Entries Tagged 'Grammar & Spelling' ↓

Grammar is so overrated . . .

Talk Shows On Mute

Listen, we’re going to let you guys in on a little secret: You can really put your commas anywhere. Grammar’s all a big sham.

Intrigued? So was I!

My friend Mary Jo Tate pointed me in the direction of this amusing look at the evolution (and deterioration) of grammar and punctuation. Enjoy the chuckle!

Grammar’s Dirty Little Secret

Grammar lesson, Humphrey Bogart style

A rugged leading man gets a grammar lesson from his English-teacher leading lady. The 1940s flair adds a whole lot of fun!

Oh, and make sure to pay close attention to the credits. I missed this extra bit of subtle humor the first time through.

English is confusing

English is confusing. Writing mistakes can distract from the message you or your kids want to communicate.

Unless I’m typing in my sleep, I’ll probably never confuse its with it’s or your with you’re. I’m pretty handy with a hyphen, and I’m confident that I’m not prone to apostrophe catastrophes.

But I’m the first to admit that I don’t know all the rules—and I have to look up an awful lot of them.

English is confusing.

Sometimes I second-guess myself. Is it “all together” or “altogether”? Should that be “lie” or “lay”? And at such times, I’m thankful for grammar resources that answer my questions or quell my doubts.

Today, I thought it would be fun to look at some common usage errors. You may identify yourself or your children as guilty of one or more of these. If so, it’s time to learn a few new rules!

Between you and I

For some reason, many people use I by default. I suppose they think it sounds more educated. But between you and me, is incorrect in this case.

Center around

Center around is a bad hybrid of center on and revolve around. Center around is never correct.

Dr. Duckwillow’s presentation will center on the preservation of sand flies.

Chock it up

We chalk it up to experience. Chock it up is just, well . . . wrong!

Would of (could of, should of)

When spoken, the contractions would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve sound like would of, could of, and should of. But the correct word is have, not of.

I should have planned better. If I would have worn my blue suede shoes, I could have disco danced.

Dyeing vs. dying

Bertrille was dyeing her shirt chartreuse, and Mavis was dying to see how it would turn out.


Hermione can’t escape the truth: There is no such word as excape.


Whether you’re expressing yourself verbally or in writing, espresso is the correct way to spell the name of this strong coffee.

Mute point

A moot point is an irrelevant argument—not a silent one. Therefore, mute is not correct.

Why should we care?

Does anyone, at the end of the day, say to himself, “Hey! My toe didn’t hurt today!” As a rule, no. I certainly don’t give my big toe a second thought. But a few years ago, I really whacked it, and for days afterward, that throbbing toe clamored for my attention every time I bumped it.

Poor grammar and spelling have that same effect. Who reaches the last chapter of a novel exclaiming, “Wow! Not a single misplaced modifier in the entire book!”


That’s because good grammar and punctuation run quietly in the background, so no one really notices (nor should they) proper usage. On the other hand, errors like the ones above really do stand out like a sore thumb, er . . . toe.

Bottom line: Glaring mistakes in your speech and writing will distract from the message you want to communicate, and may even discredit you altogether, so if you’re not sure, look it up!

Photo: Life Mental Health, courtesy of Creative Commons

Avoiding common usage errors in the English language

Alexis Bonari is joining me today as a guest blogger here at In Our Write Minds. Today, Alexis shares some helpful tips on commonly confused—and misused—words.

It’s difficult for any teacher to contradict the overwhelming number of usage errors in everyday writing, but English students should be taught how to discern correct from incorrect word usage.

Errors from billboards, magazine articles, and even television captions can have a profound effect on a child’s understanding of the English language.

The following are some of the most common usage errors found in today’s written communication, so help your students identify the mistakes to keep them out of their own writing.

Went vs. Gone

Many errors involving this pair of words include “have went,” which is incorrect. The word “went” should never be used in conjunction with “have.” If you need to communicate a past-tense version of “go” with the word “have,” the correct choice is the past participle: “have gone.”

Than vs. Then

When comparing two different things, people, or ideas, the word “than” is useful. For example, you could say, “Those apples are riper than the peaches.” A comparison should not involve the word “then,” which is used to specify time or sequence. A correct use of this word would be “She peeled the apples first, then the peaches.”

Have vs. Of

The phrases “should of,” “could of,” and “would of” are always incorrect. The word “of” is a preposition that often indicates the relationship of a part to a whole, as in “Grandma ate the last piece of pie.” In order to make the incorrect phrases above correct, the word “have” should be substituted for “of”: should have, could have, would have.

Loose vs. Lose

Learning the difference between these two words is relatively simple: “loose” is an adjective and “lose” is a verb. The former describes something, as in “He didn’t like to wear loose clothing when playing tennis.” The latter is used as a way to convey a sense of action, so you could say, “They always lose when they play Monopoly.”

