The difference between passive and active voice

Verbs are tricky things. At their most basic level, they describe actions, and what or whom those actions affect. The vast majority of sentences contain verbs and at least one noun (though often more than one)—usually the ‘doer’ and the ‘done to’—or to be more technical, the subject and the object. For example: Mikey swept the floor. In this example, Mikey is the subject—he’s the doer. The verb is swept, and the object is the floor—the done to. In this example, the verb is what’s known as active, because the subject of the verb is performing the verb. But what’s going on in this example? The floor was swept by Mikey. The floor is now mentioned at the start of …

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Liberate the Hyphen

The problem In the complicated workplace of punctuation, the poor old hyphen needs to form a union. It dutifully performs its role of joining compound words and reliably appears when a suffix or prefix needs assistance. However, many students and writers drag the overworked hyphen into use while the en dash and em dash rest sadly on the sidelines. Dashes and hyphens have distinctly different uses, and while the rest of the world seems to have retired the dashes permanently, their correct use is still extremely important in academia and publishing. In fact, the incorrect use of dashes and hyphens is perhaps one of the most common errors encountered during editing. The solution In the interests of resting the exhausted …

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Three embarrassing typos… and what you can learn from them

Typos, spelling mistakes, bad punctuation. Slip-ups happen to the best of us when we’re rushing, tired, under pressure or a bit confused: which is pretty much the description of a stressed out university student writing an essay that’s due soon. At best, they make you look silly and careless. At worst, they can undermine the content of your essay: either by failing to clarify your thoughts or actively giving the opposite meaning. Bonus: We’ve prepared a 10 Point Checklist to use before you submit your essay.  Here are some examples of errors that have unfortunately gone to print, along with a discussion on why the mistake happened and what you can do to avoid similar mishaps in your own writing. Placeholder …

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An Apostrophe Catastrophe?

Apostrophe’s can be confusing. See? Apostrophes can be confusing. That’s better. Apostrophes in English have two main uses: to indicate possession to indicate a missing letter or number (a contraction). While this seems quite straightforward, many people for whom English is their first language still find it difficult to use apostrophes correctly. Perhaps the most common misuse (and the one that rankles with grammar pedants everywhere) is the so-called ‘grocer’s apostrophe’. Watch out for it next time you visit a fruit and vegetable shop. It looks like this: potatoe’s carrot’s bag of orange’s. In these cases, the apostrophe has been used incorrectly to denote plural forms of the words potato, carrot and orange. The confusion arises because these words (like many in …

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‘That’ and ‘Which’: Which is Correct, and When?

Knowing when to use ‘that’ and when to use ‘which’ in certain sentences can be confusing—in fact, getting the two mixed up is an error that even experienced and effective writers make. So what’s the difference between the two, and how can you tell which is the correct word to use? It doesn’t have to be as complicated as some people might have you believe, and this week’s post explains the simple rules you can remember to make the right ‘that’ or ‘which’ choice. First, it’s important to understand what part of a sentence requires you to choose between ‘that’ and ‘which’: a clause. A clause is a unit of words that either forms part of a sentence, or functions …

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