E-mail Greetings and Salutations To You

Dear John. Dear, dear John. If I were to write a Dear John e-mail, I would start it with:

Dear John,

If I were to write a business e-mail to John, I would start it with:

Dear John:

You probably already know that.

What you may not know is that if I were to write a friendly e-mail to John, I would start it with:

Hi, John,

Why the “extra” comma? I know it looks strange, but Hi, John, is actually correct, because dear and hi are not the same kind of word so the punctuation is different.

Dear is an adjective that modifies John. John is dear to me, so I call him dear.

Hi is an interjection, like wow. When you say hi, you are directly addressing John, so the direct address rule comes into play.

In terms of comma rules, Hi, John is no different than, Whoa, John, slow down. “Hi, John,” can end in a period if you want to make it a sentence.

Make sense?


Regardless, Don’t Use “Irregardless”

Irregardless. Oh, how I hate that non-word. I remember when my mother started dating my step-father decades ago. One of the things I found fascinating about the two of them together is that they always talked. They always had something to discuss, not just say to each other. They talked about work. They talked about family. They talked about sports. They talked about politics. (One was Republican, the other was a Democrat)–it got interesting.

At one point, I remember my step-dad was trying to make a point–Mom was winning–and my step-dad said in exasperation, “Irregardless…” I couldn’t hear anything after that. “That’s not a word,” I remember telling him almost immediately. “Put an -ir in front of a word, and it means without. Put -less in back of it, and it means without. You just said, without-without regard. That doesn’t make any sense.” He just looked at me. My mom laughed.

I remember saying that as though I said it was yesterday instead of forty years ago. Okay, I rudely corrected him forty years ago, but the point is, I was correct.

If you take the time to look up irregardless, you’ll find that some language experts think it came about because people were confused as the whether the word they wanted was regardless or irrespective, which kind of makes sense. Others think they were confused by the form many English words have when they start with irre-, like irresistible or irrelevant, and so on, which to me makes more sense. Stick the irre- in front of the base word, like resistible, and it means the opposite. That’s just not the case with regardless. It really isn’t.

Regardless of how the non-word came about or why you feel compelled to utter it, please don’t. It takes people straight out of the context of the conversation. You’re not going to be heard, and if your listener is anything like me, they’re not going to take you seriously. (That’s just my opinon).

Apostrophe Agitation

Apostrophe - You'll Get It Eventually
Apostrophe - You'll Get It Eventually
Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash

I have a friend I absolutely love. He’s Dutch but has been living in the United States for at least forty years. English is about his fifth language. He hates our apostrophe.

When he’s reading English, apostrophes are a distraction to him, especially when a word ends in s.

“You have so many rules!” he says. Well, we really don’t.

Apostrophes basically:

  • Denote possession
  • Make s-ending words plural
  • Show something’s missing


If a person, place or thing–I’m talking about a regular noun, here–owns something, then the apostrophe s is appropriate:

  • Zippy’s collar is blue.
  • Orlando’s traffic is nightmarish.
  • That shovel’s handle is red.

S-ending Words

If a word is already plural or ends in s, the extra s is not necessary:

  • Friday is usually guys’ night out.
    • Some editors, teachers, professors prefer s’s. Always check the style guide before submitting your assignment.

Missing word parts

When we speak, we naturally squish words together. The letters we aren’t pronouncing are replaced with an apostrophe:

  • Can’t wait ’til Friday!
    • The missing “o” in “not” is represented by the apostrophe. It’s a contraction of two words: can and not. Squish ’em together, and you get “can’t.”
    • The missing “Un” is represented by the apostrophe.
    • ‘Till and Till are incorrect, even if you’ve seen it in Shakespeare’s works.
  • The ’60s and ’70s had the best and most complex rock.
    • The missing “19” is represented by the apostrophe.

Tricky Bits

Okay, I admit, there are other tricky apostrophes, such as when making compound nouns plural:

  • My father-in-law’s golf clubs are always in the trunk.
  • All attorneys-general work for the Attorney-General of Florida.

And when initials are plural:

  • “I have a ton of CD’s” is as correct as “I have a ton of CDs.” It depends upon the editor’s style.

But overall, those three basic areas are what’s covered by apostrophes.

Read more about apostrophes in The Blue Book of Grammar. 

Misuse of Misnomer

Oh. My. Word. In one day, I’ve had to correct more than one talking head–possibly by throwing my socks at the television–as said heads tried to impress with their intellect and redress some concept being debated.

“That’s a misnomer,” they’d say and then continue with their debate.

Unless whatever it was they were talking about was named incorrectly, the word they should have been going for is “misconception.”

