Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Avoiding Sticky Situations with Words that Begin with 'S'


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

Did you know more English words begin with s than any other letter? 

Strengths and screeched are the two longest one-syllable words in English, according to grammar.com. The site also mentions that subcontinental is the only word that uses each vowel only once and in reverse alphabetical order. 

Here are some other words beginning with s that can cause some sticky situations. 


This adjective meaning “fit or able to be sold” does not have an e in the middle.


The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) states sacrilegious is related to the word sacrilege, not to religion or religious. Some people have a tendency to switch the i and e on either side of the l, but that’s not correct.


One word.


Scissors is a noun that takes plural verbs and pronouns. 

Example from the Associated Press Stylebook (AP)

The scissors are on the table. Leave them there. 

Screen saver

Two words.

Seasonal, seasonable

Seasonal means either “dependent on the season” or “relating to the seasons or season,” according to CMS. Seasonable means timely.


Snow skiing is a seasonal hobby.

It is unseasonably hot for autumn.


For the oldsters among us, a selfie is a self-portrait generally taken with a camera-equipped phone or webcam. according to AP. Contrary to the word root of self, one doesn’t have to be alone in the picture to make it a selfie.  


Semiannual means twice a year. A synonym for biannual, don’t confuse it with biennial, which means every two years, AP warns.

Sensual, sensuous

CMS’ recommendations for the usage of sensual and sensuous is pretty funny. 

“What is sensual involves the indulgence of the senses—especially sexual gratification. What is sensuous usually applies to aesthetic enjoyment; only hack writers imbue the word with salacious connotations.” 

So don’t be a hack, I guess, right?


Sesquicentennial is the word for a 150-year period.

Next time we’ll tackle more words that begin with s. Have a great week!

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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2016 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
The Bugaboo Review: A lighthearted guide to exterminating confusion about words, spelling, and grammar


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


CMoS does have a sense of humor. ;)
Kelly, I thought that was pretty funny. Who knew?

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