Common English Grammar and Punctuation Mistakes

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Table of Contents

Grammar

Punctuation

Mechanics

GRAMMAR

Adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe the qualities or states of being of nouns: enormous, doglike, silly, yellow, fun, fast. They can also describe the quantity of nouns: many, few, millions, eleven.

Often, when adjectives are used together, you should separate them with a comma or conjunction. 

Please use three, white flowers in the arrangement.
Please use three white flowers in the arrangement.
I’m looking for a small good-tempered dog to keep as a pet.
I’m looking for a small, good-tempered dog to keep as a pet.

Coordinate adjectives

Coordinate adjectives should be separated by a comma or the word and. Adjectives are said to be coordinate if they modify the same noun in a sentence.

No one could open the old, silver locket.
Wrong because silver locket forms a unit modified by old.
No one could open the old silver locket.

Adjectives vs. adverbs

I feel badly about what happened.
I feel bad about what happened.

Use adjectives only if they are necessary, e.g.

  • big house vs mansion
  • large crowd vs throng
  • mixed-breed dog vs mutt

Adverbs

An adverb is a word that modifies (describes) a verb (he sings loudly), an adjective (very tall), another adverb (ended too quickly), or even a whole sentence (Fortunately, I had brought an umbrella). Adverbs often end in -ly, but some (such as fast) look exactly the same as their adjective counterparts.

That is a hastily, written note.
That is a hastily-written note.
That is a hastily written note.

Placement of adverbs

Place adverbs as close as possible to the words they are supposed to modify. Incorrect placement can change the meaning of the sentence, especially when it comes to the adverb only.

  • Phillip only fed the cat.
    (The only thing that Phillip did was feed the cat)
  • Phillip fed only the cat.
    (The only thing that Phillip fed was the cat)

Articles

Articles are words that define a noun as specific or unspecific. 

The definite article is the word the. It limits the meaning of a noun to one particular thing, e.g. Please give me the hammer.

The indefinite article takes two forms. It’s the word a when

  • it precedes a word that begins with a consonant.
  • it precedes a word that sounds like it begins with a consonant
She is an United States senator.
She is a United States senator.

It’s the word an when

  • it precedes a word that begins with a vowel
  • if it precedes a word that sounds like it begins with a vowel.
My mother is a honest woman.
My mother is an honest woman.

The indefinite article indicates that a noun refers to a general idea rather than a particular thing, e.g. Please give me a hammer.

The rules above also apply to acronyms and initialisms, e.g. an LCD display, a UK-based company, an HR department, a URL.

Conjunctions

Conjunctions are words that link other words, phrases, or clauses together, e.g.

I like cooking and eating, but I don’t like washing dishes afterward. Sophie is clearly exhausted, yet she insists on dancing till dawn.

The most common coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so; you can remember them by using the mnemonic device FANBOYS. Commas are used when a coordinating conjunction is joining two independent clauses.

I’d like pizza or a salad for lunch. We needed a place to concentrate so we packed up our things and went to the library. Jesse didn’t have much money but she got by. (missing necessary commas)
I’d like pizza or a salad for lunch. We needed a place to concentrate, so we packed up our things and went to the library. Jesse didn’t have much money, but she got by.

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions join independent and dependent clauses. 

Common subordinating conjunctions are because, since, as, although, though, while, and whereas. Sometimes an adverb, such as until, after, or before can function as a conjunction. If the dependent clause comes first, use a comma before the independent clause.

Before he leaves, make sure his room is clean.
I drank a glass of water because I was thirsty. Because I was thirsty, I drank a glass of water.

Interjections

An interjection is a word that you throw in between sentences or thoughts to express a sudden feeling, e.g. Ouch! Oh my! Wow! Yikes!

Interjections in a Sentence

When used in a sentence, put the interjection inside parentheses or set it off with commas.

I forgot to do the homework assignment oops but my teacher gave me an extra day to finish it.
I forgot to do the homework assignment (oops), but my teacher gave me an extra day to finish it.
Gee I hadn’t thought of that.
Gee, I hadn’t thought of that.

Nouns

A noun is a word that names something, such as a person, place, thing, or idea. 

Proper nouns vs. common nouns

A proper noun is a specific name of a person, place, or thing, and is always capitalized.

Does tina have much homework to do this evening?
Does Tina have much homework to do this evening?
I would like to visit new york.
I would like to visit New York.

A common noun is the generic name of an item in a class or group and is not capitalized unless appearing at the beginning of a sentence or in a title.

Prepositions

Prepositions indicate relationships between other words in a sentence.

Ending a Sentence With a Preposition

You are allowed to end a sentence with a preposition. Not doing so can result in an unnatural sentence.

There’s no one else to hide behind. (Grammatically correct and natural)
There’s no one else behind whom to hide. (Grammatically correct, but unnatural)
Where did you come from? (Grammatically correct and natural)
From where did you come? (Grammatically correct, but unnatural)

It is sometimes more elegant to move a preposition to an earlier spot in a sentence, especially in very serious and formal writing. But if you do move the preposition, remember to delete it from the end.

This is something we must meditate on.
This is something on which we must meditate.
This is something on which we must meditate on.

Unnecessary Prepositions

Where is your brother at?
Where is your brother?
For many people, the reality of an entry into a new area of employment is cause for a host of anxieties.
Changing careers makes many people anxious.
Alex hit the baseball up over the fence.
Alex hit the baseball over the fence.

Pronouns

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns are pronouns that refer to specific individuals and groups, e.g. I/me, She/her, He/him, They/them, We/us, You.

Antecedents

Antecedents are the things that pronouns refer to, e.g. My family tests my patience, but I love them

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns connect relative clauses to independent clauses. Relative pronouns are that, what, which, who and whom.

  • who refers to people
  • which and that refer to animals or things

Examples

  • The woman who called earlier didn’t leave a message. 
  • All the dogs that got adopted today will be loved. 
  • My carwhich is nearly twenty years old, still runs well.

Who vs. whom—subject and object pronouns

  • who is for the subject of a sentence
  • whom is for the object of a verb or preposition

Examples

  • Who mailed this package?
  • To whom was this package sent?

Demonstrative pronouns

That, this, these, and those.

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are used when you need to refer to a person or thing that doesn’t need to be specifically identified. Some common indefinite pronouns are one, other, none, some, anybody, everybody, and no one

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns end in -self or -selves, e.g. myself, themselves.

Example: I saw myself in the mirror.

Using myself when you mean me is a common mistake writers and speakers make. Reflexive pronouns are only correct when the subject and object of a sentence are the same. 

Intensive pronouns

Intensive pronouns look the same as reflexive pronouns, but their purpose is different. Intensive pronouns add emphasis.

Example: told them I could do it myself.

Possessive pronouns

E.g. my, your, our.

Example: I crashed my bike into a telephone pole.

Independent possessive pronouns

E.g. mine, yours, theirs.

Example: She forgot her jacket, so I gave her mine.

Interrogative pronouns

Who, what, which, and whose. 

Example: What is your name? 

Reciprocal pronouns

Each other, one another.

Distributive pronouns

Either, Each, Neither, Any, None

Pronouns and gender identity

The most common gender-neutral pronoun is the singular they. 


PUNCTUATION

Apostrophe

Apostrophes : Contractions and Omissions

A contraction is a shortened form of a word (or group of words) that omits certain letters or sounds, e.g. He would=He’d. I have=I’ve. They are=They’re. You cannot=You can’t.

Less common contractions

  • something -> somethin’
  • ever -> e’er
  • you all -> y’all
  • 1960s -> 60’s

Apostrophes and Possessive Nouns

For most singular nouns, add apostrophe+s:

  • The dog’s leash.
  • The writer’s desk.
  • The planet’s atmosphere

For most plural nouns, add only an apostrophe:

  • The dogs’ leashes (multiple dogs).
  • The writers’ desks (multiple writers).
  • The planets’ atmospheres (multiple planets).

For plural nouns that do not end in s, add apostrophe+s:

  • The children’s toys.
  • The geese’s migration route.

Style guides vary in their recommendations of what to do when you have a singular proper noun that ends in s.

  • Charles Dickens’ novels 
  • Kansas’ main airport
  • Charles Dickens’s novels 
  • Kansas’s main airport

No matter which style guide you use, add only the apostrophe to plural proper nouns that end in s:

  • The Harrises’ house
  • The Smiths’ vacation

How to Write Joint Possession

When one thing belongs to two or more people, make only the final name possessive:

  • Bob and Jim’s bait shop (Bob and Jim co-own the same bait shop)
  • Ryan, Jessica, and Elinor’s parents (All three share the same parents)

When you’re talking about separate things that belong to different people, make all the names possessive:

  • Bob’s and Jim’s bait shops (Bob owns one bait shop and Jim owns a different one) 
  • Ryan’sJessica’s, and Elinor’s parents (Each has a different set of parents)

Apostrophes and Plurals

With very few exceptions, apostrophes do not make nouns plural. The one notable exception to this rule is the plural form of lowercase letters, which are formed with an apostrophe to prevent misreading:

Don’t forget to dot all your is.
Don’t forget to dot all your i’s.

Colon

A colon introduces an element or series of elements that illustrates or amplifies the information that preceded the colon. While a semicolon normally joins two independent clauses to signal a close connection between them, a colon does the job of directing you to the information following it. When a colon appears in a sentence, it usually gives the silent impression of “as follows,” “which is/are,” or “thus.”

  • There are three types of muscle in the body: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal.
  • We have two options here: stay and fight, or run like the wind.
  • He ended with the immortal words of Neil Young: “Rock and Roll can never die.”

Misuse of Colons

The three types of muscle in the body are: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal.
The three types of muscle in the body: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal.
When I graduate, I want to go to: Rome, Israel, and Egypt.
When I graduate, I want to go to Rome, Israel, and Egypt.

Comma

While a period ends a sentence, a comma indicates a smaller break. Some writers think of a comma as a soft pause—a punctuation mark that separates words, clauses, or ideas within a sentence.

Comma with Subjects and Verbs

With few exceptions, a comma should not separate a subject from its verb.

My friend Cleo, is a wonderful singer.
My friend Cleo is a wonderful singer.
The things that cause me joy, may also cause me pain.
The things that cause me joy may also cause me pain.
Navigating through snow, sleet, wind, and darkness, is a miserable way to travel.
Navigating through snow, sleet, wind, and darkness is a miserable way to travel.

Comma Between Two Nouns in a Compound Subject or Object

Don’t separate two nouns that appear together as a compound subject or compound object.

Cleo, and her band will be playing at Dockside Diner next Friday.
Cleo and her band will be playing at Dockside Diner next Friday.
Cleo will wear a sparkly red blazer, and high heels.
Cleo will wear a sparkly red blazer and high heels.

When a subject or object is made up of two items and the second item is parenthetical, you can set off the second item with commas—one before it and one after it. But you don’t need a comma when you’re simply listing two items.

Comma Between Two Verbs in a Compound Predicate

You get a compound predicate when the subject of a sentence is doing more than one thing. In a compound predicate that contains two verbs, don’t separate them with a comma.

Cleo will sing, and play the banjo.
Cleo will sing and play the banjo.
I meant to buy tickets for Cleo’s show, but ran out of time.
I meant to buy tickets for Cleo’s show but ran out of time.

Don’t use a comma in compound predicates unless there is a chance of misreading:

  • Cleo spotted the man who entered the diner, and waved.

In the sentence above, you need the comma to make clear that it was Cleo who waved, not the man.

Comma Splices

When you want to join two independent clauses, you need a conjunction or a semicolon. A comma alone isn’t strong enough to join them. This kind of mistake is called a comma splice.

We were out of milk, I went to the store.
We were out of milk, so I went to the store.
We were out of milk; I went to the store.
We were out of milk. I went to the store.

Comma After Introductory Phrase

A comma normally follows participial phrases that introduce a sentence:

  • Grabbing her umbrella, Kate raced out of the house. Confused by her sister’s sudden change in mood, Jill stayed quiet.

When an adverbial phrase begins a sentence, it’s often followed by a comma but it doesn’t have to be, especially if it’s short. As a rule of thumb, if the phrase is longer than about four words, use the comma. You can also use a comma with a shorter phrase when you want to emphasize it or add a pause for literary effect.

  • After the show, Cleo will be signing autographs.
  • Behind the building there is enough space to park two limousines.
  • Without knowing why, I crossed the room and looked out the window.
  • In 1816 life was very different.
  • Suddenly, an angry black cat sprang from the shadows.

But, if there is a chance of misreading the sentence, use the comma:

Before eating the family said grace.
Before eating, the family said grace.

Comma Within a Comparison

Don’t use a comma before “than” when you’re making a comparison.

This box is lighter, than that box.
This box is lighter than that box.
Hardcover books are more expensive, than paperback books.
Hardcover books are more expensive than paperback books.

Commas with Interrupters or Parenthetical Elements

Interrupters are little thoughts that pop up in the middle of a sentence to show emotion, tone, or emphasis. A parenthetical element is a phrase that adds extra information to the sentence but could be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. Both interrupters and parenthetical elements should be set off with commas.

The weather I was happy to see was beginning to clear.
The weather, I was happy to see, was beginning to clear.
Geoff’s cooking skills if you can call them skills left something to be desired.
Geoff’s cooking skills, if you can call them skills, left something to be desired.
It was sadly the last day of camp.
It was, sadly, the last day of camp.
Mary unlike Anne is very organized.
Mary, unlike Anne, is very organized.

Comma with a Question Tag

A question tag should be preceded by a comma.

  • These willow trees are beautiful, aren’t they?
  • You didn’t actually write a 600-page vampire romance novel, did you?
  • I know, right?

Comma with Direct Address

When addressing another person by name, set off the name with commas.

  • Mom, I can’t find my shoes!
  • Cleo, there’s someone on the phone for you.
  • Hello, Chester.

Comma with an Appositive

An appositive is a word or phrase that refers to the same thing as another noun in the same sentence. Often, the appositive provides additional information about the noun or helps to distinguish it in some way. If you could remove the appositive without changing the meaning of the sentence, it is said to be nonessential and should be set off with commas. If the appositive is necessary, it’s said to be essential and it should not be set off with commas.

Nonessential appositives:

  • My sister, Angela, is a wonderful cook.
  • The painter, one of the city’s most promising young artists, began showing his work in galleries before he was sixteen.
  • Chocolate, my favorite treat, always makes me feel better after a bad day.

Essential appositives:

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven is a classic.
  • Alec Baldwin’s brother Stephen is the most underrated Baldwin.
  • The detective Sherlock Holmes is one of literature’s greatest sleuths.

Commas in Dates

When writing a date in month-day-year format, set off the year with commas.

  • July 4, 1776, was an important day in American history. I was born on Sunday, May 12, 1968.

If you are using the day-month-year format, however, commas are unnecessary.

  • Applications are due by 31 December 2016.

If you are referencing a day of the week and a date, use a comma:

  • On Tuesday, April 13, at three o’clock, there will be a meeting for all staff.
  • Please join us on Saturday, June 14, 2010, for the marriage of Annie and Michael.

When you are referencing only a month and year, you don’t need a comma.

  • The region experienced record rainfall in March 1999.

Comma Between Coordinate Adjectives

When multiple adjectives modify a noun to an equal degree, they are said to be coordinate and should be separated by commas. One way to tell whether the adjectives are coordinate is to try switching the order of them. If the sentence still sounds natural, the adjectives are coordinate.

  • That man is a pompous, self-righteous, annoying idiot.
  • That man is a self-righteous, annoying, pompous idiot.
  • The sweet, scintillating aroma of cinnamon buns filled the kitchen.
  • The scintillating, sweet aroma of cinnamon buns filled the kitchen.

If the adjectives are not coordinate, don’t separate them with a comma.

The adorable, little boy was eating ice cream.
The adorable little boy was eating ice cream.

Comma Before But

Use a comma before the word but if it is joining two independent clauses:

Cleo is a good singer but she’s an even better dancer.
Cleo is a good singer, but she’s an even better dancer.

If but is not joining two independent clauses, leave the comma out.

My teacher is tough, but fair.
My teacher is tough but fair.
Life is, but a dream.
Life is but a dream.

Comma Before And

When you have a list that contains only two items, don’t use a comma before the and.

My dog Charlie is cute, and smart.
My dog Charlie is cute and smart.
Cleo’s favorite activities are singing on stage, and relaxing in the sunshine.
Cleo’s favorite activities are singing on stage and relaxing in the sunshine.

When correcting a comma splice, that is when joining two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, put the comma before and.

Commas with Lists

When you have a list that contains more than two elements, use commas to separate them.

Julie loves ice cream books and kittens.
Julie loves ice cream, books, and kittens.
Julie loves ice cream, books and kittens.
I cleaned the house and garage, raked the lawn, and took out the garbage.
I cleaned the house and garage, raked the lawn and took out the garbage.

The comma before the and in a list of three or more items is optional. 

Serial Comma (Oxford Comma)

When you are listing three or more items, commas should separate each element of the list. However, the final comma—the one that comes before the and—is optional. This comma is called the serial comma or the Oxford comma.

