J.A. Stinger

Words Can Inspire The World

Filtering by Tag: Grammar

Setup vs. Set up: What’s the Difference?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of words in the English language that confuse writers on a daily basis. Words that sound the same, words that are spelled the same, words that have only slightly different meanings, etc.

Today’s two words are confusing because they have two different functions and meanings, yet just a single space separates them from each other.

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How to Use the Passive Voice Correctly – Grammarly Blog


The passive voice is a misunderstood entity in the world of writing. It is unfairly judged by many authors. Some writers, without taking the time to get to know this grammatical structure, avoid it at all costs. Others use it ineffectively because they do not understand how it works. How can you get to know this mysterious literary device?

First, let’s start with an explanation of what passive voice is. Passive voice sentences mention the thing or person receiving an action before mentioning the action itself, and may omit the actor altogether. For example, consider this sentence:

The leaves were blown by the wind.

The leaves receive the action of being blown. In the example, the agent is specified with the preposition by. However, the agent could have been left out of the sentence: The leaves were blown.

When is it proper to use passive voice? Consider these instances. Why do you suppose passive voice is appropriate? Check your answers below.

  • My camera was stolen from my locker at school.
  • A candle will be lit at the memorial service for the fallen soldier.
  • Diets are made to be broken.
  • The sodium hydroxide solution was heated to 200 degrees.


  • Who stole the camera? The agent is unknown. If you do not know who committed an action, it is appropriate to use passive voice.
  • Who do you want to receive the attention? If you prefer the attention to be on the action itself (the candle being lit) and not the person doing the lighting, you may omit the agent.
  • You are expressing a general truth that is applicable to many. Using active voice to express this idea would be awkward: People who make diets make them to be broken.
  • Researchers often use passive voice in scientific reports. It is assumed that the reader knows that the experimenters are performing the actions without stating this fact explicitly. But, according to the University of Toronto, this trend is on the decline. Recent papers tend to contain more examples of active voice.

What questions do you have about using passive voice?

Grammar-ease: When to Use ‘Nor’ or ‘Neither’

This post is inspired from a recent reader’s comment: when do you use ‘nor’ or ‘neither’ in a sentence?

In using neither/nor construction, it’s important to keep the sentence parallel. An example:

  • Incorrect: She will cook neither her apple pie nor do her laundry. [The part that follows “neither” is a noun (“her apple pie”), and the part that follows “nor” is a verb phrase (“do her laundry”) — so they aren’t parallel.]
  • Correct: She will neither cook her apple pie nor do her laundry. [Both parts are now verb phrases.]

Also, it’s important to watch for verb agreement when there is a mix of singular and plural. For instance, Neither the teens nor the teacher was excited about the fire drill. (singular was for ‘teacher’) Switched around, this is also correct: Neither the teacher nor the students were excited about the fire drill. (plural were for ‘students’)

If the second part of a negative construction is a verb phrase, it’s your choice whether to use ‘nor’ or ‘or’. Both of these examples are  correct:

  • The coach will neither allow unsportsmanlike conduct nor consider awarding good behavior.
  • The coach will neither allow unsportsmanlike conduct or consider awarding good behavior.

When using ‘neither,’ make sure there are no negative words preceding it. You would use either/or instead. For instance:

  • Arnold had seen neither the grandbaby nor the grandbaby’s rattle on the couch, and was ready to enjoy a quiet evening.
  • Arnold had not seen either the grandbaby or the grandbaby’s rattle on the couch, and was ready to enjoy a quiet evening.
  • (it would be incorrect to say: “Arnold had not seen neither the grandbaby, northe grandbaby’s rattle…)

And to add just a little more… when you have a negative sentence with ‘not’ (instead of ‘neither’) use ‘or’ in the second part of the sentence (i.e. “Not A or B.”). Examples:

  • She is not interested in Bob or Rick or Peter.
  • He didn’t (did not) speak hesitantly or softly.
  • They are not excited about horror or romance or comedy movies.
  • She does not want apples or oranges.
  • He does not enjoy walking or cycling or kayaking.

You won’t ever pair ‘either’ with ‘nor.’

You won’t see ‘nor’ without ‘neither.’

I hope that helps clarify the neither/nor topic. Happy writing!