Entries Tagged 'Grammar & Spelling' ↓

Do you need a grammar brush-up?

How’s your grammar?

The tiny apostrophe can wield big power. Used incorrectly, it can affect an essay grade, a college application, or even a job promotion.

In truth, poor grammar skills can label you as uneducated or incompetent. You don’t have to be an English nerd, but it is important to use grammar and punctuation correctly—and to teach your children proper skills as well.

Take the quiz

Here’s a little quiz to help you identify whether you fall prey to some of the most common errors of grammar and punctuation. I’ll post the key tomorrow.

Directions: Read the following sentences. A sentence may be correct as is, or it may contain an error. (If you’re brave enough to take up the challenge, I hope you’ll share your answers in the comment section.)

Ready?

1.  Your kidding! The Panthers won the championship?

2.  Emily’s dog had a thorn in it’s left paw.

3.  This is their first trip to California.

4.  Our homeschool group went to the zoo, we had a great time.

5.  Last night, we went to the Franklin’s for dinner.

6.  Amazingly, there wasn’t a scratch on its fender.

7.  My friend Jason is a genius he won a math scholarship.

8.  We took it for granite that Grandpa would always be with us.

9.  Aunt Lucy visited the museum with my family and me.

10.  I shouldn’t of worn white slacks to the spaghetti dinner.

. . . . .

Have fun with this . . . and check back tomorrow to see how you did!

Comma splice errors: An object lesson

 

We writing and grammar geeks can hardly contain ourselves as two fabulously nerdy events collide. Today, National Grammar Day meets Words Matter Week.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I’d like to bring you a fun little way to teach your students to find and fix comma splices.

I know. Your enthusiasm—like mine—knows no bounds.

The Problem with Comma Splices

When a comma joins two independent clauses or sentences, it’s called a comma splice. 

Example 1: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he also wrote The Lord of the Rings.
Example 2: The bridge collapsed into the river, fortunately no one was injured.
Example 3: Maya arrived late, her car wouldn’t start.

These three examples demonstrate the typical comma splice. Since it’s one of the most common grammar errors, I encourage you to devote time to helping your students identify and learn to fix comma splices in their own writing.

Suzanne Cherry, director of the Swamp Fox Writing Project (South Carolina), finds that relating the concepts of punctuation and grammar to real-world experiences—in this example, through an intriguing demonstration involving electrical tape—helps students recognize and correct their errors successfully.

Cherry uses a unique object lesson to explain the comma splice error to her students. Showing the class two pieces of wire, each with the last inch exposed, she says: “We need to join these pieces of wire together right now if we are to be able to watch our favorite TV show. What can we do? We could use some tape, but that would probably be a mistake as the puppy could easily eat through the connection. By splicing the wires in this way, we are creating a fire hazard.”

Turning Wires into Sentences

The students usually come up with a better alternative: to use one of those electrical connectors that looks like the cap of a pen.

“Now,” Cherry suggests, “let’s turn those wires into sentences.”

She reminds her students that if they just splice them together with a comma—the equivalent of a piece of tape—it creates a weak connection, or a comma splice error.

The answer is to use the grammatical equivalent of the electrical connector: either a conjunction (and, but, or) or a semicolon. Either option “shows the relationship between the two sentences in a way that the comma—a device for taping clauses together in a slapdash manner—does not.”

[In addition to Cherry's suggestons, I would add that a period also makes an effective repair for a comma splice, as it separates the two independent clauses into distinct sentences.]

Here, our three example comma splices have been repaired:

Example 1: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit. He also wrote The Lord of the Rings.
Example 2: The bridge collapsed into the river, but fortunately no one was injured.
Example 3: Maya arrived late; her car wouldn’t start.

“I’ve been teaching writing for many years,” Cherry says. “And I now realize the more able we are to relate the concepts of writing to ‘real world’ experience, the more successful we will be.”

