When are double words ok?


© 2005, 2002, 1987 Margaret L. Benner  All rights reserved.

  • COMMA RULE #1 – THE COMMA IN A SERIES: Use commas to separate items in a series.
  •  What is a ”series”?
  •              A “series” is a list of 3 or more items, the last two of which are joined by and, or, or nor
  •                          _____________, ______________, and _____________
  •             When Are Double Words OK?
  • Any of these can be put into sentence form.

When Are Double Words OK?

The important things to remember about using commas in series are these:

1.      A series includes 3 or more items of the same type (words or groups of words).

2.      The series is connected by and, or, or nor before the last item.

3.      A comma separates items in the series, including the final item preceded by and, or, or nor.

  1. Now click on the link below to do exercise 1.
  2. Link to Exercise 1
  3. COMMA RULE #2 – THE COMMA WITH COORDINATE ADJECTIVES:  Use commas between coordinate adjectives.
  4.  What are “coordinate adjectives”?
  5.          “Coordinate adjectives” are adjectives placed next to each other that are equal in importance.
  6.  Two tests to determine whether adjectives are coordinate are the following:

         1.      See whether “and” can be smoothly placed between them.

         2.      See whether the adjectives’ order can be reversed.

Look at this example.

When Are Double Words OK?

  • In this example, a comma belongs between happy and lively because they are coordinate adjectives.
  • Test to make certain:
  •             First, try the “and” test.

When Are Double Words OK?

  1.                         And placed between the 2 adjectives sounds smooth.
  2.             Second, try reversing the adjectives.
  3.                 When Are Double Words OK?
  4.                         When the adjectives are reversed, the sentence still makes sense.
  5. Thus, happy and lively are coordinate adjectives in the example and should be separated by a comma.
  6.                 When Are Double Words OK?

CAUTION: Not all adjective pairs are coordinate adjectives.  Thus, not all adjectives should be separated from one another by a comma.

  • Look at this example.
  •                 When Are Double Words OK?
  • In this example, no comma belongs between the two adjectives young and golden because they are not coordinate adjectives.
  • How can we know?
  •             First, try the “and” test.
  •                 When Are Double Words OK?
  •                       And placed between the two adjectives does not fit smoothly.
  •             Second, try reversing the adjectives.
  •                 When Are Double Words OK?
  •                       When the two adjectives are reversed, they do not make sense.
  • Thus, young and golden are not coordinate adjectives and should not be separated by a comma.
  •                 When Are Double Words OK?
  • Now click on the link below to do exercise 2.
  • Link to Exercise 2
  • COMMA RULE #3 – THE COMMA IN A COMPOUND SENTENCE: Use a comma before and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet to join two independent clauses that form a compound sentence. 
  • What is a compound sentence?
  •             A compound sentence is a sentence that has 2 independent clauses.

            An independent clause is a group of words with a subject and verb that expresses a complete thought.  It is also known as a simple sentence.  An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence.

  1. The two independent clauses in a compound sentence can be joined by:
  2.             A. Semicolons
  3.                                                      OR

B.           A comma and one of the seven joining words: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.  (Taken together, the first letters spell “FANBOYS.”)

  • This last type of compound sentence is the one we will concentrate on for comma use.
  • A compound sentence must have two independent clauses – not just two verbs, two nouns, or two groups of words that are not independent clauses.
  • Look at this example.

In the above example, two verb groups are being joined by and.  The second verb group does NOT have a subject; thus, it is NOT an independent clause.

  1. Therefore, NO comma belongs before and.
  2. This example is a simple sentence with a compound verb, not a compound sentence.
  3. However, we can make this sentence into a compound sentence by simply making the last verb part into an independent clause.

Now we have a “bona fide” compound sentence.  The two independent clauses are separated by a comma and the word and.

  • Here are some other examples which illustrate the difference between compound elements in simple sentences (no comma) and true compound sentences (comma).
  • Now you are ready to try an exercise.
  • Make certain that you:

            1.  Know the seven joining words (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

2. Can distinguish between simple sentences with compound elements (no comma) and compound sentences (comma).

  1. Now click on the link below to do exercise 3.
  3. COMMA RULE #4 – THE COMMA WITH INTRODUCTORY WORDS: Place a comma after introductory phrases that tell where, when, why, or how.

