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Monday, September 18, 2017

Apostrophe Angst

     Does apostrophe correctness plague you as you write?  Do you feel anxious wondering what the rule is for an apostrophe used to form a possessive with a noun ending in s

     First, here's a little quiz.  Do you know which of the following are correct?

A.  Did you see Tess's new car?

B.  Did you see Tess' new car?

C.  Are you amazed by Hercules's strength?

D.  Are you amazed by Hercules' strength?

     Don't let your apostrophe choices stress you. The rule is easy to understand. 


To form the possessive case of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an s.


boy's hat          the boss's office          Helen's dress          for heaven's sake

*When a word of more than one syllable ends in an s sound, the singular possessive may be formed by adding the apostrophe alone.  This omission avoids the awkward hiss of repeated s sounds.


the witness' testimony          for conscience' sake          Mr. Rodriguez' car         

     So, the correct answers above are A, C, and D.  Yes, both C and D are correct, but D sounds better.

     I hope this rule refresher takes away some of your angst when using an apostrophe with a possessive  ending in an s soundHappy Apostrophing!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

No, It Isn't All Right to Use Alright!

If you are using the word “alright” in your writing, here’s a news flash – you’re wrong!  “Alright” is not a word.  Let me explain – “alright” is nonstandard English, and should not be used in place of “all right.”

Because the words “already” and “altogether” exist, many folks erroneously think there is a word, “alright,” too.  These folks are not all right in their usage; they are all wrong.  Although “alright” has become more prominently used and often seen in print and in the workplace, once again, it is still nonstandard usage.

Please do not foster ignorance or the bastardization of our language with the inaccurate use of “alright,” or I will think you are an albatross named Al who likes to dine al fresco on al dente squid.   After all, it’s better if you’re all ears about using “all right” correctly so I don’t have to get all fired up until you’re all clear about the correct usage.

Use “all right” in your writing, all right? 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dash in and Use the Dash Correctly!

Many writers seem hesitant to dash in and use a dash or two in their writing.  Although it is not wise to overuse dashes, a sprinkle or two of dashes used sparingly may add a little spice to a writer's sentence structure.

Perhaps the reason for dash-less writing is the uncertainty about when to use a dash correctly.  Here are the three rules to help writers be more confident about dash use.

*Rule:  Use the dash to indicate an abrupt break in thought.


     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.


*Rule:  Use a dash to set off parenthetical material.


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

*Rule:  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.  A dash may be considered more emphatic than a colon.  If the dash is overused, it loses its emphasis.)

Now that you are dashing through your writing, don't forget to put the one-horse open sleigh in the barn, and laugh all the way through your dashing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Mess of Adjectives

While dining today at a local restaurant chain, I checked out the even newer menu.  One item caught my attention immediately -- "Chop Steak."  

Was "Chop Steak" a hybrid of a chop and a steak?  Was the chop a pork or lamb one?  Was the steak stuffed with a chop perhaps?  Or could knife skills have been utilized in the chopping of the steak before cooking?  Maybe a Ninja was involved? 

The menu item should have been listed as "Chopped Steak."

It is not "ice tea;"  it's "iced tea."  It is not "old-fashion ice cream;" it's "old-fashioned ice cream."  It is not a "wind-power generator;" it's a "wind-powered generator."

A participle is a word that is formed from a verb and used as an adjective. 

For those of you who like to know the rest of the story, know that present participles end in -ing, and past participles end in -d, -ed, -n, -en, and -t (saved, talked, seen, bitten, crept). They show action, but do not serve as verbs in the sentence.  Although participles in a verb phrase containing a helping verb are thought of as verbs, other participles modify nouns and pronouns, and thus act like adjectives.

(*Note:  A hyphen is used in a compound adjective when it precedes the word it modifies.)
Standard English is not "chopped liver."  Correct these minor mistakes in writing and use adjectives correctly.  Chop chop.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Who Are They?

They said to avoid Maple Avenue today.   (Who are they?  Friends?  Neighbors?  Newscasters?  Who?)

I heard the owl hoot from a tree nearby, but I couldn't see it.  (It?  The tree?  The owl?  An alien hiding in the brush?  What?)

Confusion can romp rampantly through an author's writing.  The indefinite use of pronouns is an evil demon.

English teachers across the country marking students' papers often shake their heads in the grading process and can be heard muttering, "Who are they?"  Clean up your writing and make your sentences clear by keeping the following rule in mind:

Rule:  In formal writing, avoid indefinite use of the pronouns, it, they, and you.

*Although the indefinite use of these pronouns in sentences like the following may occur in ordinary conversation, such use is not acceptable in most writing. 

1.  (Indefinite)  In this history book they refer to the Civil War as the War Between the States.
     (Better)        This history book refers to the Civil War as the War Between the States.

