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Monday, April 30, 2012

Zero Article

Zero Article

Zero article refers to when a noun is NOT preceded by a, an or the (which are all three known as articles). This, however, is not a random omission. Like everything else in grammar, the zero article, or absence of one of the three articles before a noun, is governed by rules:

1) Use a zero article when the exact one or ones is not known.
     For example: People should understand how their government functions. (We do not know which people should understand. Which is not specified. If we did know, we might write, The people of France should understand how their government functions.)
     Lodeche's economy is in trouble. Monies are needed for the survival of the republic. (We do not know the exact monies, but we do know the exact republic.)

2) Use a zero article (no article at all) with proper nouns.
     For example: Sally Jane skips down Langston Street, turns the corner at Hughes Department Store, and spits into Calloway Creek. (Without proper nouns, we would use articles and the sentence would read, A girl skips down the street, turns the corner at the department store, and spits into the creek.)


Tomorrow: We breathe a sigh of relief and rest.

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Your v. You're

Your v. You're

They certainly sound the same, but they are worlds apart in meaning. Nonetheless, many people tend to use them interchangeably. But we can do our small part to right this problem.

Your is a possessive pronoun. It denotes ownership of something.
     For example: Go get your shoes. If you don't see them in the hall, look under your jacket. I'm really tired of you leaving your stuff in the floor.

You're is a contraction of the pronoun you and the verb are.
     For example: You're failing to take responsibility for your belongings. Someday, you're sure to appreciate how I've cleaned up behind you.

Tip: If you are uncertain about which word to use in a sentence, insert the words you are. If the sentence makes sense, then you're is the word you're looking for. If you are does not make sense in the sentence, then your should be used.

Now that we've settled that, I feel a calm settling on us all.

Tomorrow: Zero Article

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Overcoming the Red X

X

Who has not been the victim of the big, red X, scritch-scratched across a school paper by a teacher or marked on a manuscript at the hand of an editor? It's shocking when we see it. I dare say, it hurts, physically and psychologically. And almost always, it is associated with a violation of standard writing conventions.

Our primary goal, other than to compose a unique piece of writing that others cannot bear to put down, is to avoid the X. The best way to do that is to proofread with writing conventions in mind. And if we have violated any of them, to either correct them or to compose a suitable defense for them.

In that vein, I offer some tried and true proofreading strategies:

1) Put the piece down and walk away. After some time has passed, read through it again with a critical eye.


2) Read the piece out loud, preferably not in public.

3) Alert! Alert! Don't get cornered by a deadline or due date. Allow enough time for proofreading once the piece is complete.


4) Become mindful of your typical mistakes (maybe even keep a list of them handy) and actively look for those in the paper.

5) Ask someone else - someone who is familiar with grammar, punctuation, capitalization and usage - to read the piece.


6) Be a stranger to your own work. Put yourself in the place of your unknown reader and look at it through his or her eyes.

 7) Read one sentence at a time, paying attention to each word, each punctuation mark, etc. Reading from the end to the beginning makes this process easier.

Proofreading, like anything, takes practice. It can be very frustrating. The story is complete. There's nothing more to say. Yet, here we are still rehashing it, again and again. When we start to feel bogged down in the process and ready to call it quits, we must remember that we are giving our reader a gift: A beautiful, well-written gift.

Tomorrow: Your v. You're

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Who v. Whom

Who v. Whom

Hold on to your hat. The use is both complicated and simple.

Who and whom are both pronouns, which we all know are words that take the place of nouns, which we all know are people, places, things or ideas. The decision about whether to use who or to use whom depends on the role it plays in the sentence. Who is always the subject of a sentence, which we all know is the person, place, thing or idea doing the action. Whom is always the object in a sentence, which we all know is the person, place, thing or idea receiving the action of the verb.

     For example: Who plans to give the bad news to the people? When we arrive, we give the news to whom?
     To whom much is given, much is expected. Who, though, grants these gifts? I am the one who imparts them to my children.

Hint: Still having trouble deciding when to use who and when to use whom? Try inserting he and him into the sentence. If he works, then who is the pronoun you seek. If him works, then whom is what you want.

Tomorrow: X

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Verb-Subject Agreement

Verb-Subject Agreement

Yes, I know this is normally written subject-verb agreement, but I needed a V-word in my A to Z theme of writing conventions. Please don't hold this stretch against me.

