Gramma Tickle

 

 Gramma Tickle

 

GRAMMA TICKLE SAYS…                           

 

 

 

 

For more Gramma, check out: 

THE SENTENCE, AS WE KNOW AND LIVE IT from Oct.11, 2014

THE COMMA AND OTHER FINE POINTS OF DISTINCTION  from June 19, 2014. A look at the health and welfare of traditional punctuation in the age of solecistic abandon.

 

ON AFFIXES

Every affix performs a specific duty. If two affixes of the same basic function are applied to a single root, the effect of both is rendered obsolete. Thus, PREFIX ‘ir’ and SUFFIX ‘less’ (both expressing negation), added to ROOT ‘regard’, equals ‘not without regard’… in short, ‘regardful’!

ON GERUNDS

A gerund is formed when we add ‘ing’ to a verb and use it as a noun. In the sentence Dancing is fun, the word ‘dancing’ functions as SUBJECT, while in I like dancing, it takes the role of DIRECT OBJECT. When modifying a gerund, be sure to use the POSSESSIVE case (Horton’s dancing caused quite a stir.)

NO:  ”I’m sure they won’t object to US coming to the party.”
YES: “I’m sure they won’t object to OUR coming to the party.”

ON SYNTAX

Assembling a sentence that contains two or more modifying ideas is not always as simple as it seems. The various elements need to be organized so as not to create confusion. For instance, if one attempts to combine the main clause  Sally met the doctor  with the modifying ideas  that had removed her appendix  and  on the subway, a couple of concerns may arise. In Sally met the doctor that had removed her appendix on the subway, the subway becomes the scene of surgery. In Sally met the doctor on the subway that had removed her appendix, the subway becomes the surgeon. For optimum clarity, place one of the modifiers at the beginning of the sentence: On the subway, Sally met the doctor that had removed her appendix.

ON ‘LIE’ VERSUS ‘LAY’

To ‘LIE’ means to ‘recline’ or to ‘occupy a space’, while to ‘LAY’ means ‘to place’. Principle parts of LIE are lie/lay/lain/lying; principle parts of LAY are lay/laid/laid/laying. Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT a matter of personal preference. An easy way to keep the distinction in mind is to remember that while LAY takes a direct object (to lay eggs), LIE does not (to lie down).

“On Sundays, I lie in bed until noon. Yesterday, I lay there all day.”
“On Sundays, I lay two books on the table. Yesterday, I laid four.”

ON POSSESSIVES

The formation of certain POSSESSIVES can be a source of some confusion. For instance, it is correct to say either “my son’s friend” or “a friend of my son”. To say “a friend of my son’s” (as people often do) is to form the possessive twice, which may not actually cancel it out, but certainly renders it redundant.

“This applicant has ten years of experience.”
“This applicant has ten years’ experience.”

ON ‘HARDLY’, ‘BARELY’, ‘SCARCELY’

The ADVERBS ‘hardly’, ‘barely’, and ‘scarcely’ are expressions of negativity (there is scarcely any sugar  means  there is NOT much sugar). As such, none of them should be paired with a second negative (such as ‘no’, ‘not’, ‘never’, or ‘none’), as a DOUBLE NEGATIVE will result (there is scarcely no sugar  means something like  there is plenty of sugar).

NO: I can’t hardly believe my eyes.
YES: I can’t believe my eyes.
YES: I can hardly believe my eyes.

ON ‘SINCE’, ‘FOR’, AND ‘FROM’

Here’s one that may be especially useful to those who speak English as a second language. SINCE, FOR, and FROM are not interchangeable when applied as prepositions. Whereas FOR is the word we use to express the duration of an event, SINCE cites a specific starting point for that event. Meanwhile, FROM is something of a combination of both: in conjunction with TO, it introduces a starting and ending point, and thus, shows duration.

“I have been sick FOR three days.”
“I have been sick SINCE Tuesday.”
“I was sick FROM Tuesday TO Friday.”

ON CORRELATIVE CONJUNCTIONS

Use parallel construction after each half of a CORRELATIVE CONJUNCTION (such as ‘neither… nor’ or ‘both… and’) as in: either we travel together, or she goes alone, or he is not only hard-working, but also efficient.

“Mrs. Avery scrubbed both the floor in the kitchen and the one in the bathroom.”

ON SENTENCES THAT START WITH ‘HERE’ OR ‘THERE’

In a SIMPLE DECLARATIVE sentence, subject typically precedes verb (Martin is here). However, in the EXISTENTIAL clause (that is, one that begins with ‘here’ or ‘there’), verb precedes subject, the same way it does in an INTERROGATIVE sentence (Where is Martin? … Here is Martin). In this case, be sure the verb continues to agree with the subject and not (somehow) with either ‘here’ or ‘there’.

