Many writers, young and old, often allow their style to suffer from the pitfalls of overly repeated words. That’s one reason WriteShop I teaches students to avoid unnecessary repetition. Today, let’s talk about ways to make sure proper names don’t become dreaded repeated words in stories and essays.
Using the same pronouns over and over again, such as he, she, he, she, can be just as boring as repeating a proper name. One of my favorite examples of an overused pronoun is found in Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903). Young Rebecca attempts to add “a refined and elegant touch” to her essay on “Solitude,” and the result is this entertaining writing mishap:
It would be false to say that one could ever be alone when one has one’s lovely thoughts to comfort one. One sits by one’s self, it is true, but one thinks; one opens one’s favorite book and reads one’s favorite story; one speaks to one’s aunt or one’s brother, fondles one’s cat, or looks at one’s photograph album. There is one’s work also: what a joy it is to one, if one happens to like work….
You can help your children avoid this kind of redundancy. Teach them these three strategies for writing with proper names, and watch boring reports become compelling narratives!
Noun and Pronoun Variation
Imagine you are writing a paragraph about your dad for Father’s Day. You wouldn’t want to start the first three sentences with “My dad,” and refer to him in last three sentences as “he.” Use pronouns with intention, and be mindful of noun and pronoun variation. Try using “Dad” in the first sentence, “my father” in the second sentence, “he” in the third sentence, and so on.
Remember: if you need to use a name multiple times, mix it up with pronouns so your readers never even notice when repeated words are there.
Proper Name Variations
If you are writing a paragraph about President Lincoln, try using different variations of his name.
President Abraham Lincoln is appropriate for the introduction and conclusion.
His title alone (the President) will fit well in a sentence about his political duties.
You might use his first and last name only (Abraham Lincoln) in a sentence about his personal life or religious convictions.
When other options are exhausted, his last name alone (Lincoln) can be used effectively to break up sentences with longer versions of his name.
Again, bear in mind that using a person’s name in every single sentence is also a form of repetition, so you would want to include the pronoun he several times as well.
The Sky’s the Limit with Descriptive Names
What if you are writing an essay about your siblings? Suppose that one paragraph describes your little sister Katie. Instead of just repeating “Katie,” “my sister,” and “she,” think of other ways to describe this special person in your life.
Is she the kind of girl who never sits still? Use a nickname like “our busy monkey” in a sentence about her personality.
Does she love clothes? Call her “our fashion queen” in a sentence about her appearance.
Is she the person who brightens your life? Try a term of endearment like “my little sunshine” or “Daddy’s princess” instead of a simple pronoun.
Repeated words are for lazy writing. When it comes time to write about other people, don’t use proper names over and over again! Try different versions of a person’s name, include noun and pronoun variation, and be creative with descriptive names and terms of endearment. I guarantee your writing will become more engaging and enjoyable.
Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.
DID YOU know that emus can’t walk backward or that an iguana can stay underwater for nearly 30 minutes?
Did you know that The Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought at neighboring Breed’s Hill or that the state of Maryland has no natural lakes?
While these bits of trivia are interesting (and fun to learn during studies of science, history, or geography), they don’t need to take up permanent residence in your kids’ brain cells.
On the other hand, certain concepts should be so ingrained in your children’s minds that there’s no way they’ll misuse or forget them—including important rules of writing mechanics. Why? Because better grammar contributes to better writing!
Let’s look at three areas of grammar and punctuation every child must master.
