Guide to Grammar and Style — H


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From the Guide to Grammar and Style by Jack Lynch.
Comments are welcome.


There's nothing wrong with the word, but I find it overused as an intensifier. If you're constructing a metaphor in which weight is appropriate — heavily overloaded, for instance — it's a fine word. If not, try to find a more appropriate adverb, and your sentence will probably be more vivid as a result. [Entry added 24 April 2006.]

Hoi Polloi.

Greek: hoi, nominative masculine plural of the article ho, “the”; polloi, nominative masculine plural of polus, “many.” The phrase means “the common people, the masses.” Don't confuse it with the upper classes — it has nothing to do with “high” or “hoity-toity.”

The big controversy about hoi polloi in English — the sort of thing that raises blood pressures to dangerous levels — is whether you should say “the hoi polloi”: hoi already means the, so “the hoi polloi” means “the the many.” Then again, people have been saying “the hoi polloi” for as long as they've been using the expression in English (since 1668, says the OED). Besides, we say “the La Brea Tar Pits,” even though that means “the the tar tar pits.” And the al at the beginning of many English words derived from Arabic — alcohol, alchemy, algebra — originally meant the, but no one finds “the alcohol” redundant.

I don't have good advice on this one. Dropping the the runs the risk of sounding pedantic; leaving it in runs the risk of sounding illiterate. Another skunked word, I'm afraid. [Entry added 20 Jan. 2005.]


According to traditionalists, hopefully means in a hopeful way, not I hope. You'll keep them (and me) happy by avoiding hopefully in formal writing; use I hope, we hope, I would like, or, what's often best of all, leave it out altogether. It's the paradigmatic example of a skunked term. [Revised 12 Jan. 2005.]

House Style.

Some questions have no “true” answers, only competing standards used in different places. There are of course differences in spelling and punctuation in various countries, but “house style” refers to the choices about (mostly minor) matters that each publishing house sets on its own. Newspaper publishers, for instance, often use different rules than book publishers do. It's not a question of which is “right” or “wrong”; learn to suit your mechanics to the forum for which you're writing. See Apostrophe, Capitalization, Citation, Commas, Dash, Ellipses, Italics, Numbers, and Punctuation and Spaces.


A tip to make your writing livelier: avoid starting your sentences with however. This isn't a rule, just a way to make for better emphasis.

What can you do instead? Starting a sentence with but is a little informal, but usually more forceful than starting with however. On the other hand, you can tuck the however inside the sentence: “She did, however, finish the book.”

By the way, this refers only to the conjunction however, not the adverb however. “However much he tried, he could never lift it”; “However you did it, it seems to be working again” — they're copacetic. [Entry added 20 Jan. 2005.]


Hypercorrection means being so concerned with getting the grammar right that you get it wrong. For instance, we have it drilled into our heads that “Me and him went to the game” is wrong; it should be “He and I went to the game.” Too many people end up thinking “He and I” is therefore more proper, and use it in inappropriate places, like “A message came for he and I” — it should be “A message came for him and me.” Whom is another frequent problem for hypercorrectors; they have the sense that whom is more correct than who, and use it improperly. See also Agreement.


A hyphen joins the two parts of a compound word or the two elements of a range: self-conscious; pp. 95-97. (Hard-core typography nerds will point out that ranges of numbers are marked with an en-dash — pp. 95–97 — but you needn't worry about it: type a hyphen.) A compound noun used as an adjective is often hyphenated: a present-tense verb. (For more details, see Predicate.) An exhaustive (not to say exhausting) list of rules and examples appears in The Chicago Manual of Style. Don't confuse a hyphen with a Dash, although you can type a dash as two hyphens.

See also -Century. [Revised 14 Sept. 2004.]


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From the Guide to Grammar and Style by Jack Lynch.
Comments are welcome.