February 21st, 2014
INTO and IN TO can be confusing. If you are a grammar-savvy reader, it might be enough to explain that INTO is a preposition (as in "into attending her high school reunion"). INTO takes an object (in this case, ATTENDING). IN by itself is an adverb that describes the verb coming before it, and TO is a separate preposition (as in "…he put a call in to a friend…."). IN describes the verb PUT. FRIEND is the object of the preposition TO.
Consider this sentence from an al.com column about tonight's (February 21, 2014) speaker (author Ann Patchett) at the Hoover library Southern Voices conference:
When a recent divorcee gets talked in to attending her high school reunion, she works to overcome her phobia of highway driving to experience the adventure of a lifetime.
Then consider this sentence that appeared recently in an al.com article about a change in police vests:
Hagler recalled seeing Chicago police officers wearing load-bearing vests when he was there for an International Association of Chiefs of Police convention, and he put a call into a friend on the Chicago force.
If you want to be correct but don't care so much about the actual grammar rules, think of this in terms of visual image. You don't want to PUT A CALL INTO your friend. Ouch! (That might require some sort of surgery or mystic spell.) You also don't want to TALK THAT DIVORCEE IN (the way the control tower might talk a plane in during bad weather). The images you want are "put IN a call" and "talked INTO attending."
These sentences should read this way:
When a recent divorcee gets talked into attending her high school reunion, she works to overcome her phobia of highway driving to experience the adventure of a lifetime.
Hagler recalled seeing Chicago police officers wearing load-bearing vests when he was there for an International Association of Chiefs of Police convention, and he put in a call to a friend on the Chicago force."
COMMENT: I'd like to take this opportunity to commend the Hoover Public Library in Hoover, Alabama, for its wonderful Southern Voices conference. Year after year, their great staff bring outstanding well-known authors and new rising stars in a unique format that is loved by readers and authors alike. This year is no exception, beginning this evening with a talk by novelist and non-fiction author Ann Patchett.
February 14th, 2014
The following is a guest post submitted by Jeff Peters, a graduate student at Fresno State University who works part-time for several educational services, including SolidEssay.com, where he provides http://www.solidessay.com/our-services/help-with-essay-writing Jeff offers seven excellent suggestions for anyone wanting to master the grammar and vocabulary of a language:
Grammar is essential in understanding and utilizing a language. In order to gain proficiency, you should focus intensely on grammar and vocabulary. According to English tutors at http://www.solidessay.com, even though grammar may not be as important in informal communication, it is necessary in written and formal communication. It is good knowledge of grammar that qualifies you to write or speak up in a manner others can understand.
Seven basic tips to improve your grammar:
1) The easiest way is to use grammar and vocabulary books. Go to your local bookstore or browse through e-book stores to find a good advanced grammar and vocabulary book. Check the index to make sure it covers sentence construction as well as word application and classification. Work your way through the book and try the exercises at the end of each chapter. Most grammar books will have an answer glossary where you can check your skills and answers once you've completed an exercise.
2) Find a reading comprehension book that will test your understanding of grammatical application as well as content. Again, go through the exercises and then use the answer glossary to check your skills.
3) Read newspapers and magazines to improve your understanding of sentence construction. This activity will keep you updated on modern and practical techniques for creating sentences. It will also increase your vocabulary. As you read, make a point of learning five new words every day.
4) Sign up for a card at your local library. Your card will give you easy and affordable access to plenty of books, and reading books will definitely improve your language skills.
5) Check for grammar and vocabulary classes available online. These classes usually have an interactive session where you can discuss your everyday progress with tutors and fellow students.
6) Although it is true that people often do not use correct grammar in everyday conversation, you can improve your grammar by striving to speak correctly. By trying to speak as well as write correctly, you will develop the habit of identifying your grammatical weaknesses on a regular basis.
7) The more you practice a language, the easier its grammar and vocabulary will become for you. Try to allow an hour or two every day–or at least four days a week–to sit with grammar lessons and exercises.