Mary needs bread, milk, and butter at the grocery store. (With serial comma)
Mary needs bread, milk and butter at the grocery store. (Without serial comma)
I still have to buy a gift, pack the suitcases, and arrange for someone to water the plants while we’re at the wedding. (With serial comma)
I still have to buy a gift, pack the suitcases and arrange for someone to water the plants while we’re at the wedding. (Without serial comma)

Though the serial comma is optional, it is occasionally necessary for clarity.

  • I dedicate this award to my parents, Jane Austen and Albert Einstein.
    (Is the award dedicated to the parents and to Jane and Albert or are Jane and Albert the names of the parents?)
  • I dedicate this award to my parents, Jane Austen, and Albert Einstein.
    (The award is dedicated to the parents and to Jane and Albert)

Comma Separating a Verb and Its Object

Don’t separate a transitive verb from its direct object with a comma.

I’m glad I trained, Charlie not to beg for scraps.
I’m glad I trained Charlie not to beg for scraps.
Mary said, she likes chocolate.
Mary said she likes chocolate.

Comma with Nonrestrictive Clause

A nonrestrictive clause offers extra information about something you have mentioned in a sentence, but the information isn’t essential to identify the thing you’re talking about. Nonrestrictive clauses are usually introduced by which or who and should be set off by commas.

  • Posey’s Cafe, which Chester recommended, is a fantastic restaurant.
  • My wife, whom I love dearly, is a brilliant physicist.

Comma with Restrictive Clauses

A restrictive clause adds necessary information about something you have mentioned in a sentence. Restrictive clauses are often introduced by that or who and should never be set off by commas.

The cafe, that Chester recommended, is a fantastic restaurant.
The cafe that Chester recommended is a fantastic restaurant.

Comma Between Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are conjunctions that come in pairs (such as either/or, neither/nor, and not only/but also) and connect words or phrases in a sentence to form a complete thought. Typically, commas are unnecessary with correlative conjunctions.

Either the blue shirt, or the red sweater will look good with your jeans.
Either the blue shirt or the red sweater will look good with your jeans.
You can wear a pashmina not only for warmth, but also for fashion.
You can wear a pashmina not only for warmth but also for fashion.

Comma Between Direct Quote and Attributive Tag

An attributive tag is a phrase like “he said” or “she claimed” that identifies the speaker of a quote or piece of dialogue. Attributive tags can come before, after, or even in the middle of a quote. Use commas to separate attributive tags from quotations.

  • The professor remarked, “How attentive you have been today!”
  • “Once you know the solution,” Tiffany said, “the whole problem seems very simple.”
  • “You have ice cream on your nose,” my friend snickered.
  • “When you leave the house,” my mother yelled, “don’t slam the door!”

If a quotation before an attributive tag ends in a question mark or exclamation point, however, there’s no need for a comma.

“You have a spider on your nose!”, my friend yelled.
“You have a spider on your nose!” my friend yelled.
“Where did that spider come from?”, I asked.
“Where did that spider come from?” I asked.

Comma Inside Quotation Marks

In American English, commas always go before closing quotation marks.

  • “Pass me that thesaurus,” said Matthew.
  • “If you knew what was good for you, you’d sit down and finish that essay right now,” my roommate said.
  • “We’re going down to the soup kitchen to help serve dinner,” her mother called.

In British English, however, unquoted punctuation typically follows the quotation marks. If you are writing for a British audience, put the comma after the closing quotation mark. Furthermore, British English tends to use single quotes rather than double quotation marks.

Comma Before Parenthesis

After opening the new cookie tin, (and eating several of the cookies), Chester had a hard time replacing the lid. 
After opening the new cookie tin (and eating several of the cookies,) Chester had a hard time replacing the lid.
After opening the new cookie tin, Chester had a hard time replacing the lid.
After opening the new cookie tin (and eating several of the cookies), Chester had a hard time replacing the lid.

Comma with As Well As

The phrase “as well as” usually doesn’t require commas unless it’s part of a nonrestrictive clause.

  • Please proofread for grammatical mistakes as well as spelling.
  • Spelling mistakes, as well as grammatical errors, are distracting to readers.

Comma with Such As

The phrase “such as” requires commas if it introduces a nonrestrictive clause.

  • Coniferous trees, such as pine and spruce, do not drop their needles in the winter.

If “such as” introduces a restrictive clause, omit the commas.

  • Trees such as pine and spruce do not drop their needles in the winter.

Comma Before Too

Using a comma before “too” is optional. A comma simply adds emphasis.

  • I like bananas too.
  • I too like bananas.
  • I like bananas, too.
  • I, too, like bananas.

Dashes

There are three forms of dashes: em, en, and the double hyphen. The most common types of dashes are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—).

Em Dashes

Em dashes can replace parentheses at the end of a sentence or when multiple commas appear in a parenthetical phrase.

Example

  • After a split second of hesitation, the second baseman leaped for the ball (or, rather, limped for it).
  • After a split second of hesitation, the second baseman leaped for the ball—or, rather, limped for it.

Em dashes can also replace colons.

Example

  • He is afraid of two things: spiders and senior prom.
  • He is afraid of two things—spiders and senior prom.

Writers and transcriptionists replace unknown, censored, or intentionally omitted letters with em dashes. In these cases, em dashes appear in pairs or threesomes.

Example

  • A former employee of the accused company, ———, offered a statement off the record.
  • “H—— are all the same. They cause trouble wherever they go.”
  • Carved into the dresser drawer was a faded inscription: “Made for Kristina, by your de——ted sailor.”

En Dashes

The en dash is often used to indicate spans of time or ranges of numbers. In this context, the dash should be interpreted as meaning either “to” or “through.” 

Example

  • The teacher assigned pages 101–181 for tonight’s reading material.
  • The scheduled window for the cable installation is 1:00–3:00pm.
  • The 2015–2016 fiscal year was the most profitable year for the new business.

The en dash may also be used to indicate a connection between two words.

Example

  • The pro-choice–pro-life argument is always a heated one.
  • The Nobel Prize–winning author will be reading from her book at the library tonight.

Ellipsis

Those three little dots are called an ellipsis (plural: ellipses). You can use an ellipsis to show that you’ve omitted some words, e.g.

  • Hamlet asked whether it was “nobler . . . to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”

You can also use an ellipsis to show a pause in speech or that a sentence trails off. This technique doesn’t belong in formal or academic writing, though. You should only use the ellipsis this way in fiction and informal writing.

  • Andrew, can you, um . . . never mind, I forgot what I was saying. So, do you think we should . . . ?

How Many Dots?

There are 3 dots in an ellipsis. But, if the ellipsis comes immediately after a grammatically complete sentence, that sentence still needs its own period. So you would end up with a period followed by 3 dots. For example:

“Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.”

could be shortened to

“Call me Jonah. . . . They called me John.”

Spacing

Whether you put spaces between the dots or not is a matter of style. The Chicago Manual of Style calls for spaces between every ellipsis point. The AP Stylebook says to treat the ellipsis as a three-letter word, with spaces on either side of the ellipsis but no spaces between the dots. For example,

  • Chicago Style: um . . . never mind
  • AP Style: um … never mind

Exclamation Point (or Exclamation Mark)

Exclamation points go at the end of exclamatory sentences. An exclamatory sentence is one that expresses a strong or forceful emotion, such as anger, surprise, or joy.

  • I got a perfect score on the SAT! Get out of my sight!

Occasionally, you might see one at the end of a sentence that is phrased as a question.

  • Careful! That spider is poisonous. Holy cow! How could I have forgotten to pack underwear!

Exclamatory Quotations

Put the exclamation point inside the closing quotation marks if it applies to the words enclosed by the quotation marks.

  • “There’s a spider on my arm!” yelped Jeremy.

If the exclamation point applies to the sentence as a whole, then place it at the very end.

  • And then the paramedics tried to tell Jeremy it was “only a spider”!

Exclamation Points and Parentheses

Put the exclamation point inside the parentheses when it applies to the words inside the parentheses.

  • Jeremy didn’t find out until later what kind of spider it was (a black widow!).

Put the exclamation point outside the parentheses if it applies to the whole sentence.

  • They settled out of court and Jeremy got a million dollars (cash)!

Exclamation marks are considered to be relatively casual, so using them in business or formal academic writing is a no-no. Instead of relying on exclamation points to convey your urgency or excitement, use more vivid vocabulary. Instead of “Make sure you finish this by tomorrow morning!” try “It’s crucial that you finish this before tomorrow morning’s deadline.”

Hyphen

A hyphen (-) is a punctuation mark that’s used to join words or parts of words. It’s not interchangeable with other types of dashes. Use a hyphen in a compound modifier when the modifier comes before the word it’s modifying.

Hyphen with Compound Modifiers: Two-Word Adjectives Before Nouns

A compound modifier is made up of two words that work together to function like one adjective. When you connect words with the hyphen, you make it clear to readers that the words work together as a unit of meaning.

Use a Hyphen in an Noun and an Adjective (Before the Noun They Describe)

NOUN-ADJECTIVE NOUN
This rock-hard cake is absolutely impossible to eat.
We’re looking for a dog-friendly hotel.

Don’t Use a Hyphen in Compound Modifiers That Come After the Noun They Describe

Generally, you need the hyphen only if the two words are functioning together as an adjective before the noun they’re describing. If the noun comes first, leave the hyphen out.

  • This wall is load bearing.
  • It’s impossible to eat this cake because it is rock hard.
  • Is this hotel dog friendly?

Don’t Use a Hyphen in an Adverb and an Adjective (Before the Noun They Describe)

You also don’t need a hyphen when your modifier is made up of an adverb and an adjective.

ADVERB ADJECTIVE NOUN
Do you expect me to believe this clearly-impossible story?
Do you expect me to believe this clearly impossible story?

Use a Hyphen in a Noun or Adjective and a Present Participle (Before the Noun They Describe)

When we combine a noun or adjective and a present participle (a word ending in ‑ing) to form a unit of meaning that describes another word, use a hyphen to make that unit of meaning clear.

NOUN-PRESENT PARTICIPLE NOUN
It’s recommended you don’t take down any load bearing walls when renovating.

In this sentence, it sounds like you shouldn’t take down any load that is holding up a wall. A hyphen should be inserted between load and bearing to make it clear that we’re talking about walls that are bearing a load.
It’s recommended you don’t take down any load-bearing walls when renovating.
ADJECTIVE-PRESENT PARTICIPLE NOUN
There are some beautiful looking flowers in the garden.

Without the hyphen between beautiful and looking, your reader may stumble over the sentence. Perhaps there’s a new type of daisy called the “looking flower”?
There are some beautiful-looking flowers in the garden.

Don’t Use a Hyphen With a Noun or Adjective and a Present Participle (After the Noun They Describe)

Don’t use a hyphen when the modifier comes after the noun it’s describing. Compare the following:

  • Fast-acting medication can be useful when one has a headache.
  • This medication is fast acting.

Don’t Use a Hyphen in an Adverb and a Participle (Before the Noun They Describe)

ADVERB PARTICIPLE NOUN
The room was like a heavily-decorated chocolate box.
The room was like a heavily decorated chocolate box.

Use a Hyphen in a Noun and Past Participle (Before the Noun They Describe)

Compound modifiers that contain a past participle also follow the same rules as any other compound modifier. Use a hyphen when the compound goes before the noun it modifies:

NOUN-PAST PARTICIPLE NOUN
The municipal government is funding a community-based education system.
Wind-powered generators can be excellent sources of electricity.
Many veterinarians find meat-fed cats to be quite healthy.

Don’t Use a Hyphen in a Noun and Past Participle (After the Noun They Describe)

Don’t use a hyphen when the compound comes after the noun it describes. Compare the following:

  • A well-known local singer will perform tonight.
  • The singer performing tonight is well known.

Hyphenated Compound Words

Hyphenated compound words are the ones (obviously) with a hyphen between the words. Over time, many hyphenated compounds become closed compounds—teen-ager became teenager for instance. Check a dictionary if you’re not sure whether to use a hyphen or not. Here are a few examples of common hyphenated compound words:

  • Mother-in-law
  • Master-at-arms
  • Editor-in-chief
  • Ten-year-old
  • Factory-made
  • Twelve-pack

Closed Compound Words

Hyphenated words tend to become closed compounds (single words with no hyphens) over time. Email instead of e-mail, for example, is increasingly common. If you aren’t sure whether a words is a closed compound or a hyphenated one, check your preferred dictionary.

  • Notebook
  • Superman
  • Waistcoat
  • Bookstore
  • Fireman

Open Compound Words

Open compounds are typically made up of two nouns that are used together to represent a single idea. “Open” means that there is a space between the two words and no hyphen. A good dictionary is the best place to check whether a compound is open or not.

  • Living room
  • Real estate
  • Dinner table
  • Coffee mug

Hyphens and Numbers

Numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine should be hyphenated when they’re spelled out.

  • Fifty-six bottles of pop on the wall, fifty-six bottles of pop…
  • No, I won’t party “like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.”
  • I’ve got a hundred twenty-two of these gizmos to sell.

Hyphen in Compound Adjective With Numbers

When numbers are used as the first part of a compound adjective, use a hyphen to connect them to the noun that follows them. This applies whether the number is written in words or in digits.

  • The president of the company gave a 10-minute speech to the Board of Directors.
  • He is knowledgeable in thirteenth-century politics.
  • The boy threw a rock at the second-story window.

However, a hyphen is not required if the number is the second word in the compound adjective.

  • He is a victim of Type 2 diabetes.
  • This elevator doesn’t go down to Basement 3.

Hyphen In Compound Adjective With Fractions

When using a fraction (e.g. half or quarter) as part of a compound adjective, it should be hyphenated so the reader understands which fraction is modifying which noun.

  • I half-wanted to commit a felony.
  • A quarter-million dollars is still a large amount of money.
  • You’ll need one-third of a pound of flour and one egg.
  • That’s a half-baked idea if I ever heard one!

Hyphen With Prefixes: Ex-, Self-, All-

Use a hyphen with the prefix ex- (meaning former).

  • Don’t sit Adam next to Martha! She’s his ex-wife!
  • Though he no longer held an official position, the ex-mayor still attended all the town’s functions.

Use a hyphen with the reflexive prefix self-.

  • Lying on the floor beside the plant he had knocked over and chewed on, the cat looked extremely self-satisfied.
  • Do you want a self-serve or a full-serve gas station?

Make sure you don’t confuse the prefix self- with the noun self.

  • The self serves no other.

When using all as a prefix, add a hyphen.

  • It’s a bad leader who thinks of himself as all-powerful.

Hyphens with High or Low

When using high or low as part of a compound adjective, use a hyphen when the compound comes before the noun it’s modifying. Some examples of compound adjectives using high and low include high-level/low-level and high-impact/low-impact.

  • Low-flying airplanes contribute to the noise pollution in the area.
  • This car runs best on high-octane gasoline.
  • Low-income families often face more stress than their higher-income counterparts.
  • A high-interest savings account is one of the best ways to save money.

Parentheses and Brackets

Parentheses are punctuation marks that are used to set off information within a text or paragraph. They can enclose a single word, a phrase, or even an entire sentence. Typically, the words inside the parentheses provide extra information about something else in the sentence.

  • Curators from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) have announced a new dinosaur exhibit. While walking down the street (paying more attention to her phone than to her feet), Catherine tripped over the curb and sprained her ankle.

Brackets, sometimes called square brackets, are most often used to show that words have been added to a direct quotation. Sometimes, when quoting a person or document, adding a word or two is necessary to provide enough context for the quote to make sense. For example, the original sentence you want to quote might read “We went and had a great time.” Out of context, this sentence doesn’t mean much. But you can add bracketed information to make the context clear.

  • “We went [to the new dinosaur exhibit] and had a great time.”

It’s extremely important to use brackets when you change a direct quote—forgetting to add them results in a misquote.

Parentheses or Brackets With Surrounding Punctuation

Treat parentheses or brackets and the words inside them as separate from the rest of the sentence. Any sentence that contains a parenthetical element should still make sense if the element is removed.

Meena (studied all night for) the grammar test.
Meena studied (all night) for the grammar test.
Meena studied for the grammar test.

Periodsquestion marks, and exclamation points should go before the closing parenthesis or bracket only if they belong to the words inside the parentheses or brackets. If the punctuation belongs to the surrounding sentence, put them outside the parentheses or brackets. Never put a comma immediately before a closing parenthesis.

After dinner (an enormous, healthy salad,) Posey treated herself to ice cream.
After dinner, (an enormous, healthy salad) Posey treated herself to ice cream.
After dinner (an enormous, healthy salad), Posey treated herself to ice cream.

Period

Periods and Quotation Marks 

In American English, the period goes inside the closing quotation mark at the end of a sentence.

  • My mother loved to remind me of the old saying “waste not, want not.” Phillip said, “I can’t remember where I heard about the banjo concert, but I sure want to go.”

Periods and Parentheses

When a complete, independent sentence is entirely enclosed by parentheses, the period goes inside the closing parenthesis.

  • Charlie scarfed up every Cheeto that fell out of the bag. (I wasn’t fast enough to stop him.) At least we won’t have to sweep the floor.

But, if the parenthetical material is nested inside another sentence, the period should go on the outside.

  • Charlie barked wildly when he caught the scent of fresh bacon (his favorite).

