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Archive for the category “grammar”

Tainted Water and Bad Grammar

The following attention-grabbing headline bannered on the Internet a few weeks ago:

Your Water has been POISON by your GOVERNMENT

Somehow, I don’t really trust a source that gives scare headlines using bad grammar. There’s just no credibility there.

hwl-lake-9-14-16

No tainted water in this lake at Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ.

 

AAA – Avoid Apostrophe Atrocities – Go to Gary’s for Breakfast

After church services most summer Sundays, our little bunch of Margate-by-the-Sea (NJ) choir members (one soprano, one female tenor, two basses, and two choir groupies) goes out for breakfast.

We gather around the shiny black piano after services and begin our conversation.

Janice Heck, photo of Gary's Restaurant

Gary owns the restaurant so it is called Gary’s Restaurant, or just Gary’s for short.

Well, where share we go today?

Sal’s? Gary’s? Fitzpatick’s? Ozzie’s? Isabella’s, Jon and Patty’s?

Fitzpatrick’s, Sal’s, Ozzie’s, Isabelle’s, and Jon and Patty’s get nixed rapidly. The shoobie crowd (summer visitors to the shore) pack out these places on summer Sunday mornings.

That leaves Gary’s, our favorite offshore breakfast place.

Not only does Gary serve good breakfasts, his quaint, offshore restaurant is far away from the madding beach crowds. And, best of all, Gary knows how to use apostrophes correctly!  Five stars for him.

Common Writing Error: Substituting Plurals and Possessives (Apostrophes)

Although it seems like a simple matter to a grammar geek like me, people constantly confuse words that need or don’t need apostrophes. Facebook, Twitter, other social media sites abound with this apostrophe atrocity.

And greengrocers? They thrive on making this common error. But don’t let sign makers or bumper sticker printers off the hook. They help to perpetuate this mistake. Check out this especially egregious example of incorrect apostrophe use.

apostrophe abuse found by Tina in Naples, FL. Posted on Apostropheatrocitiesdotcom

Apostrophe abuse found by Tina in Naples, Florida. Posted on Apostrophe Atrocities dot com

Most common writing errors lists include the notoriously abused, misused, or totally ignored apostrophe. Blogs dedicated to finding and posting pictures of blatant misuse of apostrophes ridicule this particular writing error. (See Apostrophe Catastrophes and Apostrophe Abuse.) The misuse of the apostrophe is high on the list of a grammar geek’s pet peeves.

Strunk & White, in The Elements of Style, list the possessive apostrophe on nouns as the first item of importance on their list of “Elementary Rules of Usage.” In fact, apostrophes are taught in school at about the third grade and reviewed every school year after that, ad nauseum. (See Are You Smarter Than a Third Grader?)

Yet apostrophes are still frequently misused, much to the horror of Lynn Truss. This author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2003) calls apostrophe errors

satanic sprinklings of redundant apostrophes that cause no little gasp of horror or quickening of the pulse…

Her book is about stuff we grammar geeks love but non-geeks and grammar-phobes don’t care about.

Two Questions Solve the Apostrophe Problem

When it comes to apostrophes, ask two questions.

1. Are there more than one?  If so, just add -s.

Two or more of the same thing = plural.

Two copies of one noun.

Two aardvarks, three curmudgeons, four geezers, five egomaniacs, six gastroenterologists, seven hyenas, ten apes, eleven orangutans,
…and last, but not least, twelve grammar geeks…

You get the idea. Two or more copies of one noun. Just add -s.

If you can count it, just add -s.

2. Does someone own something? An apostrophe shows ownership, possession, or connection of some sort.

When two distinct nouns have a connection, the first noun is the owner and earns the apostrophe.  See Abbey’s Alphabet for a quick review of possessives.)

Gary owns his little breakfast money-maker, so he calls it

Gary’s Restaurant.

Same with Fitzpatrick’s, Sal’s, Ozzie’s, and Isabella’s.

Fitzpatrick’s Deli
Sal’s Coal Fired Pizza (yes, they serve breakfast and pizza)
Ozzie’s Luncheonette
Isabella’s Ventnor Café

Here’s Where It Gets Tricky:  Possessives with Two Owners

What about restaurants that have two owners and both want their personal names in the restaurant name?

What should Jon and Patty call their restaurant?  What should Steve and Cookie call their restaurant? How about Chickie and Pete?

The rule is that only the second owner’s name gets the apostrophe, so the restaurant name should be written like this:

Jon and Patty’s Coffee Bar and Bistro
Steve and Cookie’s (Restaurant) By the Bay

Gary gets his apostrophes right on his kid’s menu as well. Five more stars.