Subjects and verbs in sentences should always agree in number. In other words, singular subjects should have singular verbs and plural subjects should have plural verbs. Keep in mind that most nouns are made plural by adding -s to the end. Most verbs with an -s on the end are singular. Subject-verb agreement rules to remember:

1) The pronouns anyone, someone, everyone, no one, anybody are SINGULAR pronouns and must be accompanied by a SINGULAR verb.
     For example: Everyone sees the hypocrisy of  attending church to meet customers and make more sales. No one denies that such things are done. Someday, someone is going to address the practice from the pulpit. Most anyone agrees, however, that at least the hypocrites are at church.

2) Each is always SINGULAR and requires a SINGULAR verb.
     For example: Each of the real estate agents expresses guilt when confronted by the deacons. Each regrets dropping his business card into the offering plate. Each of the agents is embarrassed. (Each is the subject of the first and third sentences, not agents. Agents is part of the prepositional phrase that begins with the word to. A sentence's subject and verb are NEVER part of a prepositional phrase.)

3) Careful! Either and neither are SINGULAR subjects and require a SINGULAR verb.
     For example: Neither dress is appropriate for the wedding.Either is designed to upstage the bride.

4) When and joins two subjects, a PLURAL verb follows.
     For example: The fuchsia dress and the white dress are not acceptable choices.

5) When or or nor is used, the subject closest to the verb determines whether or not it will be PLURAL or SINGULAR.
     For example: The cornflower blue dress or the skirts are appropriate for the occasion. Black pantsuits nor the off-white ensemble is too business-like for a Saturday afternoon affair.

6) Don't accompanies a PLURAL subject. Doesn't accompanies a SINGULAR subject.
     For example: They don't know how to fish with a cane pole. Louise doesn't care to teach them. She doesn't like to bait her own hook, but they don't offer to help her. No one has fun on those fishing trips.

In English, subject-verb agreement can get very tricky. We have lots of nouns that end in -s, but are singular, such as news, mathematics and measles. We have many collective nouns that we know to be more than one person or thing, but that are treated as if they are singular, such as team, family, fleet, and crew. Proceed with caution.

Tomorrow: Who v. Whom

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Underline

Underline

Underlining is a way to distinguish, or emphasize, specific text, a word or group of words, from that around it. As wordprocessing has become more prevalent and more sophisticated, many writers choose to italicize rather than underline; thus, the two techniques are interchangeable. Therefore, it is technically incorrect to underline an italicized word(s) or italicize an underlined word(s).

1) DO NOT underline/italicize punctuation (commas, end marks, semicolons, colons) that follows the words being underlined/italicized, unless the punctuation is part what is being underlined/italicized.
     For example: Callie Ann Metcalf announces the release of her seminal book on Southern girls, Friends Make the Tea Sweet, Enemies Add the Ice!

2) Underline/Italicize the titles of things that can stand alone:
  •  Journals and Magazines
  • Plays
  • Novels
  • Long Music Compositions
  • Movies
  • Television Shows
  • Radio Shows
  • Art Pieces
  • Published Speeches
  • Lengthy Poems
  • Pamphlets
3) Caution! DO NOT underline/italicize titles of short stories, television show episodes, journal or magazine articles, or poems. Enclose these titles in quotation marks.
     For example: Her last article, "Summer House," which appeared in The New Yorker, offers a teaser about what readers can expect from the longer manuscript.

4) Underline/italicize names of famous planes, trains, automobiles, boats, space craft, and other vehicles, but not vehicle makes, models, manufacturers or brands. The prefixes USS, HMS and RMS are never underlined/italicized.
     For example: We rode in his Dodge Charger to the re-enactment of the sinking of the S.S. Titanic.

5) Notice! DO NOT underline/italicize titles of religious works or the chapters within them.
     For example:  Read your Bible every day. The Gospel of Luke is my favorite book.

6) Underline/italicize foreign words that are not loanwords (see my L post) or easily translated by a majority of readers.
      For example:  Frederick snickered quietly just behind Felicia's shoulder, pushing her buttons until her temper boiled to al dente. Then, she caught herself and backed off the burner.

7) Underline/italicize words under discussion.
     For example:  When you say the word etiquette, my posture goes prim.

8) Underline/italicize sound words.
For example:  Shhhstka-stka-stka, shhhstka-stka-stka. The boys could hear the rattlesnake, before they could see it.

Though, many teachers and many writers still prefer underlining, I almost always italicize instead. To me, the text looks cleaner and the eye flows across it easier, while the brain still understands that the words are being emphasized for a particular reason. All in all, it comes down to personal preferences. Which do you tend to use?

Tomorrow: Verb-Subject Agreement (I know I have it in reverse order. Give me a break. V is hard.)
This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Then v. Than

Then v. Than 

Based on FaceBook posts and emails I receive, there seems to be great confusion about when to use then and when to write than. As you will soon see, however, the distinction between the two words is greater than the one letter that separates them. And once we understand the distinction, we will use the words right every time.

