Capital and Capitol

A friend asked if I could tell him what the difference is between capital (with an “a”) and capitol (with an “o”). The basic rule is that capitol refers to a government building, while capital refers to everything else. Here are abridged definitions from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:

1. a building or complex of buildings in which a state legislature meets 2. (with a capital “c”) the building in Washington, D.C., where the Congress of the United States meets [full definition]
(noun) 1a. a town or city that is the official seat of government; b. a city that is the center of a specific activity or industry, e.g. the financial capital of the world. 2a. wealth in the form of money or property; b. material wealth used or available for use in the production of more wealth; c. human resources considered in terms of their contributions to an economy 3. an asset or advantage 4. a capital letter
(adjective) 1. first and foremost; principal 2. first-rate; excellent 3. relating to or being a seat of government. 4. involving death or calling for the death penalty, e.g. a capital offense 5. of or relating to financial assets [full definition]
(noun, in architecture) the top part of a pillar or column [full definition]
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More Punctuation with Quotation Marks

A visitor asked about the proper punctuation of quotations in a couple examples where it looks as if doubling up the punctuation marks would be in order…

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Bring versus Take

Someone just asked about the rule for “bring” versus “take.” The general guideline is…

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The Absolute Phrase

Sudhir Khare recently asked the English Master, “What is the ‘absolute construction’ in English grammar. Please explain to me in a clear and lucid manner.” Okay, Sudhir, I’ll do my best…

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Which versus That

Two recent visitors have asked what the difference is between “which” and “that” and when to use each…

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Inline and Block Quotations

A visitor to the site writes, “How many lines of printed text must be covered before a quotation becomes long enough to be a block quotation. I used to know, but I can’t remember, and I can’t find it anywhere!”

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A versus An: The Indefinite Article

A visitor wrote in to ask when to use “a” and when to use “an.” In particular, she wanted to know which of the following is correct…

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Double Negatives

Ask a grammar geek about the double negative, and you’ll invariably hear about its long and noble heritage in the English language, from Chaucer to Shakespeare, up to the 18th century, when it all but died at the hands of overly zealous, systematizing Enlightenment linguists.
Whatever its history, however, the current view of most pragmatic writers is that the double negative should be avoided, if for no other reason than that a crotchety old English teacher might discover it and try to publicly humiliate them for using it…

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Active and Passive Voice

Manju submitted a request for information on “how to write passive sentences & cosutive [sic] sentences.” I’ll focus here on passive (voice) sentences, and how to distinguish them from sentences using active voice…

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Grammar Books for College Students

A visitor recently asked if I could recommend some good grammar books for college writing. Here are a few of my favorites…

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