Improving grammar and vocabulary skills is not difficult IF you devote enough time to it and practice regularly. Having a good grasp of grammar makes it easier to master a language. It also lets you present yourself, both orally and on paper, in a clearer and more appealing way.
A COMMENT FROM GRAMMAR GLITCH: Although these tips are ideal for someone learning a second language, they can also be useful for native speakers who know their language skills are weak. Having spent a number of years teaching business-writing skills in the corporate community, I know the value employers place on good language skills. Many times, the advantage of one job applicant over another–in the resume and in the interview–comes down to good usage and grammar.
I sincerely believe that making a serious effort to follow these seven suggestions for several months will significantly improve your use of language.
January 25th, 2014
A friend who does a lot of editing sent along this example of a classic dangling modifier:
Named for its natural freshwater waterhole, thirsty travelers have been visiting Jacobs Well since the mid-1800s.
Whoops! The subject of this sentence is TRAVELERS. The phrase NAMED FOR ITS NATURAL FRESHWATER WATERHOLE should modify the sentence subject, but it is Jacobs Well (not the thirsty travelers) that has been named for the freshwater waterhole.
The sentence should read this way:
Named for its natural freshwater waterhole, Jacobs Well has welcomed thirsty travelers since the mid-1800s.
My editor friend pointed out that a bad sentence can spread on the Internet like a virus because one source often quotes (or just lifts from) another source. Just Google the original sentence above, and you will see what she means.
In case you are curious about more than just the viral sentence, Jacobs Well is a tourist attraction on the Gold Coast of Australia, not far from Brisbane.
ADDED NOTE: My editor friend's eagle eye also spotted a sentence this week that talked about certain animals being in danger of DISTINCTION. Whoops! That should be IN DANGER OF EXTINCTION!
January 19th, 2014
When beginning a sentence with THERE and following it with a "to be" verb, you must make a choice based on agreement with the subject, which comes AFTER the verb. Do you want IS or ARE? WAS or WERE? Consider this sentence, which certainly fits the season as well as this frequently abused grammar point:
Even though the flu is typically a winter-time illness, there's no definitive answers as to why that's always the case.
ANSWERS (plural) is the subject of this sentence. THERE is just a "place holder" at the beginning. Therefore, the verb should be ARE (plural) to match the plural subject ANSWERS. The sentence should read this way:
Even though the flu is typically a winter-time illness, there are no definitive answers as to why that's always the case.
Be sure to follow the Daily Glitch and the Weekend Whoops! on Facebook.
December 6th, 2013
When I teach business writing workshops, I like to explain commas as trail markers through the meaning of a sentence.One important trail marker is the comma at the end of an introductory clause or phrase. If it is left out, the reader can get lost trying to find the main subject and the focus of the sentence.
A recent newsletter from the Gulas group makes some good points about email clutter and how to avoid it, but several of the sentences are difficult to read because this important trail marker has been left out. Take a look at these examples:
"Armed with this knowledge you will make better decisions."
"Set correctly your Calendar view will show your appointments,…."
"As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices they are being distracted by email alerts, meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times."
Each of the above sentences is difficult to read because of the missing comma, which would point out the location where the main clause begins. Here is how these sentences should be punctuated–with a comma after the introductory phrase or clause:
Armed with this knowledge, you will make better decisions.
Set correctly, your Calendar view will show your appointments.
As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices, they are being distracted by email alerts (and) meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times.
November 17th, 2013
The Greystone Living review of a recent wine dinner was riddled with Grammar Glitches. Here is the first problem sentence:
"The event was held at the Legacy Clubhouse and featured Silver Oak representative Jeffery Flood, who gave a speech and had a great selection of wines for the guest to compliment the excellent dishes prepared by Executive Chef Daniel Mitchell."
Whoops #1: Logic (and the accompanying photos) show that more than one GUEST attended this event.
Whoops #2: The wines were there to ENHANCE the dishes prepared by the chef, not pop their corks and shout out COMPLIMENTS about the good food. COMPLEMENT, meaning to partner with something in order to enhance it, is the correct choice here.
