“Problematic” vs. “problem”

Careful writers do not consider “problematic” a synonym for “a problem.” “Problematic” means iffy, not definite or settled, open to question or debate. Avoid using it in the context of “is a problem.”

Examples: Whether we will find a solution is problematic [meaning questionable]. Finding a solution is a problem [meaning poses difficulties].

The phrase “a number”

According to Webster’s English Usage, “a number” always requires a plural verb because the meaning is plural: A number of employees have recently applied for dental coverage. But “the number” is singular: The number of employees who have dental coverage increases every year.


“Over” and “during” are not synonymous when used for time: “over this period” means from a point at the beginning of the time period to a point at the end of the time period; “during this period” means within the time period.

Example: During this period, prices fluctuated wildly, but the growth in the rate of return over the period was incredible.”

To check your use of the terms, try using “in” for “during” and “for” for “over.” (Sometimes, “in” and “for” may be used in place of “during” and “over.”)

Usage has made “over the long term” acceptable.


Consult the dictionary for plurals of Latin words (e.g., the word “data” is always plural) and note the exceptions to the dictionary in the Word List.

Examples: The data are incomplete. Data are…; data show; data dance; data sing.

The Latin abbreviations “etc.,” “i.e.,” and “e.g.” should only be used in parentheticals (in which case, they are followed by a comma); in text, they should be spelled out—using “and so on,” “that is,” and “for example,” respectively. If you use “e.g.” to introduce a list, do not use “etc.” at the end; it is redundant.

Use an English translation of “ceteris paribus,” which means “other things being equal” or “all else being equal.”

Most Latin terms are italicized; for example, use ex ante and ex post. Some terms and abbreviations (such as i.e., e.g., per se, and et al.), have become commonly accepted English terms, however, and should not be italicized.

Note: The term “et al.” in text or references is not preceded by a comma.

“Kind of (a)” and “sort of (a)”

The use of these expressions is inappropriate when they are used to mean “somewhat” or “in a sense” but appropriate when they are used to mean “an approximation of” or “characterized as.”

Right: Music can be a kind of tranquilizer.

Wrong: Music can be kind of a tranquilizer.

As a rule, if the noun following “kind of” or “sort of” is abstract, consider the “kind of” or “sort of” phrase singular—and don’t preface it with an article.

Examples: What kind of movie is it? That kind of movie leads to aggressive behavior.

“It is” and “this is/that is”

Using “it” as the subject of a sentence without the identity of “it” (the antecedent for “it”) being clear in a previous sentence (as in “It is often said that . . . .” or “It was decided that . . . .”) can be confusing.

When possible, replace “it” with an appropriate noun. Ask yourself: Who or what is “it”? Usually, you can determine the identity only from the sense of the whole passage.

Original: It is often said that editors are too picky.

Better: Many writers say that editors are too picky.

Starting a sentence with “This is” or “That is” is can be confusing. Does “this/that” refer to the preceding sentence’s subject, verb, the whole sentence, or the preceding four sentences? When possible and when needed, clarify the sentence.

Original: This is the crux of the problem.

Better: This ambiguity is the crux of the problem.