Apostrophes, Possessives, and Plurals
Everywhere I look, it seems, random apostrophes are turning up incorrectly in words meant to be plural, not possessive:
No dog’s allowed Closed Sunday’s and Monday’s Wanted: Chef’s and Cook’s No shoe’s, no shirt, no service
Other times, they’re just misused altogether:
Ladie’s Apparel Sale Life at it’s best
“The correct use of plural and possessive forms may seem like a minor issue. Among educated persons, however, incorrect forms, especially misuses of apostrophes, stand out like red flags. One area executive has said he will not hire an applicant whose letter or résumé includes such an error.” ~Meredith College Grammar Review
Teach your children to use apostrophes correctly. A quick Google search will yield pages of helpful rules, tips, and practice exercises—as well as many humorous examples of apostrophe abuse. Here are a few links to get you started:
Homophones are words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same—and confusion among them contributes to all sorts of writing problems. Common sets of homophones such as except/accept, peek/peak/pique, and principal/principle can trip up both kids and adults. Worse, spell-check won’t catch tricky errors because it’s about meaning, not spelling.
While some people may not care whether a Facebook friend types your instead of you’re, it’s definitely a problem when it comes between a student and an “A” paper or a job applicant and the position he’s applying for.
Like apostrophe misuse, homophone mix-ups can cause the writer to seem uneducated or ignorant, so it’s important to begin teaching children when they’re young to distinguish between these confusing words.
Commas can be tricky. They’re either overused, underused, or just plain misused! One of the worst culprits is the comma splice, in which the writer sticks a comma instead of a period between independent clauses.
I’m tired of all this rain, I wish the sun would come out again.
These are among the most important grammar skills kids must learn. Don’t turn a blind eye to your children’s mistakes. They need to hear these rules over and over again, and they need much practice to reinforce proper usage and develop new habits. Why not pick one problem area, such as comma splices or its vs. it’s, and work on it regularly until your child experiences frequent success? You’ll put her one step closer to becoming a more confident writer.
YOUR TURN: Which of these common errors seems to give your child the most trouble?
AS THE WEATHER warms up, sometimes you just have to keep everyone inside to stay cool. While babies are napping, why not let older children play a few online games to stretch their vocabulary, practice alphabet and grammar skills, or improve their typing speed?
Check out these three websites to find a wide variety of games to productively occupy your kids.
Sheppard Software Online Games
Sheppard Software features several free educational grammar games to play online.
I confess that I enjoyed Fowl Words way too much! More than a language arts exercise, it’s actually a game that gives practice with typing speed as you race to spell words before the eggs crack.
The Boggle-like 3D Word Cube kept me occupied trying to get bonus points for using more than one side to form words. Must Pop Words was another entertaining word-building game that gave bonuses for starting a word with “Y” or making a 6-letter word.
I haven’t tried all the games, but I’m sure a kid can have fun poking around! (Heads up: Some of the games play a brief 10-second commercial before the game activates.)
You won’t need to brave any commercials at ABCya.com. Instead, you’ll find an assortment of colorful games arranged by grade level from K-5.
Younger children can practice with alphabet and word games such as ABC Order and Sight Word Bingo (a favorite of my granddaughters).
Older elementary kids will have fun with Alpha Munchies (a typing game) and Ice Cream Talk, which requires them to identify nouns or verbs in a sentence before playing a bonus round to collect scoops of ice cream.
I’m sure your children will find a game or two to suit their interests. (That is, as long as you can tear yourself away from your own favorites long enough to give them a turn!)
. . . . .
Have you found some online language arts games you especially like? What are your favorites?
CONTENT, style, and mechanics all play an important role in creating a strong essay, story, report, or article.
When we communicate on paper:
Our goal is to be thorough, accurate, concise, and concrete.
Our writing needs to flow well and make sense.
We have to guard against misspellings and sloppy grammar, which can distract the reader and dilute our message.
Writers have dozens—even hundreds—of tips and tools at their disposal to make this process easier and improve chances for success. From time to time, I pick different ones to help you or your students plan, write, or edit more effectively. Here are six tips to try out:
1. Brainstorm Before Writing
The purpose of brainstorming is to plan ideas and jot down details to jumpstart your writing. Brainstorming can take many forms, including clustering, mind-mapping, lists, grids, and formal graphic organizers.