2.  (Indefinite)  In some nineteenth-century novels you are always meeting difficult words.
     (Better)        In some nineteenth-century novels, the vocabulary is quite difficult.

The pronouns above in the first examples have no clear antecedents. (The word to which a pronoun refers or whose place it takes is the antecedent of the pronoun.)

*Note:  Expressions such as it is snowing, it is too early, and it seems are, of course, entirely correct.

Remember to check your pronouns as you write or revise.  Make sure each pronoun has an antecedent, or otherwise, they will be coming to take you away!  

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Me and You and a Dog Named Boo..."

The opening lyrics to the famous song by Lobo begin, “Me and you and a dog named Boo, Travellin’ and livin’ off the land,” but they are incorrect.   The song ends, however, with apt advice -- “We’ve gotta get away and get back on the road again.”  Yes, we all need to get back on the road again and correct a glaring error in our speech and writing.  It's not so much a grammar rule as a rule of etiquette, along with an accepted convention of grammar.  It's considered polite to put the other person first.  (However, grammar does come into play when choosing between "me" and "I"  for the subject or objective case in a sentence.) It's not "Me and Joe are late for the meeting."  It's "Joe and I are late for the meeting." 

As in the lyrics Lobo sang, “Will power made that old car go,” we, too, need to use some will power and correct our flagrant mistake.  Ignorance is not an excuse.  Elementary children everywhere are taught this basic rule in schoolrooms across the country. It is not a difficult concept to learn to always put the other person first.  ("He gave the candy to Randy and me," not "He gave the candy to me and Randy.)
Too many parents seemingly do not encourage children in this day and age to be polite or to use proper language, and society perpetuates the uneducated, convoluted vernacular as witnessed by numerous television announcers, congressmen, and movie stars all caught on air saying, “Me and my friend…."  In addition,  the lyrics to many popular songs contain the same phrase.
Maybe some of you don’t care how you come across to others in job interviews or in conversations.  I, however, can’t sit back and take it anymore.  When one of the meteorologists in Columbus said, “Me and my family…” twice in a single broadcast several months ago, I felt it not only my civic duty to send an e-mail asking the broadcaster to correct his mistake, but I also felt compelled to continue helping other nincompoops in our country, one nincompoop at a time. 

It’s embarrassing when foreign exchange students arrive in America to study, and their English language skills are far better than that of most Americans.  We look like uneducated dummkopfs with the brains of potatoes. 

Please, if you’re guilty of saying, “Me and X… “ on an everyday basis, I’m begging you to correct this fault in your writing.  Otherwise, I may have to unleash the Special Grammar Forces with their dogs named Boo, and their tasers, to end this repugnant abuse of language.  

 Kenny Chesney – you’re up next for tasering with your song, “Me and You.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Your Goose Is Cooked If You Use Clichés in Writing

It's never too late to learn that I've had it up to here with all of you writing cliché after cliché because it isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Even if you're cliché king, you're not in the clear.  You don't have this in the bag, and you don't have a leg to stand on.  You can work your fingers to the bone with your writing, but I'm just waiting for you to wake up and smell the coffee.  You're not thinking outside the box.

Clichés are often described as "tired and worn-out expressions."  Some Clichés are comparisons:

     light as a feather
     tough as nails
     as old as the hills
     spread like wildfire

Clichés can also be other kinds of expressions:

     Have a nice day.
     last but not least
     all that jazz
     cool, calm, and collected

An expression becomes a cliché when it has become so commonly used that its original vigor has been lost.  To say that someone is "a wet blanket" was once an imaginative way of saying that person was so dull or pessimistic that he or she snuffed out the enthusiasm of others, just as a wet blanket thrown over a fire would extinguish its light and warmth.  Today the expression "a wet blanket" has been so overused that it has lost that original force.

Writers who frequently express themselves in clichés reveal they haven't made the effort to think very carefully or originally.  Almost everything you write can be improved if you examine your diction carefully to be sure you have not, unaware, picked up one of these ready-made expressions.

So, to make a long story short, get all your ducks in a row, and work like a dog to use original comparisons and expressions.  You won't be sadder but wiser; instead, you'll be pleased as punch with your improved writing.

Practice -- Replace the clichés in the following sentences with fresh comparisons of your own.

1.  The investigator turned white as a sheet.
2.  Emma is as fresh as a daisy every morning.
3.  The producer's hand was as cold as ice.
4.  Amy's eyes sparkled like diamonds.
5.  She sings like a bird.
6.  Mary is as cute as a button.
7.  In August the weather is as hot as Hades.
8.  The baby was as quiet as a mouse.  
9.  The escapee went from the frying pan into the fire.
10.  The soccer team is going down the drain.
11.  Scott has a crush on the new girl.
12.  I believe there's no time like the present.