Menu with apostrophes. Photo, Janice Heck

Of course, you will see this rule broken from time to time:

 Chickie’s and Pete’s Crab House and Sports Bar

Chickie and Pete couldn’t agree on who got the apostrophe, so they both (incorrectly) claimed one.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to make this error in neon lights!

Instead of going to that crab house next time you want a good breakfast, go to Gary’s. You’ll love his omelets. Or, if you’re not so hungry, have a grilled cheese sandwich from the kid’s menu. And thank Gary for getting his apostrophes right!

Summer sunday-GAry's 017 (2)

 

Your Turn:

What are your English grammar, usage, and punctuation pet peeves?

*******

If you are a grammar geek, or just a person who wants to be sure that you use the best grammar and punctuation in all writing situations, then consider following this blog. Just click on the link on the sidebar to the left of this post. Thanks.

This post is one in a series on Writing Quirks. More Writing Quirks can be found on my other blog: Janice Heck

Graphic by Janice Heck

 

Are You Smarter Than a Third Grader? Plurals and Apostrophes

During the course of my weekly Mahjong game with Linda, Suzanne, and Cathy, the conversation shifted to our English languageGraphic by Janice Heck error pet peeves.

Linda said, “I hate it when people misuse apostrophes. Don’t they learn about apostrophes in third grade?”

Well, no, in third grade the kids just want to get outside for recess to play ball. You don’t need apostrophes out on the field, just a good pitching or catching arm and fast running. With those three key ingredients, you can be a star.

Plurals and Apostrophe Confusion

It’s around third grade that apostrophes start their mischievous and devious lives.

Plurals come easily to young children, that is, until about third grade when they half-learn about apostrophes. Apostrophes look so grown up in writing that children begin to use them everywhere, forgetting what they have learned earlier about plurals. Many children get plurals and apostrophes straightened out after some patient teaching, but alas, many get stuck in third grade using apostrophes on plurals or omitting them on possessive nouns.

There’s Hope!

Teachers use an old rhyme to help children decode words with double vowels (rain, brain, pea, speak, teach, boat, coat, glue, and so on).

graphic credit: tiedupwstring.com

graphic credit: tiedupwstring.com

When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.

Thus in words like speak, teach, coat, and glue you pronounce the sound of the first letter (long vowels say their own name) while the second letter remains silent.

We can make up a similar rhyme to help us remember how to use apostrophes:

When two NOUNs go walking, the first one gets the apostrophe.

The Apostrophe’s Function

The apostrophe answers this question:   Who owns this (book, ball, pen, house, car, whatever)?

Who?   A person = Noun                Owns what?  A thing = Noun

Blaze this in Your Memory Banks: 

When two NOUNs go walking, the first one gets the apostrophe.

To use the possessive apostrophe correctly, you must have two nouns.

Here’s Abbey’s Alphabet to help you check out this guideline.

Check. Does every example have two nouns? (a person and an object)

Possessive nouns and apostrophes. Graphic by Janice Heck

Possessive Nouns and Apostrophes. Graphic by Janice Heck

Alas. Of  course, there are more apostrophe rules. We will talk about them in future posts. But for now, just remember that you need a possessive noun and an object noun to use an apostrophe to show possession.

Your Turn:

What writing quirks do you find in writing? What’s your pet peeve in writing?

Serial Commas, Parallel Structure, and the Ghostly And

In previous posts, Serial Commas and Compulsive Behavior and Serial Commas, Parallel Structure, and Zombies for Hire, we learned: use a comma before the conjunction and in a series (list) of three or more grammatically similar words, phrases, or clauses (even though journalists, Brits, and Aussies do not follow this convention). And remember to check the style guidelines of the publishers for whom you write to see which way they want you to use the serial comma.

The classic example using the serial comma before the conjunction:

The American flag is red, white, and blue.

American flag

But you know writers. They like to mix it up a bit. Once they master this basic rule of using a comma and conjunction in a series (list), they proceed to make variations on the rule.

One Variation: The Ghostly and.

Instead of using a final conjunction before the last element in the series (list), the writer simply drops the conjunction and.Death Warmed Over

Eliminating the and in a series in a sentence can be an effective style choice. Let’s go back to the Unnatural Quarter and see what Zombie Private Investigator, Dan Shamble is investigating now. (Kevin J. Anderson, Death Warmed Over, 2012)

List of Nouns and Noun Phrases with the Ghostly and

Note: The parentheses indicate the placement of the ghostly and.

I look pretty good for a dead guy, or so I’ve been told:
well-trimmed dark hair,
striking eyes accentuated by bold eyebrows, (    )
just the right amount of “rugged.”

