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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Grammar Humor

*I still am using the mini-netbook instead of my bad boy desktop, so I apologize for not posting much, but keep in mind that serious work on the mini-netbook is painful.  So without further ado, here's a mini-lesson on grammar from Web English Teacher on FB:

‎1. A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
2. A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave.
3. A question mark walks into a bar?
4. Two quotation marks “walk into” a bar.
5. A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to drink.  
6. The bar was walked into by the passive voice.
7. Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They drink. They leave.

(With thanks to @David Harrell!)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"Dash Away, Dash Away...."

Dancer, Vixen, and Prancer may know the three simple rules for using dashes, but do you?  Good writers should know when to use the dash. (For those of you who don't know, a dash on a keyboard is made by typing two hyphens next to each other!) 

So, check out the following rules, and "Dash away!"

1.  Use the dash to indicate an abrupt break in thought.


The poor condition of this road -- you can feel every bump as you ride along -- makes it inconvenient for those who have no alternate route.

The real villain turns out to be -- but I don't want to spoil the ending for those of you who have not yet seen the movie.

2.  Use a dash to set off parenthetical material.


Very few people in this class -- three to be exact -- have completed their projects.

3.  Use a dash to mean namely, in other words, that is, and similar expressions that precede explanations.


She joined the chorus for only one reason -- she loved to sing.

*Note:  The dash and colon are often interchangeable in this use covered in the last rule.  A dash may be considered more emphatic than a colon. 

So, my dear writers, now that you know the rules, dash to your keyboard and begin using a dash now and then in your writing.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

IM Disease

IM Disease, a deadly virus, first surfaced a a decade and a half ago, attacking people of all ages and all walks in life, and has since spread to all parts of the world.  Showing up with the advent of ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, etc., Instant Message Disease causes patients to soon lose the ability to punctuate, capitalize, and spell as they use the computer to communicate.  IM Disease is resistant to many medications, and continues to spread, particularly throughout the teenage population, as they now spend inordinate amounts of time texting on their cell phones.

Treatment involves practice writing papers for classes and conscious thought.  Attention to detail is vital for a full recovery, so following are some grammar rules for capitalization:

1.  Capitalize a title belonging to a particular person if it precedes the person's name.  If a title stands alone or follows a person's name, capitalize it only if it refers to a high official or to someone to whom you wish to show special respect.


Coach Matta; Thad Matta, basketball coach; the coach; a coach

Admiral Watkins; Admiral James D. Watkins, Chief of Naval Operations; an admiral

the Speaker of the House; the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Prince of Wales; the Attorney General; the Mayor of New York

*Some titles are capitalized if they refer to a particular person or are used in place of a person's name.  This if often true when titles are used in sentence of direct address.


The Governor signed the bill.
A governor is an elected official.
Are you retiring at the end of this term, Professor?
A new professor will be appointed in his place.

*The word president is always capitalized when it refers to the head of a nation; the compound word vice-president is capitalized (with two capital letters) when it refers to the Vice-President of a nation.

*Do not capitalize ex -, -elect, former, or late when they are used with a title:  ex-Governor Welsh, the President-elect, former Congressman Hill, the late Senator Humphrey

*The rules governing titles of honor or position also apply, in general, to words indicating family relationships, such as mother, father, grandmother, sister, brother, aunt.  Such words are capitalized whey they precede a name:  Uncle Ed, Cousin Amy.  They may be capitalized when they are used in place of a person's name, especially in direct address:  "Did you play tennis today, Mother?"  When used alone, they are usually not capitalized:  Margo has one sister and two brothers.

*Do not capitalize a word indicating relationship when it follows a possessive noun or pronoun unless it is considered a part of the name:  Mrs. Graham's son, my sister Sally, but my Aunt Catherine.

2.  Capitalize the first word, the last word, and all important words in the titles of books, magazines, newspapers, articles, historical documents, laws, works of art, movies, and television programs.