Read more: Keeping the Comma Splice Queen Happy

Source: National Writing Project, 30 Ideas for Teaching Wriing.

What does your writing reveal about you?

What Does Your Writing Reveal about You?

Words Matter Week: Day 2

Words matter. And not just the words themselves, but also the grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make those words easier and more pleasant to read and understand.

In truth, no one particularly notices when a piece of writing is structurally sound and fairly free of errors. When the reader isn’t distracted by gross misspellings or misplaced apostrophes, he’s able to take in the words and thoughts in a simple, straightforward manner.

That’s one reason it’s so important that we write with care—and teach our kiddos to do the same.

Does Casual Writing Have Its Place?

This isn’t to say that everything we write needs to be pressed through the “grammar sieve” to strain out every wayward punctuation mark or imprecise word. I’m all for casual writing in the appropriate context, such as a quick note left on the kitchen table or a slapdash email to a friend. And I truly understand typing errors we all make when our flying fingers transpose a couple of letters or we miss the “shift” key.

But when a piece of writing—even a casual email or comment on a discussion board—contains pervasive errors, keyboard accidents can no longer be blamed. As an example, here’s a simple snippet from a blog comment I came across some time ago:

now i know its been WAY to long!! the only one I can reckonsie is Alvin and thats because hes a boy! I so need to come a visit ya’ll this summer and see the family, its been to meny years

What does your writing reveal about you?

Oh, dear.

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Our writing can reveal certain things about us. For example, what conclusions do you draw about this particular writer based on her one little writing sample? Is she kind? Friendly? Most likely. Educated? Careful? Attentive to detail? Probably not.

Granted, careless grammar doesn’t bother everyone. People who don’t use proper grammar and spelling themselves won’t know (or for that matter, care) whether you or your children use proper grammar and spelling.

But many people are pretty picky about such things—college admissions folks and employers among them. Your student’s writing may be judged and perhaps even rejected simply for failing to stick to conventions. Why?

  • Valid arguments lose their credibility and impact when the text is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
  • Spelling errors and poor grammar can suggest that a job or college applicant is sloppy at best and ignorant or uneducated at worst.
  • If an employee is not attentive to detail in emails, reports, or memos, the promotion may go to someone who is.

Conventions? What Conventions?

OK, I admit it. It’s hard for me to write anything—even an e-mail—without editing and revising it a dozen times. I’m sure part of that comes from being a writer and an author of a writing curriculum. I feel like my writing is always under the microscope, even when it’s not.

This doesn’t mean everyone has to be that way. A quickie email to a good friend can have a bunch of sentence fragments and a misspelled word—and in that context, who really cares? But when writing is up for public scrutiny—even on a discussion board—and you hope to be taken seriously, you’ll want to give as much attention to convention as to content.

Find the Errors

Just for kicks, scroll back up to the writing sample and see how many errors you can find before you read my list below. There are a lot! Even better, ask your children to edit it. It would make a great lesson.

Here are the mistakes I found.

  • now – should be Now (as in: Now, children, a sentence always begins with a capital.)
  • i – should be I
  • its – missing apostrophe (it’s)
  • to – should be too
  • !! – never use more than one exclamation point
  • the – see #1
  • reckonsie – should be recognize (as in: I almost didn’t recognize that word.)
  • thats – missing apostrophe (see #2)
  • hes – missing apostrophe (notice a pattern here?)
  • a visitand visit? for a visit?
  • y’all – I’ll give her this one since it’s a casual note.
  • comma splice – …see the family; it’s been too many years. Or …see the family. It’s been too many years. Or …see the family because it’s been too many years.
  • its, to – see #2 and #3
  • meny = should be spelled many (as in: Goodness! I’ve found so many mistakes.)

So . . . how’d you do? Did I miss anything?

The Final Draft

Here’s the gussied-up version—with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation:

Now I know it’s been WAY too long! The only one I can recognize is Alvin, and that’s because he’s a boy! I so need to come visit y’all this summer and see the family; it’s been too many years.