Fewer vs. Less

One way to decide which of these words is appropriate is to figure out whether or not the items being described are countable. With tangible, countable items, the word “fewer” should be used, as in “There were fewer girls than boys at the party.” When describing a more abstract concept, use “less.” For example, “He was less apprehensive about his interview once he had taken a few deep breaths.”

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Photo: Public Domain

Choosing correct ending punctuation

If your child struggles to choose the correct punctuation at the end of a sentence, do this fun exercise together to help him learn what each punctuation mark sounds like when spoken aloud.  

1.  Write the following words, phrases, and sentences on index cards or pieces of paper, one per card.

All done?      All done.     All done!
I did it.     I did it!
Ready?     Ready!
Turn left.      Turn left!
Yes.     Yes!     Yes?
Okay!      Okay?     Okay.
Tomorrow?      Tomorrow.     Tomorrow!
Be careful!     Be careful.
Grandma is here?     Grandma is here.     Grandma is here!
Right!     Right.     Right? 

2.  Sit side by side so your child can see the cards. Explain that different ending punctuation affects the way that a word or phrase can sound.

  • A period ends a calm or matter-of-fact statement. We use a normal speaking voice.
  • A question mark comes at the end of a question. When we ask a question aloud, we usually lift our voice at the end.
  • An exclamation point shows strong emotion. We use a louder or more excited speaking voice.

3.  Read each card aloud, dramatically using your voice to show how each punctuation mark sounds when it is used.

4.  When finished, invite your child to read the cards aloud by himself and practice using his own voice to show how each punctuation mark sounds.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

A murder of crows: Fun with collective nouns

A gaggle of geese.
A school of fish.
A flock of sheep.
A nest of hornets.

These animal groupings are called collective nouns, and I’m sure they’re well known to you and your kids. But have you heard of any of these?

A murder of crows.
A crash of rhinoceroses.
An unkindliness of ravens.
An exaltation of larks.
An implausibility of gnus.
A memory of elephants.

I love these! Could word usage be any more fun?

If you want to take a humorous trip down vocabulary lane, check out this link and learn all sorts of interesting collective nouns people have attributed to birds, fish, and mammals. From what I’ve gathered, some of the terms date back to the 1400s. Many may be archaic, but for the most part, they’re purely entertaining!

Fun with Words: Collective Nouns for Animals

I think it would be great to encourage your children to write a poem using these unusual animal groupings. Maybe we could call our collection a ponderance of poems.

Do you have a few favorites from the collective animal nouns list? Share them in the comments. And while you’re at it, why not make up a new collective noun of your own? I think a ponderance of poems is a great place to start!

[Edited: Sherri alerted me to a wonderful song by Carrie Newcomer called A Crash of Rhinoceros, about how Adam named the animals. You just have to check out these fabulous lyrics!]

How to teach spelling with WriteShop Primary

Another question from the WriteShop mailbag . . .

Q:  I am very interested in WriteShop Primary. I love the layout of the lessons and the help you offer the parent. I see that it has a spelling component, but would I need to supplement that?

A:  Spelling is taught in both WriteShop Primary Book B and Book C. WriteShop Primary encourages individualized spelling. Instead of focusing on a prescribed list of words from a spelling book, your child will learn to spell the words he tends to use in his own writing. This is a more natural, practical approach to spelling. You don’t need a separate spelling curriculum when using Books B and C.

Young children often spell “by ear” as they try to write phonetically. Books B and C introduce them to simple reference tools and spelling games they can use to check and practice spelling.

Here are a few examples:

Super Speller!

The Super Speller! helps your child become more aware of familiar sight words and other words he uses frequently. You can think of it as his own personal spelling reference. As you work closely with him, you’ll spot the words he can and can’t spell correctly. When you note a misspelled word, you can add it to the Super Speller! To reinforce the importance of using standard spelling, your child will be directed to use his Super Speller! throughout Books B and C.

Can of Words

This is a fun Book B activity that helps the child practice his spelling words.

Labeling Household Objects

In Book B, you’re encouraged to write common words on index cards and tape them around the house: door, lamp, floor, rug, desk, book, etc. This helps your child become familiar with the spelling of these everyday objects.

Spinner Spelling Game

Introduced in Book C, this is an engaging game with variations that gives children spelling practice.

Spelling Dictionary

The child will make a personal spelling dictionary in Book C. This is yet another tool we use to reinforce standard spelling.

.  .  .  .  .

Spelling tools and games are among the many fun and creative activities WriteShop Primary uses to reinforce simple writing skills at the primary level. Learn more by visiting www.writeshop.com.

