Or just those who might be curious. Welcome to the grammarNOW! Tips blog. Here you’ll find my occasional musings on grammar and language, interesting tidbits and humor I find in the language (yes, Virginia, there are funny things about grammar!), and probably most important: grammar tips!
For those who have been signed up for a week or for years to receive the grammarNOW! Tip of the Week, you’ll now find it here. You can register to receive a notice of each week’s posting or have it delivered by RSS feed, if you prefer. The Tips have been rewritten and redesigned to be more useful and now include comments on language and humor in grammar. Please feel free to use this new format to respond to the Tips—a process you’ve never had the ability to enjoy before. I’m excited to see where such conversations take us.
Please send in your suggestions for ideas you’d like to see covered in the Tips or grammar and language discussions you’d like to pursue.
This is my first blog, so bear with me. I’ll get better at this as we go along. Check out the posts on the site and, please, SAY SOMETHING! Join the conversation.
Words Matter Week – Day 4 Prompt
Do you think writers own their own words? Not necessarily! They must be copyrighted to be protected, and as of January 1, 2019, all works published in the U.S. before 1923 entered the public domain. That means that you don’t have to cite a source to quote Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in your next paper (“Whose woods these are, I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.”—remember that line from high school?) UNLESS that copyright has been renewed, as it was in 1951 by Frost himself.
There are several exceptions to copyright, and we don’t even need to worry about it in the U.S. (laws vary elsewhere) if we’re only quoting a certain number of someone else’s words. It’s called Fair Use, and after that you must pay for the use of those words in published material.
Does this seem like a topic that really doesn’t matter that much? Think again. Just last fall, the Authors Guild and the New York Public Library presented “Who Owns the Word?—a three-part series that explore[d] the impact that declining wages for full-time book authors, journalists, and television and screenwriters and questions regarding content ownership, copyright laws, censorship, and quality control have on the future of American culture and intellectual discourse.” Those are significant subjects: Can writers make a living by writing? Who owns what is written or spoken or sung? What is censored and how? How does/should quality control affect culture?
Do you have thoughts of any of those questions? Here they are again:
Can writers make a living by writing?
Who owns what is written or spoken or sung?
What is censored and how?
How does/should quality control affect culture?
Words Matter Week – Day 3 Prompt
The words of others affect us in positive and negative ways, don’t they? Think, for example, of all the memories attached to your favorite songs—the moments in your life that the words in those songs represent. You probably also remember the one most negative thing someone ever said to you; what about those words has that power to remain? On the other hand, has anyone ever inspired you with their words, or influenced you to use your words in a powerful, positive way? Think about that person and why their effect on your choice of language was so strong.
My eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Rice, had the greatest influence on my career as a teacher of English, grammarian, and editor. I don’t remember much about her methods, but she encouraged me to write my first short story and offered genuine praise on my use of language to create emotion that seemed real to the reader. I still remember her and wish she knew what a strong impact she had on determining the direction of my studies and continuing interest in language use today.
Has anyone influenced you in a similar manner?
What person in your life helped you understand the importance of choosing words carefully?
Words Matter Week – Day 2 Prompt
Today I want you to think about published writers and why you like one in particular more than others. Try to consider more than just their subject matter, because many great writers can successfully choose the same subject (space or sci-fi, for example). What is it about their style that appeals to you? For example, do you like the way the language seems natural to the character? Does a story told in first-person appeal to you more than one narrated by an outside observer, and why or why not? Do you like the way the sentences are constructed, for example like those of Henry James, so that “compounded clauses, digressions, and qualifications allow for temporal compressions and expansions”?
Here are 20 quotations from writers on their own use of words: Writers on Words.
Who is your favorite author and why?
“Words Matter Week during the first full week in March coincides with National Grammar Day. The week is designated to stamp out verbal slop and drivel.” — National Day Calendar
More importantly, I think, this week is about considering the value and import of words, each word we speak or write, and the effect they have on our audience. DO we even think about the words we use? Or do we often throw them out like confetti in the wind, not intending any meaning (the habitual insertion of “like” comes to mind) or, just as often, not realizing the power they have to injure, stir, soothe, inspire, control. Could we not be more intentional with our use of words, realizing that, as Mark Twain said, “The difference between almost the right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”
I’ll have more to say each day this week on the power and significance of words in a variety of contexts. Join me!
On a lighter note, grammarNOW! offers you some fun grammar resources suggested by NAIWE:
- Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English
- Things That Make Us (Sic): The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World
- Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Usage
- The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English
Finally, to get you thinking and hopefully responding, each day this week, I’ll post a writing prompt. Let me know what you think in 100 words or less. Here is today’s food for thought:
Words can change history. What word, speech, or document do you believe to be most important?
Words that refer to a group of people or objects but are singular in form are called collective nouns.
Examples: army, audience, choir, committee, team, mob, number
Verbs and pronouns used with collective nouns are either singular or plural, depending upon the meaning of the group word. If you consider the noun a unit, then use a singular verb and relative pronoun:
The team wants to win its division.