Instead of writing full sentences, it’s better to make lists of words and short phrases. Later, as you refer to your brainstorming sheet during writing time, your list of concrete words and other details will jog your memory and keep your writing from taking tangents. Brainstorming keeps you on track.
2. Use Different Kinds of Sentences
Try a combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences to add variety and improve the style of your writing. Here’s a helpful quiz on sentence types.
3. Choose Strong Words
Vivid, active, colorful words have the power topaint clear mental pictures and stir the reader’s emotions. When dull, vague, or overly used words clutter up your writing, replace them with stronger, more precise ones.
Dull:Isabella made a nice dessert. Interesting:Isabella whipped up a rich chocolate mousse.
Watch out for boring words such as fine,nice, orgood. Is it a good book, good friend, or good weather? Then express it more specifically.
riveting book, faithful friend, balmy weather
Avoid vague verbs such as cried, said, or went in favor of concrete ones:
The orphan sobbed, wailed, or wept.
Dr. Cooper ordered, whispered, or agreed.
The horse galloped, trotted, or raced.
Check to see that you haven’t repeated main words too many times, using your thesaurus to find appropriate synonyms.
Finally, when picking the best words for saying what you mean, don’t choose them based on how long they are or how clever they make you sound. Otherwise, you run the risk of sounding pompous or stuffy.
4. Include Subordinating Conjunctions
Sentence variations can add interest and maturity to any piece of writing. Using subordinating conjunctions is just one way to vary sentence structure, often by combining sentences like these together:
I shop frugally. I save several hundred dollars each month.
Example 1:When the subordinating conjunction begins the sentence, a comma follows the dependent clause.
Because I shop frugally, I save several hundred dollars each month.
Example 2: When a dependent clause beginning with a subordinating conjunction comes at the end of the sentence, don’t separate the two clauses with a comma.
I save several hundred dollars each month because I shop frugally.
Either way, you can see how using because to combine two short sentences results in a single but more interesting sentence.
You know, those annoying little things that don’t seem to irritate anyone else, but drive you positively insane?
I actually found a site— GetAnnoyed.com—that lists 500 pet peeves, including:
People who whistle when they are happy.
Greeting cards that throw sparkles, sequins or confetti on the hapless recipient.
People [who] don’t use coasters.
Keeping your Christmas lights up until February.
People who dress their pets.
Leaving the toilet seat up.
Cracking your knuckles.
Road maps that aren’t folded correctly.
People who talk on their cell phone at the movies.
Things sticking out of drawers.
I admit that the items on this short list draw different reactions from me. I think it’s silly to dress a pet, for example, but I wouldn’t call it a pet peeve. I can take or leave an incorrectly folded map. And I don’t mind happy whistling at all!
No, for something to qualify as a pet peeve, it has to drive me absolutely batty. Nuts. Fingernails-on-a-chalkboard crazy.
I have several—as do you (admit it). But let me introduce you to just one of them: the misplaced apostrophe.
The apostrophe has two uses: contraction and possession. Unfortunately, people are so totally confused that they’re always sticking random apostrophes where punctuation marks should fear to tread:
Insimple plurals, such as “No pet’s allowed” (should be “No pets allowed”)
In family names when referring to the family as one unit, such as “The Wilson’s live there” (should be “The Wilsons live there”)
Do You Know the Johnson’s Johnsons?
One of these days I’ll write up a lesson on plurals vs. possessives. Today, let’s focus on family names.
Watch out when using apostrophes with last names! Grammar guides can differ on how to use apostrophes, but if you follow these rules, you’ll get it right.
One Person’s Last Name
To show possession of one person, add -’s.
Sarah Smith: Mitts is Sarah Smith’s dog.
Jared Jones: Heinz is Jared Jones’s dog.
Reid Roberts: Arrow is Reid Roberts’s dog.
Last names that end in -s can be tricky!