Specifically  . . . use a comma:

1.      After a long introductory phrase.

  • Example:
  • Usually, it is NOT necessary to use a comma after short introductory prepositional phrases.
  • Example:

2.      After an introductory phrase made up of “to” plus a verb and any modifiers (“infinitive”) that tells why.

  1. Example:
  2. Use a comma even after a short “to” + verb phrase that answers why.
  3. Example:
  4. You can tell you have this kind of introductory “to” + verb phrase when you can put the words “in order” in front of the phrase.
  5. Example:

Be careful!  Not all introductory “to” phrases tell why.

3.      After an introductory clause that answers

when?           where?              why?               how?            to what degree?

  • (A “clause” is a group of words with a subject and a verb.)
  • Examples:
  • NOTE: When such a clause comes at the end of a sentence, do NOT use a comma.
  • Examples:
  • Now click on the link below to do exercise 4.
  • Link to Exercise 4
  • COMMA RULE #5 – THE COMMA WITH NONESSENTIAL WORDS, PHRASES, AND CLAUSES: Separate with a comma any nonessential words or groups of words from the rest of the sentence.
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A dash is a little horizontal line that floats in the middle of a line of text (not at the bottom: that’s an underscore). It’s longer than a hyphen and is commonly used to indicate a range or a pause. Dashes are used to separate groups of words, not to separate parts of words like a hyphen does. There are three forms of dashes: em, en, and the double hyphen.

The most common types of dashes are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). A good way to remember the difference between these two dashes is to visualize the en dash as the length of the letter N and the em dash as the length of the letter M. These dashes not only differ in length; they also serve different functions within a sentence.

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Em Dashes

Em dashes save the day when other punctuation would be awkward. For instance, em dashes can replace parentheses at the end of a sentence or when multiple commas appear in a parenthetical phrase.

After a split second of hesitation, the second baseman leaped for the ball (or, rather, limped for it).

After a split second of hesitation, the second baseman leaped for the ball—or, rather, limped for it.

Colons enable a writer to introduce a clause that amplifies whatever came before the colon. They are more formal than dashes. However, em dashes are more emphatic than colons. When you want to generate strong emotion in your writing or create a more casual tone, use em dashes. Compare these sentences:

He is afraid of two things: spiders and senior prom.

He is afraid of two things—spiders and senior prom.

Writers and transcriptionists replace unknown, censored, or intentionally omitted letters with em dashes. In these cases, em dashes appear in pairs or threesomes.

A former employee of the accused company, ———, offered a statement off the record.

“H—— are all the same. They cause trouble wherever they go.”

Carved into the dresser drawer was a faded inscription: “Made for Kristina, by your de——ted sailor.”

En Dashes

Recall that en dashes are slightly shorter in length than em dashes. En dashes may look similar to em dashes, but they function in a much different way.

Using the En Dash to Indicate Spans of Time or Ranges of Numbers

The en dash is often used to indicate spans of time or ranges of numbers. In this context, the dash should be interpreted as meaning either “to” or “through.” Consider the examples below:

The teacher assigned pages 101–181 for tonight’s reading material.

The scheduled window for the cable installation is 1:00–3:00pm.

The 2015–2016 fiscal year was the most profitable year for the new business.

Using the En Dash to Denote a Connection

The en dash may also be used to indicate a connection between two words. Use an en dash when you need to connect terms that are already hyphenated or when you are using a two-word phrase as a modifier. When the dash is used in this way, it creates a compound adjective. See the following examples:

The pro-choice–pro-life argument is always a heated one.

The Nobel Prize–winning author will be reading from her book at the library tonight.

Writing Effective Headlines

    Apply the following rules when writing headlines. The best way to write a good headline is to keep it simple and direct. Be clever only when being clever is called for. Puns are good, but only on “punny” stories.

(For examples of the good, the bad and the ugly, go to Good headlines and Problem headlines after you read these tips on “Writing Effective Headlines.”) 

    Use the active voice: Effective headlines usually involve logical sentence structure, active voice and strong present-tense verbs.

They do not include “headlinese.” As with any good writing, good headlines are driven by good verbs. 

    A “capital” idea: The first word in the head should be capitalized as should all proper nouns. Most headline words appear in lower-case letters. Do not capitalize every word.

(Some publications do capitalize the first letter of every word; the Kansan and most other publications do not.) In most cases, do capitalize the first word after a colon.

(In some cases, when only one word follows the colon, the word would not be capitalized. Use your best judgment.) 

    Number, please: Numbers often go against AP style in headlines. For example, you may start a sentence with a number and, even though that number is below 10, you do not have to spell it out. (Note: For best results, please view in the full-width of your computer screen.) 

  • Example: 
  •         3 die in crash
  •         However, whenever possible, follow AP and Kansan style rules. 
  •     To the left: Write all headlines flush left unless told otherwise. 

