Literary Life Hacks

Most of us have mastered the rules for making common nouns plural (books, foxes, babies, valleys) and the many exceptions to those rules (men, women, children, people). Names, however, trip a lot of people up, despite having a simpler set of rules with no exceptions.

Most names can be made plural simply by adding an S:
The Smiths live next door. Their son, John, is one of three Johns in his class.

For names ending in CH, SH, S, X or Z, use “-es,” same as with common nouns:
The Bushes and the Cruzes are trying to keep up with the Joneses.
There are three Maxes and two Riches in our office.

Names ending in Y get an S, never an “-ies”:
The Kirbys, the Murphys and the Dickeys all named their daughters Becky. That’s a lot of Beckys!

Never, ever use an apostrophe – alone or with an S – to pluralize any noun that is more than one letter long.

Don’t use “convince” when you mean “persuade.” Convincing is for thoughts; persuading is for actions.

Incorrect: “I convinced the board to book Arnold Schwarzenegger as a speaker.”
Correct: “I persuaded the board to book Arnold Schwarzenegger as a speaker.”
Also correct: “I convinced the board that booking Arnold as a speaker would attract more people to the conference.”

Rule of thumb: If the word “to” is in the sentence, persuade yourself to use “persuade.” If there’s a “that,” convince yourself that “convince” is the right choice.

The word “like,” when being used as a preposition, should never be followed by a verb. Use “as” instead.

Incorrect: “Like Shakespeare said, ‘All’s well that ends well.’”
Correct: “As Shakespeare said, ‘All’s well that ends well.’”

Don’t use “like” (similar to) when you mean “such as” (the real deal):

Incorrect: "This conference always features well-known speakers like Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins and Arnold Schwarzenegger.” (Well, which is it? The actual Oprah, Tony and Ah-nuld, or a trio of impersonators?)

Correct: “This conference always features well-known speakers such as Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins and Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Also correct, if a bit outdated: “Be like Mike.”

A few reminders about when to use them:

  • % — Don’t use it except in tables and infographics. In text, spell out “percent.” (That’s one word, not “per cent” — unless you’re in Britain.)
  • $ — Use the dollar sign or the D word (200 dollars, $200) but not both together ($200 dollars). The sign is preferable, except in very informal usage (“I feel like a million dollars!”).
  • & — Use only when it’s part of a proper name (e.g., Johnson & Johnson). Otherwise spell out “and.”


Incorrect:
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Correct: Thanks to our members and supporters.