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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Plural = More Than One

Do you notice anything special about the following sign?
No?  Does the word "Sign's" show ownership or possession of anything?  Does it own the lettering or the professional?  Of course, it doesn't.

Could the name on the sign actually refer to the making of multiple or plural signs at this business?  Of course, it does.

So, this business sign should say "Signs." 

What about the following sign?  Is it correct?

Are we talking possessive here or plural?  (You remember that an apostrophe show's possession and plural means more than one?)

You're right -- the sign is incorrect.  It should read "Supplies" as that means more than one.

Here's a more difficult one:

Are multiple alterations offered in this business?  Yes, so "alterations," is plural and correct.

Are the alterations meant for more than one lady?  Yes.  Then what is the plural of "lady"?  Ah, if there is more than one lady, the plural is "ladies."

Are the alterations meant for more than one man?  Yes, so the plural of "man"  is "men."

If the alterations belong to all of the ladies and to all of the men who hire this business to alter their clothes, then we need to use an apostrophe after the formation of the plural to show possession (for the few irregular plurals that don't end in "s," add the apostrophe and an "s").  Therefore, the sign above should read, "Ladies' and Men's Alterations Available."

As you can see from the signs above, everyone needs to first determine if the word in question is plural or possessive.  Then the answers will be much easier to "figure" out....unless, of course, your figure has changed proportions and you need to go to the business above for some grammar alterations.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Weak Reference Wreaks Havoc!

Like a hurricane that makes landfall and wreaks havoc, weak references in your writing can do the same.  No, weak reference does not refer to anything related to a job seeker's recommendations, but weak reference does deal with writing. 

Weak reference occurs when the antecedent of a pronoun (the word to which a pronoun refers) has not been expressed but exists only in the writer's mind.  The grammar rule clearly states:  Avoid weak reference. 

WEAK     Every time a circus came to town, Alice wanted to join them.

So, let me ask you -- who's them?  In this sentence there is no antecedent for the pronoun them.  Them refers to the people with the circuses, obviously, but these people are not specifically mentioned in the sentence.

CLEAR     Every time a circus came to town, Alice wanted to become one of the troupe.

Here's another example of a sentence with no clear antecedent for the pronoun these.

WEAK     He was a very superstitious person, and one of these was that walking under a ladder would bring bad luck.

In this sentence the antecedent for the pronoun these should be the noun superstitions, but the noun is only implied by the adjective superstitious.  The error may be corrected by substituting a noun for the pronoun or rewriting the first part of the sentence.

CLEAR     He was a very superstitious person; one of his superstitions was that walking under a ladder would bring bad luck.

BETTER     He had many superstitions, one of which was that walking under a ladder would bring bad luck.

Okay, let's see if you understand.  Here's one more example of weak reference.

WEAK     Mother is very much interested in psychiatry, but she doesn't believe they know all the answers.

CLEAR     Mother is very much interested in psychiatry, but she doesn't believe that psychiatrists know all the answers.

Remember weak reference may be corrected by replacing the weak pronoun with a noun or by giving the pronoun a clear and sensible antecedent.

Don't let storms of weak reference destroy your writing.  Keep your eyes on the winds whipping up that can blow your antecedents away.  Keep your eyes on your pronouns and write clearly. 

*(If anyone needs some practice sentences, let me know and I will type them up and send them to you.)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Have You Broke a Grammar Rule?

Have you broke a grammar rule by using this headline?  YES!!! 

Irregular verbs can cause quite a commotion when used improperly.  The irregular verb, break, creates many problems for some users, making others want to break them of their bad habit.

The principal forms of the verb break are:

INFINITIVE                             PAST                           PAST PARTICIPLE

break                                         broke                            (have) broken

The best way to learn irregular verb forms is to memorize the principal parts.  Next do some exercises.  Concentrate on any verb you have not used correctly and review its principal parts, repeating them over and over until the correct forms are fixed in your mind and the incorrect forms "hurt" your ears.  

Remember the past participle is always used with one or more helping, or auxiliary verbs -- is, are, was, have, have been, could have, might have, etc.  To remind yourself of this fact, always use have before the past participle when you repeat the principal parts of a verb.  Thus, you would say -- break, broke, have broken. 

Uh-oh!  The word have appears in the headline above.  What goes with a helper?  The past participle.  The headline should have read, "Have You Broken a Grammar Rule?" instead.

Here are some practice sentences using the irregular verb break.  What is the correct form that should fit in the blank?  Jot your answers down on a piece of paper before you check the answers with mine.

1.  Bob's cousin has __________ into show business.

2.  The silence was __________ by a sudden clap of thunder.

3.  While I was writing, my pencil suddenly  __________.

4.  Jenna's heart was ___________ when her boyfriend started dating someone else.

5.  Joe might have _____________ the rules.


Answers:  1.)  broken   2.)  broken   3.)  broke    4.)   broken   5.) broken

So make sure you have learned the principal parts of break.  That way you won't have to break out of jail after the Grammar Police imprison you for the use of an incorrect verb form.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Get the Scissors -- Part II

Scissors?  Heck!  After looking at the list of commonly used redundant words, I think I need shears!