Than is used for making comparisons.
     She is no more brilliant than a wood ant.
     Time slips by faster than a 12 year-old boy up to mischief.
     I'd rather own a pony than an hissing cockroach.

Then is an expression of time or of order of events.
     Go to the Dixie Queen, then turn left.
     When it rains, the fun will end; we won't go home until then.
     First, peel the banana. Next, hold it firmly below the drape of the peels. Then, take a bite.
     It wasn't until then, when we saw the shark fin, that we were scared.
If this post proves I'm smarter than a 5th grader, then leave a comment. Even if it doesn't, leave a comment :)

Tomorrow: Underline

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Semicolon

Semicolon

It is a form of punctuation that looks like this: ;

Semicolons are versatile little pieces of punctuation that can be used to enhance one's writing, when not overused. Semicolons function to join two clauses or to separate items in lists. A semicolon indicates a moderate pause, as opposed to a period, which calls for a complete stop, or a comma, which warrants a brief pause.

1) Use a comma when joining two independent, complete sentences with a conjunction (and, or, but, yet, nor, so, for). Use a semicolon when joining them without a conjunction. The most often used conjunctions are .
     For example: Edwayne ate chicken livers for dinner; he ate brains and eggs for breakfast.

2) Use semicolons between items in a series when each item contains a comma.
     For example: She thought of escaping to Honolulu, Hawaii; Mulholland, Massachusettes; Nowhere, New Mexico.

3) A semicolon precedes a conjunction joining two sentences when the first sentence contains a comma.
     For example: While heat rose in watery waves from the pavement, she pressed the accelerator; but, she felt nothing as the car passed through what she had always thought of as a barrier.

4) Use a semicolon between the first and second sentence when the second sentence begins with an introductory word (however, nonetheless, therefore, thus, namely, etc.).
     For example:  She felt like nothing could stop her now; nonetheless, sirens wailed somewhere in the distance.

5) Consider This! Do NOT use a semicolon to join two sentences that have no relationship to each other. Semicolons give impact to sentences that either express opposing ideas or that have strongly related ideas.
     For example:  Backing out the driveway on Thursday, she hit the mailbox and knocked the rearview mirror off of the car; it was no great loss. She had no plans to get it fixed. The Alabama border was calling her onward.

This A to Z stuff is wearing me out; a nap is in order. I used a semicolon there because I needed a moderate pause. I might be tired, but I don't plan to stop. Period.

Tomorrow: Then v. Than
This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Resultative Adjective

Resultative Adjective

A resultative adjective comes after the noun it describes and gives the reader information about the outcome of the action of the verb on the noun. Generally, the meaning of the sentence is very different than it would be if the adjective were placed before the noun. Thus, the overriding rule is for the writer to think carefully about what he or she is trying to say and to arrange the words in the sentence accordingly.

Consider the following passage:
     Mr. Magoo traveled to the far West Indies in search of the greatest hunt of a lifetime. Though the Mangled Malatrope was an endangered cloven-hoofed species known in the parts to be both aggressive and scarce, he did not care. He wanted to be the last man on earth to bag the trophy beast. And on the eve of August 17, he returned to camp triumphant. That night in celebration, he and his guides (a) cooked the meat rare or (b) cooked the rare meat.

Do you see how the meaning of (a) is very different from the meaning of (b)? In (a), rare is a resultative adjective and implies that the meat was not cooked all the way. In (b), the word rare precedes the noun, meat, and implies that the meat is uncommon and not easily acquired.

Can you give an example of two sentences with different meanings, depending on the location of the adjective?

Tomorrow: Semicolon
This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks 

It is a form of punctuation that looks like this: "  "

Quotation marks indicate that the words within them are exactly what someone said or lifted exactly as written in text. Usually a speaker tag (words identifying who said the quote or from where the quote was taken) precedes or follows the quote and is set off by a comma. Some rules regarding the correct usage of quotation marks:

1) Periods and commas that follow a quote are always enclosed in the quotation marks.
     For example: Junior's shoulders stiffened when his mama said, "I ain't gonna hit a lick at a stick today even if a cow hooks me."
     "We ain't got no milk, though, Mama," PeteJoe whined, hoping to spur her to busyness.
      "You boys just hush yourselves up," she said, irritated, "and get on and do your chores!"

2) When writing quotes within quotes, use single quotation marks.
     For example: PeteJoe's shoulders slumped. "Mr. Edwayne tells us, 'Y'all gonna get double for ever snake over 4 foot,' and Mama tells us, 'Do your chores and don't mess with no snakes.'"