The Catcher in the Rye
the Tribune
"Interview with the President"
the Declaration of Independence
National War Powers Act
Kennedy-Ives Bill
Twenty-fifth Amendment
Star Wars
"Sesame Street"

Please continue to communicate with your friends and family via an instant messenger, but remember, you need to know the differences in language and when to use which form.  An essay on a college application or a business communication with another company is not the time to flaunt IM Disease and use Non-Standard English that you probably use with instant messages to your bestie. 

Happy Writing!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Road Trip

I posted today's grammar rule in my personal blog which can be viewed here:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Variety Is the Spice of Life!

As the old adage goes, "Variety is the spice of life."  So, need a little oregano or thyme, or maybe cinnamon to spice up your writing?  What about paprika?  The perfect spice to enliven your writing, of course, is to use a variety of sentence structures.

Notice in the following paragraph that the writer has used a variety of sentence structures to add vitality to his writing.

(Reminder:  S =          Simple Sentence (one independent clause)
                    CD =        Compound Sentence (two or more independent clauses)
                    CX =        Complex Sentence (one independent clause + any number of subordinate clauses)
                    CD-CX = Compound-Complex Sentence (two or more independent clauses + any number of subordinate clauses)

George Willard, the Ohio village boy, was fast growing into manhood and new thoughts had been coming into his mind. (CD)  All that day, amid the jam of people at the Fair, he had gone about feeling lonely. (S)  He was about to leave Winesburg to go away to some city where he hoped to get work on a city newspaper and he felt grown-up.  (CD-CX)  The mood that had taken possession of him was a thing known to men and unknown to boys. (CX)  He felt old and a little tired. (S)  Memories awoke in him.  (S)  To his mind his new sense of maturity set him apart, made of him a half-tragic figure.  (S)  He wanted someone to understand the feeling that had taken possession of him after his mother's death.  (CX)

                                                                                                       ~Sherwood Anderson

When we first begin to write, we use simple sentences:  Next week we will stay after school.  The rehearsals for the spring play begin.  Maybe I will have a part in it. 

However, as we grow older and more mature in our thinking, we write more complicated sentences, in order to express our thoughts more effectively.  One sign of maturity in writing is the use of subordination, which will help you to write sentences that have greater clarity, smoothness, and force.

So spice up your writing with more than a dash of sentence variety, and mix together simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences to create the perfect piece.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Indefinite Personal Attacks!

Have you attacked personal pronouns with apostrophes?  Have you armed yourself in a fight against apostrophes and indefinite pronouns?  Apostrophes can drive writers to word battles as well as madness. 

Here are two apostrophe/pronoun rules to provide your mighty pen with some much needed R & R.

RULE # 1.  Personal pronouns in the possessive case (his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs) and the relative pronoun whose do not require apostrophes.

INCORRECT:     The books were her's.
CORRECT:         The books were hers.

INCORRECT:     The leopard can't change it's spots.
CORRECT:         The leopard can't change its spots.

INCORRECT:     Mary is the girl who's mother I met.
CORRECT:         Mary is the girl whose mother I met.

RULE # 2:  An indefinite pronoun (one, everyone, everybody, etc.) in the possessive case requires an apostrophe and an s.


     Each one's time is recorded separately.
     He seems to need everybody's attention.

*Note:  In such forms as anyone else, somebody else, etc., the correct possessives are anyone else's, somebody else's, etc.  The word oneself has no apostrophe.  Remember -- no one's perfect unless they use an apostrophe!

Grab your sword, I mean, mighty pen, and prepare for battle!  May the apostrophe be with or without you, depending on the case!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Show; Don't Tell -- Explanation and Examples

Since I had some questions from writers concerning the first rule of writing -- Show; Don't Tell -- I found an outstanding website that provides excellent examples.

Here's the website:

I think any writer will find the examples and explanations on the website, Inspiration for Writers, immensely helpful.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Are You in Agreement?

I found this headline yesterday in a magazine I was reading:  ONE IN FOUR SENIORS STRUGGLESIs this headline grammatically correct?  Does it sound like something's not correct?  Are you in agreement with the author/editor, or do you disagree?

