After my last post discussing one of the subtle differences between US and UK English, a reader dropped me an email asking about the “reliable online source” I’d used to check out a particular proofreading point. The site in question may well be of interest to many of our readers, so I thought I’d share its details here.
It’s called wikiHow, and it has a rather lovely section on “English Grammar”. (Interestingly, one of my current bugbears is excessive capitalisation in documents – I can’t help wondering whether a more modern usage for the section’s title would be “English grammar”!).
Amongst the topics covered are sections on how to:
- avoid colloquial (informal) writing
- use italics
- understand the difference between passive and active sentences
- improve your grammar
- use “who” and “whom” correctly.
If you’re stuck for something to read in your lunch hour, or just want to brush up on your skills, the site makes for fascinating reading. Take that section on how to ‘use italics’, for example. Much as italics can be useful to pick out specific words in a sentence, I’ve long disliked reading proposals that contain long italicised sentences – they always seem harder on the eye, and the italics somehow seem to trivialise the material.
Here, therefore, is an overview of the site’s guidance on the seven areas in which the authors recommend or mandate the use of italics, including some of their illustrative examples:
- Use italics to provide emphasis or contrast in running Roman text… “He had managed to eat not nine, but ten whole cookies.”
- Use italics to denote titles… “I just can’t stop reading The Collins Pocket English Dictionary.”
- Use italics for foreign words discussed in a sentence… “The Latin word caudex roughly translates as ‘blockhead’.”
- Use italics for foreign words or phrases not considered fully part of the English language… “I just got the weirdest feeling of déjà vu.”
- Apply italics when citing English words [instead of using single quotes]… “I love the wordflabbergasted.”
- Italicize names of vehicles… “The Enola Gay.”
- Keep in mind that certain disciplines have various specific purposes for italics. Two of the more common examples are in biology and law (legal cases)… “The famous case of Gideon v. Wainwright was a landmark in American legal history… Homo sapiens, the name for the human species, belongs to the genus Homo.”
Their section on punctuation – with some really good pointers on common pitfalls – is another one I particularly enjoyed.
Of course, the web’s never really going to be a reliable substitute for your favourite reference tome (such as my well-thumbed Cambridge copy-editing handbook). But the wikiHow pages appear to be full of well-written, accurate, practical advice and the site’s certainly worth a browse.