I like the bustle and little distracting noises around the office:
the ringing phone,
the slam of file-cabinet drawers, (    )
the clacking of a keyboard as Sheyenne’s ghost types up reports.

In the back room of the flat, behind a closed door, I could hear
a whimper,
muffled screams, (    )
the sounds of a struggle.

List of Verb Phrases with the Ghostly and

The ghostly and with a series of verb phrases builds tension in the story.

I spotted the silhouette of a large hairy form
loping among the graves,
sniffing the ground, (     )
coming closer.

Without me in the office Robin threw herself back into her cases,
filing more briefs and appeals,
appearing in court, (     )
speaking with fiery vehemence on behalf of her clients.

List of Independent Clauses (complete sentences in a series) with the ghostly and

Businesses sprang up that catered to the specialized clientele:
Commercial blood drives commissioned fresh supplies for vampire customers;
processing plants developed seasonings and treatments to make chicken “taste just like human”; (     )
restaurants and bars served the proper food choices.

In order to live peacefully together, unnaturals had learned to control their base urges and get along with one another…
Werewolves no longer killed human victims each full moon,
vampires gave up drinking all but voluntarily donated blood, (    )
zombies and ghouls foreswore eating human flesh.

The Fragmented Spirit: The Serial and, the Ghostly and, and the First Word of Sentence and.

Why not throw in another way to use the word and in a sentence (or not)?

Our grammar school teachers frowned when we innocently began sentences with a capitalized And. But writers nowadays regularly use that capitalized And to begin sentences, thumbing their noses at their grade-school teachers, I guess.

In this next example, Kevin J. Anderson throws in three different ways to use the word and:

  1. the compound sentence and,
  2. the ghostly and,
  3. and the first word of sentence And.

I’m dead, for starters—it happens.
But I’m still ambulatory, and I can still think, (     ) still be a contributing member of society (such as it is, these days).
And still solve crimes.

Thank goodness for P. I. Shamble. What would this world be like if all those zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, succubi, and other assorted created had no legal assistance to solve their life’s problems?

Restless unnaturals instead of placated unnaturals? Let’s not go there! Keep up the good word, Shamble. In the meantime, the rest of us may borrow some of your writing stylistics using the conjunction and.

(Note: While zombie books are not especially a favorite of mine, I do believe it is important to read widely across all genres. Sometimes we can learn new things when reading in a genre that is not familiar to us. And, these books are funny!)

Serial Commas, Parallel Structure, and Zombies for Hire

In Serial Commas and Compulsive Behavior, serial comma (aka Harvard Comma and Oxford Comma) combatants duked it out over correct usage.

On my scoreboard, the serial comma won, hands down. But journalists, Brits, and Aussies don’t all agree with me.

A Bigger Problem: Parallel Structure

But a major underlying issue compounds the serial comma problem: parallel structure.

To be grammatically correct, both serial commas and parallel structure must be right in your writing.

Constance Hale, author of Sin and Syntax: How to Craft wickedly Effective Prose (1999), reminds us of the danger of not books on writing - Hale 001understanding parallel structure and appropriate punctuation:

Some of the most hilarious errors in English result from phrases that aren’t properly tracked. If you don’t know what you’re doing, phrases will deliver you straight to The Danger Zone.

Want to avoid errors with serial commas and parallel structure and keep June Casagrande’s nasty old grammar snobs from picking on your writing (Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies, 2006)?   Read on.

Look for the Lists

My husband (My Heck of a Guy, affectionately known as MyHog for short) is set in his ways about just how to loads the eating utensils in the dishwasher.

Grammar graphic by Janice Heck

(Just don’t nest the utensils. They will get cleaner if they go every-which-way.)

Whatever. Makes no difference to me; he loads the dishwasher, so he can do it any way he wants.

I must admit (but don’t tell him I said this) his method of loading the dishwasher makes it easier to empty the dishwasher. Grab a handful of knives and plop them into their home base in the utensil drawer. Repeat. In six basic swoops, the utensils are happily nested in the silverware drawer.

Serial Lists: Like Parts of Speech Go Together

Serial lists are like loading silverware in the dishwasher: like parts of speech go together.

Grammar Graphic "Parallel Lists" by Janice Heck

These patterns, known as parallel structure, keep your writing organized and bring poetic flow to your sentences. If you mix grammatical words, phrases, or clauses in lists (non-parallel structure), you not only lose the flow of your sentence, but you become snickering fodder for the grammar snobs who lie in wait ready to pounce on any and all unsuspecting and naïve writers.