Oh, deer: English language silliness

   The English Language

A pretty deer is dear to me,
   A hare with downy hair;
A hart I love with all my heart,
   But I can barely bear a bear.

‘Tis plain that no one takes a plane
   To have a pair of pears.
All rays raise thyme, time razes all;
   And through the whole, hole wears.

A writ, in writing “right” may write
   It “wright” and still be wrong—
For “write” and “rite” are neither “right,”
   And don’t to write belong.

Beer often brings a bier to man,
   Coughing a coffin brings,
And too much ale will make us ail,
   As well as other things.

The person lies who says he lies
   When he is but reclining;
And, when consumptive folks decline,
   They all decline declining.

A quail won’t quail before a storm—
   A bough will bow before it;
We can not rein the rain at all—
   No earthly power reigns o’er it.

The dyer dyes awhile, then dies;
   To dye he’s always trying,
Until upon his dying-bed
   He thinks no more of dyeing.

A son of Mars mars many a sun;
   All days must have their days,
And every knight should pray each night
   To Him who weighs his ways.

‘Tis meet that man should mete out meat
   To feed misfortune’s son;
The fair should fare on love alone,
   Else one can not be won.

The springs spring forth in Spring, and shoots
   Shoot forward one and all;
Though Summer kills the flowers, it leaves
   The leaves to fall in Fall.

I would a story here commence,
   But you might think it stale;
So we’ll suppose that we have reached
   The tail end of our tale.

From Eclectic Magazine, January 1881

. . . . .

The author of this poem uses many homophones to create plays on words. But if some of these homophones regularly give your children trouble, consider All About Homophones, a wonderful resource that clearly teaches homophone spelling rules with fun games and activities. Contains exercises for grades 1-8.

The little problem of . . . apostrophe’s?

It’s such a small thing, really—this simple little punctuation mark called the apostrophe. If used correctly, no one pays it any mind. But when it’s misused, we have what ‘s known as an Apostrophe Catastrophe. Let me submit a few for your Wordless Wednesday pleasure.

This first one is a fine specimen of botched punctuation. Who knew the lowly comma could also double as a misplaced apostrophe?

This next one gives us a double dose of enjoyment: Bad punctuation and bad spelling. How sad. Only three words and they messed up two of them!


And finally, a sample of professional workmanship. Perhaps I’ll take my business elsewhere.

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Teaching writing conventions

Teaching writing conventions--generally accepted standards for written English and grammar--will help kids' writing look and sound its best.

When your student begins to protest: “But I like it this way!” or “It looks okay to me,” it’s high time to introduce the concept of writing conventions.

Defining Conventions

We can define conventions as a set of generally accepted standards for written English. We use conventions to make our writing more readable. In other words, we do things in a certain way so the reader can figure out what we’re trying to say.

Conventions include spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and sentence structure. Students should:

  • Apply spelling rules correctly.
  • Use correct punctuation to smoothly guide the reader through the paper.
  • Use verb tenses correctly.
  • Write sentences that express complete thoughts.
  • Demonstrate paragraph organization and use smooth transitions.

In addition, each kind of writing has its own conventions. For instance:

  • Narrative writing must have characters, setting, and plot.
  • Descriptive writing must appeal to the senses through use of vivid, colorful, precise vocabulary.
  • Expository writing must inform, clarify, explain, define, or instruct.
  • Persuasive writing must present an argument based on facts and logic, and attempt to sway the reader’s opinion.

Teaching Conventions

As a rule, you probably won’t teach a lesson on “conventions,” per se. There are just too many conventions, so it’s better to deal with them independently. Besides, individual concepts stick better when students can apply them in a practical way.

For example, it’s just natural to introduce character, setting, plot, and conflict when you’re teaching your children to write a narrative. You wouldn’t teach these as isolated elements and not have your kids actually write a narrative; the instruction and application makes sense because they’re including these elements in their story.

Similarly, instead of teaching grammar in isolation, make sure you’re providing an immediate way for students to apply their grammar lessons to a writing assignment. If your grammar program is introducing appositives, for instance, require your child to include an appositive in the history report he’s working on.

Reinforcing Conventions

Diligently reinforce concepts by making sure your children are following conventions in their writing.

As they get older, there should be no more excuse for things like comma splices, incomplete sentences, and homophone confusion.

These are the problems you must nip in the bud now, because they’re the very issues that will identify your students as poor writers later on—both in college and on the job. Therefore, give recurring problems focused attention.

Here on the blog, you’ll find lots of help with grammar and punctuation. Other available resources include The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and All About Homophones, both of which can help you teach and reinforce basic but important grammar and spelling conventions. Check them out!

Photo: Erwin Fisser, courtesy of Creative Commons
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