Agreement in the grammar world often seems tricky.  However, the headline is grammatically correct -- "one" is actually the subject, not "seniors," and "struggles" is the predicate. ("In four seniors" is a prepositional phrase, and, as I used to explain to my students, subjects are never, ever in preppy phrases.  Preppy phrases are simply extra information.)

Both "one" and "struggles" are singular, and therefore, in agreement. (Some people automatically associate an "s" with "plural" which is incorrect in the world of verbs, so if you think of the "s" on most regular verbs as starting the word "singular," you will be able to remember which verb is which.) 

Although you are familiar with the singular and plural forms of nouns, pronouns, and verbs, you may still include "agreement errors" in your sentences.  So why do these errors occur?  As you proofread, perhaps you fail to analyze your sentences correctly and do not determine the true subjects of the sentences.  Certain sentence constructions tend to make it more difficult, unless you take the time to actually look at the sentence's construction, to find the true subject.

In many sentences a phrase intervenes between the subject and the verb, as in the example above, and it's easy then to become confused and make a mistake about the number of the verb.  Just as an intervening phrase can do, a clause can also come between the subject and verb, making it more difficult for you to choose the correct form of the verb.

Remember the basic principle of agreement:  The verb must agree with its subject, not with any modifiers the subject may have.

Here's the actual grammar rule:  The number of the subject is not changed by a phrase or clause following the subject.


This tape is by the Boston Pops Orchestra.

This tape of songs from a Broadway musical is by the Boston Pops Orchestra.  [Tape is still the subject.  "Of songs" and "from a Broadway musical" are both prepositional phrases.]

The girl is our next-door neighbor.  ["Girl" is singular, and "is" is singular.]

The girl who sells eggs is our next-door neighbor.  [Girl is, not eggs are. "Who sells eggs" is a clause.]

Tsetse flies, which carry the dreaded disease called sleeping sickness, attack both humans and cattle.

A single milk pail, in addition to a rotting log and bird tracks, appears in a painting by Andrew Wyeth.

Agreement is important in constructing your sentences and writing correctly.  Do you agree? 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Forgotten Comma

Commas?  We're supposed to use them in our writing?  I don't use them because I don't know where they go.  Do we really need them anyway?  Just forget about commas and write!

Do these comments sound familiar?  I know too many writers who say exactly those things about commas, so I thought not only would I strive to improve, but I would give you one of the comma rules to either refresh your memory, or let you practice adding and focusing on one comma rule at a time in your writing.

(This next section, which is included in the parentheses, is for those who always want to know why and who question everything, or for those who want to learn even more; otherwise, skip to the end of the parentheses and to the rule.

When we listen to ordinary speech, we do not hear sounds or words alone; we hear groups of words that we understand as phrases, clauses, or full sentences.  We are able to hear these groups of words because the speaker stresses certain words, inserts pauses where they are needed, and changes pitch of voice according to the sense of the sentence.

When we write a sentence, we show these pauses by using marks of punctuation.  Not all punctuation conforms to the pauses we use in speech; some, like the semicolon, are used in a traditional way to show grammatical relationships that cannot be expressed by the voice alone.  Others, however, match the rise and fall of our voices, called inflection, and the stops, or pauses, we use to separate groups.

When we make a shorter pause (comma), we show a break in thought, as when inserting a nonessential clause or a word or a phrase in apposition.  A comma -- sometimes a dash or parentheses -- indicates this half stop in writing. 

For many years English writing was marked by extremely full and detailed punctuation that now seems excessive to us.  Too much punctuation interferes with easy reading, just as a speaker who continually pauses or stops is hard to understand.  Overpunctuation can be avoided by remembering to use a mark of punctuation for only two reasons:  (1) because meaning demands it, or (2) because conventional usage requires it.  If a sentence is unclear to begin with, punctuation will not clarify it.  If you find yourself struggling with the punctuation of a particular sentence, ask yourself whether the trouble lies in your arrangement of phrases or in your choice of words.  Often you can eliminate the problem by recasting the sentence.)
Here's one commonly forgotten comma rule:  Use a comma before and, but, or, nor, for, yet when they join independent clauses.