Right: Arrow is Reid Roberts’s dog. Wrong: Arrow is Reid Robert’s dog.
Don’t use an apostrophe when you mean to make a plural.
Right: The Smiths also want a gerbil. Wrong: The Smith’s also want a gerbil.
The Whole Family’s Last Name
To show possession of a whole family: First, add -es or -s to write the family’s last name in plural form. Then, add an apostrophe at the end to show possession.
Right: Pip belongs to the Joneses. Pip is the Joneses’ cat. Wrong: Pip belongs to the Joneses. Pip is the Jones’s cat.
Right: Jet belongs to the Smiths. Jet is the Smiths’ cat. Wrong: Jet belongs to the Smiths. Jet is the Smiths’s cat.
Single person: Mike Miller
Whole family: The Millers
Family’s Possessive: The Millers’ hamster
Single person: Hubert Sing
Whole family: The Sings
Family’s Possessive: The Sings’ parakeet
Single person: Gladys Sanchez
Whole family: The Sanchezes
Family’s Possessive: The Sanchezes’ llama
Single person: Mrs. Sanders
Whole family: The Sanderses
Family’s Possessive: The Sanderses’ goat
Put it into Practice: Want to give yourself (or your kids) some practice forming plural and possessive last names? Just pull out the phone directory, open to a random page, and give it a whirl! The more they practice forming plurals and possessives, the more natural it will become for them to do so correctly.
What’s your pet peeve (grammar or otherwise)? Share it in the comments!
I found a list of Top 10 Misused English Words and discovered that I’m guilty of abusing several myself, including decimate, enormity, and ultimate. Who knew? (Apparently, not I!)
So I come to you humbly to present a few more common words and expressions that are often misused or misspelled. See if you catch yourself doing any of these. If so, pick one or two to work on, making sure you teach your children to use them correctly, too!
Do you write pouring over?
Instead, write poring over. We pore over books, articles, advertisements, and data, but we pour juice, coffee, syrup, and cream.
Just don’t pour coffee over your books.
Do you write leary of?
Though leary appears to be a variant, leery is the standard and preferred spelling. I’m leery of Kim’s grammar advice.
Speaking of which…
Do advise and advice confuse you?
Advise is a verb that means to counsel, recommend, warn, or give advice.
Advice is a noun meaning an opinion or recommendation.
It’s common to see someone write, “Thanks for the good advise.” If you tend to make this mistake, may I advise you to take my advice and double-check your spelling?
Do you write definately?
This is a common misspelling of definitely. And you definitely want to spell this one correctly.
I know you do.
Do you write cirriculum?
When’s the last time you thought about your big toe? Unless you just had a pedicure, it’s probably been a while. But drop a can of tomatoes on that puppy, and ouch! Your toe will draw your attention all day long.
It’s like that with grammar and spelling errors, too. When we’re reading, we don’t really notice properly placed apostrophes and correctly spelled words—nor should we. But an apostrophe in the wrong spot or a simple misspelling can turn an article, menu, poster, or brochure into a throbbing toe.
Because I hang out in homeschooling circles, I often see the word cirriculum used on homeschool message boards, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. If you’re guilty of dropping this brick on people’s toes, remember that ci makes a soft s sound (cigar, cinnamon), but cu makes a hard k sound (cube, curtain). My advice? Spell it correctly—curriculum. Your readers will thank you.
Quotation marks. You know—those pesky little punctuation marks your kid carefully positions smack-dab above the period, hoping you won’t notice his indecision.
Fret no more! Here’s a helpful little tutorial on how to use quotation marks at the end of a sentence. While this definitely isn’t meant to be the final word on quotation marks, I hope it helps you shore up your own understanding of how to end a sentence correctly when quotation marks are involved.
(And, for the record, I’m speaking of American grammar rules here, so if you still flub up on where to stick the period, blame it on the British.)
Keep It Inside
Generally speaking, the end punctuation goes INSIDE the quotation marks.
