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?

Who’s vs. Whose

After explaining who vs. that, I realized I’m still getting hung up on who’s versus whose. I like apostrophes to show ownership. Unfortunately, with these two the one with the apostrophe does not equal ownership.

Who’s is who is. Or who has. It does not show ownership.
Examples: Who’s at the door? (Who is at the door?)
Who’s leave? (Who is leaving?)

Whose is for ownership.
Examples: Whose sandwich is this?
Whose children are those?

Make sense now?

Farther vs. Further

Image from: cafepress.com
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my friend the copy editor that I finally understood the difference between farther and further.

That’s because I knew both were about distance, I just thought the right one was whichever sounded better in the sentence. Turns out there is a difference.

Farther is for physical distance. Further is for a metaphorical distance.

So if you can replace the answer with miles, feet, or centimeters then the right word is farther. For example, I’m farther away from Far, Far, Away than I was when I lived in Disneyland. And I need more coffee before I can get any further involved in this project.

Make sense now?

All Together vs. Altogether: A Grammar Lesson

Image from: http://www.unenlightenedenglish.com/wp-content
Before we can discuss the specifics, it is important to realize that this confusion is part of a bigger issue. In English, there are several words that combine all and a root word to create alroot. Follow so far?

All Together is an adverb that means at the same time or as a group. For example: One, two, three, all together, sing happy Birthday to you and let’s go to the movie at the drive-in all together, it’s much more fun that way! So if you can substitute let us or drop the all and the sentence still makes sense use all together.

Altogether
Altogether is also an adverb that can mean completely, total or considering everything. For example: today’s deposit was $439 in cash and $588 in checks: $1027 altogether or altogether, it wasn’t such a bad trip, despite the sort of disastrous incident with the beehive.

The Education Bug website offers a mnemonic you can use to differentiate all together and altogether. “Remember that all together – because it’s two separate words – is the one that needs to get into a group and get in sync. This associates the meaning with the spelling to help you remember which of these easily confused words is which.”