Ellipses

An ellipsis (plural: ellipses) looks like three periods in a row with spaces in between them. There are two main uses for ellipses. One is to show that part of a quote has been omitted.

  • Hamlet asked whether it was “nobler . . . to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”

You can also use an ellipsis for literary effect, to represent a dramatic pause or a thought that trails off.

  • The bus was supposed to come at 3:00 so we waited and waited . . . and waited. Wait a minute . . . If you’re not watching Charlie, who is? I guess we could meet you there later. If there’s time . . .

Question Mark

Question Marks and Quotation Marks

Keep the question mark inside the quotation marks if it logically applies to what is enclosed by the quotation marks. You’ll often see this in written dialogue:

  • The chicken asked, “Why is everyone so concerned about where I’m walking?” “What do you have to hide?” asked the nosy reporter.

If the question mark applies to the sentence as a whole instead of to the phrase inside the quotation marks, put it at the very end:

  • Haven’t you ever heard the expression “It’s a free country”?

This holds true even when you have a quotation containing a question:

  • “When I spoke to the chicken, she said ‘Why won’t you leave me alone?’” recalled the reporter.

And for a quoted question containing a quoted statement:

  • “What did the chicken mean,” the reporter wondered, “when she said ‘It’s a free country’?”

When you have a question mark that applies to both the quoted phrase and the rest of the sentence, just use one question mark:

  • Who said “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Question Marks and Parentheses

If a question mark applies to the parenthetical information, place the question mark inside the parentheses:

  • I saw the chicken (or was it the rooster?) crossing the road.
  • The chicken wrote a bestselling memoir called My Road (published abroad as Who Needs a Crosswalk?).

When the question applies to the whole sentence, put it outside the parentheses:

  • Will the chicken cross the road again tomorrow (April 1)?

Quotation Marks and Dialogue

Quotation marks are used to identify words that someone has said or a direct quote from a person in an article or quoting material that was written by someone else.

American vs. British Quotation Marks

American English uses double quotation marks (“ ”) for quotes and reserves single quotation marks (‘ ’) for quotes within quotes. In British English, the convention is the opposite. Another difference is that in American English, periods and commas go before closing quotation marks. In British English, they go after the closing quotation mark. The guidelines below apply to American English.

Dialogue

When writers become confused about quotation marks, it usually has to do with where to put other nearby punctuation. Below is an example of a conversation between two characters, with their dialogue correctly punctuated.

  • Martin said, “I’m going over to Jennifer’s house for a few hours.”
  • “You can’t be serious!” cried Fauntleroy.
  • “Oh, but I am,” Martin replied.
  • “How will you get there?” Fauntleroy asked.
  • “I thought I’d take the bus.”
  • “And,” Fauntleroy continued, “exactly how long is ‘a few hours’?”
  • “Probably two or three.”
  • “Well . . . fine. Tell Jennifer I said hello.”

Non-Dialogue Quotations

The mayor said his two golden retrievers were “the best dogs in the world. I’m not a cat person.”
The mayor said his two golden retrievers were “the best dogs in the world” and added that he was not a cat person.

Scare Quotes

Occasionally, writers enclose certain terms they wish to distance themselves from in quotation marks. 

  • Silicon Valley has fully embraced the “sharing economy.”

Sometimes, scare quotes are needed to indicate that the writer is not talking about something in general, but rather a specific term itself.

  • For too many people, “computer security” is an oxymoron.

Semicolon

Semicolons (;) are as basic as a period stacked on top of a comma.

The most common use of the semicolon is to join two independent clauses without using a conjunction like and. Don’t use a capital letter after a semicolon. A semicolon should be followed by a capital letter only if the word is a proper noun or an acronym.

  • We can go to the museum to do some research; Mondays are pretty quiet there.

You can use a semicolon to join two closely related independent clauses. Let’s put that another way. The group of words that comes before the semicolon should form a complete sentence, the group of words that comes after the semicolon should form a complete sentence, and the two sentences should share a close, logical connection:

  • I ordered a cheeseburger for lunch; life’s too short for counting calories.
  • Money is the root of all evil; I don’t believe the reverse is necessarily true.
  • Martha has gone to the library; Andrew has gone to play soccer.

Notice that the letter following the semicolon is not capitalized. 

Delete the Conjunction When You Use a Semicolon

  • I saw a magnificent albatross, and it was eating a mouse.
  • I saw a magnificent albatross; it was eating a mouse.

Use Semicolons in a Serial List

You can use semicolons to divide the items of a list if the items are long or contain internal punctuation. In these cases, the semicolon helps readers keep track of the divisions between the items.

  • I need the weather statistics for the following cities: London, England; London, Ontario; Paris, France; Paris, Ontario; Perth, Scotland; Perth, Ontario.
  • My plan included taking him to a nice—though not necessarily expensive—dinner; going to the park to look at the stars, which, by the way, are amazing this time of year; and serenading him with my accordion.

Use Semicolons With Conjunctive Adverbs

When you have a conjunctive adverb linking two independent clauses, you should use a semicolon. Some common conjunctive adverbs include moreover, nevertheless, however, otherwise, therefore, then, finally, likewise, and consequently. 

  • I needed to go for a walk and get some fresh air; also, I needed to buy milk.
  • Reports of the damage caused by the hurricane were greatly exaggerated; indeed, the storm was not a “hurricane” at all.
  • The students had been advised against walking alone at night; however, Cathy decided walking wasn’t dangerous if it was early in the evening.
  • I’m not all that fond of the colors of tiger lilies; moreover, they don’t smell very good.

Slashes

There are two types of slashes: a backslash (\) and a forward slash (/). The backslash is used only for computer coding. The forward slash, often simply referred to as a slash, is a punctuation mark used in English.

A Slash to Indicate Or

  • When leaving the classroom, the teacher noticed that a student had left his/her backpack.
  • College freshmen should bring a mattress and/or cot to sleep on during orientation.
  • If/when Mary ever shows up, we can all head out to the party together.
  • Burgers or pizza for dinner? Yeah, either/or is fine with me.

A Slash to Form Abbreviations

Slashes can also be used to form some abbreviations or shortened forms of words or phrases, although these shouldn’t be used in formal writing.

  • w/o = without
  • w/ = with
  • c/o =
  • care of (used when posting a letter or parcel)
  • a/c = air conditioning

A Slash to Indicate Connecting and Conflicting Relationships

Slashes can also be used to note that there is a connection or conflict between two words or phrases in a sentence.

  • The pro-life/pro-choice debate is a hot-button issue for many voters this election.
  • The designer often works in his bonus room/home office.

Space Before and After Slash

When a slash signifies alternatives between only two words, don’t use spaces before or after. 

  • Add chili flakes and/or black pepper to the recipe.

When using slashes to signify alternatives between phrases or multi-word terms or compounds, a space before and after the slash makes text easier to read.

  • World War I / First World War

Abbreviation

An abbreviation, simply put, is a shortened form of a word. Some readers may not know what an abbreviation means. If the abbreviation is obscure or unfamiliar, make sure to explain what it means the first time you use it.

Acronyms and Initialisms

Typically, acronyms and initialisms are written in all capital letters to distinguish them from ordinary words. (When fully spelled out, the words in acronyms and initialisms do not need to be capitalized unless they entail a proper noun.)

An acronym is pronounced as a single word, rather than as a series of letters. 

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration = NASA
  • self contained underwater breathing apparatus = scuba
  • light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation = lase

Initialisms are pronounced as a series of letters.

  • National Football League = NFL (en eff ell)

If you need to use an indefinite article before an acronym or initialism, use the initial sound of the word (not necessarily the initial letter) guide your choice.

Abbreviations for Courtesy Titles and Academic Degrees

Titles such as mister, miss, and doctor, as well as the names of academic degrees such as bachelor of arts and doctor of philosophy are almost always abbreviated. In American English, title abbreviations are followed by a period; in British English, the period is omitted.

  • Mr. = Mister
  • Mrs. = Mistress (pronounced “missus”)
  • Ms. = (pronounced “miss” or “miz”)
  • Sr. = Senior
  • Jr. = Junior
  • Dr. = Doctor
  • Mr. Green asked Ms. Grey if she had met Dr. Jekyl. (American style)
  • Mr Green asked Ms Grey if she had met Dr Jekyl. (British style)

B.S. = Bachelor of science

  • B.A. = Bachelor of Arts
  • M.A. = Master of Arts
  • M.B.A. = Master of Business Administration
  • Ph.D. = Doctor of Philosophy

The periods are optional with abbreviations of academic degrees. Follow whichever style your style guide recommends, or just choose one and use it consistently. When an academic degree is used like a title, it follows a person’s name and is set off by commas:

  • Molly Beagle, Ph.D., runs the canine cognition lab at Stanford University.

Latin Abbreviations

e.g.: exempli gratia It means “for example.” Use e.g. when you want to provide specific examples of a generalization.

  • We expect volunteers from many surrounding cities, (e.g., Springfield, Oakdale, Hogsmeade.)

i.e.: id est It means “that is.” Use i.e. when you want to provide more specific information about something you mentioned.

  • After a reasonable amount of time has passed—i.e. two business days—please report the missing shipment to our customer service department.

etc.: et cetera It means “and so forth.” Use it when you’re providing a partial list of details.

  • You should see the doctor when you have flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, etc.)

Other Common Abbreviations

Below are a few other abbreviations that are common in English. Remember that abbreviations are not always completely standardized. One style guide may advise you to abbreviate Thursday as Thurs. while another may argue for Thu. Likewise, some style guides allow you to omit the periods with these abbreviations, but it’s never wrong to include periods. So if you aren’t sure whether to use the periods, err on the side of leaving them in.

Times and dates

a.m. (ante meridiem) = before noon p.m. (post meridiem) = after noon

  • The mall opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m.

Jan., Feb., Mar., Apr., May, Jun., Jul., Aug., Sep., Oct., Nov., Dec.

  • I was born on Nov. 6, 1980.

Mon., Tues., Wed., Thurs., Fri., Sat,. Sun.

  • The class will run Mon.-Fri. next week.

Places

U.S. (United States) U.K. (United Kingdom) E.U. (European Union) U.A.E. (United Arab Emirates)

  • The U.S. highway system seems enormous to visitors from the U.K.

Units of Measurement

in. (inches) ft. (feet) lbs. (pounds)

mm. (millimeters) cm. (centimeters) m. (meters)

mg. (milligram) g. (gram) kg. (kilogram)

My cat weighs 10 lbs., which is about 4.5 kg.

Spelling Rules

English spelling of some words is wildly different from the way we pronounce them (It’s fuchsia, right? Or is it fuschiaFushia?)

Around Shakespeare’s time, when spelling was first becoming standardized, the spelling of most English words was mostly phonetic—or at least more phonetic than it is today. For example, English speakers did once pronounce the k at the beginning of words like knife and knee. But even though no one has pronounced knee as “kuh-nee” in centuries, we still hang on to the old spelling.

Capitalization

Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence

  • The cat is sleeping.
  • Where did I put that book?

Capitalize Names and Other Proper Nouns

  • My favorite author is Jane Austen.
  • Have you met my dog, Boomer?

Names are proper nouns. The names of cities, countries, companies, religions, and political parties are also proper nouns, so you should capitalize them, too.

  • We experienced some beautiful Southern California weather last fall when we attended a Catholic wedding in San Diego.

You should also capitalize words like mom and grandpa when they are used as a form of address.

  • Just wait until Mom sees this!
  • My mom is not going to like this.

Don’t Capitalize After a Colon (Usually)

  • I have one true passion: wombat racing.

One exception is when the word following the colon is a proper noun.

  • There is only one place I want to visit: New York City.

The other exception is when the words following the colon form one or more complete sentences.

Maggie wears a brimmed cap at all times for these two reasons: Strong light often gives her a headache. She also likes the way it looks.

Capitalize the First Word of a Quote (Sometimes)

Capitalize the first word of a quote when the quote is a complete sentence.

  • Mario asked, “What is everyone doing this weekend?”
  • Stacy answered, “My sister and I are going to the water park.”

Don’t capitalize the first word of partial quotes.

  • Gretchen said she was “way too busy” to join the gym.
  • Mr. Thompson described the rules as “extremely difficult to understand if you don’t have a law degree.”

Capitalize Days, Months, and Holidays, But Not Seasons

The names of days, months, and holidays are proper nouns, so you should capitalize them.

  • I hate Mondays!
  • Tom’s birthday is in June.
  • Oh no! I forgot about Valentine’s Day!

The names of seasons, however, are not proper nouns, so there’s no need to capitalize them.

  • I hate winter!
  • Having a summer birthday is the best.

Capitalize Most Words in Titles

Just use titlecaseconverter.com.

  • Sense and Sensibility is better than Pride and Prejudice.
  • The first movie of the series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Capitalize Cities, Countries, Nationalities, and Languages

  • English is made up of many languages, including Latin, German, and French.
  • My mother is British, and my father is Dutch.
  • The capital of Botswana is Gaborone.

Capitalize Time Periods and Events (Sometimes)

Specific periods, eras, and historical events that have proper names should be capitalized.

  • Most of the World War I veterans are now deceased.
  • In the Middle Ages, poor hygiene was partly responsible for the spreading of bubonic plague.
  • Middle school students often enjoy studying the social changes that took place during the Roaring Twenties.

However, centuries—and the numbers before them—are not capitalized.

  • In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, England blossomed into an empire.

Compound Words

When adverbs ending in -ly combine with another word, the resulting compound is always spelled as two separate words.

  • largely irrelevant
  • newly formed

There are a great many grammar rules regarding hyphens in compound words. One important rule of thumb to remember is that in most cases, a compound adjective is hyphenated if placed before the noun it modifies, but not if placed after the noun.

  • a long-term solution
  • an up-to-date user guide
  • This is not a good solution for the long term.
  • This user guide is not up to date.

It’s often necessary to consult the dictionary to determine whether these terms should be hyphenated or not.

Online Tools to Improve Your English Writing

As a blogger and a person who works in marketing, I deal with a lot of English text content. Though English is my native language, it is not my specialization, although that is quickly changing the more I read and write. Here are some online tools I’ve found very useful for anyone wanting to improve their writing.

Grammarly

Grammarly can do many things including alerting you to typos, incorrect grammar, wordy phrases, inconsistent spelling, and more. It does this by underlining words in red or blue so you can quickly jump to words or phrases that could be improved. For example, in the screenshot below, the word “effect” is misspelled. On the right, there is an explanation of the typo and a link to learn more. Clicking on the box will fix the typo.

If you double-click on a word, you can get synonyms.

Grammarly has a great handbook in their blog that explains many grammar topics concisely and with good examples.

Note that Grammarly is not perfect and does not replace human review.

Ludwig.guru

Ludwig.guru is the first sentence search engine that helps you write better English by giving you contextualized examples taken from reliable sources.

As you can see in the screenshot above, Ludwig can do many things including

  • Find your sentence in the best contexts
  • Translate in English in the smartest way
  • Get definitions, synonyms and examples
  • Compare the frequency of two sentences
  • Discover the missing word
  • Paraphrase your sentence
  • Compare the frequency of words
  • Order a group of words

WordTune

WordTune helps you rewrite words and sentences. They can be shortened, expanded, and made to sound more casual or formal.

If you highlight a word and click on the WordTune icon, you can get synonyms.

Learn a Language by Watching Movies

One of the best ways to learn a language is by watching movies. But, video players usually only let you show one subtitle language at a time. Also, you can’t easily repeat what was just said or slow down the video when a character may be speaking too quickly. Here’s one way to make it easier to learn a language by watching movies. This example assumes the video is on Netflix.

1. Download the video and subtitles

Let’s say you want to learn Spanish and you speak English. One popular video series is Money Heist. You can download one or all episodes using Flixicam. Flixicam costs XXX. Since the purpose of this activity is to learn a language, you can download the video in the lowest resolution, e.g. 480p, so that the file is too big. Money Heist is at this URL: https://www.netflix.com/watch/80205342. When you play the video, you can click on the subtitles icon to see what subtitle languages are available. Unfortunately, in this case, there aren’t any Spanish subtitles, but you may be able to find Spanish subtitles online.

In this case, you can search online for the Spanish subtitles, e.g. at https://subscene.com/subtitles/la-casa-de-papel.

2. Merge subtitles

When watching a video, it helps to see two subtitles at once – one of the language you are learning and one of the language you understand. You can merge two subtitle files using an online tool.

3. Load video and subtitles in a subtitle editor tool

Subtitle editing tools may be designed to edit subtitles, but they’re also good for learning a language. The one I use is HappyScribe free online subtitle editor because I like the interface.

Just open the editor, upload your video, import the merged subtitle file, and start watching, listening and learning. Click on any subtitle paragraph to jump to the corresponding location in the video. Click on it again to repeat what was just said.

Change the playback speed to slow down the speech, if necessary.

The downside to this particular subtitle editor is it is online which means you have to upload your video which can take quite some time on a slow internet connection. You can also install a subtitle editor program on your computer which would eliminate the need to upload large videos. For example, here’s a simple one for Windows called Open Subtitle Editor.

Another one is Subtitle Edit.

However, with this one, I don’t see an option to change playback speed. If you use this one, you’ll probably want to go to Options > Settings > Double-clicking line in main window list view will “Go to video position and play”.

