Grammar, Punctuation & Phrases

A collection of answers to grammar, spelling and punctuation questions, plus explanations on the origins of popular phrases.

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Similes are like spices for writing: Used in the right proportion, they can add zest and verve to your prose. Once you're familiar with them, you'll likely notice that simile examples abound in everyday speech, writing, song lyrics and even advertising slogans.

By Zach Taras

Figurative language is a cornerstone of expressive writing. Unlike literal language, which conveys information plainly and directly, figurative language introduces an imaginative spark, offering the reader new ways to view ideas and emotions.

By Marie Look

Do you know when to use to vs. too? In spoken English language, the two words sound exactly the same, but they have different meanings.

By Sascha Bos

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There are plenty of examples of people being caught red-handed in real life. But what does it really mean?

By Laurie L. Dove

British slang is known to contain some of the most colorful colloquialisms in the world, so queue up as we bandy about a few cheeky ones.

By Alia Hoyt

The word "hack" has evolved so much over time that, instead of suggesting a shadowy criminal act, it now means you've found the very best way to do something.

By Jesslyn Shields

Surely you've heard the phrase before. You've probably used it. But where did it come from and what is the meaning behind it?

By Kristen Hall-Geisler

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"Then" and "than" have confused some people for ever — probably because they sound alike. However, there's an easy way to know which word to use.

By Kristen Hall-Geisler

Who's got the lowdown on whose birthday it is today? "Who's" and "whose" are always a challenge to get right, but we've got some pro tips.

By Laurie L. Dove

Knowing when to use a semicolon is a matter of remembering that a semicolon is a cross between a pause and a period.

By Laurie L. Dove

These two words are often used interchangeably and incorrectly, so here's how to know when to use "affect" vs. "effect."

By Laurie L. Dove

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The fad for abbreviations like LOL is nothing new. In fact, this trend in the 1840s spawned the greatest abbreviation of all, "OK." Let's look at the history behind "America's greatest word."

By Dave Roos

Y'all, the contraction of the words "you" and "all," is making its move out of the American South to places as far afield as Australia.

By Carrie Tatro

SOS was the most commonly used distress signal from the turn of the 20th century until before WWII. But exactly what does SOS mean?

By Jesslyn Shields

We use these abbreviations all the time, but what do they actually mean?

By Jesslyn Shields

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Many people think 'Latine' is a better gender-inclusive term than 'Latinx.' Here's why.

By Melissa K. Ochoa

How did blue collar, white collar (and pink collar!) end up in our lexicon, and what are the origins of their meanings?

By Kristen Hall-Geisler

It's a strange phrase when you think about it, as people don't normally ride pigs. So where did it come from?

By Melanie Radzicki McManus

The origin of this false grammatical no-no is lost to history. But, we still shy away from starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions. And here's why.

By Laurie L. Dove

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When you're holding something together with nothing more than spit and perhaps some duct tape (duck tape?), what is the correct term, jury- or jerry-rigged?

By Laurie L. Dove

To be "on the lam" means to be on the loose or on the run, but what does "lam" mean and where does this colorful phrase come from?

By Kristen Hall-Geisler

It's a phrase appropriate to Thanksgiving as well as other times of the year. But the most popular origin story has a disturbing explanation.

By Alia Hoyt

No one ever says "heveled" or "gruntled." Do these words even exist? Not every word needs an opposite to prop it up. Here's why.

By Kristen Hall-Geisler

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You've surely heard it in the movies even if you've never used it. So who came up with the phonetic alphabet and why is it used?

By Kristen Hall-Geisler

Whether these people knew it or not, their famous last words made a real statement. How many can you figure out?

By Alia Hoyt