The Drama Club will be putting on Macbeth, and I can hardly wait to audition.

Amy was nervous about computer programming, but after two weeks in the class she was doing well.

I had to follow the recipe carefully, for I had never tried to bake a cake before.

*Note the rule applies to compound sentences, not compound verbs, compound subjects, and the like.  In the following examples, commas should not be used.


My sister was accepted at Emory University but decided to attend the University of Virginia instead.
 (compound verb)

What he is saying and how he is behaving are two totally different things.  (compound subject)

Television crews covered the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 races.  (compound object)

*Note the rule is always correct; however, writers are allowed freedom in its application.  When two independent clauses joined by a conjunction are very short and closely connected in thought, the comma between them may be omitted.


The phone rang and I answered it.

You can take the bus or you can walk home.

The comma should never be omitted if a sentence would be confusing or unclear without it.

Not Clear 

The teacher called on Maria and John began to answer.  (Most readers would have to go over this sentence twice before realizing that the writer is not saying The teacher called on Maria and John.)


The teacher called on Maria, and John began to answer.

If you would like more help in explaining independent clauses (and/or subordinate clauses), let me know and I will be glad to explain.  I do hope this often forgotten comma rule, along with explanations for writers, is helpful.  Now where did I put my pencil?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gems from Mark Twain

I believe we can learn many things from others, and writers can also learn from other writers.  Acclaimed American humorist and writer, Mark Twain, certainly tossed out gems of wisdom about the craft of writing.  Following are two of my favorites from which everyone can profit.

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Mark Twain

How many times do you use "very" in your writing?  Ah, this is something we all need to carefully watch as there is much truth in Twain's comment.

Here's the second one:

Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.
Mark Twain

As many writing teachers reiterate, "Show; don't tell."  When you revise, keep Twain's sound recommendation in mind and look for instances of telling that could be revised, instead, to show.  

These are two great pieces of advice from a writing master.  I hope you can incorporate these skills into your writing.  

Before I close this blog entry, I'll leave you with one more quote from Mark TwainThe difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.  

Happy Writing!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Moody Blues

Like the English rock band The Moody Blues, who early on fused rock with classical, every writer needs  to fuse their modern-day writing in two situations with the more classical subjunctive mood.

For those of you more advanced grammarians, here's a fairly easy explanation of what is meant by mood with regard to verbs. (If the term mood fogs your brain, however, simply skip down to the rule.)  Verbs are said to be in one of three moods: indicative (most of our writing is in this mood which deals with statement of fact), imperative (used to express a request or command), and subjunctive (used in modern English only to express a condition contrary to fact or to express a wish, and usually applies to only one verb form -- were).

Rule:  The subjunctive were is used in contrary-to-fact statements (after if or as though) and in statements expressing a wish.

Contrary to Fact:

If I were you, I'd have those tires checked.  (I am not you.)

If he were to proofread his papers, he would make fewer errors.  (He does not proofread his papers.)

On a bad telephone connection, it sometimes sounds as though the caller were ten thousand miles away.  (The caller is not ten thousand miles away.)


I wish my aunt were here for the holidays.

I wish he were not driving so fast.

I hope this helps some of you who've noticed this strange subjunctive mood occurrence in the writing or speech of others.  Let's face it -- If I was you, I wouldn't want people to notice my writing mistakes,  sounds like something is wrong with the sentence, and is.  That's why I gave you the rule above to explain it.

As the Moody Blues sing, "I wonder if you think about it (this grammar rule), Once upon a time, In your wildest dreams."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bag the Baggy Words!

Would you use the following sentence in your writing?  Nick walked into the room.  How about this one?  Jim wore a nice shirt. 