How to Build Muscle

There are 3 main things that affect muscle growth:

  1. food
  2. strength / resistance training
  3. rest

To grow muscle, you need to

  • do strength training to break down muscle
  • have a moderate calorie surplus
  • have sufficient protein consumption (1 gram of protein per pound of body weight)
  • rest to build muscle

If you have a calorie deficit, your body will expend more energy resulting in weight loss in the form of BOTH fat and muscle loss.

If you have an excessive calorie surplus, you will GAIN weight, grow some muscle but also gain a lot of fat.

You build muscle when the amount of protein synthesized into muscle during rest is greater than the amount of muscle protein breakdown during strength training. Without sufficient protein, you will just gain fat and little muscle.

Food

Both creatine and whey protein powder have been shown to increase muscle mass when taken in combination with resistance exercise.

Creatine increases exercise capacity during high-intensity exercise. This leads to improved recovery and adaptations such as increased muscle mass.

Meanwhile, ingesting whey protein in combination with exercise provides your body a high-quality source of protein, enhancing muscle protein synthesis and leading to increased muscle gains over time.

While both creatine and whey protein promote muscle gain, they differ in the ways they work. Creatine increases strength and muscle mass by increasing exercise capacity, whereas whey protein does so by stimulating increased muscle protein synthesis.

Source

Protein

Muscles are made out of protein, among other things. So, you’re going to need to consume enough protein to build muscle. You should target 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. For example, I currently weigh 178 lbs so I should consume 178 grams of protein. Here’s are some protein-rich foods.

FoodQuantityProtein (g)CaloriesProtein / Calorie Ratio
Eggs1 large67811%
Egg White1 large41822%
Almonds1 ounce61643.6%
Chicken Breast1 roasted w/o skin5328418%
Oats1 cup113073.5%
Cottage Cheese1 cup2816317%
Greek Yogurt6 ounces1710017%
Regular Milk1 cup814916%
Soy Milk1 cup6.31056%
Broccoli1 cup chopped3319.6%
Lean Beef3 ounces2518613%
Tuna1 can (142 grams)2712821%
Quinoa1 cup cooked82223.6%
Whey protein concentrate supplement1 scoop (33 g)2513019%
Whey protein isolate supplement1 scoop (33 g)3013023%
Lentils1 cup boiled182308%
Ezekiel Bread1 slice4 805%
Pumpkin Seeds1 ounce91585.6%
Turkey Breast3 ounces2612520%
Shrimp3 ounces208424%
Brussel Sprouts1/2 cup2287%
Peanuts1 ounce71614.3%
Source

Other protein-rich foods

Pistachios, cashews, parmesan cheese, swiss cheese, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, regular full fat yogurt, kefir, soybeans, kidney beans, chickpeas, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds.

Consuming a lot of protein without supplements can be difficult because you might feel full before you’ve reached your target daily intake. Also, it can be expensive. For that reason, most bodybuilders take protein supplements. When choosing a protein supplement, it’s important to stay away from ones with a lot of added sugar. The most popular protein supplement is whey protein. To be safe, opt for pure whey protein. I personally get the unflavored Nutricost Whey Protein Concentrate. It contains only one ingredient: Whey protein concentrate. 1 scoop contains 25 g of protein and 130 calories.

You can also buy whey protein isolate which has 90 – 95% protein compared to whey protein concentrate which has 60 – 80% protein. Source

Creatine

Creatine monohydrate is the best-studied and most effective form of this supplement. There are 2 dosing regimens:

Option 1

  1. Loading phase: Take 20-25 grams split into 4 or 5 equal doses over 5-7 days.
  2. Maintenance phase: Then, take 3-5 grams per day to maintain your muscle stores of the compound.

Option 2

Skip the loading phase and start the maintenance phase.

Both options are effective the first option will allow you to experience the benefits 4x faster. Source

I personally take unflavored Nutricost Creatine Monohydrate.

Other Foods

Now, don’t go consuming nothing but protein shakes. They are meant to be supplements and not food substitutes. You can eat whatever else you want but generally, you should avoid processed foods and foods with lots of added sugar. I have personally found the Keto diet (very low carb diet) to be one of the best, if not the best diet. I was able to lose 20 lbs following the Keto diet. It’s not just good for losing weight but it’s also good for overall healthy eating.

Calories

While you can build muscle in a calorie deficit (losing weight), it will be quicker to build muscle by having a moderate calorie surplus. In order to determine how many calories is “moderate”, you first need to know your maintenance calories – the number of calories to consume each day to neither lose nor gain weight.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

BMR is the number of calories needed to maintain the basic life-sustaining functions, such as breathing, maintaining blood pressure, and digesting food. One popular formula for calculating BMR is the Harris-Benedict formula. According to this formula:

  • BMR for males = 66 + (6.23 × weight in pounds) + (12.7 × height in inches) − (6.8 × age in years)
  • BMR for females = 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

In my case, my BMR is 1770 calories.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

TDEE is the total number of calories you burn including your BMR. Your TDEE equals your maintenance calories. 

  • TDEE = 1.2 × BMR if you have a sedentary lifestyle (little to no exercise and work a desk job)
  • TDEE = 1.375 × BMR if you have a lightly active lifestyle (light exercise 1-3 days per week)
  • TDEE = 1.55 × BMR if you have a moderately active lifestyle (moderate exercise 3-5 days per week)
  • TDEE = 1.725 × BMR if you have a very active lifestyle (heavy exercise 6-7 days per week)
  • TDEE = 1.9 × BMR if you have an extremely active lifestyle (strenuous training 2 times a day)

For me, since I do heavy exercise 4 days a week, my TDEE multiplication factor would be between 1.55 and 1.725. I’ll estimate it at 1.64. Therefore, my TDEE or maintenance calories is 1.64 x 1770 = 2902.8.

Moderate Calorie Surplus

Since newbies can gain up to 2 lbs of muscle per month, that translates to 2/30 = 0.06 lbs of muscle per day. According to the American Heart Association, you need to eat 500 calories more than your maintenance calories a day to gain 1 pound of weight a week (0.14 lbs per day). Therefore, to gain 0.06 lbs of muscle per day, you need a calorie surplus of 214 calories per day.

Therefore, moderate calorie surplus = TDEE + 214.

For me, I should consume 2902 + 214 = 3116 calories per day.

Example Meal Plan

Here’s my daily meal plan.

Breakfast

  • 4 eggs in a bowl microwaved for 2 minutes
  • 1 cup of Nespresso coffee with frothed milk, 1/4 teaspoon of Truvia sugar substitute (erithrytol + Stevia extra), and cinnamon

Lunch

Protein shake containing

Dinner

5 air-fried skinless chicken legs (60 g protein, 380 calories) with one Anaheim pepper

Post-Dinner Drink

Another protein smoothie but substitute the Acai with 3 or 4 frozen strawberries

Post-Workout Drink

Chocolate-flavored Premier 30g Protein Drink (30 g protein, 160 calorie)

Total Daily Protein and Calorie Consumption

FoodQuantityProtein (gr)Calories
Eggs424300
Protein shake148544
Chicken drumsticks560380
Protein shake148544
Protein drink130160
Snacks (nuts)?
Total2101928

Without eating snacks, my total daily calorie intake is 1928 which is about 1000 calories less than my target. Hopefully my eating snacks can amount to an extra 1000 calories. At least it’s a lot easier to increase calorie intake rather than to limit it.

Superfoods

Note that some of the foods listed above are superfoods. Here’s a list of superfoods:

  • Dark leafy greems (Kale, Swiss chard, Collard greens, Turnip greens, Spinach)
  • Berries (Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Cranberries, Acai berries)
  • Green tea and matcha
  • Eggs
  • Legumes (lentils, peas, peanuts, alfalfa)
  • Nuts (Almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts)
  • Seeds (Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds)
  • Kefir (and yogurt)
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric (Curcumin)
  • Salmon
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Potato
  • Mushrooms
  • Seaweed

Source

Strength / Resistance Training

Muscle size increases when a person continually challenges the muscles to deal with higher levels of resistance or weight. This process is known as muscle hypertrophy.

Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the fibers of the muscles sustain damage or injury. The body repairs damaged fibers by fusing them, which increases the mass and size of the muscles. This increase, however, does not happen while you actually lift the weights. Instead, it occurs while you rest.

You need to be consistent and lift progressively heavier weights. To do this, you should keep track of your efforts. Personally, I log my workouts using the free version of the FitNotes app.

Sets and reps

A standard way of exercising each muscle is by grouping each exercise into 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps (repetitions). For example, if you bench press, you can choose a weight such that for the first set, you lift X lbs until you reach failure (can no longer lift / perform a complete cycle) after the 12th rep. Then, for the 2nd set, you do the same until your failure is maybe at the 10th rep. And for the 3rd set, you fail maybe at 8 reps.

SetWeightReps
1100 lbs12
2100 lbs10
3100 lbs8

Note that more important than the number of reps is the effort to lift until failure. If, after a while, you feel that you can do more than 12 reps at X lbs for the first set, then you need to increase the weight and continue to lift until failure, regardless of the exact number of reps you can do. This is called “progressive overloading.”

Let me repeat that. Train until failure such that you can barely complete your last rep with proper form. The last 2 to 3 reps before failure are the ones that count towards building muscle.

Breathing

You might be tempted to hold your breath while you’re lifting weights. Don’t hold your breath. Instead, breathe out as you lift the weight and breathe in as you lower the weight. Lowering weight requires less exertion, which makes it an ideal time to inhale. By breathing correctly, you’ll be able to lift more and limit fainting and injury.

Muscles

Here’s a diagram of some of the more obvious muscles that you’ll want to target when lifting weights.

Exercises

There are many types of strength training exercises you can do among free weights and machines. I personally prefer using machines as they are more comfortable and help you perform exercises using proper form and reduce the chance of injury. However, some exercises produce better results when using free weights, e.g. dumbbell or barbell chest press instead of a chest press machine. Here are some of the upper body exercises I prefer.

Exercise Database

Fatigue

When you start a workout, your muscles will have rested and you will be able to lift the most weight for any given exercise. As you progress through your workout, you will have less strength when performing other exercises. For that reason, it’s good to be selective in the order of the exercises you perform. For example, I would do 10 or so different exercises in the following order:

OrderExerciseMuscles Targeted
1V-Bar Tricep PushdownTriceps (Tris)
2Dumbbell chest press (flat)Chest
3Dumbbell chest press (30° incline)Upper chest
4Hammer Strength MTS Shoulder PressShoulders
5Biceps Curl MachineBiceps (Bis)
6Plank exerciseAbs, Core
7Lat PulldownBiceps and Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
8Triceps PressShoulders and Triceps
9Lat RowLats, Delts and Back
10V-Bar Tricep PushdownTriceps (Tris)
11Row MachineLats, Delts and Back
12Biceps Curl MachineBiceps (Bis)

Each exercise, except the plank, is done with 3 sets. This sequence takes about 1.5 hours and I burn on average 500 calories.

Muscles by Volume

Many men generally want a bigger upper body. Oftentimes, they’ll focus exercises on 2 muscles: chest and biceps. However, to have a larger upper body, they may be better off targeting larger muscles. Following is a list of the 10 largest muscles in the body.

MuscleLocationVolume
Quadriceps femorisLower thigh1,420 cm3
Gluteus maximusBack of pelvis760 cm3
DeltoidShoulder380 cm3
Triceps BrachiiBack upper arm370 cm3
IliopsoasHips350 cm3
Pectoralis majorChest290 cm3
Biceps femorisTop of the thigh269 cm3
Latissimus DorsiMid back262 cm3
Biceps BrachiiFront upper arm143 cm3
SartoriusUpper and inner thigh126 cm3
Source

Muscle Gain By Weight

The longer your lift weights, the harder it becomes to grow more muscle. Following are average muscle weight gains for men and women at different stages of resistance training.

StageMenWomen
Newbie1.5 lbs / month0.5 lbs / month
Intermediate0.5 lbs / month 0.3 – 0.4 lbs / month
Advanced0.25 lbs / month 0.1 – 0.2 lbs / month
Source
Year of Proper TrainingPotential Rate of Muscle Gain Per Year
120-25 lbs (2 lbs / month)
210-12 lbs (1 lb / month)
35-6 lbs (0.5 lbs / month)
4+2-3 lbs (not worth calculating)
Source

You may have heard that muscle weighs more than fat. However, according to science, a pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same. The difference between the two is density.

Rest

In order for your muscles to grow, you need to have sufficient rest. Make sure to sleep enough, e.g. 8 hours a day. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually build muscle while you’re lifting weights. You do need to lift weights to add mass, but training actually causes muscle breakdown.

How to Tell if You’re Gaining Muscle

  1. You’re Gaining Weight
    Track your weight at the same time each day and plot it on a chart to see your long term progress. 
  2. Your Clothes Fit Differently
    Getting jacked will often mean your clothes start to fit differently – usually in a good way. If you’re noticing your shirts are fitting a bit tighter around your shoulders, chest, and biceps, or your pants are getting snug in the thigh and hip area, these tend to be good signs you’re gaining healthy weight. 
  3. You’re Building Strength
    If you can lift heavier weights, then you are probably building muscle. Track your strength using a log and practice progressive overloading. 
  4. You’re Muscles Are Looking “Swole”
    Feeling puffier or bigger is normal and likely a good sign you’re growing your muscle fibers. Lifting weights increases fluids to your muscle giving you that post weight training pump, especially when you are just getting started with strength training. Over time, some of the water retention may diminish but you should continue to feel bulkier. 
  5. Daily or Weekly Progress Photos
    Stand in front of a mirror and take a full body photo. Repeat and assess your visual transformation regularly.
  6. Your Body Composition Has Changed
    Ultimately, the most efficient way to measure your muscle gain progress is to assess your body composition at the beginning and end of your bulk. You can opt for an affordable and convenient at home scale, or schedule a DXA/DEXA scan that estimates your body fat percentage within a 1.6% margin of error. 

The best way to know you are gaining muscle is if you are progressively able to lift heavier weights because the only way you can lift heavier weights if you have bigger muscles.

Tracking Progress

If you use an app to keep track of your progress, you can periodically calculate your percent gains and improvements over time. Here’s an example of my actual gains.

ExerciseDec 26, 2021March 12, 2022% increaseTarget area
lbslbs
V-bar pushdown5072.545.00%Triceps
Chest press machine7012071.43%Chest
Lat pulldown machine9013044.44%Back
Shoulder press machine407075.00%Shoulders
Tricep pushdown machine11517047.83%Triceps
Bicep curl machine6511069.23%Biceps

Gadgets and Accessories

To support your strength training goals, I have found the following gadgets useful.

Wi-fi body scale

I have the Withings smart wi-fi body scale. It automatically records my weight and in the app, I can see my weight change over time.

Smartwatch

I have the Fossil Men’s Gen 6 Touchscreen Smartwatch. It’s got a ton of features.

Whenever I enter the gym, I start tracking my heart rate and calories burned. When I’m done, I stop tracking and I can see a history of my calories burned and workout duration over time.

Bluetooth Headphones / Earphones

I have the Sony Wireless Behind-Neck Headset (WI-C400). Many people like to wear Beats headphones. I prefer the behind-the-neck style headset because it’s lightweight and doesn’t move around as I exercise, including when I do situps.

Compression T-Shirt

I have the Under Armour Men’s HeatGear Compression Short-Sleeve T-Shirt. It allows you to see your body shape so you can see how you’re progressing. I find it motivating to see physical progress.

Weight Training Workout Gloves

Repeatedly lifting weights can result in calluses (thickened skin that forms as a response to repeated friction or pressure). Workout gloves tend to have a cushion to protect your skin. I find it much more comfortable to lift with gloves on.

Summary

  • Stay in a positive protein balance by hitting your protein consistently.
  • Get your protein from high-quality sources like meat, eggs, dairy, and soy.
  • Your body needs energy to grow, so you need to be in a moderate calorie surplus.
  • Make sleep a priority — both quantity and quality.
  • Hit the weights consistently, and train harder by adding volume (in weight, reps, and sets) over time – progressive overloading.

Why Some Countries Are Poor

Every now and then I come across a documentary which shows extreme poverty in many places around the world. I can’t help but wonder why many of these countries don’t appear to be progressing whereas others which used to be poor, like China and Singapore, have become rich in a relatively short period of time. This article examines some of the reasons that prevent countries from growing.

High Levels of Corruption

According to Transparency International, there tends to be less corruption in rich countries and more corruption in poor countries. This makes sense since growth would be limited if governments steal their people’s money.

The problem with corruption is if you elect a new leader / president who isn’t corrupt, they will have a hard time eliminating corruption if other government officials are used to being corrupt. You likely need to sack all government officials and hire new ones who hopefully aren’t corrupt.

No Access to Education

According to this UNESCO study, it’s clear that there’s a correlation between poverty and education.

Pupil-to-Teacher Ratio

If we look at the countries ranked by primary school pupil-to-teacher ratio, we find, unsurprisingly, that there tends to be a smaller percentage of teachers in poor countries than in rich ones.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (http://uis.unesco.org/)

Literacy Rate

Another interesting metric is literacy rates. According to this map, we see consistent results showing poorer countries tend to have more illiterate people.