3) Alert! Alert! Semicolons and colons are NEVER enclosed in quotation marks, unless they are part of the exact words.
     For example: Junior ventured, "Mama, we aim to go fishing today"; nonetheless, she stuck to her ain't-gonna-git-up attitude.

4) Question marks and exclamation marks may or may not be enclosed in quotation marks.
   a) If the quoted material is the question or exclamation, enclose the question/exclamation mark within the quotation marks.
     For example:  PeteJoe tried his sweet-talking voice, sing-songing, "Mama, is it alright with you if when we finish all the chores we head down to the bog to gig some frogs for dinner?"
     Her eyes closed, then suddenly flew open with a fiery pitch, and she spat, "I know where you boys been goin' and what you been doing!"

   b) If the words outside of the quotation marks AND the quoted material are both questions or exclamations, enclose the question/exclamation mark within the quotation marks.
     For example:  Did she ask, "How many frogs can y'all gig in an afternoon?"
     By golly and jimineeze-sneeze, she shouted, "Git me some frog legs, boys!"

   c) If the words outside of quotation marks are a question or exclamation, but the words within the quotation marks are not, then the question/exclamation mark follows the quotation marks.
     For example:  Did she say, "You'll never finish all of your chores before dark"?
     By golly and jimineeze-sneeze, she said, "I just need to rest my eyes a bit"!

In the end, it's the punctuation, not the quotation, that gets folks.

Tomorrow: Resultative Adjective
This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Parentheses

Parentheses

It is a form of punctuation that looks like this: ( )

Used sparingly, parentheses add clarity and/or additional information to sentences:

1) Use parentheses to enclose clarifying information or an aside.
     For example: Edwayne paid Junior and PeteJoe twenty-five smackaroos ($25) for the snake rattler they delivered, no questions asked, no mama notified. Snake rattlers on sticks (an alleged Native-American, low-country art form) sold great to the slick tourists with their whiny-mouthed tots.

2) Use complete parentheses to enclose the numbers for a list.
     For example: Rattlers on sticks are used for (1) fending off evil spirits, (2) calling down the rains, and (3) scaring little sisters.

3) Caution! Watch your period placement. If parentheses enclose an aside or a clarification at the end of the sentence, the period is placed outside of the parentheses. If parentheses enclose an entire sentence, the period is enclosed within the parentheses.
     For example: For certain, if PeteJoe and Junior's mama caught them selling snake rattlers, she would switch them good (and she had a nose for detecting the smell of snake). (The best plan of action for the boys was to use some of their profit to buy lemons for scrubbing their hands.) But Edwayne paid those youngins so well, they were willing to risk the snake's bite and their mama's venom.

Parentheses are a lot easier to explain than mixed conditionals. Hallelujah. What are the common misconceptions about parentheses? Why would we not want to overuse them, as I surely did in my example above?

Tomorrow: Quotation Marks

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Objects

Objects

In a sentence, the object is someone or something that receives the verb's action. For example, in the sentence, "He diddled the snake with a stick," the snake is the object of the verb, diddled. Objects are nouns or pronouns that generally come after the verb in the sentence.

To determine the object of the verb, find the verb and then ask the question, "What?" The object is the answer to that question. Considering the sentence, "Amelia spits expletives at her red-penned editor," I would ask, "What did Amelia spit?" The answer is expletives; thus, I have found the object (and the source of the editor's angst).


To most grammarians, a complete thought, i.e. a sentence, includes a subject, verb and object. The subject is who or what did the action, which is the verb, to the object. The object completes the story told by the sentence.

An exception to this rule, naturally, are sentences that transmit a complete idea via only the subject and verb. A primary example of such a sentence is the Bible verse, Jesus wept. No object is necessary.

Tomorrow: Parentheses

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Negatives

Negatives

In grammar, a negative word expresses the absence of something. If I say, "I have no flour for the cookie dough," I am telling my reader about the absence of flour in my pantry. This is called a negative statement.

In grammar, as in math, two negatives make a positive. If I say, "I hardly have no flour for the cookie dough," I've used two negatives, hardly and no, to explain the condition of flour in my pantry. This is called a double negative. My sentence becomes a positive statement, indicating to my reader that I do indeed have flour in my pantry.

In English grammar, two negative words should never be used in the same sentence to refer to same thing.

Negative words include:
no
none
nobody
not
nothing
nowhere
no one
hardly
barely
scarcely
neither
 . . . and in Georgia, nairn, as in the standard double negative, I ain't got nairn, which southerners innately understand to mean, I don't have any.

What double negatives are commonly accepted in your local vernacular?