The committee is made up of department heads.
The noun in both sentences is considered a single unit, so the verb in each case is singular, and the pronoun in the first sentence is singular as well.
If you consider the collective noun a group of individuals, use a plural verb and plural pronouns:
The committee are arguing among themselves.
Both the verb and pronoun are plural, because the committee is viewed as a group of individuals, not a unit.
The collective noun “number” may be singular or plural. When it is considered arithmetical (you can count it, 1-2-3…), it is usually singular:
The number of students assigned to the new high school is higher than expected.
This number of students can be counted.
A number of students have already chosen their classes for the new semester.
This “number” is a concept, typically referring to a relatively large group.
If the noun following “number” is also collective, follow the guidelines above:
The number of people signed up for the reunion is growing daily.
A number of people are in disagreement with the proposed regulations.
I’ve compiled a few online lists of collective nouns for your pleasure and edification:
I had to give you a laugh and something to consider about yourself today:
The first comment on this one is as funny as the name: “Is this syrup you put on a boy to make them taste better or syrup that comes from a boy?”
Now consider which punctuation mark best represents your social personality:
An ellipsis (with an i) is a punctuation mark consisting of 3 dots used either to indicate that words or phrases are omitted in a sentence (usually a quote) or, in common usage, to pause in thought or allow a thought to trail off without completing it. Examples:
Thoreau notes: “I learned . . . that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, . . . he will meet with . . . success. . . .” [thepunctuationguide.com/ellipses.html]
Well . . . what do you think?
I thought we were in agreement, but . . . ?
Most word processing programs have an automatic replacement feature that inserts unspaced dots and calls it an ellipsis. You can change the settings, however, to make it correctly spaced.
When you wish to end a quote with the ellipsis, you must add the period as the fourth dot, spacing before it. Example: President Kennedy said, “Ask not what you can do for your country . . . .”
The plural word “ellipses” (with an e) refers to the dots themselves, not the combined punctuation mark.
The correct use of an apostrophe is either to form a possessive or a contraction.
- Possessive: the teacher’s sign, a person’s signature, your foot’s toe
*The only possessives that do NOT use the apostrophe are pronouns:
his, hers, its, theirs, whose, theirs, yours, ours
- Contraction: don’t, isn’t, can’t
You will also find the apostrophe used when letters have been removed: rock ‘n’ roll, or when a plural would be misread: do’s and don’ts (It would be awkward to read “dos” and don’ts.).
For common acronyms or abbreviations that are typically capitalized, do not use an apostrophe to form the plural. Just add an s: DVDs, CDs.
Please, I’m begging here, do NOT use the apostrophe to form the plurals of nouns:
If you can find other examples of incorrect apostrophe use, and they’re everywhere so this should be an easy assignment, please post them here for our pleasure (or pain).
A necessary point of clarification here: Its is the possessive pronoun (Example: “The apostrophe is losing its meaning.”). It’s means it is (Example: “It’s not that hard!”).
I don’t hear it as often as I did for a while, but since it’s still in common usage, I want to correct the misuse of the phrase “beg the question.” It does not mean to ask for the question. Here is an example of incorrect use:
The new information begs the question, what really happened?
As you can find in many places online, the phrase “beg the question” means to assume something is true because it is said in the first place. It might also ask the reader or listener to accept a conclusion without the premise having been proven. This is called circular logic. Some examples:
I’m intelligent because I say intelligent things.
It takes a great general to win a war. What makes a great general? One who has one a war.
Circular reasoning works because circular reasoning works.
Just avoid the usage. In the misuse above, you could just as easily say, “This new information causes us to ask what really happened.”
Do you bring something or take something? These days, all I ever hear is bring! It seems that take is in danger of being lost as a verb of transport. There is a difference, and basically, it is that you bring something toward or with yourself and take something away from yourself. Examples:
Would you bring that book to me when you’re through reading it? (to yourself)
I’ll be happy to bring a salad with me to the party. (with you, speaking to the host, who is not with you)
Will you take this report to the meeting? (away from yourself)
I’ll take the car to the shop to get the tires aligned. (away from where you and the listener are)
The difference between some of these is subtle, but it used to be natural for a native speaker and only difficult for a non-native speaker. Now it seems difficult for all speakers because of the ubiquitous use of bring. Nearly everyone is losing the distinction and natural understanding of that distinction, so it is harder and harder to explain.
Here is an excellent source that offers a more detailed explanation: http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/grammar/practical-english-usage/bring-and-take
Listen for yourself. What do you hear people saying? I’ll bet you hear bring most of the time. In fact, if you hear take at all, I’d be surprised. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard it in the past month, in personal conversation or on television. I’m not the only one who cares, judging by the number of sites I see discussing this online (about 27,000,000 Google results). Plenty of people have opinions, but the experts all agree: Bring it here and take it there, unless you’re bringing it with you (as above).
Bring back take!