Less vs. fewer

Hard to read, but it says "10 or fewer items"

The most famous example of the confusion between these two words is the ubiquitous “10 items or less” signs at your local Piggly Wiggly. It actually should be “10 items or fewer,” like the one to the left that was snapped at a grocery store in Ithaca, NY, home of Cornell University. You know, one of the seven Ivy League universities. See now why they’re so expensive? They know and teach the difference between less and fewer. Continue reading

Infinitives, split and otherwise

Dear Conan,

I have a question about splitting infinitives. I was reading an article online and it struck me that the sentence “So you clearly have to state you want none” conveys to me that it is obvious that you should state you want none. Am I parsing the sentence incorrectly? It would seem that the sentence would make more sense, and be easier to read as “So you have to clearly state you want none”, or maybe “So you have to state clearly that you want none.” Continue reading


"Half the lies they tell about me aren't true." - Yogi Berra

Malapropisms. The word itself makes my heart sing…so symmetrical and full of whimsy. But the concept is deadly.

What is a malapropism? Well, it came from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals. This character routinely mistook one word for another, and the resulting language was pretty comical. When the average person uses a malapropism in speech or writing, the result is typically high hilarity and a severe dip in his/her “take me seriously” quotient. Usually, a malapropism is used because it sounds a lot like the correct word. Continue reading


According to Dictionary.com, the word “insure” typically means to warrant against loss. The word you want when saying you guarantee something is “ensure.” Apparently, “insure” took on its particular sense of “make safe against loss by payment of premiums” in 1635 when it replaced “assure” in that meaning. Makes you wonder who exactly sat down in a smoke-filled room behind closed doors and decided that this was how it was going to be.

So use “insure” when speaking of premium-based insurance. Use “ensure” when you guarantee. And use “assure” when you are placating someone insincerely.

I assure you that Company X wants to insure you against loss in the event that no one can ensure quality work.

Proofread your resume!

Dear Conan,

I have a job opening and I’m getting flooded with resumés. I am cringing when reading them. Apparently schools don’t teach English class anymore.

“Insure quality work”

Really? How much are the premiums?

“My objective is to procure a position with a company that I can contribute to, and learn from”

The rogue comma strikes again…

“One of my strongest skills would be great focus, determination, organization, and getting things done”

I thought it was just one…

I have more examples, but you get the idea.

RS Continue reading

Indefinite vs. definite articles for ESL students

Dear Conan,

If the plural of fungus is fungii, would the plural of dufus be dufii?

Also, I have a more serious question. Continue reading

Indexes or indices?

Dear Conan,

This line was in a story from AP:

Major stock indexes were almost a sideshow during the session, with the credit markets as the main event.

Shouldn’t that be stock indices?



Dear Rob,

I must say I am impressed that you, along with other faithful readers, have begun to scrutinize what you read. That means grammar is beginning to matter to you, and I weep with joy and relief.

In answer to your question, Rob, either is actually correct. I’m proud of you for even knowing the other plural form of index, especially since you went to Baylor. Bravo!

Your ally in correctness,