Yes: “There ARE some Corn Flakes in the cupboard.”
No:  ”There IS some Corn Flakes in the cupboard.”

ON ADJECTIVES IN A SEQUENCE

There are two kinds of adjectives that appear in a series in reference to a noun. COORDINATE adjectives each modify the noun equally and must be separated by commas (a strong, confident, independent woman). CUMULATIVE adjectives modify each other in sequence and must NOT be separated by commas (three big orange pumpkins). If you’re not sure which is which, try rearranging the series (orange big three pumpkins). If it doesn’t sound right, the adjectives are CUMULATIVE.

“Several exuberant brown dogs dragged on the leashes of a tired, anxious, harried owner.”

ON ‘THOUGH’ AND ‘ALTHOUGH’

As SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS, ‘though’ and ‘although’ can be used interchangeably, whether they appear initially or medially. Some suggest that ‘although’ is more formal, but ‘though’ is, in fact, its precursor (not until the 1300s did ‘all though’ become ‘although’). However, ‘though’ as an ADVERB (meaning ‘however’ or ‘nonetheless’), can never be substituted with ‘although’.

“Although/Though she is hungry, she refuses to eat.”
“She is not healthy, though, and needs to gain some weight.”

ON SUBJECT VERSUS OBJECT PRONOUNS

‘I, you, (s)he, it, we, they’ are SUBJECT PRONOUNS. ‘Me, you, him, her, it, us, them’ are OBJECT PRONOUNS. A subject pronoun is the ‘do-er’ and an object pronoun is the ‘do-ee’. If you’re not sure which goes where, trying removing the additional factor and see how it sounds:

YES: “They (and the children) are ready to go. Are they taking (John and) me?”
NO:  ”(The children) and them are ready to go. Are they taking (John and) I?”

ON ‘WHO’, ‘THAT’, OR ‘WHICH’

When ‘who’, ‘which’ and ‘that’ are used as RELATIVE PRONOUNS, their job is to link an adjective clause to the subject it modifies in the main clause: “I have a FRIEND” (main) “WHO likes to eat pizza” (subordinate). Use ‘who(m)’ to refer to people, ‘which’ for animals and things, and ‘that’ for animals, things and people on an impersonal basis (‘the doctor)
“Jerry was an artist who also played the piano.”
“My car is out of gas, which is why I can’t drive you to the store.”
“May wants a bunny that has long ears.”

ON RELATIVE PRONOUNS ‘THAT’ vs ‘WHICH’

RELATIVE PRONOUNS ‘that’ and ‘which’ can be used interchangeably to introduce a RELATIVE CLAUSE as long as it is RESTRICTIVE (essential to the meaning of the sentence). However, to introduce a clause that is NON-RESTRICTIVE (optional to the meaning of the sentence), use ‘which’ only. Note that such clauses are always set off by commas.

YES:  Here is the house that Jack built.
YES:  Here is the house which Jack built.
YES:  Here is Jack’s house, which is yellow.
NO:   Here is Jack’s house, that is yellow.

ON THE SECOND CONDITIONAL MOOD

The SECOND CONDITIONAL mood features syntax we use to describe improbable or hypothetical situations in the present tense. Such sentences consist of a dependent ‘if’ clause plus an independent result clause and feature an important EXCEPTION in terms of conjugation. When the verb ‘to be’ appears in the ‘if’ clause, it will always take ‘were’, regardless of the case of the subject.

“If I were not working tonight, I would take you to the play.”

ON THE SEMI-COLON

While it’s common knowledge that the SEMI-COLON (in conjunction with a right parenthesis) is the universal symbol of cyber-diplomacy, it’s also useful as a PERIOD plus a COMMA: a period to divide two independent clauses and a comma to link them in terms of what they mean.

