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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Back To English Class

The time has come for the old English teacher to pull a few grammar rules from his moldy bag of tricks. Everyone has favorite miscues. I know the argument many present that English is a spoken language form requiring less formal usage in settings such as chat rooms and Internet conversations; however, a formal standard helps elevate the writer's status by exhibiting knowledge of universal communication. When teaching, I would often notice that foreign exchange students excel at grammar and usage, not only because of their extended formal study in schools but also because of their lack of exposure to improper forms. These students seem to be intense in their desire to increase their standard of excellence in expression. Maybe more value is placed on correct usage in their foreign social settings requiring English. I'm not saying people must become entirely formal in their leisure writing. Informality certainly lends some ease to expression. Yet, I am begging for people to overcome simple errors that spell "dum-dum" for the user. Others readers do react to such ignorance whether they admit it or not. I've decided to list a few pet peeves in hopes that even the most basic English writer will avoid pitfalls of grammar and usage. 1. it's = it is (merely substitute this form and if it fits, then use this form with the apostrophe) its = possessive form (notice a possessive personal pronoun does NOT have an apostrophe like a noun) (It's, Its) a very hot afternoon. Substitute "It is." The answer is "It's a very hot afternoon." The dog can't find (it's, its) bone. Substitute "It is." Won't fit. The answer is "The dog can't find its bone." 2. Capitalize relationships if they represent the name: mom, dad, uncle, cousin, etc. The easy key is to substitute a name in the sentence. If the name makes sense, capitalize the relationship. Hey, (mom, Mom), let me show you something. Substitute a name like Mary. Hey, Mary, let me show you something. It fits so capitalize. The answer is "Hey, Mom, let me show you something." Hey, Mary, have you seen my (mom, Mom). Substitute a name like Cindy. Hey, Mary, have you seen my Cindy. It doesn't fit so DO NOT capitalize. The answer is "Hey, Mary, have you seen my mom." 3. Periods and commas ALWAYS go inside quotation marks. Ted stated, "I haven't felt this good in (years." years".) The answer is "Ted stated, I haven't felt this good in years." "I just can't get started (today", today,") said Mr. Gumble. The answer is "I just can't get started today," said Mr. Gumble. 4. Hyphenate a compound adjective and a noun when the adjectives appear before a noun but not if used after the noun it modifies. The newsletter contains the most (up-to-date, up to date) material in the industry. The answer is "The newsletter contains the most up-to-date material in the industry." Up to date is before the noun material. The material in the newsletter is kept (up-to-date, up to date). The answer is "The material in the newsletter is kept up to date." Up to date is used after the noun material. 5. Use the nominative case personal pronoun in a compound subject construction. Easy way to apply, consider both subjects separately. The answer will become apparent. Teddy Jones and (I, me) swam in the community pool. Separate "Teddy Jones swam in the community pool." Correct. Teddy Jones and I swam in the community pool. Separate "Me swam in the community pool. "I swam in the community pool." The answer is "Teddy Jones and I swam in the community pool." 6. Words that describe or limit other words are called modifiers. Adjective is a word or group of words that modifies a noun or pronoun, whereas Adverb is a group of words that modifies a verb. Place them as close to the word they modify as possible. Avoid dangling modifiers. A. "Thomas told her that he wanted to marry her frequently." B. "Thomas frequently told her that he wanted to marry her." What does frequently modify? The word modifies told. Place it as close to told as possible. B. is correct. 7. A lot (two words) is an informal phrase meaning "many." It can take an adjective, for example, "a sizeable lot." "Take a lot of clothes in case you need them." Avoid this phrase and use more descriptive term when possible. Allot means "to distribute between or among." It has the same root as lottery. "He allotted two breaks a day for everyone" Alot does Not Exist as a word. 8. Alright is a nonstandard abbreviation. Do NOT use this spelling. Alright is NOT a word.

Spelling all right as two words is all right. This is correct usage.

9. Lay means "to place something down." It is something you do to something else. It is a transitive verb with a direct object answer to "what?" or "whom?"

Lie means "to recline" or "be placed." It does not act on anything or anyone else. It is an intransitive verb and DOES NOT have a direct object answer to "what?" or "whom?"

The principal parts of lay are lay (present), laid (past), and laid (past participle = with helping verb).

The principal parts of lie are lie (present), lay (past), and lain (past participle = with helping verb).

(Lie, Lay) down. (Lie, Lay) the newspaper on the stand. Correct answers are "Lie down." To recline with no direct object. "Lay the newspaper on the stand." Place the (what?) = direct object newspaper. Dad (laid, lay) down yesterday afternoon. She (lay, laid) the roses on the tombstone. Correct answers are "Dad lay down yesterday afternoon. To recline with no direct object. "She laid the roses on the tombstone." Place the (what) = direct object roses. Have you ever (laid, lain) the problem to rest? Have you (laid, lain) in a haystack? Correct answers are "Have you ever laid the problem to rest." Placed the (what?) = direct object problem. "Have you lain in a haystack?" To recline with no direct object. 10. The possessive form of a singular noun is an apostrophe followed by the letter "s." This is standard and will be considered always correct. More recently also accepted, a noun ending in "s" may show possession with just the apostrophe. (Carls, Carl's) class has a long homework assignment. The answer is possessive: "Carl's class has a long homework assignment." (Tess's, Tess') class has a long homework assignment. The answer is possessive: "Tess's/Tess' class has a long homework assignment." Either singular possessive is acceptable. In order to place the apostrophe correctly in plural nouns, (1) first write the plural form of the noun, then (2) if the noun ends in "s," add only an apostrophe, but (3) if the noun does not end in "s," add an apostrophe and an "s." The (boy's, boys') hats are hanging in the closet. The answer is plural possessive and the plural noun form ends in "s": "The boys' hats are hanging in the closet." All three (women's, womens') purses were stolen. The answer is plural possessive and the plural noun form does not end in "s" "All three women's purses were stolen."
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