Tuition Costs

Another issue is the cost of education. While most countries offer free primary school education, most require tuition for a college education. Many rich European countries offer free college education and some, like in the U.S., offer very affordable college tuition. U.S. students can also get free money (grants) and low interest loans to help pay for college.

High Population

In high population countries, there aren’t enough resources (jobs, schools, teachers, etc) to support the large population. This situation becomes one of supply and demand where there is a large supply of unskilled workers and a short supply of resources. This results in a large percentage of the population becoming poor because, for example, they are unavailable seats to a nearby school or they are unavailable jobs.

According to this article by the World Economic Forum, there is a correlation between population size and a country’s wealth. In rich countries, people tend to have fewer children whereas in poor countries, people tend to have more children.

There is also a correlation between population size and education. Education leads to lower birth rates and slows population growth. This makes it easier for countries to develop. A more-educated workforce also makes poverty eradication and economic growth easier to achieve. Of course, economic growth brings with it another problem: increased consumption.

In one study, it was found that uneducated Malian women gave birth to almost 7 children whereas educated ones only gave birth to 4.

In order to slow population growth, some countries have tried to limit the number of children born. However, when China did this, it just turned a problem of population growth into one of an ageing society.

According to an article on the US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health website, fertility rates tend to be higher in poorly resourced countries. In developing countries children are needed as a labor force and to provide care for their parents in old age. In these countries, fertility rates are higher due to the lack of access to contraceptives and generally lower levels of female education. When children are put to work, e.g. by selling water or tissue at busy intersections, they are not in school and end up following in their parents’ footsteps, i.e. having many kids to make them work. Also, couples don’t expect help from the government when they’re old so they have kids who they expect will take care of them later on in life.

Human Capital

Human capital—the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives—is a central driver of sustainable growth and poverty reduction. More human capital is associated with higher earnings for people, higher income for countries, and stronger cohesion in societies. Unsurprisingly, the developed countries tend to be the ones with a high human capital index (HCI) value. Here’s a subset and the ranking.

RankEconomyHCI Value
1Singapore0.88
2Hong Kong0.81
3Japan, South Korea, Canada,
Finland, Macao, Sweden
0.80
0.80
5United Kingdom0.78
0.80
9Israel0.73
11United States0.70
16China, Bahrain, Chile, Turkey0.65
India, Egypt0.49
Yemen0.37
Nigeria0.36
Central African Republic0.29

Human Capital Index (HCI) Report For 2020

Low Taxation & Tax Evasion

Low tax revenues means that a government can only fund basic services such as policing, the courts and the armed forces. In order to provide universal healthcare, education, and a social safety net for all of a country’s residents, higher tax revenues are required. According to the UN, this can be achieved if a country’s tax revenues are at least 20% of their GDP [1]. If achieved, this would result in an increase in a society’s quality of life. The Human Development Index (HDI) [2] is a ranking of a society’s quality of life by country. The index groups countries into 4 categories. Following is a 2016 listing of those categories with a sampling of countries. The listing also shows each country’s 2015 tax revenue-to-GDP ratio [3]. Each country’s estimated 2017 GDP per capita per the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is also listed to give an idea of the average individual’s annual income for that country [4]. In addition, I note whether a country is an Islamic country.

[1] Why developing countries need to toughen up on taxes
[2] List of countries by Human Development Index
[3] List of countries by tax revenue to GDP ratio
[4] List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita

RankCountryIslamicHDITax Revenue-to-GDP RatioGDP per capita
Very high human development
1Norway0.94954.8$70,590
2Australia0.93943.4$49,882
3Switzerland0.93927.8$61,360
4Germany0.92644.5$50,206
5Denmark0.92550.8$49,613
5Singapore0.92514.2$90,531
6Netherlands0.92439.8$53,582
7Ireland0.92330.8$72,632
8Iceland0.92140.4$52,150
9Canada0.92131.7$48,141
10United States0.92026.0$59,495
19Israel0.89936.8$36,250
30BruneiYes0.865?$76,743
33QatarYes0.8562.2$124,927
38Saudi ArabiaYes0.8475.3$55,263
42UAEYes0.8401.4$68,245
47BahrainYes0.8244.8$51,846
51KuwaitYes0.8001.5$69,669
High human development
59MalaysiaYes0.78915.5$28,871
69IranYes0.7746.1$20,030
71TurkeyYes0.76724.9$26,453
86JordanYes0.74121.1$12,487
90China0.73820.1$16,624
97TunisiaYes0.72514.9$11,987
102LibyaYes0.7162.7$9,792
Medium human development
111EgyptYes0.69115.8$12,994
113IndonesiaYes0.68912.0$12,378
123MoroccoYes0.64722.3$8,612
139BangladeshYes0.5798.5$4,561
147PakistanYes0.55011.0$5,354
Low human development
168YemenYes0.4827.1$2,300
169AfghanistanYes0.4796.4$1,889
187Niger0.35311.0$1,153

Interestingly, the top 10 countries with the highest quality of life are the countries that collect the most tax from their residents.

If we take the average tax revenue as a % of GDP for all countries in each category, we get the following table.

Country GroupAverage Tax Revenue as % of GDP
Top 10 Very High Human Development36.75
Very High Human Development31.92
High Human Development22.08
Medium Human Development17.09
Low Human Development15.08

Based on the two tables above, it appears that, in general, the more taxes a country collects (higher tax-revenue as % of GDP), the higher the quality of life of its residents.

In addition to higher taxation, tax policy should be progressive such that the poor do not may as much or more as middle and upper class people. Also, corporations and rich people should not be able to evade taxes using loopholes.

GDP Per Capita From 1960 to 2020

Below is a graph of the change in GDP per capita of a few countries. Singapore was able to catch up to the US in a short period of time. China and India have many similarities, e.g. two of the most populated countries. Both countries started growing around the same time but clearly China grew rapidly whereas India barely grew.

Source: The World Bank

Case Studies

How China Went From Poor to Rich

Some key things that supported China’s growth:

  • More highly-educated people
  • Special Economic Zones (SEZ)

China has 1.4 billion people. 1/5th of all humanity. Chinese was successful up until the 17th century when China closed its doors and decided it didn’t need Western gadgets. Many people ended up dying due to starvation. 14 million Chinese people died in WWII. Mao Tse Dong ruled China and closed all universities. Deng Xioping had a vision to make China prosperous. His slogan was “To be rich is glorious”. Like Mao, he believed that to ensure stability and to prosper, you needed one-party rule. When Mao Tse Dong died in 1976, Deng asked to be in charge of China’s education and science. Deng allowed everyone to take university exams for free. The first exams started in December of 1977. 5.7 million people applied for exams but only 5% could be admitted. In 1978, Deng emerged as preeminent leader. In 1978, Deng went with a delegation of 30 people to Europe. He witnessed how advanced Europe was and how far back China had fallen behind. Deng then went to Singapore and Japan. He noticed that trains in Japan could travel at 210 kph whereas those in China could only go up to 60 kph. He saw robots making cars in Japan. Deng wanted Chinese people to see how people in Japan and Singapore lived so he showed them on TV. Chinese people were in shock to see Japanese people work and have their own refrigerators at home. China embarked on an economic and social experiment – mixing the Communist command economy with the energy of capitalist enterprise. Chinese students were sent to foreign universities. There was a concern that Chinese students may not want to return to China. There was a huge investment in primary and secondary education – especially for women. By the early 80s, the signs of reform were everywhere from the schools to the cars on the streets where there were once only bicycles. The rural population of China had been moving to the cities at a rapid pace. In just 4 years, China’s agriculture, education and industry were reformed. Private business was allowed to flourish. China’s low production costs offered huge opportunities to the outside world. With its fast, expanding urban workforce, China’s GDP would increase nearly 70 times in 40 years. The Chinese way was a marriage of one-party rule with capitalist enterprise. China didn’t want to be dependent anymore on outside people for technology.

How South Korea Went From Poor to Rich

Some characteristics of South Korea

  • Highly-educated people
  • Export-led industrialization
  • Extremely hard-working culture and attitude

How Singapore Went From Poor to Rich

Some characteristics of Singapore

  • Education in Singapore is obligatory
  • Education is mostly free
  • Almost everyone in Singapore is literate
  • Real-life skills are prioritized
  • Singapore is a leader in science and reading
  • Teachers work longer days
  • No corruption
  • Effective government policy

Find the Highest Paying Job With Lowest Education

Not everyone has specialized skills or the ability to get a 4 year degree or higher due to their unique circumstances. Though having a college education normally results in higher pay, you don’t always get paid more for having a higher education. One must wonder, then, what is the highest paying job for the lowest level of education. Fortunately, the US government collects labor data and provides a ton of information to help people compare careers, salaries, education requirements, and more. This information is updated regularly and available at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook website.

https://www.bls.gov/ooh/

Here, we can search for careers starting from the lowest level of education up to a having a 2 year associate’s degree. With each search, we can filter by average annual salary. Here are the results. Occupations with salaries below $40,000 a year are excluded.

Education Level: No formal educational credential

2019 Median Annual SalaryNumber of Occupations
$80,000 or more0 occupations
$60,000 to $80,0002 occupations
e.g. artist, farm labor contractor
$40,000 to $60,00020 occupations
e.g. painter, carpet installer

The occupations in the results above are mostly manual labor jobs like carpentry, landscaping, cooking, construction, driving, farming, machine operating, etc.

Education Level: High school diploma or equivalent

2019 Median Annual SalaryNumber of Occupations
$80,000 or more8 occupations
e.g. airline pilot
$60,000 to $80,00030 occupations
e.g. train operator, police patrol
$40,000 to $60,000134 occupations
e.g. travel agent, clerk, typist

Education Level: Some college, not degree

2019 Median Annual SalaryNumber of Occupations
$80,000 or more0 occupations
$60,000 to $80,0000 occupations
$40,000 to $60,0002 occupations
e.g. bookkeeper, computer user

Education Level: Postsecondary non-degree award

2019 Median Annual SalaryNumber of Occupations
$80,000 or more1 occupation
Electrician
$60,000 to $80,0009 occupations
e.g. Court reporter, insurance appraiser, aircraft mechanic
$40,000 to $60,00020 occupations
e.g. dental assistant, auto mechanic, firefighter

Education Level: 2 Year Associate’s Degree

2019 Median Annual SalaryNumber of Occupations
$80,000 or more3 occupations
e.g. radiation therapist, air traffic controller
$60,000 to $80,00015 occupations
e.g. healthcare technician, computer specialist
$40,000 to $60,00025 occupations
e.g. technician, paralegal

Some conclusions

  • people with specialized skills get higher salaries
  • people working in healthcare tend to get higher salaries

Now, let’s see what we need to do to get the highest paying job in a growing field in each education category.

Education Level: High school diploma or equivalent

For this education level, the fastest growing occupation is “Airline or Commercial Pilot” with a 2019 Median Pay of $121,430 per year.

On the summary page for “Airline or Commercial Pilot” we find a link for how to become an airline pilot. We also find that airline pilots much have a 4 year bachelor’s degree so the information on commercial pilot salaries is not particularly accurate.

Education Level: Some college, not degree

For this education level, the fastest growing occupation is “Computer Support Specialist” with a 2019 Median Pay of $26.33 per hour or $54,760 per year.

On the summary page for “Computer Support Specialist” we find a link for how to become a computer support specialist. We see that due to the wide range of skills, there is no simple answer as one could get a certificate in a particular area or learn on their own.

Education Level: Postsecondary non-degree award

For this education level, there is only one occupation in the $80,000 more category. It is “Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers” with a 2019 Median Pay of $28.40 per hour or $59,080 per year. However, this occupation is in decline and not growing.

On the summary page for “Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers” we find a link for how to become a Electrical or Electronics Installer and Repairer. It looks like one would go to a vocational or apprenticeship school and take specific courses to become an electrician.
A Google search reveals that in California, you must be licensed and there are 5 types of licenses. You would need to enroll in a State-approved electrician trainee school. For example, one school located in San Leandro, California is called Alameda County Electrical JATC. This is a 5 year program includes 8000 hours of paid on-the-job training during the day and 900 hours of classroom instruction during day and evenings.

Costs:

  • $620 for books (first year)
  • $500 for tools
Electrician License Requirements by State | CoverWallet
An electrician

Education Level: 2 Year Associate’s Degree

For this education level, the fastest growing occupation is “Radiation Therapist” with a 2019 Median Pay of $41.14 per hour or $85,560 per year.

On the summary page for “Radiation Therapist” we find a link for how to become a Radiation Therapist. In most states, radiation therapists must be licensed or certified. Employers usually prefer to hire applicants who have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. However, candidates may qualify for some positions by completing a certificate program. In 2016, there were about 110 accredited educational programs recognized by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). There are many community colleges that offer 2 year programs such as this one at City College of San Francisco (CCSF).

Radiation Therapy | Allied Health | University of Nebraska Medical Center
Radiation Therapists

The Quran Doesn’t Support a Strictly Vegetarian Diet

The vegetarian diet involves abstaining from eating meat, fish and poultry. Some Muslims are vegetarian, though not necessarily because of religious belief. Interestingly, the Quran does not support a strictly vegetarian diet. Consider the following verses which all support eating meat.

Verse 2:57

Eat manna and quail.

وَظَلَّلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْغَمَامَ وَأَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْمَنَّ وَٱلسَّلْوَىٰ ۖ كُلُوا۟ مِن طَيِّبَـٰتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـٰكُمْ ۖ وَمَا ظَلَمُونَا وَلَـٰكِن كَانُوٓا۟ أَنفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ
And We shaded you with clouds and sent down to you manna and quails, [saying], “Eat from the good things with which We have provided you.” And they wronged Us not – but they were [only] wronging themselves. (2:57)

Verse 7:160

Eat manna and quail.

وَقَطَّعْنَـٰهُمُ ٱثْنَتَىْ عَشْرَةَ أَسْبَاطًا أُمَمًا ۚ وَأَوْحَيْنَآ إِلَىٰ مُوسَىٰٓ إِذِ ٱسْتَسْقَىٰهُ قَوْمُهُۥٓ أَنِ ٱضْرِب بِّعَصَاكَ ٱلْحَجَرَ ۖ فَٱنۢبَجَسَتْ مِنْهُ ٱثْنَتَا عَشْرَةَ عَيْنًا ۖ قَدْ عَلِمَ كُلُّ أُنَاسٍ مَّشْرَبَهُمْ ۚ وَظَلَّلْنَا عَلَيْهِمُ ٱلْغَمَـٰمَ وَأَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمُ ٱلْمَنَّ وَٱلسَّلْوَىٰ ۖ كُلُوا۟ مِن طَيِّبَـٰتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـٰكُمْ ۚ وَمَا ظَلَمُونَا وَلَـٰكِن كَانُوٓا۟ أَنفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ
And We divided them into twelve descendant tribes1 [as distinct] nations. And We inspired to Moses when his people implored him for water, “Strike with your staff the stone,” and there gushed forth from it twelve springs. Every people [i.e., tribe] knew its watering place. And We shaded them with clouds and sent down upon them manna and quails, [saying], “Eat from the good things with which We have provided you.” And they wronged Us not, but they were [only] wronging themselves. (7:160)

Verse 5:3

Eat animals you slaughter.

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْمَيْتَةُ وَٱلدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ ٱلْخِنزِيرِ وَمَآ أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ ٱللَّهِ بِهِۦ وَٱلْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَٱلْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَٱلْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَٱلنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَآ أَكَلَ ٱلسَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى ٱلنُّصُبِ وَأَن تَسْتَقْسِمُوا۟ بِٱلْأَزْلَـٰمِ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ فِسْقٌ ۗ ٱلْيَوْمَ يَئِسَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَٱخْشَوْنِ ۚ ٱلْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِى وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ ٱلْإِسْلَـٰمَ دِينًا ۚ فَمَنِ ٱضْطُرَّ فِى مَخْمَصَةٍ غَيْرَ مُتَجَانِفٍ لِّإِثْمٍ ۙ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
Prohibited to you are dead animals,1 blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah, and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death], and those which are sacrificed on stone altars,2 and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows. That is grave disobedience. This day those who disbelieve have despaired of [defeating] your religion; so fear them not, but fear Me. This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islām as religion. But whoever is forced by severe hunger with no inclination to sin – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (5:3)

Verse 5:4

Eat animals caught by trained hunting animals.

يَسْـَٔلُونَكَ مَاذَآ أُحِلَّ لَهُمْ ۖ قُلْ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتُ ۙ وَمَا عَلَّمْتُم مِّنَ ٱلْجَوَارِحِ مُكَلِّبِينَ تُعَلِّمُونَهُنَّ مِمَّا عَلَّمَكُمُ ٱللَّهُ ۖ فَكُلُوا۟ مِمَّآ أَمْسَكْنَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ ٱسْمَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ ۖ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ سَرِيعُ ٱلْحِسَابِ
They ask you, [O Muḥammad], what has been made lawful for them. Say, “Lawful for you are [all] good foods and [game caught by] what you have trained of hunting animals which you train as Allah has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allah upon it, and fear Allah.” Indeed, Allah is swift in account. (5:4)

Verse 6:118

Eat meat.