“Your punctuation is remarkable; you never use a period when a splice will suffice… 

ON ‘BETWEEN’ VERSUS ‘AMONG’

There is a difference between prepositions BETWEEN and AMONG, just as there is among quantifiers SOME, MORE, and MOST. Use ‘between’ to refer to two elements and ‘among(st)’ for three or more.
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“Though there is always friction between my brother and sister, there is nothing but diplomacy   amongst us all.”
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ON ONE-WORD MODIFIERS
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To make your sentence as clear as possible, always place one-word modifiers (such as ‘only’, ‘just’, and ‘almost’) close to the words they modify, and in most cases before them. Note the difference between  we just sold the car  and  we sold just the car. The first suggests the sale was completed very recently, the second, that the car was sold, but maybe not the motorcycle.
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“Jane only looked at the paintings; she had no plans to buy.”
“Jane looked at only the paintings; sculpture bores her.”
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ON QUANTIFIERS

QUANTIFIERS ‘few’ and ‘many’ are applicable to COUNT nouns (things that exist in countable units, such as ‘hours’) in the positive degree. ‘Little’ and ‘much’ refer to NON-COUNT nouns (those that are uncountable, like ‘time’).

When comparing two nouns, use ‘fewer’ and ‘more’ for COUNT, and ‘less’ and ‘more’ for NON-COUNT. When comparing three or more nouns, use ‘fewest’ and ‘most’ for COUNT, ‘least’ and ‘most’ for NON-COUNT’.

“I have less sugar than I need.There are fewer cubes here than I remember.”

ON PARTICIPIAL ADJECTIVES

The distinction between participial adjectives such as ‘interested’ and ‘interesting’ can be a source of confusion to many students of English as a second language. PAST PARTICIPLE ‘interested’ describes a subjective condition in which a person (or animal) EXPERIENCES interest. PRESENT PARTICIPLE ‘interesting’ describes an objective condition in which a person, place, or thing GENERATES interest.

“I am very worried. My situation is very worrying.”

ON SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT

Never let a PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE distract you from the rightful SUBJECT of a sentence. In the woman with two children looks very anxious, the subject (woman) is singular and therefore takes a singular verb (looks), even though it appears in conjunction with a plural (with two children).

“A group of protesters HAS gathered outside the courthouse.”

ON RESTRICTIVE AND NON-RESTRICTIVE CLAUSES

A RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE is one that contains information inherent to the meaning of the sentence and therefore, should NEVER appear with commas before and after. In contrast, a NON-RESTRICTIVE clause is optional (its role is only to restate or modify information essential to the meaning of the sentence) and, as such, should ALWAYS be framed in commas.

RESTRICTIVE: “People who eat their veggies lead wholesome lives.” (their lives are wholesome because they eat their veggies)

NON-RESTRICTIVE: “Those people, who are wearing funny hats, always eat their veggies.”
(the hats have nothing to do with their eating habits)

ON ‘AFFECT’ VERSUS ‘EFFECT’

‘Affect’ and ‘effect’ are commonly confused. ‘Affect’ is a VERB, meaning ‘to have an influence on’ (or less frequently, ‘to pretend’, or ‘assume falsely’). Meanwhile, ‘effect’ is a NOUN, meaning ‘something produced by a cause’, but also (less frequently), a VERB, meaning ‘to bring about’ or ‘make happen’.

Affect (verb):  I was deeply affected by her tears.
Affect (verb):  I didn’t know she was only affecting sadness.
Effect (noun):  Even so, her manipulation had a profound effect.
Effect (verb):  It made me want to effect a change.

