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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

“Feeling poorly,” “myriad,”
and other questions about correct usage from readers

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

 

 

Gary writes: “I had a co-worker ask me a question I didn’t have the answer to. I know you should use an adverb to describe a verb. Is it proper English to say I’m feeling poorly? It just sounds too odd!”

 

Yes, it is odd – and incorrect. You feel well or unwell. Both words are adjectives describing your health, not adverbs modifying the verb feel.

 

The problem is that the word well also is used as an adverb. As a result, many people mistakenly think they are using an adverb when referring to their health, so to be consistent they say I feel badly.

 

To feel poorly or to feel badly, however, means the nerves in your fingers aren’t working so good – I mean, well.

 

Tim writes: “As a writer, I occasionally use the word myriad, and when I use the adjective, I do not couch it in articles. Rather than ‘We were surprised by a myriad of choices,’ I use ‘We were surprised by myriad choices.’

 

“There is a rather vigorous discussion among several of us – copywriters all – about the correct usage of myriad. Can you shed some light on the subject?”

 

Sure. Your position on proper usage is unimpeachable: It should be myriad rather than a myriad of. As Patricia O’Connor points out in Woe Is I, the word myriad “originally meant ten thousand, but it now means numerous or a great number of. Avoid myriads or a myriad of.

 

Janice writes: “In the spring a magazine will publish one of my articles. They returned a copy of my manuscript with slight changes – mostly in punctuation – for me to proof. I am a little puzzled by one of their changes and wondered if you could give me some advice.

 

She says that in her original manuscript she wrote, “‘How is this possible?’ he thought. ‘How can one pray without ceasing?’ “ The editor changed the punctuation to “‘How is this possible?’, he thought, ‘How can one pray . . .’”

 

Janice says, “I am puzzled by the insertion of the two commas.”

 

So am I. According to The Chicago Style Manual, you are correct, and your editor is wrong. I hope you are successful in dissuading the magazine from publishing your article with nonstandard punctuation.

 

Because the rules governing quotation marks perplex so many writers (and apparently certain editors), I’ve posted 17 helpful guidelines on my website at www.wilbers.com/quotes.htm.

 

Well, maybe I should have a look in the old mailbag. Dick has sent me something written on a strange, papyrus-like material:

 

“You’ve done your best, but the its and it’s . . . are rampant in everything I read . . . So please, start over.”

 

Okay, now listen up, youse guys who don’t know the difference between a contraction (it’s) and a possessive pronoun (its). Do not – I repeat – do not write it’s with the apostrophe unless you can replace it with two words: it is. Got it?

 

Thanks, Dick. I didn’t realize things had gotten so bad. I’ll keep my eyes open for punctuation errors next time I go for a spin in my CommaMobile.

 

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