Both of those sentences have problems.  They contain "Baggy Words."  Baggy Words fit like loose  jeans that are five sizes too big, and they don't flatter anyone's shape because they are too baggy.   How did Nick enter the room?  Can you be more specific?  Did he saunter into the room?  Did he rush?  What about stroll, leap, stumble, or shuffle?  What if he felt tired?  How would he enter?  These verbs are far more descriptive and specific.

A writer's diction may be correct but still be vague and imprecise.  For example, many writers overuse such vague adjectives as nice, great, and good, and such vague verbs as do, say, and go.  Writers should try to find specific adjectives and verbs to say more exactly what they mean.

       VAGUE                                                                              SPECIFIC

The day was nice.                                     The day was mild and breezy.
Julie is a great dancer.                               Julie moves fluidly and rhythmically when she dances.
I did the grass.                                           I mowed and edged the lawn.
Bridget said good night.                            Bridget whispered good night.
Jack went through the leaves.                   Jack shuffled through the leaves.

Suppose you want to describe Jan's dress:  Jan wore a red dress.  You might want to be more specific about the color:  Was it fire-engine red, brick red, or strawberry red?  You might want to be more specific about the material:  Was it silk, polyester, or wool?

Suppose you write:  Mary lived in a small house on Second Street.  Can you make the house more specific:  a Cape Cod cottage, a split-level, or a row house?

Suppose a dog enters your composition.  Make it a specific dog:  a loyal old, limping hound; a melancholy-faced, playful poodle.

Need a little practice?  The following sentences are general and unspecific.  Can you make each one  more vivid and specific?

1.  The person by the door made a point.
2.  She took a vacation.
3.  Louie left the house.
4.  Flo has nice eyes.
5.  The unfavorable weather began on July 4.

Work on being detailed and specific in your writing by getting rid of the Baggy Words.  Otherwise, your editor might think you would be better off stuffed in a garment bag.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is This Title Well-Designed?

No!  A grammar error lurks in the title above.  Is it still a mystery, or are you a world class grammarian?  (Ack!  I did it again!) 

Did you give up, or are you thinking it has something to do with the hyphen?  If you think it's the hyphen, you're right.  Did you ever wonder why sometimes well designed has a hyphen, and yet other times you've seen it without one?  

Here's the rule:

Hyphenate a compound adjective when it precedes the word it modifies.


a well-designed engine
The engine was well designed.

a world-famous skier
The skier is world famous.

the well-known actor
The actor was well known

the soft-spoken woman
The woman was soft spoken.

*Note:  Do not use a hyphen if one of the modifiers ends in ly.


a partly finished research paper

a heavily loaded truck

I hope this little-known rule  has helped clear up a small mystery in the world of grammar.  Happy writing!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Let's Exercise!

Do you actively check for instances of passive voice in your revision exercises?  No?  Drop and give me 20!

Choosing between the active and passive voice in writing is a matter of style, not correctness.  However, in most circumstances the passive voice is less forceful than the active voice, and a string of passive verbs often produces an awkward paragraph.

AWKWARD PASSIVE    Last night, the floor was scrubbed by my dad, and the faucet was fixed by  my mom.
ACTIVE                           Last night, my dad scrubbed the floor, and my mom fixed the faucet.

AWKWARD PASSIVE    The first wristwatch was created by a court jeweler when a watch in a  bracelet was requested by Empress Josephine.
ACTIVE                            When Empress Josephine requested a watch in a bracelet, a court jeweler created the first wristwatch.

SUCCESSION OF PASSIVES  When my mother was asked by the local camera club to give a guest lecture on the photography, we were all amazed by the request.  Neither of my parents had ever been chosen to do anything like this before.  Since I was considered the most imaginative member of my family, I was given by my mother the task of choosing the topics that would be presented.  Father was elected by us to choose the slides that would be shown to the amateur photographers.  Extra invitations were sent to us by the camera club and these, in turn were mailed by us to all of our friends.  When the night of the lecture finally arrived, my father, my two brothers, and I were seated by the usher in the first row.  The lecture was introduced by a discussion of how modern photography was influenced  by portrait painting and still-life painting.  After the lecture had been completed, I was impressed by Mother's knowledge and command of her subject.