Misnomer comes from the 15th-century Anglo-French mesnomer, which means “to misname or wrongly name.” See:

mes- “wrongly” + nomer “to name,” from the Latin nominare

Misconception means “a mistaken belief or a wrong idea.”

Misnomer may be more fun to say, but please, don’t say it unless you’re correcting a name. Otherwise, you’ll look like an illiterate fool.

People Lie, Things Lay

Not two paragraphs into a great article on why some people (like myself) just can’t seem to achieve a runner’s high (or love exercising, period), and I have come across one of my biggest pet peeves: an author or editor who doesn’t seem to understand that things, ideas, concepts, clues–lay. They don’t lie. They can’t lie. They’re not people. They’re not living, breathing beings.

Let me explain.

The example here from Ask Healthy Living: Why Don’t I Get a Runner’s High?, by Sarah Klein, on Huffington Post, reads: “The first clue lies in exercise selection.” A clue, here, is a concept. It can’t lie, as in tell a lie, nor can it lie, as in put itself in motion to take a rest or nap.

Talk to any English or grammar teacher worth her salt, and she’ll probably start to help you understand this lay/lie conundrum by laying terms on you like “transitive” and “intransitive” verbs to explain why Sarah’s sentence is wrong. Your eyes, of course, will roll back into you head, and a glazed look will come over your face. You’ll smile. You’ll listen, but you won’t hear a thing–just like back in sixth grade. It is true, though, that if you can, one, recall those words from your distant schooldays, and two, remember what they mean, you probably won’t ever find yourself making this mistake.

You see, “transitives,” to get back to the teacher’s explanation, need objects to make actions make sense. “Moved,” for instance, is a transitive verb. For “moved” to make sense, you’d need to know what was moved, the “what” being what you’re trying to communicate (your sentence). “He moved the car into the garage.” See how that worked? Something was taken and manipulated.

“Intransitives” don’t need objects. “The sun rises.” “Rises” is an intransitive verb. The sun doesn’t need anything to be manipulated to help it rise, it just does it on its own.

So, back to Sarah’s sentence and lay/lie. How should it have been corrected? It should have read: “The first clue is in exercise selection.” Why? Because a discerning a clue is a brain function, so a clue is in the category of a thing. A thought process. No wires or cranes or hardware needed.

Now, if you count yourself among those who have trouble with choosing lay and lie, you’re not alone. Sarah aside, rarely is there a show on the History Channel, National Geographic, or Discovery Channel where within the first few sentences, a narrator (not his fault, he’s reading a script) tries to explain how a reason “lies” somewhere. It drives me out of my mind. Even the great Bob Dylan got it wrong when he penned the title and song, Lay, Lady, Lay. For his lady to do what his song is asking, she’d have to have an out-of-body experience, grab herself by the shoulders, and physically lay herself down on that big brass bed.

To help you remember which word to use remember, use one of these:

People lie; things lay.

People lie down; chickens lay eggs.

If it breathes, it lies; everything else lays.

Lie down to rest; lay the blanket on top of yourself.

“Lay, Lady, Lay,” by Bob Dylan, should have been “Lie, Lady, Lie.”

“Transitive” is like “tangible,” so it needs an object, so your choice is “lay”. “Intransitive” is like “invisible,” so your choice is “lie.”




Sportscasters–Making up words, so you don’t have to

Puck-ality. Defense-ality. I never thought I’d hear these “words” spoken by anyone, let alone Olympic commentators who should know better.

Of course, the first one to utter an offense was the former Olympian and retired National Hockey League player. His word of of choice was “defense-ality” when what he meant was the lady hockey player’s level of play on defense was so high, she made a particularly great play. I can forgive athletes and any subject-matter-experts for verbal gaffes, because they’re not trained to speak correctly. They’re trained to give colorful commentary, hence the title, “color commentator.”

The professional, however, is trained to speak correctly. I know, because when I was first on the radio back in 1982, I had elocution lessons. I also had access to a pronunciation dictionary of world leaders, countries, colloquialisms, and other resources, so I wouldn’t make an error on-the-air. I’m sure, though, even without all those resources which, when you’re on television, are given to you in your ear by earwig as well as on your teleprompter and in your notes, this guy knew he was making up a word and making himself look stupid in the process. Yes, he, like all professional commentators seem to do these days, took the jock’s lead and created his own word for being extremely skillful with a puck.

You know, I know hockey is a fast-moving sport, but it isn’t so fast that you can’t   u-s-e   y-o-u-r   w-o-r-d-s   like the great Al Michaels to fully describe what’s happening on the ice–especially when that’s what you’re paid to do.