ON ‘LIKE’
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The word ‘LIKE’ seems to be gaining momentum in the English language and not in an entirely encouraging way. Applied correctly, it can function as a VERB (‘to enjoy’ or ‘to feel friendly towards’), a PREPOSITION (‘similar to’ or ‘typical of’), a CONJUNCTION (‘the same as’ or ‘as if’) or even (in the Facebook era) a NOUN. However, Gramma must always take a dim view of ‘like’ as an INTERJECTION, in expression of heaven-knows-what.
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YES:  George really likes bananas. (verb)
YES:  He is like a monkey. (preposition)
YES:  He eats them like there’s no tomorrow (conjunction)
YES:  His picture got a lot of likes on Facebook. (noun)
NO!:  I am, like, going to have to share it with my friends.
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ON THE APOSTROPHE
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The APOSTROPHE has three functions. It is used to indicate CONTRACTION and POSSESSION, and in some cases, to clarify PLURALS of letters, acronyms, etc. It is NEVER appropriate to use an apostrophe to pluralize a simple noun.
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YES:  It’s time to go home. I’m exhausted.
YES:  Me, too. I’m tired of watching my p’s and q’s.
YES:  The guests’ coats are in the closet. Mark’s hat is there, too.
NO:   Old folk’s need their beauty rest.
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ON THE OXFORD COMMA 
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When three or more nouns appear in a series, controversy arises as to whether or not a COMMA should appear before the coordinating conjunction that precedes the last. This is generally known as the SERIAL or OXFORD comma. Proponents argue that including it is the best way to avoid ambiguity (the last two elements may otherwise be linked in modification of the first). Opponents say that ‘and’, ‘nor’, or ‘or’ is sufficient for the job. Neither way is more correct than the other.
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“It is a lesson for my cousins, Adolf Hitler, and Atilla the Hun.”
“It is a lesson for my cousins, Adolf Hitler and Atilla the Hun.”
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ON PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES AND AGREEMENT
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“Either of the girls is very pretty.”In this sentence, ‘of the girls’ is a PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE whose role it is to modify SUBJECT ‘either’. INDEFINITE PRONOUN  ‘either’ (like ‘neither’, ‘each’, ‘any’, every one’, and ‘none’) is SINGULAR, and therefore, takes a singular verb for agreement.
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“None of the pies is ready to be eaten.”  (none = not one)
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ON PLACEMENT OF MODIFYING PHRASES
To avoid confusion, be sure to position PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES as close as possible to the elements they modify.
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“Charlie returned home with a puppy for dinner.” (Oh, no!!)
BETTER: “Charlie returned home for dinner with a puppy.”
BEST:     “When Charlie returned home for dinner, he brought a puppy with him.”
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ON ‘FARTHER’ VERSUS ‘FURTHER’  
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FARTHER and FURTHER serve equally as comparatives for the adverb FAR. However, contrary to the rather loose terms of contemporary usage, there is a traditional distinction between them. Briefly, where FARTHER is meant… to refer to literal, or physical, distance (I can’t run any farther), FURTHER is more figurative (I won’t discuss it any further). In cases that seem ambiguous (in I am further along in my book…, distance is measurable in terms of either plot or pages), FURTHER is the option with more wiggle room.
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ON MODAL PLUS AUXILIARY
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The verb sequence ‘could have’ consists of MODAL ‘could’ plus AUXILIARY ‘have’ which precedes the PAST PARTICIPLE in construction of the PERFECT tense. This is not to be confused with ‘could of’, nor its ugly cousins, ‘would of’, ‘should of’, ‘might of’, which is gibberish.
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“I WOULD HAVE called you a thousand times, if I thought I could change your mind.”
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ON ‘ACCEPT’ VS ‘EXCEPT’
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The spelling of ACCEPT vs EXCEPT can prove perplexing for some. ACCEPT is a verb meaning to ‘receive’, ‘approve of’, or ‘ADD to the equation’. EXCEPT is also a verb (though more often a preposition) meaning to ‘leave out’, ‘exclude’, or ‘SUBTRACT from the equation’. The distinction is easy to remember if you consider ‘ex’ as a mark of omission.
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“Every member, except Stephen, was prepared to accept the terms.”
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ON ADJECTIVES OF DEGREE IN INVERTED SYNTAX
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The tendency to add ‘of’ to expressions like ‘that big (of) a deal’ probably arose by extension from oldies like ‘a devil of a time’, where one NOUN is used to describe another. While this may be appropriate for phrases containing ADJECTIVES of QUANTITY (more OF an issue), it remains a stretch for those featuring ADJECTIVES of DEGREE, especially in formal English (he’s not that young OF a man). To clarify, try inverting the syntax: a man that young makes better sense than a man OF that young.
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YES: “Your sister is a peach OF a girl.”
YES: “I think she’s more OF a lemon.”
NO: “She doesn’t have that sweet OF a nature?”
YES: “She doesn’t have that sweet a nature.”
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ON SPLIT INFINITIVES
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In the INFINITIVE PHRASE (as in to play piano), grammar gives us the green light to use the common verb in various other syntactic capacities. With this handy construction, we can turn an action word into a NOUN, either as SUBJECT (to play piano takes effort) or OBJECT (I like to play piano), an ADVERB (I stay home to play piano), or an ADJECTIVE (my urge to play piano is strong). However, one rule remains consistent in all applications. The infinitive itself is an indivisible unit which should never be interrupted by a modifying factor. In other words, do not split the infinitive!
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YES: “I am learning to play brilliantly.”
NO:  ”I am learning to brilliantly play.”
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ON THE PARTICIPIAL PHRASE
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A regular PAST PARTICIPLE is formed by adding -d, -ed, -n, or -en to a verb (heard, saved, blown, spoken). It appears after auxiliary ‘to have’ in formation of the perfect tense (he has taken more than his fair share), and after ‘to be’ in construction of the passive (he is taken to school by his mother). It is also helpful for generating a PARTICIPIAL PHRASE (taken by surprise), which functions in the capacity of adjective. If you decide to use it this way, be sure the substance of your phrase refers directly to the subject of the sentence.
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YES: “Overwhelmed with emotion, he sank to his knees and wept.”
NO:  ”Overwhelmed with emotion, she could see that he was crushed.”
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ON INITIAL CONJUNCTIONS
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No matter what they told you in school, there’s nothing wrong with starting your sentence with BECAUSE, as long as it includes an independent clause. ‘Because’ functions like any other SUBORDINATING conjunction to introduce a subordinate clause that may appear BEFORE or AFTER the main: ”I ate the whole pie because I was hungry” … ”Because I was hungry, I ate the whole pie”.
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However, technically-speaking, the same rule does not apply to BUT, since, as a COORDINATING conjunction, its job is to MEDIATE between elements of equal value – in this case, two independent clauses: ”I wasn’t hungry, but I ate the whole pie.” Still, in the age of solecistic abandon, initial BUT has become widely accepted in practice, especially in less formal circumstances: ”But if you weren’t hungry, why did you eat the whole pie?”
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ON CONTRACTIONS
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If you’re not sure where the apostrophe goes in a CONTRACTION, just remember that, essentially, it’s designed to take the place of omitted letters, such as the ‘o’ in ‘was not’ (wasn’t), the ‘wi’ in ‘they will’ (they’ll), and the ‘ha’ in ‘would have’ (would’ve). Saying the full form aloud may be useful not only for determining which letters are to be left out, but also for helping to make sense of confusing homophones like it’s, you’re, and they’re.