*This paragraph is not effective because of the overuse of passive verbs.

Use the passive voice sparingly.  Avoid weak and awkward passives in the interest of variety, and avoid long passages in which all the verbs are passive.  Although this rule is generally true, there are a few situations where the passive voice is particularly useful.

            1.  Use the passive voice to express an action in which the actor is unknown.
                        An anonymous letter was sent to the police chief.
            2.  Use the passive voice to express an action in which it is desirable not to disclose the actor.

                        The missing painting has been returned to the museum.

*Sometimes the passive voice is more convenient, and just as appropriate, as the active voice.  In the following sentences, the passive voice is completely acceptable and probably more natural.

            Penicillin, a modern wonder drug, was discovered accidentally.
            The person who was standing near the entrance was asked to close the door.
            The top player was eliminated in the first round.

Remember to use passive voice sparingly, and check for it when you revise your writing.  Otherwise, you'll be a weakling and never get stronger writing muscles!

Monday, June 13, 2011

♪ Down Dooby Do Down Down, Comma Comma..... Breaking Up Is Hard to Do...♪

Did you realize Neil Sedaka used an English grammar term in his lyrics?  No wonder Breaking Up Is Hard to Do is one of my all-time favorite songs!  :)

Speaking of commas (or should that be singing?), I thought it might be helpful for everyone to brush up on four easy comma rules that folks may have forgotten.   So, without further ado (or singing!), here they are.

Cindy's Four Easy Comma Rules

1.  Use a comma after introductory words such as well, yes, no, and why when they begin a sentence.

     Yes, I heard your question.
     Well, I really haven't thought about it.
     No, I don't think I'll go to the movie.
     Why, I can't imagine where I left my keys.

2.  Words used in direct address are set off by commas.

      Mother, did you remember to call Mrs. Johnson?
      Your essay, Martha, was late.
      Will you answer the question, Monica?

3.  Use commas to separate two or more adjectives that modify the same noun.

     Lana is an intelligent, responsible, sensitive director.

4.  Expressions that interrupt, such as parenthetical expressions, are set off by commas.

Many words and phrases are used parenthetically.  Such expressions may serve as explanations or qualifications, but they do not affect the grammatical construction of the sentence in which they appear.  The following list contains a few of the most commonly used parenthetical expressions.

after all
as a matter of fact
by the way
for example
I believe (hope, think, etc.)
in fact
in the first place
on the other hand

     As a matter of fact, I was just going to call you.
     That is, of course, only one opinion.
     Why don't you come, too?

Of course these expressions need not be used parenthetically.  When they are not, do not set them off by commas.

     It is, in my opinion, an excellent book.  (parenthetical)
      Are you interested in my opinion of the book?  (not parenthetical)

A contrasting expression introduced by not is parenthetical and should be set off by commas.

     It is the humidity, not the heat, that is so exhausting.

 *Note -- Rule #4 is often deliberately not followed for several reasons.  First, a writer may omit the commas setting off a parenthetical expression in order to avoid overpunctuating a sentence.  Second, and of great importance, is the writer's intention.  When you wish the reader to pause, to consider the expression as parenthetical, set it off; if not, leave it unpunctuated.  You will always be safe, however, if you follow Rule #4.

May your writing be blessed with appropriate commas, or you might be singing the blues when your editor gets hold of you.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Could of Used a Grammatically Correct Title!

Did you notice something wrong in my title for this blog entry?

As I'm typing the rest of this entry, I would of thought you might notice the grammatical problem, but then I should of realized many people make this mistake so often that some people might not even notice I've deliberately used this common mistake two more times in this sentence.  Surely you must of figured it out by now (Ack!  I did it again!).  Have you figured out what the mistakes are?

There is no such phrase as could of, would of, should of, might of or must of.   That's right -- could of and the other similar forms are not grammatically correct.  Are you guilty of using any of these  in your writing when you should be writing have instead?

