Entries Tagged 'Grammar & Spelling' ↓
November 18th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling
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, I is incorrect in this case.
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, the correct word is espresso.
A moot point is an irrelevant argument—not a silent one. Therefore, mute is not correct.
Why should we care?
Who, at the end of the day, says to himself, “Hey! My toe didn’t hurt today!” As a rule, no one. 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!
September 8th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling
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
June 29th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling, Writing Games & Activities
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!
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.
May 17th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling, Just for Fun, Resources & Links
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!]
May 11th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling, 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:
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.
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.
May 4th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling, Just for Fun, Poetry
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.
April 27th, 2010 — College Prep, Grammar & Spelling, High school
A while back, I talked about the importance of strong writing skills in the workplace. Today I want to take a look at the grim statistics regarding poor writing skills on college campuses and help you explore things you can do now to ensure that your children do not join those ranks.
The Problem on College Campuses
First-time college students face their new post-high school careers with excitement, fear, and any number of challenges. But good writing, for many freshmen, may pose the biggest challenge of all.
Professors want to see concise, coherent and well-reasoned writing assignments. And regardless of the discipline—whether English, history, biology, or art—they expect students to write at a higher level than they did in high school.
We hear again and again that many freshmen lack the most basic skills to write clearly, effectively, and coherently because their working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and paragraph structure is so poor. According to a recent article by the California State University:
About 60 percent of first-time freshmen enrolling at the CSU each year do not show entry-level proficiency in [college-level English] assessments, even though they have earned at least a B average in the required college preparatory curriculum. As a result, many students must attend remedial classes, which do not count for college credit and add cost and time to earning a degree.
When High Schools Fail to Prepare Their Graduates
Tufts Daily, the independent student newspaper of Tufts University, reports that it’s becoming more and more apparent that the nation’s high schools are not devoting enough time to writing skills and may not be providing students with a strong enough writing-based curriculum.
The Tufts article notes that according to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 44 percent of university faculty members say their students are simply not ready for the rigors of college-level writing.
When College Writing Courses Don’t Teach Writing
Arriving on campus is no assurance of success for incoming freshmen who need basic writing courses but aren’t necessarily getting them.
Professor Stanley Fish says universities should rethink the political and ideological emphasis of most composition classes. He rightly suggests that “unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham.”
Fish relates that a few years ago, he became alarmed and curious about the poor writing skills his English graduate students demonstrated in their research papers. Graduate students should write well, Fish believed; especially since they were responsible for teaching undergraduate students how to write in introductory composition classes. Fish asked to see lesson plans for the 104 sections in which English graduate students taught composition to undergrads. He found that in 100 of the sections, “students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization.” Only four sections emphasized grammar, rhetoric, and the craft of writing well. (Eagle Forum Education Reporter)
A Sad but True Example
Several months ago, a friend came into possession of a freshman English paper and shared it with me. Sadly, it serves to reinforce the statistics and testimonials that only too frequently cross my desk. From start to finish, this student’s essay on William Blake’s “The Tyger” is riddled with errors:
- Uncapitalized proper nouns such as jesus and greek
- Missing punctuation, including periods
- Casual language (“…it is actually about more than just a tiger and stuff.”)
- Slang (“Allusion is all over the freekin place.”)
- Misplaced apostrophes and more slang (“Tyger’s have four feet. Cool, huh?“)
- Use of second person (“If you look at Blake’s history…”)
- Run-on sentences and sentence fragments
- Absence of transitions
- Lack of organization
- Use of numerals instead of words (“…5 years ago…”)
- Use of Wikipedia as a “credible” source
This student represents a mere drop in a very full bucket. Thousands of similarly skilled young men and women are accepted into major universities every year—high school graduates whose writing abilities just aren’t up to par.
You Can Make a Difference!
I could continue filling your brain with testimonials and data and examples. But why rehash when the bottom line remains the same? Students are emerging from their high-school cocoons as undernourished butterflies whose wings are inadequately developed for flying through college writing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re in a privileged position to help your homeschooled students. In future articles, I’ll get into more detail, but for now, rest assured that you can:
- Learn to identify your child’s unique grammar, spelling, and writing issues.
- Tailor curricula and writing lessons to address those needs.
- Make sure you’re covering the basics.
- Expand instruction to include more college prep work.
- Offer your child what a classroom teacher of 150 cannot: one-on-one instruction, frequent writing assignments, and detailed, consistent feedback.
Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
April 21st, 2010 — Bad Signage Humor, Grammar & Spelling, Just for Fun
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!
April 19th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling, Teaching Writing
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.
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.
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, let’s say, require your child to include an appositive in the history report he’s working on.
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.
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and All About Homophones are two great resources for teaching and reinforcing some basic but important grammar and spelling conventions. Check them out!
April 13th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling
Well, how do you think you fared on yesterday’s grammar quiz? Check your answers below.
1. Your kidding! The Panthers won the championship?
Since the speaker means “You are kidding,” the sentence should begin with You’re, not Your.
2. Emily’s dog had a thorn in it’s left paw.
In this sentence, it’s is incorrect. Emily’s dog didn’t have a thorn in “it is” paw, so the word should be possessive: its.
3. This is their first trip to California.
This sentence uses their correctly.
4. Our homeschool group went to the zoo, we had a great time.
This sentence has a comma splice, which can be fixed any of the following ways:
- Our homeschool group went to the zoo. We had a great time.
- Our homeschool group went to the zoo; we had a great time.
- Our homeschool group went to the zoo, and we had a great time.
5. Last night, we went to the Franklin’s for dinner.
Franklin’s is incorrect. Since several Franklins live at this home, the sentence calls for a plural possessive: the Franklins’.
6. Amazingly, there wasn’t a scratch on its fender.
This sentence uses the possessive its correctly.
7. My friend Jason is a genius he won a math scholarship.
This is a run-on sentence, which can be fixed either of these ways:
- My friend Jason is a genius. He won a math scholarship.
- My friend Jason is a genius; he won a math scholarship.
8. We took it for granite that Grandpa would always be with us.
This is a common homophone error. The correct word is granted, not granite.
9. Aunt Lucy visited the museum with my family and me.
This sentence is correct. If you remove my family, the sentence still makes sense (Aunt Lucy visited the museum with me).
10. I shouldn’t of worn white slacks to the spaghetti dinner.
To make this sentence correct, we need to replace of with have: I shouldn’t have worn white slacks.
Did any of these questions give you trouble? If so, take time to review the rules and practice with some simple exercises. Both All About Homophones and The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation offer help with troubleshooting common errors of spelling, usage, and grammar. Take the time to learn (or re-learn) some of the basics. It will make a difference in your writing.