Prune your writing.  Make it concise. Avoid being redundant and making the following mistakes.

made (out) of
may (possibly)
merge (together)
minestrone (soup)

nape (of her neck)
(natural) instinct
never (before)
(new) invention
(new) recruit
none (at all)

off (of)
open (up)
(outside) in the yard

palm (of the hand)
(past) history
pick (and choose)
PIN (number)
plan (ahead)
(positive) identification
postpone (until later)
protest (against)

refer (back)
(regular) routine
repeat (again)

(safe) haven
since (the time when)
small (size)
(sudden) impulse
surrounded (on all sides)

(temper) tantrum
(true) facts
tuna (fish)
(two equal) halves

undergraduate (student)
(unexpected) surprise

visible (to the eye)

weather (conditions)
whether (or not)

Thinking about this list should help you to think about each word as you revise.  Avoid redundancy or Edward Scissorhands may be looking for you! 

Get the Scissors!

Quick!  Get the scissors!  We all need to cut redundant words from our writing and speaking.

Redundancy is unnecessary repetition in expressing ideas.  It's the use of too many words.  Do you really need to say "a bouquet of flowers"?  No.  A bouquet by definition is a bunch of flowers.  Do you need to write "circled around"?  No.  A ship can circle an iceberg.

Like many of us, do you use any of the following phrases?  If so, you can eliminate redundancy and tighten up your writing by keeping these in mind.

(absolutely) essential
(advance) planning or (advance) warning
(added) bonus
(armed) gunman

bald (-headed)
best (ever)
blend (together)

cold (temperature)
(completely) destroyed
(current) trend

each (and every)
(end) result
enter (in)
evolve (over time)
exact (same)

(fellow) classmates
few (in number)
first (of all)
(free) gift

gather (together)
(general) public
green (in color)

heat (up)
hurry (up)

indicted (on a charge)

join (together)

kneel (down)

lag (behind)
later (time)
(little) baby
look (ahead) to the future

*Find Part II on tomorrow's blog

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's in a Name?

Snickers, Charmin, DiGiorno, Cover Girl, grains of sand, the list of brand names in our society is endless.  Is there a rule for capitalizing brand names?  You'd better believe it!  Here's the rule:

Capitalize all important words in the brand names of business products.  

*Note:  Except in advertising displays, a common noun or adjective following a brand name is not capitalized.


Oil of Olay
Crest toothpaste
Dial soap
Fruit of the Loom
Dodge pickup truck
Revlon lipstick
Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds
Fruit 'n Fiber
Calvin Klein
Speedo swimsuits
Speedo LZ Racer Elite

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is It Time for a Colonoscopy?

Most folks will agree that everyone should incorporate annual medical exams and wellness programs into their lives.  Have you, however, checked on your colon grammar health lately, or is it time for a writer's checkup? 

Here are the major rules for using a colon if you need a colonoscopy to refresh your skills.

1.  Use a colon to mean "note what follows."

     A.  Use a colon before a list of items, especially after expressions like as follows and the following.  


The application for employment at the manufacturing plant asked the following questions:  How old are you?  Have you ever worked in a manufacturing plant before?  What other jobs have you held?

We assembled the following items for our garage salelamps, books, records, toys, sheets and towels, dishes, and patio chairs.

* When a list immediately follows a verb or preposition, do not use a colon.


The emergency kit included safety flares, jumper cables, and a flashlight.

Each student taking the math test was provided with two sharpened pencils, paper, a protractor, and a ruler.

B.  Use a colon before a long, formal statement or quotation.


Patrick Henry concluded his revolutionary speech before the Virginia House of Burgesses with these ringing words Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take; but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death!  (Note a formal statement like this need not be enclosed in quotation marks.)

Here are the four main uses of the comma:  (1) to prevent misreading, (2) to separate items in a series, (3) to set off expressions that interrupt the sentence, and (4) to set off introductory phrases and clauses.

* The first word of a formal statement following a colon is generally capitalized; however, in the case of informal statements, the first word often starts with a small letter.

C.  Use a colon between independent clauses when the second clause explains or restates the idea of the first.


Lois felt that she had accomplished something worthwhile:  she had designed and sewn her first garment.

Benjamin Franklin had many talents:  he was an inventor, a writer, a politician, and a philosopher. 

2.  Use a colon in certain conventional situations.

A.  Use a colon between the hour and the minute when you write the time.

EXAMPLE      5:20 P.M.

