me to your email list. Thank you.

  86. william bennett said,

    would like to receive on e-mail.


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