    It’s xx-rated? Fill each line of the head within two units of the letter “x” in lower case. (We’ll talk about this in class). Do not have one line of a multi-line head too short.

See also:  10 words with roots in lesser-known languages

Exceptions can be made on some headlines with narrow specifications (such as one-column heds). Note: The two-“x” rule for this class and the Kansan; it is not a rule that is universally followed.

Some publications allow greater leeway; most do not, some requiring you to come even closer. Nevertheless, the two-“x” rule is a good one to follow.) 


Lincoln, Douglas to debate
at new KU Dole Centerxxx (not acceptable — almost 3 x's short)


Lincoln, Douglas to debate
at KU's new Dole Centerxx (OK — fewer than two x’s short)


debate todayxxx (acceptable in narrow, multi-line headlines)
at Dole Center
  1.     Present tense, please: Use present tense for immediate past information, past tense for past perfect, and future tense for coming events. 
  2.     Punctuation normal — mostly: Headline punctuation is normal with two significant exceptions: Use periods for abbreviations only, and use single quotes where you would use double quotes in a story. 
  3. Example (single quotes): 
Lincoln: ‘The war has begun’

    Moreover, note the use of the colon (substituting for the word “said”). The colon can be used, sparingly, for introducing both a direct quote and a paraphrase. (See “He said, she said” below.) 

Example (paraphrase):

Lincoln: War inevitable; victory essential

    The semicolon (above) is used normally: separating two thoughts of equal weight. 


Lincoln says war inevitable; Davis agrees

    “And” more punctuation: The comma, in addition to its normal use, can take on the work of the word “and.” On rare occasions, the comma also can indicate the word “but” (but, if used that way, be very, very careful, ensuring that the reader has a clear understanding that’s what the comma means. The semi-colon is better for the “but.” Even better is to use the word “but.”) 


Lincoln offers compromise, Davis declines (awkward)


Lincoln offers compromise; Davis declines (better)


Lincoln offers an ‘out,’ but Davis declines (best)

    Even more on punctuation: In multi-line headlines, strive to keep most punctuation, except hyphens and dashes, at the end of lines. Don't use a hyphen at the end of a line. With few exceptions, any semi-colon should only be used at the end of a line in a multi-line headline. 

Example #1 (good):

Clinton says there was no affair,
urges witness ‘to tell the truth’

Example #2 (not acceptable):    

Clinton says no affair, that (not acceptable;
witness should ‘tell the truth’ awkward break)

Example #3 (not acceptable): 

Clinton: I'm not two- (not acceptable; awkward break)
timing the First Lady

  Example #4 (not acceptable):        

Clinton says no affair; Starr (not acceptable; awkward break)
maintains he's got evidence

  Example #5 (not acceptable):   

Clinton: No affair; Starr:  (not acceptable; see
Evidence says it happened explanation below)

  Example #6 (horrible):   

Clinton: No affair; Starr: His probe (horrible; see
proves it happened more than once explanation below)

    The breaks in the “bad” examples above make it hard for the reader. Make “natural” breaks — breaks where a slight pause by the reader is OK and natural (as in the first example).

In Example #4, the use of the semicolon before “Starr” is too close to the end of the line. In Example #5, there's a bad break, but there's also just too much punctuation going on. (The same for Example #6). Keep it simple.

Use as little punctuation as possible in headlines. 
    (An important note on word use:

Examples of Double Negatives

Double negatives are two negative words used in the same sentence. Using two negatives usually turns the thought or sentence into a positive one.

Double negatives are generally discouraged in English because they are considered to be poor grammar and they can be confusing.

However, they are sometimes used in everyday casual speech and you'll find many examples in popular song lyrics.

To better understand why you should generally try to avoid these sorts of sentence constructions, here are several examples of double negatives that illustrate how they can be confusing or sound nonsensical.

  • That won't do you no good.
  • I ain't got no time for supper.
  • Nobody with any sense isn't going.
  • I can't find my keys nowhere.
  • She never goes with nobody.
  • John says he has not seen neither Alice or Susan all day.
  • I didn't steal nothing.
  • He ain't never told no lies.
  • You can't see no one in this crowd.
  • There aren't no presents left to open.
  • The secret cave didn't have none of the treasures they wanted.
  • All the witnesses claimed that didn't see nothing.
  • The pilot can't find no place to land.
  • He did not mention neither the deposit nor the rate.
  • There is no way you can do nothing about this.
  • He doesn't have nothing but the clothes on his back.
  • We haven't never seen a tornado that big.
  • It ain't right to not paint the house.
  • You shouldn't do nothing to the house.
  • The hospital won't allow no more visitors.
  • I don't have nobody to mow my lawn.
  • That attitude won't get you nowhere.
  • After the nose job, she didn't want no one to see her.
  • The star couldn't sing no more after the matinee performance.
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Writing Mistakes that Content Creators Commonly Make

It’s time to review some nasty writing mistakes that damage our credibility. Not normally a fun task, but absolutely necessary.

