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A Word, Please: More grammar issues you don’t need to worry about anymore

Last week, we looked at some grammar issues you can stop worrying about — matters like whether to use "a" or "an" before "historic," whether it's "farmers market" or "farmers' market" and whether to put spaces around dashes.

The answer, in each instance, is take your pick. Both options are correct. So you can stop worrying about these matters and focus on more important stuff, like subject-verb agreement and erroneous apostrophes — areas where you really can make serious mistakes.

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But last week's list was just the tip of the iceberg. Here are 10 more can't-go-wrong grammar matters.

"Like" for "such as." A lot of people insist, in no uncertain terms, that "like" means "similar to" and not "such as." Thus it's wrong to use "like" as I did in the first sentence of this column: "matters like X, Y and Z." But if you look up "like," you see it can mean "such as."

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"Like" for "as." While you have your dictionary open, read all the definitions of "like" to see another myth busted. Some people insist you can't say "Cupcakes taste good like a dessert should" and you must instead say "as a dessert should." Their reason: "like" is a preposition and prepositions can't introduce whole clauses the way a conjunction like "as" can. But, in fact, like is categorized as both a preposition and a conjunction.

James', James's. Proper nouns that end in S form their possessives with just an apostrophe in AP style: James'. But they take an apostrophe plus an S in Chicago style: James's. Both are correct. But because AP's rules have a lot of exceptions and complications, it's easier to follow Chicago on this one.

Co-worker, coworker. Some of us have very strong feelings about this. We look at "coworker" and immediately see "cow." Good news: You can ignore us. Rules for hyphenating prefixes leave a lot of flexibility for matters like clarity and aesthetics. AP prefers "co-worker," by the way. I'm just sayin' is all.

Where to put "only." The adverb "only" should sit wherever its meaning is most clear: I have eyes for only you. But because adverbs can modify whole sentences, you often have some flexibility in where you put them: I only have eyes for you. When there's a danger of an unclear meaning, keep your "only" close to the word it modifies.

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A capital letter to begin the first sentence after a colon. "Make no mistake: frosting is good." "Make no mistake: Frosting is good." Anytime the stuff after the colon is a complete sentence, you can follow AP style and begin with a capital letter, or you can follow Chicago editing style and start with a lowercase. But this only applies to single complete sentences. A phrase or fragment starts with a lowercase letter: "Here's what I love: frosting." And if the colon introduces two or more sentences, always start with a capital letter.

Split infinitives. No such thing. Really. The whole "Don't split an infinitive" rule is a big myth. Feel free "to boldly go" there by putting an adverb after "to" in an infinitive verb phrase.

Sentence-ending prepositions. Another superstition. Even legendary sticklers William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White agree that you can put a preposition at the end of a sentence any time it works well there.

Home in, hone in. I'm a stickler for "home in," the original phrase, which started as a reference to a homing pigeon aiming straight and true for its destination. But "hone in" is a permissible substitute according to some dictionaries.

Can, may. Forget what Mom said. "Can" is a synonym of "may," and it's perfectly appropriate in informal contexts like "Can I be excused, please?"

JUNE CASAGRANDE is the author of "The Best Punctuation Book, Period." She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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