“They’re planning to finish their homework over there.”

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ON ‘SUPPOSED TO’

It is incorrect ever to say that one is ‘suppose to’ do something. What’s missing here is a ‘d’ at the end of ‘suppose’, the element that renders it a PAST PARTICIPLE in what is designed to be a PASSIVE construction (subject + ‘to be’ + past participle). As such, the phrase suggests an unnamed ‘supposer’. If one were to say, “I am supposed to do the dishes”, the implication would be that Mother, or some other figure of authority, is doing the supposing, as in “It is supposed (by Mother) that I will do the dishes” (or “Mother supposes that I will do the dishes”).

Note, also, that “I am suppose to OF done the dishes” is purely nonsensical. Here, the PREPOSITION ‘of’ should instead be AUXILIARY VERB ‘have,’ as the first half of the PERFECT TENSE, in expression of the fact that it’s time for me to get the lead out!

ON AGREEMENT WITH SINGULAR INDEFINITE ANTECEDENTS

SINGULAR INDEFINITE PRONOUNS (such as ‘each’, ‘either’, ’none’, ‘everybody’, ‘everyone’) can be deceptive. When they appear as the ANTECEDENT to a pronoun, the pronoun must be SINGULAR. If you’re uncomfortable with the ‘his or her’ option, try replacing your subject with a PLURAL noun.

NO:  Everyone is responsible for their own luggage.
YES: Everyone is responsible for his or her own luggage.
YES: Passengers are responsible for their own luggage.

ON PRONOUNS AFTER VERBS

A pronoun that follows an action verb acts as DIRECT OBJECT and takes the OBJECTIVE case: me, you, him, her, it, them, us. A pronoun that follows a linking verb (‘to be’, or another state of being verb) acts as SUBJECT COMPLEMENT and takes the SUBJECTIVE case: I, you, he, she, it, they, we.

“The girls had savings, but they GAVE THEM away.”
“It WAS THEY who gave their savings.”

ON ‘HEALTHY’

People and animals are(ideally) ‘healthy’. Fruits and legumes (while still on the vine) can also be ‘healthy’, though theirs is only indirectly relevant to yours, and therefore, such a statement as I eat healthy food constitutes a digression. What matters is not the food’s health, but rather the health it offers you … in which case, ‘nutritious’, ‘wholesome’, or even ‘healthful’ are more appropriate alternatives.

Under NO circumstance is ‘healthy’ workable as an ADVERB! It is just plain wrong to say, I feel good because I eat healthy. (instead, try ‘healthily’, or even just ‘well’)

ON ‘THUS’ AND ‘THEREFORE’

Although the transitional words THUS and THEREFORE are often applied interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between them. Think of THEREFORE as best expressing the idea of CAUSE AND EFFECT (as a result, for this reason, consequently), and THUS, that of PROCESS ANALYSIS (in this way or as such).

“He ate a lot of cake. Therefore, he gained weight.” (This is WHY he gained weight)

“He ate a lot of cake. Thus, he gained weight.” (This is HOW he gained weight).

