March 2016

Word Smarts
(Ouch! Did I use that word the wrong way again?)

These words are interchangeable in a few circumstances, but why complicate things? I suggest you follow these usage tips to keep it simple.

Ensure: Use ensure when you mean to make sure or certain.

Insure: Save insure for when you take out a policy.

Assure: This is for when you want to dispel doubt.

If you want to improve your vocabulary, consider subscribing to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. Every day you’ll get a word in your inbox—and it’s free!

Grammar To Go
Takeout tips for better writing

Last month I wrote here about the correct way to pluralize proper names. Continuing on that theme, let’s look at pluralizing acronyms and numbers. When you want to indicate more than one, the same simple rule applies: Add an –s.

Take a look at these common examples.

1990s; 20s, 30s, 40s
No ifs, ands or buts
Dos and don’ts

However, it’s not uncommon to see an apostrophe butting in when pluralizing individual letters of the alphabet. In most cases, an apostrophe just creates confusion. Go-to grammarian Bryan Garner recommends avoiding the apostrophe for plurals if at all possible.

But not all style books agree on this point when it comes to writing the plural form of individual letters. Do you write “The teacher gave five As or five A’s”? I like the clean look of no apostrophe. However, this can cause confusion. Do you “dot your is or dot your i’s or dot your I’s? I know, how picky can we get! (Editors can get pretty darn picky.) The AP Stylebook recommends uses an apostrophe for pluralizing individual letters; otherwise, it’s apostrophe-free all the way for plurals.

Whatever style you choose, the key is to be consistent. Pick one style and stick with it inside a document or across your website.

After reading last month's Grammar To Go, a reader asked how to pluralize a name
ending in –z.

Names that end in –z, –x or –ch follow the same rules as those for names which end in –s: Add an –es. The Schultzes, the Foxes and the Finches live on Main Street.

To show possession, add an apostrophe with or without an –s. (Either way is accepted practice, but always be faithful to whichever way you choose).
The Schultz’s dog chased the Fox’ cat.

When the name is plural, use only an apostrophe (without the –s): The Schultzes’ dog is friendly.

Thanks for the good question! When the name is plural, omit the –s: The Schultzes’ dog is friendly.