Correct: “Don’t be silly,” said the clown. Incorrect: “Don’t be silly”, said the clown.
Correct: My favorite poem is “Mr. Grumpledump’s Song.” Incorrect: My favorite poem is “Mr. Grumpledump’s Song”.
Correct: Mom asked, “Did you feed the aardvark?” Incorrect: Mom asked, “Did you feed the aardvark”?
The Question of Question Marks
When the entire sentence—not just the quoted word or phrase—is a question, you’ll follow a different rule In this case, the question mark is set OUTSIDE the quotation marks.
Correct: Do you consider her note “noteworthy”? Incorrect: Do you consider her note “noteworthy?”
Correct: Should we sing “The Hairbrush Song”? Incorrect: Should we sing “The Hairbrush Song?”
Finally, what do you do when faced with two end punctuation marks? Can you use both? In a word, no. See, there’s a hierarchy of sorts in punctuation. The exclamation mark trumps the question mark, and both trump the period.
Use just one ending punctuation mark with quotation marks. If a question ends with a quotation containing an exclamation mark, the exclamation mark will override the question. Got that?
I didn’t think so.
OK, here’s an example:
Correct: Mom said, “Don’t eat the cookies!” Correct: Did Mom really say, “Don’t eat the cookies!” Incorrect: Did Mom really say, “Don’t eat the cookies!”?
But if you don’t want an exclamation point, the question mark wins, and no period after cookies is used:
Correct: Mom said, “Don’t eat the cookies.” Correct: Did Mom really say, “Don’t eat the cookies”? Incorrect: Did Mom really say, “Don’t eat the cookies?”
Want to Practice?
Copy and paste these sentences. Add commas, ending punctuation, and quotation marks.
Dad said Did you know it’s illegal to hunt camels in Arizona
Grandpa said I used to be a shoe salesman, till they gave me the boot
My dog asked Does the name Pavlov ring a bell
What’s another word for thesaurus
Why did Horace shout Don’t touch the stove
Old owls never die Fernie said They just don’t give a hoot
Feel free to try your hand at these in the Comments. Then check out the answers below.
Dad said, “Did you know it’s illegal to hunt camels in Arizona?”
Grandpa said, “I used to be a shoe salesman, till they gave me the boot.”
My dog asked, “Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?”
What’s another word for “thesaurus“?
Why did Horace shout, “Don’t touch the stove!” or Why did Horace shout, “Don’t touch the stove“?
“Old owls never die,” Fernie said. “They just don’t give a hoot.”
On a recent trip to the UK and Belgium to visit our son and daughter-in-law, I came across some nifty signs for Wordless Wednesday’s “Bad Signage” posts. Really, I do understand that translation from one language to another can be challenging, but an apostrophe is an apostrophe. Plus, some of these are just too humorous to pass up!
Before we head across the English Channel to the Continent, let’s start off with a poster spotted in a British restaurant.
“Excuse me, waiter?” “Yes?” “I’d like to order an apostrophe.”
Next stop: The train station in Brussels. I’m sure they meant “Scarpino Bag’s Kiosk,” but evidently the signmaker ran out of room.
And continuing on to Bruges, here’s another apostrophe alert at a sidewalk cafe . . .
Here’s some spelling whimsy on a Bruges side street:
Where’s the beef? Apparently, once it’s been “sauted” it turns into “beaf.”
And finally, the pièce de résistance . . .
I’m cuckoo for coockies . . . um, cookies . . . any time. However, I have to tell you that the chocolates and baked goods in Belgium are exquisite—regardless of translations or misspellings. We enjoyed a wonderful visit with our kids, met many lovely people, and had a fantastic time eating our way through two beautiful countries.
My heart is to equip and inspire you to teach writing, even when it seems like an uphill battle. I invite you to poke around the blog, where you'll find teaching tips, writing activities, and hope for reluctant writers.
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