ON ‘GOOD’ VERSUS ‘WELL’

The word ‘good’ is always an ADJECTIVE and should never be used as an ADVERB (this is a good book). ‘Well’ is appropriate to describe how something is done (your wife writes well), but also functions as a SUBJECT COMPLEMENT meaning ‘in good health’ (I hope she is well). Note that, in such cases, the ‘to be’ verb can be substituted with another STATE OF BEING verb as long as the meaning is retained (I hope she feels well). However, if ‘well’ is replaced with ‘good’, a statement results of a rather more tactile implication regarding the personal attributes of the subject (I hope she feels good).

ON ADJECTIVES DERIVED FROM NOUNS

When a NOUN assumes the semantic role of ADJECTIVE, it also functions as one, grammatically. As the one item in the lexical repertoire to do the job of naming, the NOUN is the only part of speech with the privilege of PLURALIZATION. Adjectives, even those derived from nouns, should never be pluralized.

YES:  ”Learn how you can control the goose overpopulation.”

NO:   “Learn how you can control the geese overpopulation.”

ON PUNCTUATING COMPOUNDS

A COMPOUND SENTENCE is not to be confused with a SIMPLE SENTENCE with a COMPOUND PREDICATE. One consists of two independent clauses, each with its own subject and verb, and the other consists of one independent clause with a single subject performing two actions. In the first case, a COMMA should appear before the coordinating conjunction that links the clauses. In the second, there is no COMMA.

1.  ”Some people like to travel by bus, and others prefer the subway.”

2.  ”Some people like to travel by bus and ride the subway.”

ON ‘USED TO’

We all understand the verb USE to represent ‘utilize’ (‘utilise’) or ‘employ’, but what does it stand for in the context of USED TO? This application of the verb is partially archaic (meaning ‘to perform habitually’), and has really only survived to function in the role of ADJECTIVE (in conjunction with preposition ‘to’) or ADVERB (in conjunction with ‘to’ as infinitive marker). Note that neither construction is sensible unless ‘use’ culminates in a ‘d’ (in the first case, to form the past participle; in the second, to express simple past tense)

ADJECTIVE: “He is USED TO my antics.”
ADVERB:      ”He USED TO go to church.”
NEITHER!     “I am USE TO a day when we USE TO wear hats.”

ON REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS

A PRONOUN that ends in -self or -selves is REFLEXIVE. Its function is two-fold. It acts either as subject intensifier (I baked the cake myself) or as the object of a verb, verbal, or preposition when the receiver of the action or object of the preposition is the same as the subject of the verb (I rewarded myself by cutting myself a piece). Always be sure your pronoun agrees with the noun or pronoun to which it refers and NEVER use a reflexive pronoun in place of a PERSONAL pronoun!

YES: “The children and I amused ourselves at the craft table.”
YES: “We made the crafts ourselves.”
YES: “The crafts were made by the children and me.”
NO! “The crafts were made by the children and myself.”

ON ENDING A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION

Strictly speaking, it’s a grammatical no-no to end a sentence with a PREPOSITION. Instead, ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’, for’, etc. should appear, with the support of a relative pronoun, before the SUBJECT of the verb in question, so that, he’s doing the job he was made for, becomes he’s doing the job for which he was made. However (although Winston Churchill might not agree), this is surely one of those situations where rules are sometimes made to be broken, especially in the interest of keeping friends in conversation: far better it’s exactly what we’re looking for than it’s exactly that for which we are looking.

ON ‘WHO’S’ VERSUS ‘WHOSE’

There appears to be mounting confusion over the usage of who’s versus whose. The sequence who’s consists of the INTERROGATIVE PRONOUN who in contraction with the verb is. Meanwhile, whose is the possessive version of that pronoun in contraction with nothing at all, but always in modification of a noun. If you’re not sure which to use, read the sentence aloud, adding the tiny floating ‘i’ represented by the apostrophe in who’s to see if it sounds right.

“WHO’S for pizza?”
“WHOSE turn is it to choose the toppings?
“It’s Ted WHO’S crazy about anchovies.”
“Tom is the one WHOSE preference is for peppers.”

ON ‘AS FAR AS’

The connecting phrase as far as functions as either a PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE or a SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTION. In the case of the former, it always precedes a NOUN (“they walked as far as the sea”). In the latter, it begs the elements of a CLAUSE for conclusion (subject and verb), as in as far as we know or as far as we are concerned. It is not enough to pair it with a noun and treat it like a conjunctive adverb (however, furthermore or consequently) in modification of an independent clause.