Here's the rule:  Watch for two common errors in the use of of.   Do not write of in place of have in such phrases as could have, should have, might have, must have, etc.  In everday speech we often slur the word have, producing a sound that might be written could've or could of .  There is no such phrase as could of -- it's could have.  Do not allow speech habits to lead you into spelling and usage errors.

Incorrect:  She could of had straight A's if she had worked harder.

Correct:    She could have had straight A's if she had worked harder.

Speaking of of, here's one more little rule to remember to help you avoid wordiness and be more concise in your writing:

Do not use of unnecessarily in such phrases as had of and off of.

Incorrect:  If I had of known about the shortcut, I'd have been here sooner.

Correct:     If I had known about the shortcut, I'd have been here sooner. 

Incorrect:  The dog jumped off of the couch as soon as it heard its owner coming.

Correct:     The dog jumped off the couch as soon as it heard its owner coming.

Have a Happy Writing Day!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Like Fingers on a Chalkboard....

*Use these mistakes in your writing to represent some dialect, and use them in ordinary conversation if you so desire, but it's always wise to use Standard English in writing or speaking when the occasion warrants it.  I often think that so many of us hear something incorrectly so frequently that we don't always realize we're using Nonstandard English because it's become more-or-less acceptable.  

With our Appalachian influence in this section of the country, for instance, I've heard even educated business professionals say while conducting meetings: "I've went to the conference..." and "He has ran..." -- they've probably heard this language this way all their lives and are totally unaware it's Nonstandard English.  Perhaps they don't care, but a writer and a speaker should know the difference, as well as when to use each.  In addition, I've actually seen two of the following mistakes in the names of two local businesses -- I felt compelled (not because I'm a "wise ass" but because I would want someone to tell me if I did something similar) to call and explain that even though it wasn't my business (literally), I wondered if they realized the names of their companies contained grammatical mistakes, just in case they wanted to correct them.

Easily Corrected Mistakes:                         Should Be:

Alot                                                                   a lot   
Ice tea                                                                iced tea

old fashion                                                        old-fashioned 
strickly                                                              strictly

congradulations                                                congratulations

alright                                                               all right

to much sun                                                     too much sun

he don’t                                                            he doesn’t

she has went every week...                              she has gone every week...

ect.                                                                    etc. (et cetera = and so forth)

Me and Jim                                                       Jim and I (or Jim and me, depending on the situation)
I seen someone leave...                                    I saw someone leave...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Misplaced Modifiers Should Be Sent to Lost and Found

Rushing out into the street, he caught the puppy, wearing only a bathrobe and pajamas.  Uh-oh!  I didn't realize puppies wore bathrobes or pajamas.

 Do some of these sentences look correct to you? 
     1.  There is an Egyptian bracelet in a local museum that is four thousand years old.
     2.  Mary rushed to the airport as the Los Angeles plane arrived and grabbed a malted milk.
     3.  I found a book about Virginia Woolf written by her husband at a garage sale.

 If you said yes to any of these sentences, then you may have some misplaced modifiers in your writing, and during revision, should look a little more closely at this particular thing.  All three of the sentences above contain misplaced modifiers and need to be revised. 

In the sentence The tense hunter watched the raging lion come charging at him while readying his bow and arrow, the reader might think the lion owned the bow and arrow.  Successful writers make their meanings clear.  Misplaced modifiers are obstacles to understanding, so a writer needs to place phrase and clause modifiers as near as possible to the words they modify.

Here's one more example:

Confusing      We listened breathlessly to the stories told by Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights, munching peanuts and crackers.

Clear     Munching peanuts and crackers, we listened breathlessly to the stories told by Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights.

But what are dangling modifiers?  Everyone's heard of them.

A modifying phrase or clause must clearly and sensibly modify a word in the sentence.  When there is no word that the phrase or clause can modify, the modifier is said to dangle.

Example:     Eating my dinner quietly, the explosion made me jump up.  (Was the explosion eating dinner?  Who was eating dinner?  The sentence doesn't say.)