  • I promise to keep you amused to diminish the pain (or at least I’ll give it a shot).
  • I also feel compelled to mention that copywriting and blogging should be conversational and engaging, and breaking formal grammatical and spelling conventions can often be a good thing.
  • Outside of specific professional or academic contexts, writing with a personal style that makes it easier on the reader is more important than pleasing Strunk and White.

That said, I also believe you have to know the rules in order to break them. Plus, there are some errors that you’ll never convince anyone you did intentionally in the name of style (outside of a joke), and even then some people will still assume you’re dumb.

So, let’s take a look at some of those types of glaring errors you never want to make — common writing mistakes that can diminish the shine and credibility of your message.

1. Loose vs. lose

This one drives a lot of people crazy, including me.

In fact, it’s so prevalent among bloggers that I once feared I was missing something, and somehow “loose” was a proper substitute for “lose” in some other English-speaking countries. Here’s a hint: it’s not.

If your pants are too loose, you might lose your pants.

2. Me, myself, and I

One of the most common causes of grammatical pain is the choice between “me” and “I.”

Too often people use “I” when they should use “me.” Since “I” sounds stilted and proper, it must be right, right? Nope.

The easy way to get this one right is to simply remove the other person from the sentence and then do what sounds correct.

You would never say “Give I a call,” so you also wouldn’t say “Give Chris and I a call.” Don’t be afraid of me.

And whatever you do, don’t punt and say “myself” because you’re not sure whether “me” or “I” is the correct choice. “Myself” is only proper in two contexts, both of which are demonstrated below.

Many consider Chris a punk, but I myself tolerate him. Which brings me to ask myself, why?

3. Different than vs. Different from

This one on our list of writing mistakes slips under the radar a lot, and I’ll bet I’ve screwed it up countless times.

It boils down to the fact that things are logically different from one another, and using the word “than” after “different” is a grammatical blunder.

This vase is different from the one I have, but I think mine is better than this one.

4. Improper use of the apostrophe

Basically, you use an apostrophe in two cases:

If still in doubt, leave the apostrophe out. It causes more reader confusion to insert an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong than it does to omit one.

Plus, you can always plead the typo defense if you leave an apostrophe out, but you look unavoidably dumb when you stick one where it doesn’t belong.

5. Parallelism

Back when I talked about bullet points, one of the tips involved keeping each bullet item in parallel by beginning with the same part of speech.

For example, each item might similarly begin with a verb:

  • Deliver …
  • Prompt …
  • Cause …
  • Drive …

When writing a list of items in paragraph form, this is even more crucial, and failing to stay in parallel can result in confusion for readers and scorn from English majors.

Check out this non-parallel list in a sentence:

Over the weekend, Kevin bought a new MacBook Pro online, two software programs, and arranged for free shipping.

Do you see the problem? If not, break the list into bullet points and it becomes clear:

Over the weekend, Kevin:

  • Bought a new MacBook Pro online
  • Two software programs
  • Arranged for free shipping

Stick the word “ordered” in front of “two software programs” and you’re in parallel. Your readers will subconsciously thank you, and the Grammar Police won’t slam you.

6. i.e. vs. e.g

Ah, Latin … you’ve just gotta love it.

As antiquated as they might seem, these two little Latin abbreviations are pretty handy in modern writing, but only if you use them correctly.

The Latin phrase id est means “that is,” so i.e. is a way of saying “in other words.” It’s designed to make something clearer by providing a definition or saying it in a more common way.

The Latin phrase exempli gratia means “for example”, so e.g. is used before giving specific examples that support your assertion.

7. Could of, would of, should of

Please don’t do this:

I should of gone to the baseball game, and I could of, if Billy would of done his job.

This is correct:

I should have gone to the baseball game, and could have, if Billy had done his job.

Why is this one of our common writing mistakes?

They could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been correct, except that the ending of those contractions is slurred when spoken.

This creates something similar to a homophone, i.e., a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, e.g., of, which results in the common grammatical mistake of substituting of for have.

If you enjoyed this refresher, you won’t want to miss our upcoming live content writing training …

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