Tomorrow: Objects

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mixed Conditionals

Mixed Conditionals

Conditionals are if-statements. One condition in the statement relies on the other condition in the statement. For example, if we go to the pizza joint, we can all sit together. Conditionals may be used to make statements about real or imagined events: If aliens ring my doorbell, I'm not answering.

There are four types of conditionals (don't worry, I haven't forgotten that today I'm supposed to discuss mixed conditionals):
     Zero Conditionals - If statements that are always true. If I fall through the frozen pond, I will get cold.
     First Conditionals - If statements about things that are likely to happen. One future event is dependent on another future event. If I take voice lessons, I will try out for the next American Idol.
     Second Conditionals - If statements that are unlikely in the future or impossible in the present. If I audition for American Idol, I'll get to be friends with Steven Tyler. If I had a beautiful singing voice, he would want to meet me.,
     Third Conditionals - If statements that are impossible in the past.It is a statement about what we imagine could have happened. If I had been one of the contestants, I would have been his best friend.

Okay, take a deep breathe. Here comes the mixed conditional. Stay with me, here.

There are two types of mixed conditionals:
     Third Second Mixed Conditionals - If statements about imaginary present conditions or if statements about situations that are not possible because conditions were not met in the past. If I had taken the high road, we would be in a different position.
     Second Third Mixed Conditionals - If statements that avoid illogically saying "If I had been you," which implies I wasn't you on that occasion but could be you in the future, which you and I both know is impossible. If I were you, I would blot my lipstick.

Conditionals are CRAZY! I'm exhausted. Now that I've been through all of that, I conclude that proper use of mixed conditionals is the least of a writer's worries. Let's not get hung up on them.

Tomorrow: Negatives

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Loanwords

Loanwords


Words adopted from another language and used commonly in everyday dialogue are loanwords. Many loanwords are used so regularly in writing and conversation that most of us think they originated in the English language. Other loanwords, ones not employed as often, lend themselves to misuse. Successful use of a more obscure loanword depends of the writer's skill and the reader's knowledge. Loanwords are generally found in the dictionary.

Examples of loanwords, along with their languages or origin and their meanings:

Barbeque (Caribbean) - A raised grill for cooking meats.
Bizarre (Spain - Basque) - Strange or weird.
Breeze (Portuguese) - A light wind.
Chutzpah (Yiddish) - Extreme impudence.
Negligee (French) - A soft, filmy nightgown.
Entrepreneur (French) - A person who takes a financial risk to start a business.
Hazard (Arabic) - A danger or risk.
Motto (Italian) - Words to live by; a phrase that captures one's personal philosophy.
Futon (Japanese) - A low sofa bed with a quilted mattress.
Blitz (German) - To charge directly or attack vigorously.

Can you give an example of a loanword?

Tomorrow: Mixed Conditionals

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Killed It - A Bit about Word Usage

Killed it

A single word can have so many different meanings, and the nuances of a particular meaning can make or break a sentence. "She killed it" could mean that she gave her very best performance and is sure to take top prize in the kazoo blowing contest. Or it could mean the squirrel that unwisely chose to cross the street in front of her car, as she excitedly yelled her good fortune from the auto's open windows, came to a flat and definite end.

Similarly, lots of words in the English language sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Don't use the word break, when what you really mean is "She stepped on the brake, but it was too late" or the word brake when what you should say is "Slapping her guilty, sweaty palm on her forehead, she whispered, 'Give me a break.'"

Misunderstandings are common when the wrong words are used or when meanings are confused.

Do you have a good example of confusing contexts?

Tomorrow: Loanwords

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jargon

Jargon


Jargon is the  vocabulary particular to a certain profession, trade or group. Amongst the peers of a specific group, it carries great meaning that simplifies and expedites communication. For outsiders, it is meaningless. Almost every profession and trade has its own jargon, from education to electrical engineering to medicine to publishing. Even grammarians have jargon: preposition, predicate, nominative, compound complex, superlative, indirect object . . .

The good thing about jargon is that within a relevant context, it aids exchange of information.

The bad thing about jargon is that some people choose to use it outside of its relevant context. They speak to laypeople in language that only a colleague could interpret. Some people do this because they are unable to translate the jargon into layman's terms. Some people do this because it increases their self-perceived importance. Some people do this because they don't realize that the vocabulary they are using is trade specific. The reasons for misuse of jargon, however, are not as important as the outcome: communication breakdown.


1) Avoid using jargon unless the target audience of what you are writing  includes only readers in the field that uses that vocabulary.