The friendly sentiments shine through, don’t they? It’s like cleaning soot from a window. Instead of zeroing in on the grimy, dirty pane, we can focus on the cheerful scene beyond the glass.

Just as cleaning up grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors greatly enhanced the message above, editing and polishing our own writing can clear the way for our message too. So make it a point to teach your children proper writing conventions, because words—and the way we write them—matter.

. . . . .

Don’t forget to enter our Words Matter Week haiku contest. Deadline is Sunday, March 7, 2010. Contest has ended.

Photos: Andreas Levers and Alex Proimos, courtesy of Creative Commons.

26 golden rules for writing well

26 Golden Rules for Writing Well

  1. Don’t abbrev.
  2. Check to see if you any words out.
  3. Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.
  4. About sentence fragments.
  5. When dangling, don’t use participles.
  6. Don’t use no double negatives.
  7. Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
  8. Just between you and I, case is important.
  9. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
  10. Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.
  11. Its important to use apostrophe’s right.
  12. It’s better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.
  13. Never leave a transitive verb just lay there without an object.
  14. Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized. also a sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop
  15. Use hyphens in compound-words, not just in any two-word phrase.
  16. In letters compositions reports and things like that we use commas to keep a string of items apart.
  17. Watch out for irregular verbs that have creeped into our language.
  18. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  19. Avoid unnecessary redundancy.
  20. A writer mustn’t shift your point of view.
  21. Don’t write a run-on sentence you’ve got to punctuate it.
  22. A preposition isn’t a good thing to end a sentence with.
  23. Avoid cliches like the plague.
  24. 1 final thing is to never start a sentence with a number.
  25. Always check your work for accuracy and completeness.

~Author Unknown

If anyone knows who wrote this, let me know. I’d love to give proper credit.

5 writing tips for kids

1. Break Free from Writer’s Block

“As a writer, I want to choose the exact right words for my story. But when I’m stuck, I try to ask myself, What do I REALLY want to tell the readers? Instead of worrying about perfect sentences, I jot down ideas, phrases, the points I think are most important and also things I think are cool or surprising. Once I have notes on paper, it’s a lot easier for me to figure out how I want to tell the story.” ~David Bjerklie, senior science reporter at TIME magazine

2. Use “To Be” Verbs Sparingly

“‘No more than one to-be verb per paragraph’ will force students to avoid passive voice and strengthen nouns and verbs.” ~Mark Pennington, reading specialist

3. Use Transition Words

“Young writers often get into trouble when going from one idea to the next. Without transitions, a reader is likely to get lost or disinterested. Each paragraph, like the overall body of the essay, needs a beginning, middle and an end.

“Start off with simple transitional phrases. Sometimes one or two words will adequately signify the essay’s development. Words such as ‘therefore’ and ‘finally’ signal to the reader that the essay’s message is progressing. As a test, reread each paragraph, and if they make sense standing on their own, they probably incorporate good transitions. If not, add a sentence introducing a new idea.” ~Sylvan Learning Online

4. Watch out for Contractions and Apostrophes

People often mix their and they’re, its and it’s, your and you’re and so on. If there is something that can hurt the credibility of your text, it is a similar mistake. Also, remember that the apostrophe is never used to form plurals.” ~Sharon at DailyWritingTips.com

5. Edit and Revise Your Writing

“Revise and rewrite. Improvement is always possible.” ~Bob Brooke, author

Adjectives in a series: Commas or no commas?

Sometimes we get grammar questions in the WriteShop mailbag.

Q: How is it determined when commas are needed or not needed between adjectives in a series? In WriteShop’s Copying and Dictation Exercises, Lesson 5, there’s a phrase I’m confused about. “Bright, fresh lemon flavor” has a comma between the adjectives bright and fresh, but not between the adjectives fresh and lemon. Further on in the paragraph, the words “special fresh flavor” have no commas between adjectives. Can you help?