فَكُلُوا۟ مِمَّا ذُكِرَ ٱسْمُ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ إِن كُنتُم بِـَٔايَـٰتِهِۦ مُؤْمِنِينَ
So eat of that [meat] upon which the name of Allah has been mentioned,1 if you are believers in His verses [i.e., revealed law]. (6:118)

Verse 6:142

Eat livestock.

وَمِنَ ٱلْأَنْعَـٰمِ حَمُولَةً وَفَرْشًا ۚ كُلُوا۟ مِمَّا رَزَقَكُمُ ٱللَّهُ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا۟ خُطُوَٰتِ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنِ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ
And of the grazing livestock are carriers [of burdens] and those [too] small. Eat of what Allah has provided for you and do not follow the footsteps of Satan.1 Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. (6:142)

Verse 16:5

Eat livestock.

وَٱلْأَنْعَـٰمَ خَلَقَهَا ۗ لَكُمْ فِيهَا دِفْءٌ وَمَنَـٰفِعُ وَمِنْهَا تَأْكُلُونَ
And the grazing livestock He has created for you; in them is warmth1 and [numerous] benefits, and from them you eat. (16:5)

Verse 16:14

Eat seafood.

وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِى سَخَّرَ ٱلْبَحْرَ لِتَأْكُلُوا۟ مِنْهُ لَحْمًا طَرِيًّا وَتَسْتَخْرِجُوا۟ مِنْهُ حِلْيَةً تَلْبَسُونَهَا وَتَرَى ٱلْفُلْكَ مَوَاخِرَ فِيهِ وَلِتَبْتَغُوا۟ مِن فَضْلِهِۦ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
And it is He who subjected the sea for you to eat from it tender meat and to extract from it ornaments which you wear. And you see the ships plowing through it, and [He subjected it] that you may seek of His bounty; and perhaps you will be grateful. (16:14)

Verse 35:12

Eat seafood.

وَمَا يَسْتَوِى ٱلْبَحْرَانِ هَـٰذَا عَذْبٌ فُرَاتٌ سَآئِغٌ شَرَابُهُۥ وَهَـٰذَا مِلْحٌ أُجَاجٌ ۖ وَمِن كُلٍّ تَأْكُلُونَ لَحْمًا طَرِيًّا وَتَسْتَخْرِجُونَ حِلْيَةً تَلْبَسُونَهَا ۖ وَتَرَى ٱلْفُلْكَ فِيهِ مَوَاخِرَ لِتَبْتَغُوا۟ مِن فَضْلِهِۦ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
And not alike are the two seas [i.e., bodies of water]. One is fresh and sweet, palatable for drinking, and one is salty and bitter. And from each you eat tender meat and extract ornaments which you wear, and you see the ships plowing through [them] that you might seek of His bounty; and perhaps you will be grateful. (35:12)

Verse 22:28

Eat animals.

لِّيَشْهَدُوا۟ مَنَـٰفِعَ لَهُمْ وَيَذْكُرُوا۟ ٱسْمَ ٱللَّهِ فِىٓ أَيَّامٍ مَّعْلُومَـٰتٍ عَلَىٰ مَا رَزَقَهُم مِّنۢ بَهِيمَةِ ٱلْأَنْعَـٰمِ ۖ فَكُلُوا۟ مِنْهَا وَأَطْعِمُوا۟ ٱلْبَآئِسَ ٱلْفَقِيرَ
That they may witness [i.e., attend] benefits for themselves and mention the name of Allah on known [i.e., specific] days over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals.1 So eat of them and feed the miserable and poor. (22:28)

Verse 22:36

Eat camels and cattle.

وَٱلْبُدْنَ جَعَلْنَـٰهَا لَكُم مِّن شَعَـٰٓئِرِ ٱللَّهِ لَكُمْ فِيهَا خَيْرٌ ۖ فَٱذْكُرُوا۟ ٱسْمَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْهَا صَوَآفَّ ۖ فَإِذَا وَجَبَتْ جُنُوبُهَا فَكُلُوا۟ مِنْهَا وَأَطْعِمُوا۟ ٱلْقَانِعَ وَٱلْمُعْتَرَّ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ سَخَّرْنَـٰهَا لَكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
And the camels and cattle We have appointed for you as among the symbols [i.e., rites] of Allah; for you therein is good. So mention the name of Allah upon them when lined up [for sacrifice]; and when they are [lifeless] on their sides, then eat from them and feed the needy [who does not seek aid] and the beggar. Thus have We subjected them to you that you may be grateful. (22:36)

Verse 23:21

Eat livestock and animal byproducts.

وَإِنَّ لَكُمْ فِى ٱلْأَنْعَـٰمِ لَعِبْرَةً ۖ نُّسْقِيكُم مِّمَّا فِى بُطُونِهَا وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَنَـٰفِعُ كَثِيرَةٌ وَمِنْهَا تَأْكُلُونَ
And indeed, for you in livestock is a lesson. We give you drink from that which is in their bellies, and for you in them are numerous benefits, and from them you eat. (23:21)

Verse 36:72

Eat some animals.

وَذَلَّلْنَـٰهَا لَهُمْ فَمِنْهَا رَكُوبُهُمْ وَمِنْهَا يَأْكُلُونَ
And We have tamed them for them, so some of them they ride, and some of them they eat. (36:72)

Verse 40:79

Eat some grazing animals.

ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِى جَعَلَ لَكُمُ ٱلْأَنْعَـٰمَ لِتَرْكَبُوا۟ مِنْهَا وَمِنْهَا تَأْكُلُونَ
It is Allah who made for you the grazing animals upon which you ride, and some of them you eat. (2:57)

Verse 51:24-27

Prophet Abraham offered calf meat to his guests.

هَلْ أَتَىٰكَ حَدِيثُ ضَيْفِ إِبْرَٰهِيمَ ٱلْمُكْرَمِينَ إِذْ دَخَلُوا۟ عَلَيْهِ فَقَالُوا۟ سَلَـٰمًا ۖ قَالَ سَلَـٰمٌ قَوْمٌ مُّنكَرُونَ فَرَاغَ إِلَىٰٓ أَهْلِهِۦ فَجَآءَ بِعِجْلٍ سَمِينٍ فَقَرَّبَهُۥٓ إِلَيْهِمْ قَالَ أَلَا تَأْكُلُونَ
Has there reached you the story of the honored guests of Abraham?1 – When they entered upon him and said, “[We greet you with] peace.” He answered, “[And upon you] peace; [you are] a people unknown.” Then he went to his family and came with a fat [roasted] calf. And placed it near them; he said, “Will you not eat?” (51:24-27)

Related articles

Muslims Are Performing the Hajj Wrong

Table of Contents

  • Is the Hajj only during 10 days or any time within 4 months?
    • The purpose of Hajj
    • The duration of Hajj
    • Known days
    • Counter-argument #1: Hajj versus believers
    • Counter-argument #2: Comparison to Ramadan
    • Zhu al-Hijjah
    • 4 “hurum” months
    • Consecutive “hurum” months
    • The beginning of the Hajj period
    • The Islamic calendar
    • The Hajj months
    • Solution to current problems
  • The correct rituals of Hajj
    • Perform the Hajj during any of the 4 hajj months
    • Perform the Hajj for at least 2 days
    • Commemorate God throughout the Hajj
    • Hunting
    • War and fighting
    • Sexual intercourse, misconduct and arguments
    • Abstaining from cutting the hair
    • Visit the Kaa’ba (Ancient House) and circumambulate it at least 1x (once)
    • Walking between Safa and Marwah are optional
    • Commemorate God at the Masjid al Haram
    • Animal offerings
    • Convenient offering
    • Optionally pray at the Station of Abraham
  • The man-made rituals of Hajj
    • The Hajj garments
    • Miqat Locations
    • The “Black Stone”
    • “Zamzam” water
    • The ritual of stoning Satan
    • Women not allowed to perform Hajj without a “muhrim”
    • Women during menstruation forbidden from completing Hajj
    • Visiting Prophet Muhammad’s tomb during the Hajj
    • Performing hajj for someone else

Is the Hajj only during 10 days or any time within 4 months?

The purpose of Hajj

We see in verses 6:162-163 that all worship practices must be dedicated to God alone.

قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ ۖ وَبِذَٰلِكَ أُمِرْتُ وَأَنَا أَوَّلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
Say, “Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds. No partner has He. And this I have been commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims.” (6:162-163)

The same applies to the Hajj. There are many verses that indicate that the only purpose of the Hajj is to “commemorate God”.

And proclaim the Hajj to the people …… to commemorate God’s name during the known days. (22:27-28)
You shall commemorate God for a number of days. (2:203)
When you disperse from Arafat you shall commemorate God at the Mishaar Al-Haram. (2:198)
Then once you have completed your rituals, you shall commemorate God. (2:200)

The duration of Hajj

Many Muslims believe that there is only one 5 day period each year during which they can perform the hajj. However, the Quran makes it clear that the hajj can be done any time during the four months beginning from Dhul-Hijjah. The fact that the hajj period lasts for multiple months is proven in verse 2:197.

الْحَجُّ أَشْهُرٌ مَّعْلُومَاتٌ ۚ فَمَن فَرَضَ فِيهِنَّ الْحَجَّ فَلَا رَفَثَ وَلَا فُسُوقَ وَلَا جِدَالَ فِي الْحَجِّ
Hajj is [during] well-known (specified) months (Arabic: ashur), so whoever has made Hajj obligatory upon himself therein (in those months), there is [to be for him] no sexual relations and no disobedience and no disputing during Hajj. … (2:197)

Notice how the verse uses the Arabic word “ashur” which means “months” (plural). “Shahrun” is Arabic for one month. “Shahrain” is Arabic for two months. “Ashurun” is Arabic for three or more months.

Some may argue that the use of the plural “months” was used to describe a regularity that occurs every year. However, this argument is unsupportable as the verse clearly indicates that the months refer to certain months of a year.

Another argument is that the 5 days of Dhul-hijjah fall within the well-known months and therefore that is why the plural “months” is used in the verse. This argument is non-sensical since the verse states very clearly that hajj can be done during months (Arabic: ashurun) that are well-known (Arabic: ma’lumatun). In verse 2:197, notice the Arabic words “farada feehinna”.

  • “farada” means “he made obligatory”
  • “feehinna” is a conjunction of two words: “fee” which means “in” and “hinna” which means “them” in the feminine gender form.

Therefore, that section of the verse means “whoever has made Hajj obligatory upon himself therein (in those months)” proves that God is telling you that you can perform the Hajj at any time during those months.

Known days

Some people argue that the Hajj is restricted to the first 10 days of the 12th month by citing verses 22:28 and 2:203.

… mention the name of Allah on known days … (22:28)
You shall commemorate God for a number of days. … (2:203)

They claim that the words “known days” and “a number of days” indicate that the Hajj can only be performed during a 10 day period.

Counter-argument #1: Hajj versus believers

In verse 2:197, we see that God is addressing the “hajj’ itself when He describes the “specified months”. In other words, the hajj itself can be performed during the multiple months of Hajj. In contrast, in verses 22:28 and 2:203, God is addressing the “believers” when He speaks of the “number of days”. In other words, the believers who perform the Hajj go for a number of days and not for several months.

Counter-argument #2: Comparison to Ramadan

In verse 2:185, we see that God indicates that the month for fasting is the (single) month of Ramadan. In the same verse, we see a reference to “a number of days”. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you must only fast for a few days in the month of Ramadan but rather that if you miss some days, you must make up for them later.

شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ ۚ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ ۖ وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ …
The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. … (2:185)

A month, or months, can be spoken of as days because a month is made up of days. Nevertheless, this doesn’t change the fact that they are still months. This is similar to someone describing the years of his childhood by saying “they were the best days of my life”.

Zhu al-Hijjah

The 12th month of the Islamic calendar is called Zhu al-Hijjah which means “that (month) of the Hajj”. It would make sense that this month would be one of the Hajj months and the beginning of those months.

4 “hurum” months

In verse 9:36, we see that there are 12 months in a year and that 4 of them are called “hurum”.

إِنَّ عِدَّةَ الشُّهُورِ عِندَ اللَّهِ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا فِي كِتَابِ اللَّهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ …
Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are “hurum”. . … (9:36)

The word ‘Hurum’ does not mean sacred as some have translated, for the word used in the Quran for sacred is ‘muqqaddas’, see 20:12, 79:16 and 5:21. The word ‘Hurum’ (adjective) is the plural of the word ‘Haram’ which is also associated with the months of Hajj. Both words come from the noun ‘Ihram’ which means abstention. Abstention is one of the requirements during Hajj, abstention from war, hunting and so on.

As a result, we know that the number of months that God designated for Hajj is four (2:197).

Consecutive “hurum” months

In verses 9:2-5 we see that 4 months are specifically granted to those with whom obligations were removed as they continuously broke treaties and invoked hostilities against the Muslims. Respite was then granted from the Day of Pilgrimage and extended 4 months in succession. The statement that respite was granted from the Day of Pilgrimage until the hurum months have passed indicates that the hurum months are in succession.

(Paraphrasing 9:2-5) So go about in the land for four months (9:2)… And an announcement from God and His Messenger, to the people (assembled) on the day of the Great Pilgrimage (9:3)… So when the hurum months (in succession) have passed … (9:5)

In verse 9:5, the word that indicates a consecutive set of months is “insalakha” which means “withdrawn in succession”. The word literally means “skinned”. When you skin something, e.g. an onion, you remove its layers consecutively one or more layers at a time. You can’t remove the outermost layer (skin) and then the 5th inner layer (skin) before removing the layers (skins) in between.

The same word “salakha” is used in verse 36:37 which denotes a gradual and successive transition. In this verse, the transition is from day to night (sunset).

The beginning of the Hajj period

Verse 2:189 gives us an indication as to the beginning of the Hajj period.

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْأَهِلَّةِ ۖ قُلْ هِيَ مَوَاقِيتُ لِلنَّاسِ وَالْحَجِّ …
They ask you, [O Muhammad], about the new moons. Say, “They are measurements of time for the people and for Hajj.” …(2:189)

Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the sighting of the first crescent signals the beginning of each month. Just as the sighting of the first crescent in the month of Ramadan signals the beginning of the fasting, the sighting of the first crescent in the month of Zhu Al-Hijjah, which means “that (month of Hajj) signals the beginning of the Hajj period.

The Islamic calendar

The Islamic lunar calendar in use today is

  1. Muḥarram محرّم (or Muḥarram al Ḥaram)
  2. Ṣafar صفر (or Ṣafar al Muzaffar)
  3. Rabīʿ al-Awwal (Rabīʿ I) ربيع الأوّل
  4. Rabīʿ al-Thānī (or Rabīʿ al-Ākhir) (Rabīʿ II) ربيع الآخر أو ربيع الثاني
  5. Jumādā al-Ūlā (Jumādā I) جمادى الأولى
  6. Jumādā al-Thānī (or Jumādā al-Ākhirah) (Jumādā II) جمادى الآخرة أو جمادى الثانية
  7. Rajab رجب (or Rajab al-Murājab)
  8. Shaʿbān شعبان (or Shaʿbān al-Muʿaẓẓam)
  9. Ramaḍān رمضان (or Ramaḍān al-Mubārak)
  10. Shawwāl شوّال (or Shawwāl al-Mukarram)
  11. Dhū al-Qaʿda ذو القعدة (or Dhū al-Qiʿda)
  12. Dhū al-Ḥijja ذو الحجة (or Dhū al-Ḥajja)

The Hajj months

From the verses above, we know that

  • there are 4 hurum months
  • the 4 hurum months begin with on Day of the Pilgrimage
  • the hurum months are in succession

If the beginning of Dhul-Hijjah is taken to be the beginning of the Day of the Pilgrimage, which would make sense, then the 4 hurum (and Hajj) months would be

  1. Dhul al-Hijja
  2. Muharram
  3. Safar
  4. Rabi al-Awwal

Solution to current problems

If these 4 hurum months are the months during which people can perform that hajj, as suggested in the Quran, then the following problems resulting from restricting the hajj to a mere 5 days of the year would be reduced if not eliminated.

  • Intense congestion from millions of people being packed in one place
  • Extreme congestion during tawaaf (circumambulation)
  • The difficulties of finding accommodation and resulting exorbitant costs
  • The long delays
  • Some women may not be able to perform or complete the hajj as their menstrual cycle may fall
  • within the 5 days
  • Deaths from human stampedes due to overcrowdedness
  • Being hit by flying stones during the Stoning ritual
  • Unsanitary (to say the least) washing and cleaning facilities
  • Concerns of being robbed by petty thieve or getting lost from your group
  • Inability to focus due to the issues stated above

For details on actual tragedies, mostly taking place during the Stoning ritual, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incidents_during_the_Hajj

The fact that the Hajj is limited to 5 days severely limits how many people can perform the Hajj each year. As such, there are visa quotas set for visitors from each country. The Quran says that the Hajj is the duty of every Muslim, provided he can afford it, not if he is lucky enough to get a visa!

The current situation of performing hajj clearly is inconvenient, expensive, and burdensome to many and even dangerous to some. Many pilgrims now believe that enduring hardships to perform the hajj would reap them higher rewards. Some travel agents conveniently take advantage of this by providing decrepit services while saying that pilgrims shouldn’t complain as it is better for them to endure.