Corrected:  Eating my dinner quietly, I jumped up when I heard the explosion.

            or:  While I was eating my dinner quietly, the explosion made me jump up.

Example:  To finish her paper on time, Mary's weekend was spent in the library.

Corrected:   So that Mary could finish her paper on time, her weekend was spent in the library.

     or:         To finish her paper on time, Mary spent her weekend in the library.

*Note:  A few dangling modifiers have become accepted in idiomatic expressions.
     Generally speaking, Americans are living longer.
     To be honest, the party was rather boring.

I hope this posting helps everyone who misplaces or dangles their modifiers :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Business Letter Tip

Since so many writers are composing queries to agents and publishers as well as cover letters, here's one tip for business letter format:

The style of abbreviation and punctuation in the inside address should be identical with that of the heading.

In other words, if you write out the word "street" in the heading, you need to write out "road" or "avenue" in the inside address (or if you abbreviate in the heading, abbreviate in the inside address.)  Likewise, if you write out the state name in the heading, write out the state name in the inside address.  Whatever you do, keep the forms the same for a more professional business letter. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

You Affect Me with the Effects of Your Writing!

Do you know when to use "affect" or "effect," or do you simply guess each time you come to one of those words in your writing?
An easy way to help with remembering is to know both words can be verbs, but the only one that is ever used as a noun is "effect."  So, if the word is a noun (used as a subject, object of a preposition, direct object, predicate nominative, etc.), then it has to be "effect."

Here's the rule: 

Affect is a verb meaning "to act upon" or "to influence."

     The release of atomic energy affects (influences) the destiny of the human race.

     Did the operation on her knee affect (act upon) her knee?

Effect may be used as either a verb or a noun.  As a verb, it means "to bring about a desired result" or "to accomplish"; as a noun, it means the "result" (of an action).

     Atomic power may effect (bring about) crucial changes in industry.  (verb)

     Its varying effects (results) are difficult to ascertain.  (noun)

     Quiz Yourself:

1.  & 2.  Though eastern Kansas was seriously ___________, the windstorm had little _____________ on the western portion of the state.

3.  Did the new Student Council ___________ any changes in the cafeteria rules?

4.  She realized her speech was not having the proper ________________ on the audience.

     Answers (No peeking!)
1.   affected  (verb -- influenced)   2.  effect (noun -- result)    3.  effect (verb -- bring about)     4.  effect  (noun -- result)

If you have additional sentences about which you would like to ask, please send them, and I'll be glad to help.  If you want additional example sentences, let me know.



Monday, May 30, 2011

Inside or Outside?

Anyone trying to figure out how to punctuate quotations correctly?

Here's the rule for punctuating quotations in your writing, or what I call the "Livin' La Vida Loca" Rule since Ricky Martin sings........♪ Upside, inside, out, Livin' la vida loca... ♪

Place a period or a comma inside the quotation marks. 

      "As a matter of fact," she added, "it's warm enough to swim today."

Place a semicolon or a colon outside.  

      Gloria promised, "I'll certainly go to the dance with you"; however, that was three weeks ago.

     You must admit one thing about deliveries marked "rush order":  they always do arrive, eventually.

Place a question mark or an exclamation point inside when it is part of the quotation -- otherwise outside.

     "Who was that on the phone?" my mother asked.

     "Kill the umpire!" shouted the crowd.

     Didn't you say yesterday, "I'll never be late again"?

     Get out of here with your "I'm awfully sorry"!

Sunday, May 29, 2011


When using "a" or "an," think about sounds, not letters!

Consonant Sound                                                 Vowel Sound

a hectic week (h sound)                                       an hour's delay (short o sound)
a uniform ( y sound)                                            an unusual sight (short u sound)
a mermaid (m sound)                                           an M and M (short e sound --
                                                                                        it's not a "mem," but "em")

*Formerly "an" was used with words like hotel and historical.  Since the "h" is not silent in these words, "a" is now more generally used.  Just remember to think of sounds.

Hope this helps explain the rule about "a" and "an."