This sentence should read as follows:
The event was held at the Legacy Clubhouse and featured Silver Oak representative Jeffery Flood, who gave a speech and offered the guests a great selection of wines to complement the excellent dishes prepared by Executive Chef Daniel Mitchell.
Here is the next problem sentence:
"We try and feature wine dinners once a quarter at Greystone."
Whoops #3: The proper usage here is TRY TO, not TRY AND. It should read this way: We try to feature wine dinners once a quarter at Greystone.
And finally, this sentence:
"The next dinner will be held on November 5th and the guest of honor will be Juelle Fisher Proprietor from Fisher Winery."
Whoops #4: When writing a date within a sentence, the ON can be left out. Even though we pronounce FIFTH, it is not necessary to write the TH at the end of the numeral.
Whoops #5: Because PROPRIETOR renames JUELLE FISHER, there should be a comma between FISHER and PROPRIETOR.
Whoops #6: Proper usage is that JUELLE FISHER is the PROPRIETOR OF, not the PROPRIETOR FROM the winery. There is no reason to capitalize PROPRIETOR when it does not come before the person's name.
This sentence should read as follows:
The next dinner will be held November 5 and the guest of honor will be Juelle Fisher, proprietor of Fisher Winery.
October 9th, 2013
I use Grammarly's free grammar checker because I don't want to misplace a comma and end up eating Gramma (as in "Let's eat Gramma!" instead of "Let's eat, Gramma!").
When I teach business writing workshops, I often remind participants to use grammar checkers with “brain in gear.” A grammar checker can point out possible problems in your writing, but if you choose to use one, you must have enough self confidence to recognize when the grammar checker has misinterpreted your meaning. After all, grammar checkers are NOT human, and they don’t catch all the nuances of what we humans write.
That said, I recently reviewed Grammarly.com, which bills itself as “the world’s most accurate online grammar checker.” I tried it out on several pieces of my own writing as well as a newspaper article. It spotted one overlooked typo and offered good suggestions for two overly wordy sentences. It also detected an incorrect indefinite article (A vs. AN). However, it declared EVERY proper noun I used (e.g. TALLASSEE, TUKABAHCHI, and WOODALL) to be a misspelling. Using the Grammarly.com scoring system to rate myself, I ended up with a horrible score, based mostly on properly spelled proper nouns that were declared incorrect.
Grammarly.com failed to spot a missing apostrophe in this sentence from an article about new education standards in Alabama:
“The change is intended to more closely align students education with the ACT, improving high school seniors’ scores….”
SENIORS’ SCORES is correct, with the apostrophe after the S, but STUDENTS EDUCATION should also be possessive (STUDENTS’ EDUCATION). As I write this, I see that the Word grammar checker put a green squiggly line under that one, but overall, I don't think Word's grammar checker is as effective as this one.
Grammarly.com also missed the incorrect plural form in this sentence:
“However, the director of student academic support at Auburn University said low ACT scores tend to be a better indicators of which students won’t perform well in college than high ACT scores are of which students will do well.”
A BETTER INDICATORS (plural) should be simply BETTER INDICATORS without A in front.
I do think Grammarly.com does an excellent job of explaining the errors it spots, and the examples it offers for correction are clear and easy to understand. As someone who writes virtually every day, I would say Grammarly could be a useful tool IF you keep your own brain in gear and view Grammarly as a helper rather than a quick cure for all errors. To try Grammarly.com, you can search "free grammar checker" or go to http://www.grammarly.com.
September 14th, 2013
A huge advertisement promoting drops instead of pills for health problems offers several excellent examples of when NOT to use semicolons. The purpose of a semicolon is to link two independent clauses (statements that are related but can stand alone). It should replace a period or ", and" but NOT be used as it is in the following sentences:
Whoops #1: "Why, with all the medications we take to improve our health; are people still getting sicker?"
The semicolon above should be a comma. The basic statement is: WHY ARE PEOPLE STILL GETTING SICKER? The words WITH…HEALTH make up an introductory phrase, not a separate clause. I would also stick with WE instead of switching to PEOPLE. It should read this way:
SOLUTION: Why, with all the medications we take to improve our health, are we still getting sicker?
