Half-mast vs. half-staff

Flags at half-staff

In my town, flags are flying at half-staff to honor a fallen firefighter, including the one at my office. Yesterday, I had to verify that flags do indeed fly at half-staff and not half-mast as some media outlet in town were reporting. Luckily, my favorite argument settler, the trusty AP Stylebook settled this question.

Per the AP Stylebook, unless you are on a ship or at a naval station, flags are flown at half-staff. The h is lowercase and the word is hyphenated.

If and only if you are on a ship or at a naval station, then the flag is at half-mast. In this case, the h is lowercase and the word is hyphenated.

While the difference may appear obvious, a mast can only be on a ship or Navy related space (base, shipyard, station, air station, recruit depot. For further example: New York Naval Shipyard, Norfolk Naval Base, Naval Air Station Key West), many people seem to be mixing this up. Flags fly on flag poles when not related to the Navy.

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That vs. who: A Grammar Lesson

Image from: skar.com
Image from: skar.com

Maybe its the anonymous nature of comments, bad grammar school or never learning to diagram a sentence, but the number of people who can’t figure out when to use who or when to use that in a sentence appears to increase every day.

To review from the AP Stylebook
Who is for human beings and animals with a name. A person is always a who. Who is the subject and never the object of a sentence, clause or phrase. Example: The woman who rented the room left the window open.

That is for inanimate objects and animals without a name, including wild animals. That is never for people.

While my second favorite grammar source, Grammar Girl, does indicate a case could be made for using that for a person, she also writes, “I have to take the side of the people who prefer the strict rule. To me, using that when you are talking about a person makes them seem less than human. I always think of my friend who would only refer to his new stepmother as the woman that married my father. He was clearly trying to indicate his animosity and you wouldn’t want to do that accidentally.”

Got it?

Lay vs. Lie: A Grammar Lesson

Image from: harrybliss.com
Image from: harrybliss.com

Even though I know this grammar rule, I still always double-check in my trusty, well-worn, AP Stylebook.

Simplified: lay is for objects, lie is to recline. You lay an object on a table. You lie down.

“The action word is lay,” according to the AP Stylebook. “It takes a direct object. Laid is the form for its past tense and its past participle. Its present participle is laying. Lie indicates a state of reclining along a horizontal plane. It does not take a direct object. Its past tense is lay. Its past participle is lying.”

The Stylebook entry goes on to make a few examples.
Present or future tenses:
I will lay the book on the table. The prosecutor tried to lay the blame on him.
He lies on the beach all day. I will lie down.

Past tense:
I laid the book on the table. The prosecutor has laid the blame on him.
He has lain on the beach all day. I lay down. I have lain down.

Present participle:
I am laying the book on the table. The prosecutor is laying the blame on him. He is lying on the beach. I am laying down.

Clear as mud?

Annual Events

There is no such thing as first annual.

There is no such thing as first (or 1st) annual.

The event can be inaugural in the first year, but never annual.

“An event cannot be described as annual until it has been held in at least two successive years,” according to the AP Stylebook. “Do not use the term first annual. Instead, note that the sponsors plan to hold an event annually.”

As a plea to all public relations professionals, marketers and those organizing a local charity 5k, please stop using first annual. Be proud of the first event!

Punctuation Myths: A Grammar Lesson

From: BusyTeacher.org
From: BusyTeacher.org

The No, It’s Not Arbitrary and Does Make Sense: Teaching the English Punctuation System article from busyteacher.org is a great place to review what you know and think you know about punctuation.

A true/false quiz is the best place to start.
1. You write a comma when you take a breath. True False
2. You write a colon before a list. True False
3. You write a period after a thought. True False
4. A letter S should always have an apostrophe before it. True False
5. A period should be written after an independent clause. True False
6. “Mother” and other important words should always be capitalized. True False

How many did you get right?

The rest of the article gives good examples of the right kinds of sentences and punctuation and is worth a review even if you think you’ve got punctuation down.

As my trusty AP Stylebook states, “There is no alternative to correct punctuation.” Sometimes it is just better to recast the sentence than to try to fix it.