     For example, the following sentence is meant only for techies: This option makes the list command show the interface name, the rule options, and the TOS masks. The packet and byte counters are also listed, with the suffix 'K', 'M' or 'G' for 1000, 1,000,000 and 1,000,000,000 multipliers respectively. (http://www.cyberciti.biz/tips/linux-iptables-examples.html)

2) If the use of jargon is unavoidable, provide an explanation of the term or provide significant context clues to the meaning of the term.
     For example:
          One of the determinants for passing 5th grade is the CRCT. The Criterion Referenced Cumulative Test is a standardized test that measures a student's retention of and ability to apply math and language arts skills. Other performance standards, such as classroom grades, teacher recommendations, and periodic benchmark tests are also used for making promotion decisions.

Can you give an example of jargon used in your profession?

Tomorrow: Killing it: A bit about word usage.

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's v. Its

It's v. Its

Do you ever find yourself caught between the two? Wrestling with which one applies? Confused about what each one means? Wondering if the apostrophe-s signifies possession or contraction? Fret no more. The quick explanations and the dirty examples follow:

It's is a contraction of either "it is" or "it has." The apostrophe indicates that letters have been left out to form a contraction with the two words. The pronoun "it" refers to an object, animal, idea, place; in other words, anything other than a human.
     For example:
          The pig wallowed in the foul-smelling mud that covered the entire sty in a thick slurry. It's happy to live in such swell squalor.

Its is a possessive pronoun. This pronoun indicates that the object, animal, place, idea (essentially any noun that is not human) to which it refers owns something else in the sentence.
     For example:
          The sweet smell of its pigpen denied the distant ringing of the farmer's dinner bell. The pig never dreamed it might one day sprawl upon the big-house table.



Usage of these words is so understandably easy to confuse. When in doubt, insert "it is" or "it has" into the sentence in place of its or it's. If the sentence makes sense, then use the contraction, it's. If the sentence does not make sense, then the possessive pronoun, its, is what you're after.

It's a great day to leave a comment. If you have other helpful tips or suggestions in regard to its and it's, do tell.

Tomorrow: Jargon

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hyphen

Hyphen

It is a form of punctuation that looks like this: -

A hyphen is used to join two words that express a single idea. In typed text, a hyphen is used to connect syllables of a word when it is continued to the next line. Grammarians have conjured up many rules for using the hyphen. A few for you to connect with:

1) Hyphenate all numbers, twenty-one through ninety-nine.


2) Hyphenate fractions when written out.
     For example, add one-third cup of flour to the batter if it is too watery, or add three-fourths cup of water if it is too thick.

3) Notice! DO NOT hyphenate compound nouns. If in doubt whether a word combination is a compound noun, look it up in the dictionary.
     For example, fireman is a compound noun; therefore we would not write fire-man.

4) Hyphenate two (or more) adjectives that express a single idea about a noun they precede.
     For example: The genius-slight PeteJoe determined that if he got a good stick, he could hold that rattler's head to the ground while Junior grabbed it by the tail. (Together, the adjectives genius and slight convey the understanding that PeteJoe is none too smart.)

5) Hyphenate any compound verbs (two verbs expressing a single idea) not found in the dictionary as one word.
     For example: PeteJoe slash-slapped a willow stick at the viper's head.

6) Compound adverbs that do not end in -ly and come before the noun are hyphenated. If they come after the noun they refer to in the sentence they are written as two separate words.
     For example:The little-anticipated forked tongue whipped threateningly from its lips.


Get creative. Leave a sentence in the comments with properly hyphenated adjectives or verbs.

Tomorrow: Its v. It's

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gerund

Gerund

A gerund is a noun formed from a verb. It is an exception to the rule we all learned in elementary school: A noun is a person, place or thing. A noun can also be a verb in the -ing form. Every gerund ends in -ing. In other words, it is a verb behaving as if it is a noun.Gerunds name activities, feelings, or states of being. A grouping of words that include a gerund is called a gerund phrase or a noun phrase.

1) All gerunds end in -ing.
      For example: Writing, thinking, laughing, running, hooting, gigging, teaching, and on and on and so forth..

2) An -ing verb is a gerund when it is the subject of a sentence or the object of a preposition or verb. (There are other cases, but why complicate it at this point?)
      For example:
     Gigging is the best way to hunts frogs. (Gigging is the subject of the sentence. The sentence is about gigging.)

     Going gigging takes up most of Papa Pants's free time. (Gigging is the object of the verb, going.)

     Papa Pants invested all of his IRA funds to building frog ponds and buying gear because he is devoted to gigging. (Gigging is the object of the preposition, to.)