Contrary to reality, God states in verse 22:78 that He imposes no difficulties in religion.

وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ
… and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty … (22:78)

Based on the analysis above, it appears that people or so-called Islamic scholars are unnecessarily placing difficulty in religion by misinterpreting the Quran and restricting the number of days during which to perform hajj to a mere 5 each year.

The message of not being a burdensome religion is also mentioned elsewhere as follows:

  • 2:185 With regards fasting, God desires for you ease; He does not desire any difficulties or hardship for you.
  • 5:6 With regards Wudu (ablution) in which God wishes to place no difficulty
  • 73:2-3 God instructs the Prophet to abate a little and regulate his night long worship so that it imposes no hardship for him and the believers.

The correct rituals of Hajj

Perform the Hajj during any of the 4 hajj months

As stated above, the hajj months are Dhul al-Hijja, Muharram, Safar and Rabi al-Awwal.

Perform the Hajj for at least 2 days

And remember Allah during [specific] numbered days. Then whoever hastens [his departure] in two days – there is no sin upon him; and whoever delays [for more days] – there is no sin upon him – for him who fears Allah . (2:203)

Commemorate God throughout the Hajj

The primary purpose and goal of the Hajj is to commemorate God.

And proclaim the Hajj to the people …… to commemorate God’s name during the known days. (22:27-28)
You shall commemorate God for a number of days. (2:203)
Then once you have completed your rituals, you shall commemorate God. (2:200)

Hunting

Hunting is prohibited during Hajj as per the following verses:

You shall not permit hunting while you are hurum. (5:1)
Once you are no longer in abstention you may hunt. (5:2)
O you who believe, do not kill any game while you are hurum. (5:95)

War and fighting

All warfare is prohibited during the Hurum Months of Hajj except in self defence:

They ask you about the Haram Month and fighting therein: say, “Fighting therein is a grave matter.” (2:217)

Sexual intercourse, misconduct and arguments

These abstentions are given in verse 2:197

Whoever executes the Hajj in them (the known months) shall refrain from sexual intercourse, wickedness and arguing during Hajj. (2:197)

Abstaining from cutting the hair

Note that some people claim that the hair must be cut or shortened at the end of Hajj. However, nowhere does the Quran say this. The Quran only states that you can’t shave or cut your hair during the Hajj.

You shall complete the Hajj and Umrah for God. If you are prevented, then make a convenient offering, and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches its destination. (2:196)

Visit the Kaa’ba (Ancient House) and circumambulate it at least 1x (once)

Then, they shall end their state of unkemptness, fulfill their vows and go around / circumambulate (yatawwaffa) the Ancient House. (22:29)

Note that there is no mention that you must circle the Kaa’ba seven times, as is commonly believed. Therefore, you are only required to do it once. Obviously, the purpose of performing the hajj and umrah is to remember and focus on God. Trying to keep track of how many times you’ve circled the Kaa’ba, especially when it’s overly crowded, would only deter your from the primary goal.

Walking between Safa and Marwah are optional

Indeed, as-Safa and al-Marwah are among the symbols of Allah. So whoever makes Hajj to the House or performs ‘umrah – there is no blame upon him for walking between them (yatawwaffa bihima). And whoever volunteers good – then indeed, Allah is appreciative and Knowing. (2:158)

Note that there is no mention that you must walk between Safa and Marwa seven times, as is commonly believed.

Commemorate God at the Masjid al Haram

The Mishaar Al-haram is the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca because it is the only House called “Haram” in the Quran.

When you disperse from Arafat you shall commemorate God at the Mishaar Al-Haram. (2:198)

Animal offerings

You must offer an animal

The animal offerings are among the rites decreed for you by God. In them there are benefits for you. So mention God’s name on them while they are lined up, then, once they collapse on their sides, you shall eat therefrom and feed the poor and the needy. It is thus that We have ordained them for you so that you may be thankful. (22:36)

This animal offering isn’t to be confused with the pagan concept of animal sacrifice for some gods. The animal offering is for human benefit, as indicated in 22:36, and not for God, as indicated in 22:37.

Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you. … (22:78)

Convenient offering

For people who progress from Umrah to Hajj, they shall make a convenient offering (to the poor and needy). If they can’t, then they can fast.

… whoever performs ‘umrah [during the Hajj months] followed by Hajj [offers] what can be obtained with ease of an offering (hadye). And whoever cannot find [or afford an offering] – then a fast of three days during Hajj and of seven when you have returned [home]. Those are ten complete [days]. This is for those whose family is not in the area of al-Masjid al-Haram. … (2:196)

Optionally pray at the Station of Abraham

Verse 2:125 indicates that one should pray at the Station of Abraham. However, this is in the context of what people did during the time of Abraham. To expect everyone nowadays to all pray at the Station of Abraham could be a logistical nightmare.

And [mention] when We made the House a place of return for the people and [a place of] security. And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer. And We charged Abraham and Ishmael, [saying], “Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who are staying [there] for worship and those who bow and prostrate [in prayer].” (2:125)

The man-made rituals of Hajj

The Hajj garments

Most Muslims believe that men must wear two seamless white clothes similar to beach towels. There is nothing in the Quran that mandates this dress code. Furthermore, having to wear nothing but two pieces of cloth could easily defocus your attention on commemorating God as you would likely be worried that your clothes would fall and everyone would see you naked, including making women.

In verse 7:31 we see that God instructs people to bring their “zinah” to every masjid (mosque). Zinah means adornments or any item that is worn to make oneself beautiful. The command is to dress nicely at “every” masjid. Since the Masjid Al-Haram is a mosque, then this verse instructs people to dress nicely in it.

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ
O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess. (7:31)

Many Muslims justify the wearing of the Hajj garments (two white pieces of cloth) to equalize everyone so the rich and poor look alike and the poor don’t feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. If that were the case, why is that belief not applied to the Friday congregational prayer? During the Friday prayers, no one poor appears embarrassed or uncomfortable to be there. Furthermore, a poor person would be better off going to the Hajj in whatever clothes they have rather than be burdened to spend extra money on special towels, sandals, belts, and what not.

Miqat Locations

The miqat is a location from where pilgrims are required to start wearing the “ihram” garments and enter into a state of “ihram”. The common understanding is that “ihram”garments are two unstitched white pieces of cloth for men and loose-fitting white clothes for women. There are 5 miqat locations:

  1. Dhul Hulaifah
  2. Al-Juhfah
  3. Qarn-ul manazil
  4. Yalamlam
  5. Dhatu `Irq

Pilgrims typically put on their “ihram” garments at one of these 5 locations and then proceed to Mecca to perform Umrah or Hajj. Needless to say, none are such rules in the Quran. The Quranic state of “ihram” is to abstain from war, hunting, sexual activity and bad language and begins when pilgrims enter the Masjid Al-Haram to commence their Hajj. Like the so-called “ihram” garments, the miqat locations are yet another man-made innovation.

The “Black Stone”

The Black Stone is a stone located at one of the corners of the Kaa’ba at the Masjid Al-Haram. Muslims tend to congregate and push themselves towards it in an effort to touch and kiss it with the hope of getting some sort of blessing. Clearly, this is an idolatrous behavior similar to what the statue worshippers during the time of Abraham did. As such, it should come as no surprise that there is no mention of this ritual anywhere in the Quran. This ritual originates from the hadith which claims that the stone descended from Heaven during the time of Abraham and that Prophet Muhammad used to kiss it. As we know from the Quran in verse 21:66, Abraham destroyed all of the stones and statues that people were worshipping and asked them if they worship something that cannot benefit nor harm them instead of God.

قَالَ أَفَتَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ مَا لَا يَنفَعُكُمْ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَضُرُّكُمْ
He (Abraham) said (to the idolaters), “Then do you worship instead of Allah that which does not benefit you at all or harm you? (21:66)

Similar verses are found at 5:76,10:18 and 25:55.

“Zamzam” water

Zamzam water is water that comes from a particular well. The water is available at the Masjid Al-Haram and is considered sacred by most Muslims. Many also believe that it can cure ailments. Muslim historians claim that the well of Zamzam was made to flow for Hagar and her infant Ishmael when the two of them ran in desperation between the hill tops of Safa and Marwah in search of water. This story is nowhere to be found in the Quran but rather comes from the Bible (Torah). Genesis 21:14-21 describes the story of Abraham’s slave wife Hagar when she was sent away to the desert with her child Ishmael. In desperation and fear of dying out of thirst, Hagar ran back and forth between two hill tops in search of water, at which point God mercifully produced for her a gushing well from which she and Ishmael drank. As this story is not in the Quran, it’s likely that hadith writers borrowed this story from the Bible and modified it such that the Zamzam well would be located at the Masjid Al-Haram. The Bible, however, indicates that the event took place at Beer Sheba which is located south of Jerusalem, between Gaza and the Dead Sea.

Regardless of this story, the Quran makes it clear that we should not idolize and hold sacred any object, whether it is the water of Zamzam or the Black Stone, thinking that it could “benefit” us. On the contrary, doing so would be a direct violation of 5:76,10:18 and 25:55. At the end of the day, Muslims must believe that all cures are ultimately from God.

The ritual of stoning Satan

Another commonly practiced Hajj ritual is the stoning of Satan. This ritual, according to the historian Al-Arazi, originates from Abraham’s journey to perform the Hajj. The story has it that when Abraham left Mina, Satan appeared to him. Then, Gabriel appeared and told Abraham to pelt Satan. Abraham threw 7 stones which made Satan disappear. Satan reappeared at the Middle Stone-Heap and the Little Stone-Heap and Abraham where Abraham threw more stones until Satan finally withdrew. These 3 locations are called the “Jamaraat” and are meant to represent the devil.

There is nothing in the Quran mentioning this Hajj ritual.

Some scholars quote verse 38:77 and 15:34 to justify the stoning of Satan practice.

قَالَ أَفَتَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ مَا لَا يَنفَعُكُمْ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَضُرُّكُمْ
He (God) said, ‘Then, get out of it, for you (Satan) are ‘rajeem’ (expelled). (38:77)

They use the word “rajeem”, which means “expelled” or “outcast”, to mean “stoned”.

As you can imagine, believers of this non-sensical and unauthorized ritual probably think that they are hurting Satan as they passionately throw stones at something they can’t even see. However, what is more likely to be happening is that Satan is sitting behind them laughing for having succeeded in deviating millions of Muslims from the sole purpose of Hajj, which is to praise and commemorate God (22:27-28, 2:203, 2:198, 2:200). By tricking clueless Muslims who don’t pay attention to the Quran and its clear instructions, Satan has succeeded in wasting 3 days of each pilgrims’ Hajj days in his name instead of for God.

Interestingly, most of the fatal tragedies during the Hajj occur during the Stoning ritual. Could it be that these tragedies are related to the fact that this ritual is completely counter to the purpose of the Hajj? Throughout the entire Quran, God never tells people to attack the devil. His command is only to stay away from and not follow the devil.

Women not allowed to perform Hajj without a “muhrim”

A “muhrim” is understood to be any male who is unlawful for marriage to the woman in question, e.g. a woman’s father, brother, son, grandfather, etc. As such, Muslim women believe that they can’t perform the Hajj unless one of their “muhrims” accompany them. This belief originates from hadith that says that no man shall be in the company of a woman alone and in seclusion. With millions of Hajj pilgrims visiting Mecca every year, being in a state of “seclusion” is quite the opposite of what actually occurs. This belief is common in male-dominated cultures such as in Saudi Arabia where the rule is clearly one-sided as the restriction does not apply to men. Needless to say, there is such law in the Quran which prohibits women from performing the Hajj without a “muhrim”.

Women during menstruation forbidden from completing Hajj

There is no restriction in the Quran that prevents a woman from completing the Hajj if they are menstruating. Likewise, women are not forbidden from fasting and praying while menstruating. Menstruation is a bodily cycle designed by God Himself. It’s non-sensical to believe that God would forbid His own creatures from praying and worshipping Him 7 days a month. The only restriction placed on women during menstruation is from having sexual intercourse with their husbands for the benefit of both of them (2:222). See chapter “Are Menstruating Women Required to Fast?” for details.

Visiting Prophet Muhammad’s tomb during the Hajj

Many Hajj pilgrims visit Prophet’s Muhammad’s tomb during the Hajj. The tomb is located in Medina at the Prophet’s Mosque (Masjid Al-Nabawi). The Quran only speaks of one “Haram Masjid”, which is the one in Mecca. Nevertheless, many Muslims consider there to be two Haram Masjids (Al-Haramayn), the second being the Prophet’s Mosque.

First of all, the practice of visiting Muhammad’s tomb is not an authorized Hajj ritual per the Quran as it is nowhere to be found in it. On the contrary, visiting Muhammad’s tomb would constitute a violation of Hajj requirements which has as its primary goal of praising and commemorating God alone (22:27-28, 2:203, 2:198, 2:200).

Secondly, many Muslims pray in front of Muhammad’s tomb which, if they are praying with Muhammad in mind, is an act of shirk (idol worship). And if they are there only to pray to God, then it would seem suspicious for choosing that particular mosque. As verse 72:18 states, all mosques are solely for God and calling on anyone else in them is strictly prohibited.

وَأَنَّ الْمَسَاجِدَ لِلَّهِ فَلَا تَدْعُوا مَعَ اللَّهِ أَحَدًا
And the masjids are for God, so do not invoke with God anyone. (72:18)

Thirdly, most of these Muslims who believe in and follow the hadith yet, unsurprisingly, since most people just blindly follow the masses, don’t realize that the hadith prohibits taking graves of the prophets as places of worship. Considering the following so-called “sahih” hadith.

Jundub reported: I heard from the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) five days before his death and he said: I stand acquitted before Allah that I took any one of you as a friend, for Allah has taken me as His friend, as he took Ibrahim as His friend. Had I taken any one of my Ummah as a friend, I would have taken Abu Bakr as a friend. Beware of those who preceded you and used to take the graves of their prophets and righteous men as places of worship, but you must not take graves as mosques; I forbid you to do that. Sahih Muslim 532In-book reference: Book 5, Hadith 28USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 4, Hadith 1083 https://sunnah.com/muslim/5/28

Lastly, many Muslims believe that by visiting the Prophet’s tomb, they are just following the religion the way Prophet Muhammad did. Funnily, this is purely non-sensical as Muhammad could not have visited his own grave when he was alive and performing the Hajj. Furthermore, the whole Hajj ritual began way before Muhammad was even born, originating with Prophet Abraham who, obviously, could not have visited Muhammad’s tomb when he was alive.

Performing hajj for someone else

Some Muslims believe that they can perform the hajj for someone else, e.g. a dead relative who never performed the hajj. However, Quran verses 53:39 and 6:164 make it clear that no one will be credited with or be responsible for the good or bad deeds of anyone else.

وَأَن لَّيْسَ لِلْإِنسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَىٰ
And that there is not for man except that [good] for which he strives (53:39)
… وَلَا تَكْسِبُ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ إِلَّا عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ …
… And every soul earns not [blame] except against itself, and no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. … (6:164 part)

Related articles

Muslims Are Wrong About Zakat

Zakat (tax) vs sadaqah (charity)

Most Muslims believe that zakat is only a required payment in the amount of 2.5% on their income primarily for people in need and that it is only required by Muslims. However, the Quran seems to suggest that zakat is more like a government tax required by all members of society, whether Muslim or not, and is not limited to 2.5%.

The word zakat

Zakat is an Arabic word that literally means “that which purifies”. Many Muslims agree that zakat is named as such because Muslims are obligated to pay zakat in order to remain spiritually pure.

Zakat (tax) and salat (prayer)

People familiar with Quranic verses will often note that zakat is almost always mentioned together with salat (prayer). For example, in verse 2:43 we read

… أَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ …
… and establish prayer and give zakat … (2:43 part)

This verse, and many others, make it clear that zakat is mandatory among Muslims.

Sadaqah and zakat are not the same thing

Even though sadaqah and zakat may have some similarities, verse 58:13 proves that sadaqah and zakat are two different things.

أَأَشْفَقْتُمْ أَن تُقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيْ نَجْوَاكُمْ صَدَقَاتٍ ۚ فَإِذْ لَمْ تَفْعَلُوا وَتَابَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْكُمْ فَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ وَاللَّهُ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
Do you fear that you will present charities (sadaqaat) before your consultation? Then when you do not (give charity) and God has forgiven you, then establish prayer and give zakah and obey God and His Messenger. And God is Acquainted with what you do. (58:13)

Do non-Muslims have to pay zakat?

Non-Muslims also had to pay Zakat

According to verse 41:6-7, disbelievers and polytheists must also pay zakat.

… وَوَيْلٌ لِّلْمُشْرِكِينَ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُم بِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ كافِرُونَ
“…and woe to the polytheists (41:6) who give not the ‘Zakat’ and in the Hereafter they are disbelievers. (41:7)”

The verses above make it clear that the obligation to pay zakat was not necessarily a “religious” obligation but rather a societal obligation.

Jews also had to pay Zakat during the time of Prophet Muhammad

According to verses 2:43, the Jews were told to also pay zakat among doing other things. The commandment is mentioned in verse 2:40 which addresses the Children of Israel.

وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَارْكَعُوا مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ
And establish prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship]. (2:43)

The fact that the Quran requires Jews to also pay zakat further supports the argument that paying zakat was required among everyone and not just Muslims.

People paid zakat long before Prophet Muhammad was even born

Many Muslims assume that the requirement to pay zakat began with Muhammad. However, the Quran proves that the payment of zakat began very long before Muhammad was even born. The following verses indicate who was expected or ordered to pay zakat.

19:31Prophet Jesus (Isa)
19:55Prophet Ishmael ordered his people to pay zakat.
2:83, 7:156, 5:12The Children of Israel (Jews)
21:73Prophet’s Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
4:162The Jews (referenced as “hadu” in 4:160)
98:5Zakat was a fundamental aspect of the true religion of God even to people of previous revelations and scriptures from prophets before Muhammad.

Is zakat based on income or savings?

Some Muslims believe that zakat is based on their savings. However, according to verse 6:141, we see evidence that zakat is based on income and that zakat is due as soon as you get paid. The verse uses the example of a farmer who harvests fruit. When the fruits are ready, they can be harvested. On that day, the farmer must pay his due (zakat) since that is the day the farmer can sell the fruit and get paid.

And He it is who causes gardens to grow, [both] trellised and untrellised, and palm trees and crops of different [kinds of] food and olives and pomegranates, similar and dissimilar. Eat of [each of] its fruit when it yields and give its due [zakah] on the day of its harvest. And be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess. (6:141)

Nowadays, most people don’t work as farmers. Nevertheless, the point of the verse above is that one has to pay his dues (zakat) when they receive an income, whether it is every 2 weeks, once a month, or yearly.

Who should manage zakat money?

Many Muslims today pay zakat by giving 2.5% of their income to a mosque for distribution or they manually distribute it themselves to whoever they think deserve it. However, according to verse 22:41, it seems to suggest that governments should establish a system of zakat.

الَّذِينَ إِن مَّكَّنَّاهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ أَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ وَأَمَرُوا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَنَهَوْا عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۗ وَلِلَّهِ عَاقِبَةُ الْأُمُورِ
[And they are] those who, if We establish them in the land, establish prayer and give zakah and enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. And to God belongs the outcome of [all] matters. (22:41)

Notice how verse 22:41 mentions “if We (God) establish them (people) in the land”. Obviously, people who are established in a land are people who live in an organized society with a system managed by a government.

Pay zakat to people individually or to a central authority for distribution

Aside from the amount of zakat or tax distributed to those in need, it should be obvious that having a centralized system for collecting, spending and distributing this money would be far better than if people individually decided who to give some of their money to.

If people individually give zakat money to the needy, then

  • only certain individuals would receive zakat money and possibly, only Muslims
  • many people who qualify for zakat money may not receive any at all
  • benefits received by recipients would strictly be limited to money and no other form of help
  • zakat recipients would only receive cash which could be misused, e.g. for drugs and alcohol
  • the overall welfare of everyone would be severely limited as zakat money would strictly be used for distributing money to the poor and needy

If people give zakat money (or tax) to a central government, then

  • some of the money can be distributed to all needy people, not just some people
  • everyone, both Muslims and non-Muslims, can receive financial help fairly and equally
  • some of the money can be used for social programs as well as public services such as free or subsidized transportation, healthcare, education, and so on
  • recipients can’t abuse tax / zakat benefits because governments can issue food stamps, for example, which can’t be used for drugs and alcohol
  • the overall welfare of everyone would improve

Who can receive zakat money?

Most Muslims believe that zakat money is strictly for people who are poor or in need. Many Muslims also believe that zakat money is only for Muslim recipients. Many Muslim scholars quote verse 9:60 to determine 8 categories of people who can receive zakat money. Below is the correct English translation of verse 9:60

“Charities (Arabic: Sadaqaatu) are only for the poor (Arabic: Fuqara) and the needy (Arabic: Masakin), and those who collect them (Amalina Alayha), and those whose hearts are to be reconciled (Mu-alafati qulubuhum) and to free the captives (Arabic: Fil-riqabi) and the debtors (Arabic: Gharimina), and for the cause of God (Arabic: Fi-Sabili-llahi) and (for) the wayfarer (Arabic: Sabili);- a duty imposed by God. God is Knower, Wise” (9:60)

It is very clear from verse 9:60 above that it addresses charities (sadaqaat) and not zakat. And, as we have proven above in verse 58:13, and as most Muslims would agree, charity and zakat are two different things. While the Quran is absolutely clear as to who can receive charity (sadaqah) money, the Quran does not state who can receive zakat money. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that zakat money is strictly limited to the poor and the needy or just Muslim people.

As suggested by verse 22:41, if a government is to manage zakat money, then it would make sense that the Quran would not specifically state how zakat money should be used since different countries have different needs. For example, in the United States, according to Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the 2015 federal spending by category was

33.26%Social Security, Unemployment and Labor
27.42%Medicare and Health
15.88%Military
5.97%Interest on Debt
4.19%Veteran’s Benefits
3.54%Food and Agriculture
2.67%Education
2.22%Transportation
1.6%Housing and Community

All of the categories above, except for “Military”, “Interest on Debt” and “Veteran’s Benefits”, support the poor and people in need by providing financial support for the elderly (social security) and the unemployed, providing medical assistance to the poor and people in need (Medicare and health), providing food for the poor and the needy, providing education to low-income students, providing subsidized or free public transportation for the poor and the needy, and providing housing assistance for the poor and the needy.

As you can see, even a non-Islamic government such as the government of the United States ends up spending much of its money on social programs that benefit the poor and the needy because it makes sense to do so.

Why should non-Muslims receive zakat money?

Some, if not many, Muslims believe that only Muslims are entitled to receive zakat money. There is no such restriction in the Quran. As a matter of fact, the Quran makes it clear that polytheists (41:6-7) and Jews (2:43) had to pay zakat during the time of Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, if those non-Muslims had to pay zakat, it would only be fair if the poor and needy among them could also receive zakat money. Unfortunately, many Muslims are quick to judge non-Muslims as predestined people who will surely go to Hell. However, it is not unreasonable for a non-Muslim to eventually convert to Islam. Obviously, not everyone is born into a Muslim family and not everyone has the same circumstances in life.

How much should zakat be?

Most Muslims believe that zakat is 2.5% on savings or income to be paid once a year. Muslims scholars have decided that the 2.5% comes from some relatively vague hadeeth. However, there is no mention of zakat being strictly limited to 2.5% in the Quran. As suggested by verse 22:41, if a government is to manage zakat money, then it should be a percentage that is necessary for the government to do its job and support the people. Obviously, every country has different circumstances and needs. Oil-rich Gulf countries with small populations such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia have plenty of valuable natural resources that they don’t need money from their residents in order to run the country and provide for the poor and the needy. Consequently, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have a 0% tax on their people. On the other hand, the United States needs to charge an average 25-30% tax on its residents, with an exemption for low-income people, of course. Considering the different circumstances of different countries, it would make sense, then, that the Quran would not limit how much each country must charge for zakat (tax) so that each government can decide how much it needs to best help its people.

2.5% zakat versus government tax

It should be obvious that most governments use a portion of their tax revenue to support the poor and needy. As mentioned above, the United States government spent more than 50% of its 2015 tax revenues on social programs. Assuming a US taxpayer had an effective tax rate of 30%, then at least 15% of that taxpayer’s tax money would go towards the poor and needy in one way or another. That is already 6 times the 2.5% zakat that most Muslims pay for the same cause, and that’s only for federal tax – it doesn’t include state tax. Since most governments charge much more than 2.5% for income tax, then by paying your income tax to the government, you are already paying much more from your income for the same purpose as the 2.5% zakat most Muslims pay. Since most of a government’s tax revenues support the poor and needy, then it should be easy to see how your government income tax is really no different than zakat – it’s just not called “zakat” because “zakat” literally means “that which purifies” whereas the Arabic word for “tax” is “dareeba”.

Zakat and taxes in Muslim countries

Many Muslims living in Muslim countries complain about poverty, lack of government support, expensive healthcare, and low quality of life. These same people admire non-Islamic countries such as the United States, Australia, and Western European countries for offering much support to their citizens such as free healthcare, education, and financial support for the poor and needy. If we compare these two groups of countries, we quickly realize that a large percentage of the population in non-Islamic countries pay taxes whereas in Islamic countries, an extremely small percentage of the population pays taxes, even though many of them still hand out 2.5% of their income to the poor and needy. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the government tax rate is between 7.5% and 35% however, only 0.57% of the population pays taxes. Assuming everyone paid 2.5% of their income for zakat, it’s clear that, considering the quality of life in Pakistan, their 2.5% zakat money doesn’t appear to make much of a difference in the general welfare of the people.

Tax evasion

Some Muslims, whether living in a Muslim country or not, are extremely disciplined when it comes to paying 2.5% of their income for what they call “zakat”. These same people receive support from their government which obviously comes from taxpayer money. Ironically, however, when it comes time to pay their income tax to their government, they either complain or, worse yet, avoid paying it as much as possible. Furthermore, there are some Muslims who withdraw state benefits when they are clearly not eligible for them. While it may not seem like stealing, what these Muslims are doing is, in effect, stealing taxpayer money, regardless of how little, that could be meant to support people who are actually poor or in need.

How much is enough zakat (government tax)?

Low tax revenues means that a government can only fund basic services such as policing, the courts and the armed forces. In order to provide universal healthcare, education, and a social safety net for all of a country’s residents, higher tax revenues are required. According to the UN, this can be achieved if a country’s tax revenues are at least 20% of its GDP [1]. If achieved, this would result in an increase in a society’s quality of life. The Human Development Index (HDI) [2] is a ranking of a society’s quality of life by country. The index groups countries into 4 categories. Following is a 2016 listing of those categories with a sampling of countries. The listing also shows each country’s 2015 tax revenue-to-GDP ratio [3]. Each country’s estimated 2017 GDP per capita per the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is also listed to give an idea of the average individual’s annual income for that country [4]. In addition, I note whether a country is an Islamic country.

[1] Why developing countries need to toughen up on taxes

[2] List of countries by Human Development Index

[3] List of countries by tax revenue to GDP ratio

[4] List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita

In the table below, CPI (Corruption Perception Index) is a measure of how corrupt people perceive a country to be. Of course, paying more taxes to a corrupt government is pointless.

Very High human development

Rank Country Islamic? HDI Tax Revenue-to-GDP Ratio GDP per capita CPI
1Norway0.94954.8$70,59085
2Australia0.93943.4$49,88273
3Switzerland0.93927.8$61,36084
4Germany0.92644.5$50,20680
5Denmark0.92550.8$49,61388
5Singapore0.92514.2$90,53185
6Netherlands0.92439.8$53,58282
7Ireland0.92330.8$72,63274
8Iceland0.92140.4$52,15074
9Canada0.92131.7$48,14174
10United States0.92026.0$59,49567
19Israel0.89936.8$36,25036
30BruneiYes0.865?$76,743?
33QatarYes0.8562.2$124,92731
38Saudi ArabiaYes0.8475.3$55,26352
42UAEYes0.8401.4$68,24569
47BahrainYes0.8244.8$51,84642
51KuwaitYes0.8001.5$69,66943

High human development

Rank Country Islamic? HDI Tax Revenue-to-GDP Ratio GDP per capita CPI
59MalaysiaYes0.78915.5$28,87148
69IranYes0.7746.1$20,03025
71TurkeyYes0.76724.9$26,45338
86JordanYes0.74121.1$12,48749
90China0.73820.1$16,62445
97TunisiaYes0.72514.9$11,98744
102LibyaYes0.7162.7$9,79217

Medium human development

Rank Country Islamic? HDI Tax Revenue-to-GDP Ratio GDP per capita CPI
111EgyptYes0.69115.8$12,99433
113IndonesiaYes0.68912.0$12,37838
123MoroccoYes0.64722.3$8,61239
139BangladeshYes0.5798.5$4,56126
147PakistanYes0.55011.0$5,35428

Low human development

Rank Country Islamic? HDI Tax Revenue-to-GDP Ratio GDP per capita CPI
168YemenYes0.4827.1$2,30016
169AfghanistanYes0.4796.4$1,88916
187Niger0.35311.0$1,15331

One thing of note is that all Islamic countries in the “Very high human development” category are oil or natural gas-producing countries. These countries do not collect much, if any, tax from their residents because they don’t need to as they’ve been lucky enough to have a very valuable natural resource. These are mostly small countries with small populations and lots of oil and gas.

Based on the table above, most Islamic countries have a tax revenue as % of GDP value of less than 20%. And as you can see, the top 10 countries with the highest quality of life are the countries that collect the most tax from their residents. Not a single one of these top 10 countries is an Islamic country.

If we take the average tax revenue as a % of GDP for all countries in each category, we get the following table.

Country GroupAverage Tax Revenue as % of GDP
Top 10 Very High Human Development36.75
Very High Human Development31.92
High Human Development22.08
Medium Human Development17.09
Low Human Development15.08

Based on the two tables above, it appears that, in general, the more taxes a country collects (higher tax revenue as % of GDP), the higher the quality of life of its residents.

Quite ironically, the requirements of a society based on an inclusive tax system seem to be better understood in non-Islamic countries than in many Muslim countries that cannot often fulfill the basic demands and needs of their citizens.

Conclusion

It should be clear now that Islamic zakat is actually government taxation which is mandatory for everyone, not just Muslims, and for the benefit of everyone, not just Muslims. In Islamic countries, since many Muslims think that zakat is not government taxation, it may be helpful to change the term “income tax” to “zakat” since, as I have explained above, the two terms are synonymous.

Is charity or zakah only for Muslims?

Some Muslims refuse to give charity to non-Muslims as they consider all non-Muslims as infidels (kafir). First of all, the Quran never says you may only give charity to Muslims. Secondly, not all non-Muslims are kafir because to be a kafir, you have to intentionally reject God. If you were raised in a Hindu family and you worship statues, then you are an idolater (mushrik), but not necessarily an infidel (kafir). You are, however, wrong in thinking that a statue is God and, unless you use your brain to think about that to discover the truth, as required of you in verse 8:22, you may very well end up in Hell.

إِنَّ شَرَّ الدَّوَابِّ عِندَ اللَّهِ الصُّمُّ الْبُكْمُ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ
Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason. (8:22)

As stated in verse 9:6, idolaters are people who simply don’t know that the statues they worship are not god(s).

وَإِنْ أَحَدٌ مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ اسْتَجَارَكَ فَأَجِرْهُ حَتَّىٰ يَسْمَعَ كَلَامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ أَبْلِغْهُ مَأْمَنَهُ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لَّا يَعْلَمُونَ
And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know. (9:6)

If they do not reject God, then they can get guidance so as to see their mistakes and discover the real God. In the meantime, they deserve financial help just like anyone else. Not everyone is born into a Muslim family but everyone can convert to Islam at any time in their lives. To refuse to help someone based on their current belief is not only inhumane but counter to the spirit of Islam. Who knows? The person you refuse to give charity to based on their current belief may end up converting and becoming a more righteous Muslim than you.

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Lailat Al-Qadr Is Not What You Think It Is

Many Muslims believe that they will reap some huge reward or all of their sins will be washed away if they perform lots of worship during one unknown night near the end of the month of Ramadan. However, there is no statement in the Quran that tells people to try and find Lailat Al-Qadr.

According to verses 97:1-5, we know that God revealed something in the Night of Decree (Laylatul-qadr).

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِوَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ خَيْرٌ مِّنْ أَلْفِ شَهْرٍ تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِم مِّن كُلِّ أَمْرٍ سَلَامٌ هِيَ حَتَّىٰ مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ
Indeed, We sent it down (Arabic: Anzalnahu) during the Night of Decree. And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter. Peace it is until the emergence of dawn. (97:1-5)

The Arabic word “anzalnahu” means “we sent it down”. This most like means that the Quran was sent down. If we look at verse 44:2-4, we find that the same word (anzalnahu) was used to describe the Quran being sent down.

وَالْكِتَابِ الْمُبِينِ إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ ۚ إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ
By the clear Book (Quran), Indeed, We sent it down during (Arabic: Anzalnahu) a blessed night. Indeed, We were to warn [mankind]. (44:2-4)

According to verse 2:185, we find that the Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan.

شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْ…
The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. … (2:185 part)

And according to verse 17:106, we find that the Quran was not revealed all at once or only during the month of Ramadan but rather a little at a time throughout prophet Muhammad’s ministry.

وَقُرْآنًا فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَىٰ مُكْثٍ وَنَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنزِيلًا
And [it is] a Qur’an which We have separated [by intervals] that you might recite it to the people over a prolonged period. And We have sent it down progressively. (17:106)

Based on the facts about Laylatul-Qadr described above, we see that the Quran never tells people to seek the Night of Decree (Laylatul Qadr). The revelation of the Quran began on the Night of Decree (Laylatul Qadr) and the rest of the Quran was revealed throughout the remainder of Muhammad’s life.

Lastly, the purpose of fasting in the month of Ramadhan is to guard against evil and learn self-restraint (Arabic: tattaqun) as described in verse 2:183.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may learn self-restraint / guard against evil – (2:183)

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