YES: “I have never traveled as far as China.”
YES: “As far as I am concerned, you have never traveled at all.”
NO: “As far as traveling, I’m really not that interested.”

ON ‘WHO’ VERSUS ‘WHOM’

Relative or interrogative pronouns who and whom are not interchangeable within the context of the sentence. Who does duty as either SUBJECT or SUBJECT COMPLEMENT, while whom functions as either OBJECT or OBJECT OF A PREPOSITION. If you’re not sure which goes where, try rearranging the sentence and replacing who or whom with he/she or him/her.

Subject: “WHO mailed the invitations?” (HE mailed the invitations.)
Object: “WHOM is he expecting? (Is he expecting HER?)

Object of a Preposition: “To WHOM did he mail an invitation?”  (Did he send an invitation to HER?)

ON ‘TRY AND’ VERSUS ‘TRY TO’

The construction TRY AND (as a variation of TRY TO) is a popular colloquialism. It defies regular conventions of infection and, as such, is only applicable to the simple present tense (I try and take, but never I tried and took or I am trying and taking). Proponents argue that IDIOMS don’t have to be logical, while opponents consider it inappropriate to any circumstance, formal or informal. Either way, confusion may arise in certain contexts: “every year, we try and fail to plant a garden” is liable to create the wrong impression if interpreted from an idiomatic perspective.

ON ‘IN FACT’ AND ‘THE FACT IS’

IN FACT is a transitional phrase that serves to intensify (in fact, there is no such thing as a ghost). THE FACT IS is used in a similar capacity to introduce a clause (the fact is, there is no such thing as a ghost). However, in the case of the latter, it is important to be consistent. If you choose to treat THE FACT IS as the meat and potatoes of your clause (FACT as subject and IS as linking verb leading to subject complement), then for the purposes of reason and clarity, be sure to drop the comma and confine yourself to one linking verb only!

NO! “The fact is, is that none of us has ever been to China.”
YES  ”The fact is that none of us has ever been to China.”

ON PHASE VERBS

When two verbs appear together as phase verbs, the first always takes the finite form, inflecting for tense and agreeing in number with the subject (he likes, they like), while the second generally takes the non-finite form of either PRESENT PARTICIPLE (taking) or ‘TO’-INFINITIVE (to take). The form of the second verb is always determined by whatever the first happens to be: some main verbs take a participle (I enjoy shopping), others take an infinitive (I want to shop), and a few take both (I like to shop and I like shopping). While the governing rules are quite arbitrary, they’re nonetheless consistent; as such, correct usage can only be learned either by rote or through familiarity.

ON ‘SISTERS-IN-LAW’

Numerous English colloquialisms are comprised of a NOUN followed by a PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE (‘sister-in-law’). If you want to refer to more than one of these, don’t be swayed by hyphenation, either literal or figurative. The only part of speech in this sequence that is correctly pluralized is the noun being modified by the phrase (‘sisters-in-law’).

“At school today, Abby drew six men in the moon.”

ON THE COLON

These days, the COLON, like the semi-colon, is much maligned, through either misapplication or pure neglect. Correctly speaking, it has three main functions: 1) to introduce a list; 2) to introduce a quote, or (sometimes) direct speech; 3) to introduce a second clause that explains or follows from the first. It’s in the last of these that we most often see it confused with either the semi-colon or the comma.The distinction lies in the content of the clauses in question. Use a colon to express PROGRESSION from one idea to another and a semi-colon to show DIVISION between two ideas of equal importance. Never use a comma to separate independent clauses.

1) She left lunch for me on the counter: ham, cheese, tomatoes, bread and butter.
2) Her note said: “Here is your lunch”.
3) It wasn’t going to be easy: I would have to make my own sandwich.
4) In the end, I made the sandwich; I even wiped the counter.

ON THE INTERJECTION (AND ‘AW’ VS ‘AWE’)

AH! the INTERJECTION! That tiny, tireless emissary of emotion! It’s given us OH! (Homeric DOH!) descendant of O! as a means to express our surprise; YEAH, YUP, YEP, YA, YEA (though not Biblical YEA, which is something more like ‘moreover’) for agreement, YAY! for approval, plus their opposites NAH, NUP, NOPE, NAW, NAY, and BOO!. There’s always HA! HEE! and HYUK! for humour, OOH! for relish, EW! for disgust, and last, but not least, AW! for sympathy, which (despite what they’ll have us believe on Facebook) is NEVER to be confused with the AWE that is, and always will be, a NOUN. UGH!