3) Beware! An -ing word is not a gerund when it is describing a noun.
      For example: Gigging equipment, depending on the materials and intricacy, can be very expensive. (Gigging describes the word equipment. It tells the reader what kind of equipment it is. Therefore, gigging in this case is NOT a gerund.)

4) If you are not sure if an -ing verb is a gerund in a sentence, try asking three questions:
      Does ____-ing describe a noun? (If the answer is yes, then it is not a gerund.)
    
      Does ____-ing tell what a noun in the sentence is doing? (If the answer is yes, then it is not a gerund.)

     Is the sentence telling about ____-ing, i.e. is it the subject of the sentence? (Cross out prepositional phrases to find the subject and verb of a sentence. If the answer is yes, then it is a gerund.)

As I said before, gerunds threw me for a loop in 10th grade grammar. And they can be more complicated than what I presented here. And often, when we are being taught about gerunds, those teaching us use grammar jargon to explain. Discipline specific jargon is one of the surest ways to lose a student who has difficulty understanding the concept being taught. 

The goal of this post is to provide a clear explanation of what a gerund is and how to identify one. Did I succeed? Is the word, teaching, in the last paragraph above a gerund? Defend your answer.

Tomorrow: Hyphen

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fragment (of a Sentence)

Fragment

A fragment is a piece of something. So a sentence fragment is a piece of a sentence, but not a complete sentence. It either lacks a subject-verb relationship that allows it to stand alone and or a complete thought.

Examples of sentence fragments:

Watching the boy and his dog. (This clause has a verb, watching, but it does not tell us who is watching; therefore, the subject is missing.)

In the cotton field during the rain storm last night. (This clause is missing a subject and a verb. We know where the action took place, but not who or what did the action or what the action was.)

Even though she wanted a puppy and knew where she could get one. (The problem with this clause is that we have a subject, she, but we never find out what she does.)

After Susanmarie shoved the ladle in her purse. (This fragment is tricky. We have a subject, Susanmarie, and a verb, shoved, but the thought is not complete. We are left wondering what happened after she shoved the ladle in her purse.)
When is it okay to use a sentence fragment in writing?

Tomorrow: Gerund (I really struggled with these boogers in 10th grade grammar.)

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ellipses (Ellipsis Marks)

Ellipses

It is a form of punctuation that looks like this: . . .

Creative writers often use ellipsis marks to indicate an unfinished thought and/or to create ambiguity in the mind of the reader, leaving him to his own interpretation or conclusion, or lack thereof. Formal writers use ellipsis marks to indicate that they have quoted but a portion of a longer passage. The rules are simple:

1) If omitting part of a long quotation, use ellipsis marks after the last punctuation mark.
      For example: "Research scientists have quartered down the genetics of rudimentary barn mice to determine what makes them more or less flavorful to mousers. Even cats born at the barn tend to eventually wander the main house and lurk outside of frequently used doors, patiently waiting for a chance to dash in and jump on the kitchen counters. Scientists believe that if they can breed a more flavorful variety of the common barn mouse, . . ."

2) Use only three marks whether they are placed in the middle of a sentence or at the end.
      For example: Many years ago our agricultural forefathers brought forth . . . cats to keep the feed room vermin free, but alas, cats crave modern amenities and . . .

3) Hear ye, Hear ye! DO NOT overuse this technique.
     

 What really annoys you about writers' use of this punctuation?

Tomorrow: Fragment

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Defining Writing Conventions

As I outlined in my March 31 post, I'm walking us through a variety of writing conventions during the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Every writer should master writing conventions for clear written communication. Mastery of writing conventions also allows the writer to misuse them in order to convey particular ideas or emotion, to build a character, or to adequately describe setting.

But many writers are confused about what writing conventions are exactly. They think writing conventions are loosely organized, long weekend get-aways put together in the name of education and networking, which are often accompanied by canoodling and wee-hour efforts to relieve a great number of cans and bottles of their liquid contents. Today, since we are early in the challenge, is a good time to take a look at what the phrase "conventions of writing" really means.

Definition of Writing Conventions: Conventions are the mechanics of a piece, in absence of meaning, theme, plot, etc, though misuse of conventions can obscure the meaning. Proper use of conventions guides the reader through the piece. Writing conventions include
  • Spelling
  • Capitalization
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Paragraphing
  • Correct Word Usage (especially with homonyms, homophones, and homographs)
Improper use of conventions can confuse the reader and create stumbling blocks for him or her. The reader may get so bogged down in figuring out sentence structure and meaning that the author's creative ideas are lost. Reading a story in which the writer ignored conventions is like listening to a  speech in which the presenter ignored enunciation and pronunciation of words. The message, no matter how magical or awe inspiring, is lost.