Writing lists in non-parallel structure to good writers is like throwing a teaspoon down the garbage disposal while it is running: it makes a terrible clunking noise, and you just want to make it stop.

Serial Lists in Zombie TerritoryDeath Warmed Over

Zombies? I follow my own advice and read widely in all genres. So when a zombie book came my way, I read it…and laughed the entire way through.

New York Times bestselling author, Kevin J. Anderson, is a master at using serial lists in his book, Death Warmed Over (2012). (All quotes in this post are from this book unless otherwise noted.)

Zombie private investigator Dan Shamble, pronounced Chambeaux, despite being dead himself, hires out to other baffled “unnaturals” (zombies, vampires, ghouls, and other utterly dead or dying creatures), each with his or her own devastating problem, all the while keeping an eye out for his own double-dealing killer.

Statistics, according to P. I. Shamble, show that these unnaturals are a serious problem:

According to the latest statistics by the DUS, the Department of Unnatural Services, about one out of every seventy-five corpses wakes up as a zombie…

With so many zombies and unnaturals around, sooner or later they will surely invade our sentences. Here’s how to root them out and get them the commas they deserve.

Lists of Words inside Sentences.

Key to success: Keep the parts of speech under control.

Private Investigator Shamble keeps these parts of speech under control with ease. Have a look:

1.  List of 3 or more single nouns.  Pattern:  …noun, noun, and noun…

The world’s a crazy place since the Big Uneasy, the event that changed all the rules and allowed a flood of baffled unnaturals to return—zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, succubi, and the usual associated creatures.

I reworded Anderson’s  sentence to show that the list of nouns can be in the front of your sentence (the subject) or it can be in the back of your sentence (the predicate–as  above).

Zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, succubi, other baffled unnaturals, and other associated creatures have flooded the world since the Big Uneasy, making the world a crazy place.

2. List of 3 or more single adjectives. Pattern: …adjective, adjective, and adjective…

 [The werewolf hit man] was a smelly, hairy, muscular guy, half-wolf and half-human.

Lists of adjectives can go in the predicate as above or in the subject as in the reworded sentence below:

That smelly, hairy, muscular guy, half-wolf and half-human, is the werewolf hit man.

3. List of 3 or more single verbs. Pattern: …verb, verb, and verb…

The worst characters [the unnaturals] were arrested, tried, and sentenced…

Keep in mind that verb tense in series must be kept parallel too!

Lists of Phrases inside Sentences:

1. List of noun phrases: (noun plus descriptive details written here in list form so you can see the parallel structure easier)

A dead detective,
a wimpy vampire, and
other interesting characters from the supernatural side of the street
make Death Warmed Over an unpredictable walk on the weird side.
Charlaine Harris, Book Reviewer, Death Warmed Over

 Just before noon, the artist’s ghost manifested himself in our second-floor offices, wearing his preferred form:
 long ponytail,
 tie-dyed shirt, and
 paint-stained jeans.

The main door burst open, and a terrified-looking man [a vampire] ran in. He wore
a dark overcoat,
gloves,
a black floppy-brimmed hat, and
oversized wraparound sunglasses like the ones old ladies wear after cataract surgery.

Robin spread out the legal forms on the signing table. “I have
the property deed to the real estate in Greenlawn Cemetery,
the plat marking the location of the crypt, and
the ownership transfer documents for Mr. Ricketts to sign.” 

**Effective Writing Style Tip:  for added interest, vary the length of each item in the series. Most often, put your longest item last, but you can vary this arrangement to make it more interesting. Try different arrangements to see how they work.

**Bonus: Here’s a double series of adjective/noun phrases.

Many haunters, underground dwellers, sewer jockeys, and walking dead
don’t mind
ramshackle appearances, piled garbage, or thick shadows . . .

2. List of verb phrases. Pattern: …verb phrase, verb phrase, and verb phrase…

After returning to life, I had
shambled back into the office,
picked up my caseload, and
got to work again.

***

In law school, she [Robin, Shamble’s secretary, and a ghost, of course] had been able to
pull all-nighters;
study,
write a term paper,
go to class in the morning,
take an exam,
hang out with friends in the afternoon, and
party at night.

***

Days of investigation had led me to the graveyard. I
dug through the files,
interviewed witnesses and suspects,
met with the ghost artist Alvin Ricketts and separately with his indignant still-living family.

3. List of adverb phrases. Pattern: …adverb phrase, adverb phrase, and adverb phrase…

Popular writer of his own zombie novels, Jonathan Maberry, reviewed Anderson’s Death Warmed Over using a series of adverb phrases. (Note his choice of omitting the serial comma!)