Here is the second semicolon error, which seems to involve confusing the semicolon with a colon:
Whoops #2: The problem is; there's no escape!
SOLUTION: Leave out the inner punctuation completely. It should read this way:
The problem is that there's no escape.
The third semicolon error tries to set off a prepositional phrase that should be part of the main clause:
Whoops #3: It's the first and only product to eliminate life-sapping toxins; from virtually every organ in your body….
SOLUTION: Simply remove the semicolon.
It's the first and only product to eliminate life-sapping toxins from virtually every organ in your body….
The fourth semicolon error tries to use both the semicolon and AND. This is not necessary.
Whoops #4: Just add 5 drops of …… to any beverage, twice a day; and you'll see rapid improvements to your health almost immediately.
SOLUTION: Change the colon to a comma and use it with AND.
Just add 5 drops of …… to any beverage, twice a day, and you'll see rapid improvements to your health almost immediately.
The fifth and final semicolon error in this one advertisement should also be a comma so that the cause/effect relationship of the two clauses is clear:
Whoops #5: We've made special arrangements with the distributor to supply our readers with a totally Risk-FREE sample of ……; so you can see for yourself, without risking a penny.
SOLUTION: Remove the semicolon before SO, remove the second comma, and change YOU and YOURSELF to THEY and THEMSELVES to keep the pronouns consistent.
We've made special arrangements with the distributor to supply our readers with a totally Risk-FREE sample of …… so they can see for themselves without risking a penny.
Whew! That is a rather large number of errors for one advertisement–and I didn't even quote the two errors that had nothing to do with semicolons!
I hope these examples will be good reminders about semicolon usage. If you have other examples to share or questions to ask, please put them in a comment, and I will respond.
July 25th, 2013
This is a word usage mix-up I have never seen before, but Bob the Bookworm has. A friend of his said he'd meet him in his GOULASHES. (It has been raining a lot in Birmingham this week!) Being the clever bookworm he is, Bob immediately asked if his friend had a recipe for those GOULASHES.
The correct word, of course, is GALOSHES, which is a common term for rain boots in some parts of the country. Here, people more often refer to them as overshoes. Up in Ohio, my mother used to call them rubbers, but that was a long time ago in a now distant linguistic world!
Here are a few more word confusion pairs to watch out for:
REVERIE and REVELRY
STATIONARY and STATIONERY
SEW AND SOW
COMPROMISE and COMPRISE
CONSOLATION and CONSULTATION
AISLE and ISLE
SHUTDOWN and SHUT DOWN
MESSAGES and MASSAGES
PEEK and PEAK
MARINADE and MARINATE
All of the above have appeared in print within the past year. I don't want "lazy" readers, so if you are not sure about the meanings of any of these, please check them in a good dictionary. If you'd like examples of how to use any of them correctly, just send me a quick email.
July 2nd, 2013
Most writers tend to "sprinkle" too many commas in their writing. Today's post includes examples from a "sales and performance tips" newsletter that does not use enough commas. The problem involves this comma rule:
An introductory phrase or clause containing three or more words should be set off by a comma.
Whoops #1: If you are struggling with what to delegate use the 70% rule.
The introductory clause in this sentence begins with IF and ends with DELEGATE (8 words). It should be set off with a comma after DELEGATE.
Whoops #2: If you choose a less experienced team member then Direction is the best course of action.
The introductory clause in this sentence begins with IF and ends with MEMBER (8 words). It should be set off with a comma after MEMBER.
Whoops #3: For the delegation process to be results-centric you have to focus more on the "what" and the "why" and less on the "how".
The introductory phrase in this sentence begins with FOR and ends with RESULTS-CENTRIC (7 words). It should be set off with a comma after RESULTS-CENTRIC. Also, the period at the end of the sentence should be moved inside the quotation marks. (Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks in the United States.)
Here are all three examples written correctly:
If you are struggling with what to delegate, use the 70% rule.
If you choose a less experienced team member, then Direction is the best course of action.
For the delegation process to be results-centric, you have to focus more on the "what" and the "why" and less on the "how."