A: This is a great question, and one that many families would love to understand. I find Jane Straus’s rule easy to apply.

Use the “and” test

According to Jane Straus, author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, it’s actually pretty simple:

Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the word and can be inserted between them.

Examples: He is a strong, healthy man
                The man is strong and healthy; hence a comma.

    We stayed at an expensive summer resort.
    You would not say expensive and summer resort, so
    no comma.

Going back to your example, we could say “bright and fresh lemon flavor.” That’s why there’s a comma between the first two adjectives. But we wouldn’t say “fresh and lemon flavor,” so no comma.

Reverse the adjectives

Another test: Can you reverse the adjectives and maintain the meaning?

Examples: He is a healthy, strong man still works, as does
                fresh, bright lemon flavor.

                Summer expensive resort and bright, lemon, fresh
                flavor
do not pass the reversal test.

Note: You could correctly say “bright, lemon-fresh flavor,” but that places a different meaning on the sentence altogether!

One last example

The word “special” refers to the “fresh flavor” as a whole. It’s not a “special flavor,” nor is it simply a “fresh flavor.” It’s a “special fresh flavor.” Since it’s not likely one would say “special and fresh flavor,” the “and” rule applies.

Not only that, the phrase “special fresh flavor” means something different from “fresh special flavor.” The reversal rule works well here as well to demonstrate that no comma is needed.

. . . . . 

We love The Blue Book so much that we’ve been carrying it for years in the WriteShop store. We also include it in the WriteShop Starter Pack. It’s a combination reference book and workbook, oh so easy to use, and handy for home or office. Jane’s examples are short, simple, and practical. We know you’ll love it too! Want to read some reviews? Just click here. And to read some of Jane’s Grammar Nuggets, type “Jane” in the search box above.

Editing your kids’ writing: How to find the balance

When editing student writing, what should be our focus? Are we so caught up in the glare of misspellings that we miss the heart of our kids' writing?

Editing your kids’ writing, especially if you haven’t had much experience, can stir up anxiety and concern. How do you find the balance between appreciating the content and picking apart the errors?

The Elements of Writing

Writing includes three main elements: content, style, and mechanics.

  • Content, of course, is the heart of the composition—the story, main message, or thesis.
  • Style is the way the writer communicates the content through word choice, sentence variation, etc.
  • Mechanics includes all those tricky little rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling that govern how the words actually appear on paper.

Mechanical Errors Make the Most Noise

When it comes to giving our children feedback on their papers, many of us are in a muddle. Sometimes the “noise” of a zillion grammatical errors drowns out the content as we zoom in on each misspelled word and sentence fragment.

But is that the place to start? What should be our focus? You’ve probably asked yourself these very questions:

  • Isn’t mechanics an important part of writing?
  • Should I allow inventive spelling, or insist that every word is spelled properly?
  • Should I focus on the main content, or should I address grammar and punctuation errors too?
  • How do I help my kids fine-tune their writing if I don’t point out all the mistakes?

It’s Like Walking a Tightrope

Just as we can correctly—or incorrectly—judge a person’s character based on outward appearance, it’s easy to judge a piece of writing by the mechanical errors we see. We don’t mean for these errors to interfere with our enjoyment of the content, but typically, they do.

The whole editing thing is like walking a tightrope, isn’t it? We don’t want to discourage our children from spilling their ideas onto paper, because the freedom of doing so sparks in them a love for writing. But for fear of dousing that fire, some of us sway too far to the left and never utter a word about grammar or spelling.

And tipping too far to the right are the parents who are so distracted by the glare of dangling participles and grave misspellings that we run amok with our red pens—and completely miss the heart of the child’s writing.