Master storyteller Kevin J. Anderson’s Death Warmed Over is
wickedly funny,
deviously twisted and
enormously satisfying.
Two decaying thumbs up!
Jonathan Maberry, Review of Death Warmed Over

While the rest of us have been warned not to overuse adverbs in our writing, book reviewers seem to get thrills and energizing chills from using them willy-nilly! Oh well, when you are famous, you follow a different set of rules. (Read: Don’t Use Adverbs? Book Reviewers Use Them!)

Finally, Remember Four Key Principles when Using Parallel Structure

  1. Look for series/lists in sentences. Good writers use them.
  2. Keep like parts of speech together in series/lists (parallel structure).
  3. Keep verb tense the same in a series of verb phrases.
  4. Use the serial comma (the comma before the conjunction).

Follow these simple guidelines, and you will keep the grammar meanies away forever!

Of course, there are more ways to use parallel structure, and future posts will give examples of these: Parallel structure with clauses coming soon.

**Effective Writing Style tip: Good writers use parallel structure to bring rhythm and flow to their writing.

And now, if you want to read more about the zombie invasion, here is another Kevin Anderson book., Hair Raising.book for blog - Anderson, Hair Raising 001

Your Turn:

What’s your favorite quote using parallel structure?

Can you use one of Anderson’s sentence patterns in your writing using your own topic-related words?

 

Apostrophe Atrocity: On The Marquee at the Shore

Heavens forfend! An error on the marquee down at the shore.

Contractions photo - Janice Heck

The contraction stands for two words: Let us. Using the contraction form, it should read “Let’s…”

Oh well, the heat must have gone to someone’s head!

 

 

What? Another Blog on Writing?

Three years ago, on a lark, I started my first blog: Janice Heck: My Time to Write. After writing 370 posts and getting over 52,000 hits, I decided it was time to reevaluate that blog and plan my next steps. You can read that post here: Dear Readers: On Flying Deeper into the Blogosphere.

One conclusion of that post: I want/need to focus more on writing process and writing craft to help developing writers become more effective writers.

My first blog is an eclectic blog, on which I write about such topics as CATS, travel, photography, current events, food, recipes, book reviews, family, senior health issues, and eldercare. And then I write about writing topics: grammar, usage, punctuation, writing quirks, common writing errors, “fix-its” for common errors, and effective writing tips.

Quite a mix, isn’t it?

Here is my new, more focused blog for developing writers:

Janice Heck Writes: Power-up Your Writing! Build Your Writing craft.

The goal of this blog is to help writers “Power-up” their writing by learning more about writing following this model:

Graphic by Janice Heck

Writers often hear such terms as passive voice, parallel structure, serial commas, dependent clauses, cumulative sentences, periodic sentences, and many more. But just as often, these terms seem a bit fuzzy, especially to newish writers.

The focus on this new blog will be to un-fuzzy these terms by using…

  • Grammar-You-Can-See
  • Usage-You-Can-See
  • Punctuation-You-Can-See
  • Writing Quirks and Fix-its

Wordy Grammar Books

Pick a grammar book at random and what do you see?  Pages and pages of words telling about grammar, showing an example or two, then giving incorrect sentences to edit. Sometimes the grammatical term receives little more than an honorable mention: “Don’t use passive voice.”

In this new blog, I take a writing tip and show you, with graphics, how the grammar (or usage or punctuation) works so you can translate it into your own writing.

Other posts will focus on qualities that enhance your writing as well as common writing problems that interfere with effective writing.

Writing Strategies

To give you an idea of what the posts on Power-up Your Writing! Build Your Writing Craft will look like, take a peek at a few posts from my first eclectic blog: (Posts written for the annual A to Z Challenge held every April):

Coming soon: Look for my first official post on this blog here: One Tired, Tarnished Writing Tip…and Six Twists.

So come along for the ride. Ask questions and leave comments. I would love to hear from you.

***

Janice HeckJanice Heck, retired educator/administrator, hosts two blogs:

Janice Heck: My Time to Write, an eclectic topic blog.

Janice Heck Writes: Power-up Your Writing! Build Your Writing Craft.

She is co-leader of the Cumberland County chapter of the New Jersey Society of Christian Writers along with Kathryn Ross of The Writer’s Reverie.

Over the years, Jan has given workshops on writing for schools, local and national special education and general conferences, and has published Evaluating and Improving Written Expression: A Practical Guide for Teachers (Janice K. Hall, Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1981; Pro-Ed,  1988, 1999). That book is now an OOP (out-of-print).

Jan’s favorite retirement activities are traveling, blogging, singing in the church choir, eating out, and collecting old grammar books.

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