Your thoughts? Have you ever had that ugh moment when you went back and read something you published that had a terrible error you didn't catch in the editing process?

Tomorrow: Ellipses

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Comma

Comma

It is a form of punctuation that looks like this: ,

I could spend the entire month of April explaining how to use commas. Many of the comma rules require knowledge of other grammatical terms. Keep in mind that a comma is essentially a pause in a string of words. A few quick tips can help correct prevalent usage errors:

1) Use a comma when joining two independent, complete sentences with a conjunction. The most often used conjunctions are and, or, but. Others are yet, nor, so, for.
      For example: Edwayne ate chicken livers for dinner, but he won't touch a gizzard with a gloved hand and a ten-foot pole.

2) Use a set of commas to set off non-essential words (words that could be taken out without changing the meaning) in a sentence.
      For example: Cissy tromped through the parking lot, her flip-flops slapping asphalt, looking for her car.

3) Alert! Alert! DO NOT use a comma between a noun and the word that.
      For example: The catfish that ate the dog food grew the biggest.

4) Use commas to separate lists of nouns, adjectives, phrases, verbs, phrases, clauses.
      For example:  A wicked, slick rattler slithered out of the woods across the path. The Middleton boys ran, jumped, skipped, and hopped. Their mama had always told them that if they came across a rattlesnake not to poke it with a stick, not to kick it with a foot, and absolutely not to stop and look at it.

5) Use a comma after an introductory word, phrase or clause.
      For example:  Nonetheless, the rapscallions contrived a plan to get a closer look. With their mother's warnings ringing in their ears, they tempted fate.

6) Use a comma between a speaker tag and a quote.
      For example:  Junior looked at his younger brothers and warned, "Don't neither one of you dare snitch to mama about this."
     "Awe, Junior," spat PeteJoe, "we ain't gonna tell nobody."

Whatever you do, avoid the comma splice and the dreaded red editing pen. Do not join two complete sentences with a comma alone.

Throw me your comma questions. I'm not Grammar Girl, but I'll give it a shot.

Tomorrow: Defining Writing Conventions

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Brackets

Brackets 

It is a form of punctuation that looks like this: [ ]

The use of brackets is less complicated than use of the apostrophe. Still, it is important to know when to use them. Proper use can also be very freeing to a writer. Here's the basics:

1) Use brackets to include explanatory words (the writer's own) within a quote.
      For example, "Marigolds [a hardy summer bloomer] are known to repel insects from vegetable gardens," said Professor Scanolli.

2) Use brackets when you must change a word, such as a pronoun, or capitalization in a direct quote.
      For example, Professor Scanolli believes every Gardener must "find [her] best strategy."

3) Important to Know! [sic] after a word indicates that in transcribing material the original author's spelling has been retained.
      For example, I'm currently transcribing letters written by my aunt and uncle during WWII. They both spell the word night as nite, thus I transcribe it: Good nite [sic] my darling.

Don't overuse brackets as it becomes tiresome to the reader's eye to keep stopping at them. And be very, very careful not to abuse brackets by either a) using them as criticism of another writer's material (pointing out misspellings) or b) using them to change the meaning of quoted material.

How can brackets be freeing to a writer?

Tomorrow: Comma

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Apostrophe

Apostrophe

It is a form of punctuation that looks like this: '

Remarkably there are 13 rules for the correct use of an apostrophe. In my opinion, there is no need to tempt bad luck nor to complicate that itty-bitty bit of a pencil mark. So here's the basics:

1) An apostrophe is used to indicate that letters have been left out.
     For example, in the contraction y'all, the apostrophe stands in place of the o and the u to shorten you all to a word much easier to say.

2) An apostrophe is used to indicate possession or ownership.
     For example, if a man has a hat it is the man's hat. If the cat takes the hat, then it is the cat's hat. If lots of cats come and guard the hat so that the man cannot (or can't) get it back, then it is the cats' hat. In plural possession, the apostrophe comes after the s, at the end of the word.  Oh, except when the word's plural form does not have an s, such as when many men have a hat. Then it is the men's hat.

3) Alert! Alert! Names never have apostrophes unless letters are actually left out or the person to whom the name refers is possessing or owning something.

4) This - 1960's and 60's - is a no-no, unless the decade owns something or possesses something.
     For example, one might say the 1960s were groovy, but the 1960's styles were not.

There is so much more to the apostrophe than meets the eye, but curing the common mistakes makes all the difference in a person's writing (and in the naming of children).

Do you have questions or confusion about the use of the apostrophe? Ask me and I'll try to clear it up.

Tomorrow: Brackets

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.

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