B.  Use a colon between chapter and verse in referring to passages from the Bible.

EXAMPLE     Proverbs  10:1

C.  Use a colon between volume and the number or between volume and page number of a periodical.

 EXAMPLE     Science Digest 102:3

D.  Use a colon after the salutation of a business letter.

 EXAMPLES     Dear Mrs. Rodriguez:                             Dear Sir:

I hope the colon checkup will provide you with much better health in your writing.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Job Skill -- Need Good Grammar!

Sometimes it's hard for people, particularly young folks, to see the big picture or, to use another cliche, to see the light at the end of the tunnel -- people don't always understand why they might need to learn something.  Grammar is everywhere, and good grammar skills are important in many ways we don't always envision.

Yep, this is an embarrassing Oops!  (Thanks, Web English Teacher for the pic.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Holy Cow! Capitalization Words Referring to the Deity

Just a quick reminder to writers...

Capitalize words referring to the Deity.

     Examples:  God, Jehovah, the Father, the Son, the Messiah, the Almighty, the Lord

Pronouns referring to God (he, him, and, rarely, who, whom, etc.) are often capitalized.

     Faith in God rests on belief in His goodness.
     For He cometh, He cometh to judge the earth.

* Do not capitalize god when referring to the gods of ancient mythology.

     Homer writes about many of the Greek gods and goddesses in The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Happy writing, and let me leave you with food for thought:   "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."  ~ Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Numbers -- Manuscript Form

1, 2, 3, 4.... Numbers! Numbers are everywhere, and I'm not talking about just at the bottom of a page.

Authors need to fine-tune their craft by reviewing the rules for using numbers in writing.  So, without further ado, I present to you the rules for using numbers in manuscript form:


1.  Do not begin a sentence with a numeral.  
     Nonstandard:  42 students ride the school bus each morning.

     Standard:  Forty-two students ride the school bus each morning.

2.  Spell out numbers that can be expressed in one or two words.  Write numbers that require more than two words as numerals.
     five million;  forty-five cents;  sixty dollars;  eighty-three;  1,685,342;  1954;  $342.58

     In statistical and technical writing, all numbers are generally written as numerals.
     Page numbers are always written as numerals (page 10).
     Numbers representing days of the month do no follow this rule, but those representing years do. 

3.  Hyphenate all compound (two-word) numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.  Do not hyphenate a fraction unless it is used as an adjective.

     There are thirty-five students in my English class.
     A three-fourths quorum was necessary to vote on changes to the club's bylaws.
     Only one third of the registered voters came to the polls.

4.  Write out numbers like third, forty-first, etc., rather than writing them as numerals with letter endings (3rd, 41st, etc.).

     The movie actress was celebrating her fifty-second anniversary in show business.

     Numbered street names may be either written out or written as numerals with letter endings.
    Dr. Winter's office is located at 651 East 62nd Street (or Sixty-second Street).

In dates, numerals only are used when the name of a month precedes the date.  When the date precedes the name of the month or stands alone, either write out the number or use a numeral with a letter ending.

     The first day of winter is December 21.
     Jack will be home on the 15th (or fifteenth) of June.

So, let there always be strength in your numbers!  Happy Writing!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bad Manners

Polite parents teach their young children not to interrupt conversation.  When someone is excited, it's sometimes hard to follow this rule about good manners, but most people generally know interrupting others, unless it is in an emergency situation, is not good etiquette.  In the world of grammar, therefore, we set off those interrupters with the use of commas.

RuleUse commas to set off expressions that interrupt the sentence.
 Appositives and appositive phrases are usually set off by commas.

An appositive is a noun or pronoun that follows another noun or a pronoun to identify or explain it.  An appositive phrase consists of an appositive and its modifiers.

Examples with appositive and appositive phrases in bold:

     1.  We visited Boston harbor, the site of the Boston Tea Party.
     2.  George Washington, our first president, was a great military leader.
     3.  Travelers should give careful thought to footwear, the most crucial item of apparel.
     4.  Ms. Seagro, our French teacher, has studied at the Sorbonne.

*Note:  When an appositive is so closely related to the word it modifies that it appears to be part of that word, no comma is necessary.  (An appositive of this kind is called a restrictive appositive, and it is usually one word.)

Examples with restrictive appositives in bold:

     1.  My nephew Jim is an architect.
     2.  The expression c'est la vie is used occasionally in everyday English conversation.
     3.  The American gymnast Peter Vidmar is an Olympic Gold Medalist and one of the top 10 motivational speakers in the country.

*(Other interrupters set off by commas include words used in direct address and parenthetical expressions which I will address later.)

Appositives and appositive phrases are useful in your writing because they add important information for the readers.  So, remember to please use good manners and set off appositives and appositive phrases with commas unless they are closely related to the word they further explain, and the grammar gods will smile upon you.

Don't forget National Grammar Day is on March 4th!  Help us celebrate and help focus attention on speaking and writing well!  More information on this and related activities can be found at