We really can address content, style, and mechanics without throwing our tenderhearted kiddos to the lions. The two-fold trick to finding the balance is remaining as objective as possible and cushioning our suggestions with praise

Use these three simple tips as a guide:

Tip #1 Before the red pen strikes, spend a few minutes identifying something positive about the paper, whether it’s a well-crafted sentence, a strong word choice, or an effective argument. Make sure you point these out to your child!

Tip #2 When you’re ready to begin making suggestions to the paper, focus mainly on content. Do ideas make sense? Do they flow well? Is there enough information and/or detail?

Tip #3 Once the story or essay or paragraph is organized and more rounded out, you can look at word choice and sentence style—and then deal with any grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues that remain.

Sure, the thought of editing student writing can seem intimidating. But if you know what you’re looking for, it can make all the difference!

Here are a couple more articles that can encourage you and help you feel more equipped for the task:

Photo: Joar E.M. Klette. Used with photographer’s permission. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Why you can’t trust the spell checker

Jerrold Zar's well-known spell checker poem humorously shows why kids shouldn't always trust or rely on your computer's spell check feature!

This “Owed to the Spell Checker” poem reminds us why it’s best not to let kids rely on spell check!

Candidate for a Pullet Surprise

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it’s weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker’s
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we’re lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault’s with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word’s fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw’s are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

. . . . .

Copyright © Jerry Zar, 29 June 1992

Jerrold H. Zar
Graduate School
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
jhzar@niu.edu

Title suggested by Pamela Brown.
Based on opening lines suggested by Mark Eckman.
By the author’s count, 123 of the 225 words are incorrect (although all words are correctly spelled).

Published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, January/February 1994, page 13. Reprinted (“by popular demand”) in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, Vol. 45, No. 5/6, 2000, page 20.
Journal of Irreproducible Results, Box 234, Chicago Heights IL 60411 USA.

Photo Credit: annnie, courtesy of Creative Commons

Why didn’t I think of this?

I can’t tell you how often I come across grammar and punctuation errors on flyers, store signs, marquees, banners, church bulletins, menus—which is why I never run out of material for Wordless Wednesday!  A few gems:

  • Secretary’s Love Our Cakes! (spotted at DQ)
  • Education at It’s Best! (ad for North Carolina A&T State Univ.)
  • There back – Buffalo nuggets $2.99 (sign at Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits)

So imagine my joy at discovering that the Grammar Nerd Corrective Label Pack is now available as a peel-and-stick remedy for grammar faux pas everywhere.  This cracked me up!

I’m pathetic, I know. Maybe I should buy myself one of these T-shirts.

Capitalizing titles of high-ranking officials

Grammar tips about capitalizing titles of high-ranking officials such as presidents, governors, and attorneys general.

Should the title of a high-ranking official be capitalized?

Depends on who you ask! But since we use, recommend, and carry The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, that’s the source WriteShop tends to rely on first. According to the Blue Book (11th ed.):

Capitalize the titles of high-ranking government officials when used with or before their names. Do not capitalize the civil title if it is used instead of the name.

The author cites several examples, including:

  • The president will address Congress.
  • The governors, lieutenant governors, and attorneys general called for a special task force.
  • Governor Fortinbrass, Lieutenant Governor Poppins, Attorney General Dalloway, and Senators James and Twain will attend.

That said, you may accept either from your students since other sources may conflict. For instance:

The Holt Handbook, 6th ed. says:

Titles that indicate high-ranking positions may be capitalized even when they are used alone or when they follow a name.

Example:

    Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States

The Writer’s Brief Handbook, 5th ed. says:

When you use titles of world figures alone, capitalization is optional.

Example:

    The President [or president] spoke to the reporters.

. . . . .

Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation (11th ed.) | Combination reference book and workbookDo you or your kids need some grammar guidance? The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation offers concise, helpful rules, examples, and practice exercises.

It’s a combination reference book and workbook, super easy to use, and handy for home or office. Examples are short, simple, and practical. We know you’ll love it too! Want to read some reviews? Just click here.

Photo: Beverly, courtesy of Creative Commons
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