ON PLURAL POSSESSIVES

How do we form POSSESSIVES when there is more than one possessor? If they are referred to in a single word, simply place the apostrophe after the final -s to show that there is more than one (1). If that plural doesn’t end in an -s, add an apostrophe before the final -s as you would for a singular (2). If the possessors come in a pair or a series and you want to refer to INDIVIDUAL possession, add an apostrophe before -s for each possessor (3). If you’re indicating SHARED possession, use one apostrophe only for the last item in the series (4). Finally, if one of the possessors takes the form of ‘her’, ‘their’, or ‘your’, trust that POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVE to do its rightful job and never burden it with a final -s! (5)

1. the nation’s involvement > the nations’ involvement
2. the child’s toys > the children’s toys
3. England’s and Scotland’s resources
4. England and Scotland’s approach
5. her and Judy’s books (NOT hers and Judy’s books)

ON TELLING AGE

When we talk about a person’s age, we can say he is 40 years old, he is 40 years of age, or he is aged 40 (years), but to say either he is aged 40 years old or he is the age of 40 years old is redundant. Meanwhile, we can call him a 40-year-old, but never a 40-years-old.

ON ‘THAN ME’ VERSUS ‘THAN I AM’

Is it more correct to say “he is taller than ME” or “he is taller than I AM”? In this kind of comparative construction, THAN functions as a conjunction rather than a preposition. As such, the elements being compared must take the same grammatical form: “He is taller than I AM” (“I AM” versus “HE IS”). If, on the other hand, the sentence were to compare two direct objects (“he’s never met a shorter MAN than ME”), direct object ‘me’ would be the more appropriate choice.

ON ‘EACH OTHER’ VERSUS ‘ONE ANOTHER’

There is a traditional distinction between the usage of indefinite pronouns EACH OTHER versus ONE ANOTHER. Each other refers to two things, while one another refers to three or more.

“The poodle and the pit bull like each other.”
“The poodle, the pit bull and the pug like one another.”

ON PRONOUNS PLUS …

Whenever you pair a pronoun with a noun, adjective clause or prepositional phrase, as in we mechanics, we who know so little, or we of the fifth brigade, remember to use the same rules for CASE (subject vs object) as you would if the pronoun stood alone. You can easily check your accuracy by reading your sentence without the second element.

1. WE children have decided not to eat our broccoli.
2. There is no greater torture for US children.
3. WE who play so hard should be rewarded.
4. Broccoli is unfair to US who play so hard.
5. WE of growing mind and body need veggies that are yummy.
6. How about carrot sticks for US of growing mind and body?

ON ‘DESERT’ VERSUS ‘DESSERT’

The two nouns DESERT and DESSERT are often confused in the spelling. ‘Desert’ with one ‘s’ (a hot, dry geographical feature) is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, while ‘dessert’ with a double ‘s’ (a sweet treat after dinner) has the stress on the second. Think one/first and two/second. Note, however, that the rule does not apply to the verb ‘to desert’ (to abandon) or the noun ‘desert’ generated from the verb ‘to deserve’ (to merit) as in ‘just deserts’. In both cases, the rule is one ‘s’, stress on the second.

ON MODAL ‘SHALL’

The usage of modal SHALL has fallen out of fashion almost to the point where its distinction from WILL has disappeared from general knowledge. In traditional UK English, SHALL was paired with the main verb to express determination or intention on the part of the speaker or speakers. As such, it is only correctly conjugated with first person pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’ to form the future tense.

“I shall stop at the store on my way home from work.”
“Will you buy some bananas? They will be on sale.”

ON HOMOPHONES

‘There’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’! We all know them to be the hot topic for confusion in spelling. But do we know what to call them collectively? HOMOPHONES (from Greek ‘same sound’) are words pronounced the same, but with a different spelling or meaning, as in ‘one’ and ‘won’. Meanwhile, HOMOGRAPHS (from Greek ‘same writing’) are words of the same spelling, but with a different meaning that can be either HOMONYMS (‘homo’ = ‘same’: pronounced the same, as in ‘bark’ like a dog of ‘bark’ of a tree) or HETERONYMS (‘hetero’ = ‘other’: pronounced differently, as in ‘refuse’ (noun) and ‘refuse’ (verb). As such, ‘there’, ‘their’, and ‘they’re’ fall under the heading of HOMOPHONES.

ON ‘THIS KIND OF THING’

Remember to keep your numbers in agreement. It should be “this kind of book” and “that kind of book” or “these kinds of books” and those kinds of books”, not a mix and match of both.

 


 

 

 

 

 

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